If you Google “most played songs of all time,” you’ll find a list populated with well worn classics by The Beatles, James Taylor, Roy Orbison, Simon and Garfunkel and Elton John. But up at the top, just below “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” in a cluster with “Yesterday” and “Dock of the Bay” is “Never My Love” by The Association. Moving down the list, The Association has two more in the Top 100—“Windy” and “Cherish.”
“I’m amazed at how much play we still get,” founding member Russ Giguere said in a recent telephone conversation. He’ll be at the Ferguson Center Friday night with the current edition of the band for a special Valentine’s “Sounds of Romance” concert, sharing the bill with The Lettermen and Gary Puckett.
“Me and Larry [Ramos] and Jim [Yester],” he replied when I asked who was in the band these days. Like Giguere, Yester was an original and Ramos joined early on, in time for most of the hits. “It’s the three of us in the front. Jordan Cole, our keyboard guy, is Brian’s son. So he’s a second generation Associate.”
Giguere met his future bandmates in the early ‘60s, an aspiring folksinger working in a Southern California club at the height of the folk boom.
“When I was nineteen,” he said, “I moved to L. A. and became the light and sound man at the Ice House in Pasadena. I was still playing guitar and learning my stuff. That’s where I met all the guys. Ted [Bluechel] was in a group called the Cherry Hill Singers; I worked lights for them. Terry [Kirkman] ran a little folk club out in the valley and he would come in, so I knew him from that. There was a group called the Gnu Folk; that’s where I knew Brian [Cole] from.”
The genesis of what would become The Association came when all six original guys were members of a much larger folk-rock aggregation called The Men in early 1965 that was modeled loosely on popular groups of the time like the New Christy Minstrels and the Serendipity Singers. But the thirteen-piece lineup proved to be unwieldy and quickly splintered.
“I was in The Men for about a month and a half,” Giguere remembered. “It was like running a small community. I had only been in the group for a short while, so I didn’t say anything. I’m sitting there saying absolutely nothing, and all of a sudden Jules [Alexander], our lead guitarist, said, ‘I’m tired of all this bull. I just want to make music. I’m out of here.’
“After he walked out, I said, ‘I don’t even know what you guys are talking about; I got to go with Jules.’ So I stood up and walked out. Ted stood up and walked out. Brian stood up and walked out. Terry walked out. We met on the sidewalk and the next day we started rehearsing.
“When we first started, we rehearsed for five, maybe six months, rehearsing every day until we got the sound together.”
The sound they got together was something else, filled with multi-part harmonies and rich ensemble vocals that stood out on the airwaves of 1966 amidst The Monkees, The Beatles, the Mamas and the Papas and Motown in a magnificent year for popular music. Their first hit, “Along Comes Mary” was a signature tune that summer.
“Tandyn Almer, the guy who wrote it,” Giguere explained, “did a demo on it and Jules, our lead guitarist, played bass on the demo. The four of us—Jules, Jim, Ted and me—lived in one house, kept the instruments in the living room. Jules brought a little acetate from the demo session and said, ‘Listen to this.’ We put it on the turntable and said, ‘Wow, great!’ and just started working on it.”
“Along Comes Mary” hit the Top Ten, but it was the second single off their debut album that pushed The Association to the top of the charts. “Cherish,” a song written by Terry Kirkman, hit number one in September and wound up as the number two song on Billboard’s yearend Top 100 behind Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler’s patriotic Vietnam apologia, “Ballad of the Green Berets.”
“Cherish” also pegged The Association as a mellower band than they really were.
“We did everything,” Giguere said. “Most bands of that era only did one kind of music and we didn’t. But we did the ballads so well that we got tagged as a ballad group. If ‘Cherish’ had been our first hit, ‘Along Comes Mary’ probably wouldn’t have gotten played. Because that was our first hit, it was OK. But ‘Cherish’ was gigantic; then we hit with ‘Windy’ and ‘Never My Love.’ ‘Everything That Touches You’ did real well; it’s a lot of people’s favorite song. Terry Kirkman, who wrote that song—most of the stuff he wrote I refer to as ‘thematic mothers’ because they always have these great themes.”
Giguere and Ramos sang the lead together on “Windy,” one of the most ubiquitous hits of 1967, and Ramos and Kirkman blended their voices for “Never My Love.” They played at the Monterey Pop Festival that year, and their popularity continued through 1968 as they tapped into the zeitgeist of the times with ”Enter the Young,” “Time for Livin’” and “The Time It Is Today” and joyous love songs like “Everything That Touches You” and “We Love Us.”
But by the Woodstock summer of 1969, the rock music audience was turning away from Top 40 hitmakers and tuning into a heavier sound from the “underground.” The upbeat optimism of The Association was considered too light, too airy, too feel-good.
“We never categorized ourselves,” Giguere said, “and we didn’t like to be categorized by other people. But they did and they always will. Some actually called us a bubblegum band! We never did any bubblegum tunes—we did real music.”
They’ll bring the best loved of that music to the Ferguson on Friday night. After more than forty years of singing these timeless songs, Russ Giguere still gets a kick out of them.
“I’m amazed,” he said. “I’m 64 and I still look forward to every concert.”
Sounds of Romance:
The Lettermen / The Association / Gary Puckett
Friday, February 15 – 8:00 pm
Ferguson Center for the Arts
copyright © 2008 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.