James Taylor's astonishing debut, recorded over four months in Autumn 1968, came at a crisis point in the singer's life. James, who was just 20 at the time, had already been through the mill: he'd been treated in hospital for severe depression, and then developed a heroin addiction that eventually forced his parents to pay for him to move to England to aid his recovery and concentrate on music. The fresh start worked. Luck played its part, too, because it was in London that he hooked up with Peter Asher – a singer who'd had a million-selling pop hit as part of the duo Peter And Gordon – by then head of A&R for The Beatles' burgeoning record label, Apple.
Asher was the brother of Paul McCartney's then girlfriend Jane, and knew the star well enough to persuade the celebrated songwriter (and fellow-Beatle, George Harrison) to listen to a reel-to-reel demo tape of "Something In The Way She Moves." They were enthralled. McCartney and Harrison offered a lucrative deal to the unknown singer-songwriter. James Taylor was the company's first release from a non-British artist. They were sure they had signed someone special. The Beatles were recording The White Album at the same at Trident studios in London's famous Soho district, but McCartney found time to play bass on "Carolina In My Mind," and Harrison sang backing vocals on this understated masterpiece.
"Night Owl" was another song inspired by place – this time the Night Owl Café in New York's Greenwich Village, where Taylor and his early band, The Flying Machine, often performed; former bandmate Joel "Bishop" O'Brien provided drums on James Taylor. "Carolina In My Mind" is one of 12 songs on the original album, which featured orchestration from The Aeolian Quartet and Amici String Quartet under the direction of arranger Richard Hewson. Other songs that showed Taylor's burgeoning songwriting talent include "Don't Talk Now," "Sunshine," "Brighten Your Night With My Day," "Rainy Day Man" and "Knocking 'Round The Zoo," the latter a powerful autobiographical song about his stay at a psychiatric hospital.
James Taylor's self-titled debut is now reissued on vinyl in celebration of Capitol Records' 75th anniversary.