One of the most successful pop-rock acts of the 1960s, the Association was also one of the most versatile, with a repertoire of songs that ranged from folk-rock, psychedelia, and ambitious progressive experiments to the smooth romantic ballads that gave them several of their biggest hits. The members of the Association were multitalented musicians who could handle all these styles, but they lacked strong individual identities—something that hampered the group's career in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Still, one ranking placed three of their singles—"Never My Love," "Cherish," and "Along Comes Mary"—among the all-time 100 songs most played on the radio.
The Association had its beginnings in Los Angeles around 1965, coalescing just as the Byrds gave birth to the new genre of folk-rock in that city. Two of the group's prime movers, guitarist Jules Alexander and singer, songwriter, and wind player Terry Kirkman met in Los Angeles in 1964 and thought of organizing a folk group along the lines of the then-very-successful New Christy Minstrels. After Alexander finished a military stint, they took on additional musicians and formed a dozen-member group called the Men, which broke up after a few performances. Several of the Men coalesced into a new group, and the membership stabilized as a sextet: Kirkman, Alexander, guitarists Jim Yester (brother of Lovin' Spoonful member Jerry Yester) and Russ Giguere, bassist Brian Cole, and drummer Ted Bluechel Jr. The Kansas-born Kirkman had been a music major at Chaffey College in suburban Los Angeles, occasionally appearing in coffeehouses with the likewise classically trained Frank Zappa, and several other members had studied music formally. The group rehearsed its material carefully and was marked from the start by a sophistication unusual in the do-it-yourself folk music scene.
It was Kirkman's wife, Judy, who gave the new group its unusual name; after another member suggested "The Aristocrats," she flipped open a dictionary to that page and spotted the slightly mysterious word "Association." By the end of 1965 the Association was performing all over Los Angeles and had landed an ongoing gig at the Ice House club in Pasadena. Wherever they played, they signed up audience members for their fan club and soon accumulated a list of nearly 10,000 supporters. Signed to the small Valiant label, a side project of the Four Star television studio, they released a recording of a then little-known Bob Dylan song, "One Too Many Mornings," and Los Angeles radio stations gave the rising local group some airplay.
Another single on Valiant, "Along Comes Mary," was released in early 1966. It was originally the B side of a 45 rpm record; "Your Own Love" was the A side. But disc jockeys preferred the peppy tempo of "Along Comes Mary" with its vaguely psychedelic lyrics penned by songwriter Tandyn Almer, who was later noted as the inventor of a water-pipe called the Slave-Master. "Along Comes Mary" took off on the radio, and conservative critics gave the song a boost with allegations that it referred to marijuana use ("Mary Jane" was a common slang name for the drug at the time). The accuracy of the allegations is difficult to determine when one examines such mysterious lyrics as "And when the morning of the warning's passed/The gassed and flaccid kids/Are flung across the stars," but the controversy gave the new group some much-needed exposure.
"Along Comes Mary" remained on pop charts for most of 1966, and Valiant brought the group into the studio to record a full-length album in June of that year. And Then … Along Comes the Association, produced by Curt Boettcher, was a varied set of songs that broke new ground in its exploitation of the relatively new medium of multitrack stereo recording. It also contained Kirkman's ballad "Cherish," speeded up to a smooth, radio-friendly tempo at the insistence of the other group members. "Cherish" gave the Association its first number-one single, and the song remained a wedding reception staple for decades.
Minus Jules Alexander, who traveled to India and was temporarily replaced by Larry Ramos, the Association quickly issued a second LP on Valiant, titled Renaissance. It wasn't as successful as And Then … Along Comes the Association, but its leadoff single, "Pandora's Golden Heebie Jeebies," featuring a Japanese koto, hit the pop charts. The Association was the primary motivator in convincing the major Warner Brothers label to purchase Valiant and take over the contract signed with the group. In 1967 the Association released Insight Out, its third album and its first for Warner Brothers.
Insight Out marked the group's second creative high point. It incorporated the already recorded "Windy," a lighthearted composition by California folk songwriter (and friend of Tandyn Almer) Ruthann Friedman. "Who's peekin' out from under a stairway/Calling a name that's lighter than air?" asked the opening lyrics, their melody accompanied later on in the song in counterpoint by Kirkman's flute in a complex, Beatlesque arrangement. The song gave the Association another number one hit, and a follow-up single, "Never My Love," went to number two on Billboard's singles ranking. In the second half of 1967 the Association was one of the hottest groups in popular music, appearing on countless television talk and variety shows and packing large venues such as the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.
For the Record …
Members include Jules Alexander, guitars, vocals; Ted Bluechel Jr., percussion; Brian Cole, bass; Russ Giguere, guitars, vocals; Terry Kirkman, keyboards, vocals; Larry Ramos (replaced Alexander in 1967; left group when Alexander returned, ca. 1968), guitars, vocals; Jim Yester, guitars, vocals.
Formed in 1965 in Los Angeles, CA; signed to Valiant label; released single "Along Comes Mary"; released debut album, And Then … Along Comes the Association, 1966; released Insight Out album with major hits "Windy" and "Never My Love," 1967; wrote songs for film Goodbye, Columbus, 1969; signed to Columbia label, released Waterbeds in Trinidad! album, 1972; disbanded, 1973; re-formed for television special, 1981; continued to tour with rotating membership.
Addresses: Website—The Association Official Website: http://www.theoriginalassociation.com.
The group kept in touch with new developments in rock music; Insight Out contained such ambitious numbers as Kirkman's "Requiem for the Masses," which included a passage in Gregorian chant. The group performed at California's Monterey Pop Festival, and held its own on a bill with the likes of revolutionary rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix. But rock and pop audiences had begun to split off from each other by the late 1960s, and the Association's success on AM radio began to work against it as the LP album, rather than the 45 rpm single, became the music's primary medium. The fourth Association release, 1968's Birthday, contained the top-ten ballad "Everything That Touches You" (again a Kirkman composition), and the group stayed in the spotlight with the title song for the 1969 film Goodbye Columbus. Later Association albums continued to feature innovative material, and several have flourished in reissue editions. But the group never quite put together an album that coherently incorporated rock's new harder edge, nor recaptured its knack for pop hits. A move to the Columbia label for the 1972 LP Water-beds in Trinidad! didn't help matters, and the death of Brian Cole that year, after a struggle with narcotics abuse, diminished the group's level of activity. The Association broke up in 1973, just as a new wave of folk-inspired singer-songwriter music was on the rise.
Periodic revival attempts met with little success, but Kirkman, who took a job as a producer at the new Home Box Office cable television network, reunited the group for a television special in the late 1970s. A 1981 single on the Elektra label, "Dreamer," had modest chart success. The big Association hits had lost none of their popularity, and a revived Association went on the road in 1980 and has continued to tour, with a rotating membership including several descendants of the original group members, through the mid-2000s.
And Then … Along Comes the Association, Valiant, 1966.
Renaissance, Valiant, 1967.
Insight Out, Warner Brothers, 1967.
Birthday, Warner Brothers, 1968.
Greatest Hits, Warner Brothers, 1968.
The Association, Warner Brothers, 1969.
Stop Your Motor, Warner Brothers, 1971.
Live, Warner Brothers, 1970.
Waterbeds in Trinidad!, Columbia, 1972.
Songs That Made Them Famous, Pair, 1986.
Greatest Hits, Rhino, 2004.
George-Warren, Holly, and Patricia Romanowski, eds., The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, 3rd ed., Fireside, 2001.
Stambler, Irwin, Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul, rev. ed., St. Martin's, 1989.
Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY), August 21, 2005, p. 5.
"The Association," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (July 11, 2006).
"The Association Biography," J. Cast Productions, http://www.castproductions.com/association.html (July 11, 2006).
"The Association," Classic Bands, http://www.classicbands.com (July 11, 2006).
"The Association," Vocal Group Hall of Fame & Museum, http://www.vocalhalloffame.com/inductees/association.htm (July 11, 2006).
"The Ongoing Saga," Ruthann Friedman Official Website, http://www.ruthannfriedman.com/biography (July 11, 2006).
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