“First kiss ever I took
Like a page from a romance book.
The sky opened and the earth shook…
Down on copperline.”
The 1970’s are marked by many musical genres, none more distressing than the soft rock format. Designed to take the singer-songwriter movement and distill it into a neatly packaged one hit wonder machine, many of the songs have lingered on K Tel collections on late night television. Some rose above the fray, like Harry Chapin and Jim Croce…real artists who could also craft a pop single. The master of this was the incomparable James Taylor. Now in his fifth decade as one of the most popular artists in pop music, Taylor has gone through the usual career ups and downs. His original songs are of such quality that they meld perfectly with the classic covers he reinvented as pop singles. From his Apple debut to his recent “Covers” album, James Taylor continues to engage his audiences.
The song ‘Copperline’ comes from his platinum selling 1991 LP “New Moon Shine” on Columbia Records. His tenure with Columbia marked the second phase of his career. Throughout the 1970’s, Taylor crafted multiple hit albums on Warner Brothers Records with such iconic singles as ‘Country Road’, ‘Sweet Baby James’, ‘Mexico’, ‘Fire and Rain’ and ‘Carolina On My Mind’. It was during this time that he had his greatest successes, but like most artists took a detour due to personal problems. By the late 1980’s, Taylor had hit a creative stride with albums like “Never Die Young” and “That’s Why I’m Here”. The albums didn’t sell as well as his Warner hits, but with a bulk of the material being original compositions, he eschewed the easy payoff of too many cover performances.
The real beginning of James Taylor’s comback was “New Moon Shine”, an album with a modern sound and innovative songwriting. Taylor’s friend Don Grolnick was again on board as co producer, along with studio veteran Danny Kortchmar. They helped to ensure that the album maintained a homespun feel, in response to the organic lyrical arrangements and strong melody lines. ‘Copperline’ seemed to spring from a place deep in Taylor’s past. The imagery is straight out of a Mark Twain novel…if Twain grew up in Chapel Hill, NC. It is this sense of wonder that helps transport the listener to the childhood of the narrator. For the first time in years, James Taylor was able to move an audience not with only pop sensibility, but with the authority of a man who knows who he is and where he comes from. ‘Frozen Man’, ‘Slap Leather’ and ‘Down in the Hole’ further drove this point home, but ‘Copperline’ remains a testament to what an artist can accomplish when mining their memories for more than just nostalgia.
In a sad twist of fate, Don Grolnick, a jazz pianist and frequent collaborator of James Taylor, died suddenly in 1996. His influence is said to be all over the 1997 James Taylor release “Hourglass”, which won multiple Grammy Awards including Album of the Year. The release brought him the respect and multi platinum sales reserved for the rock elite. It was well deserved, but the true triumph was the “New Moon Shine” release and the buoyant ‘Copperline’.
(This version comes from his great live album “(Live)” from 1993. It surpasses the original recording in this author’s opinion as Taylor’s true power has always been in his live shows. They always feature great rare cuts as well as the classic hits one would expect. The bands are always top notch and feature the cream of the ‘studio musician’ crop!)