James Taylor Looks Back on His Classics


Timothy White

James Taylor is the subject of the latest installment of “My Life in 15 Songs,” a column that runs in Rolling Stone from time to time. Taylor — whose new album Before This World is his first studio effort in 13 years — looks back on his entire career, from the late ’60s to the present.

It may surprise some JT fans to find out just how many of his songs were inspired by addiction. Taylor reveals that the subject of 1967’s “Rainy Day Man” was a dope dealer. He says, “I was pretty much born to shoot dope. It was the key to my lock, so I really was gone for the next 20 years.”

The 1976 song “A Junkie’s Lament” is pretty self-explanatory but with 1985’s “Only a Dream in Rio,” things began to look up. “I tried to detox at a place in Connecticut but I fell back and continued to use,” says Taylor of the song’s genesis. “Then I went down to Rio de Janeiro to play the Rock in Rio festival… I walked onstage and 300 thousand people knew my songs… It’s extremely powerful [and I] really felt as though I had landed on my feet. It was a turning point in my life.”

Elsewhere, Taylor calls the title track from his classic 1970 album Sweet Baby James, “My best song” and says that “You’ve Got a Friend” was Carole King‘s answer to “Fire and Rain.” He explains, “The chorus to ‘Fire and Rain’ is ‘I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend.’ Carole’s response was, ‘Here’s your friend.’ As soon as I heard it, I wanted to play it.”

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