Song Of The Day 3/18/2014: James Taylor - "Johnnie Comes Back"

Accidents of Adult Contemporary: The inspiration for this week's theme was a James Taylor song, but not this one. It was "I Was Only Telling A Lie," from his 1977 album JT. Possibly my favorite Taylor song ever (if not it's definitely some other song on JT), it's a flat-out guttural California rocker. Taylor sings it a good octave lower than his normal singing voice. He plays a guy who's crossing through, cooped up in a downtown dump of a motel with a girl and some cheap beer. As they start proceedings he tells the woman he's in love with her. Then there's an instrumental break and it's morning, and Taylor sings "When I told you I loved you, I was only telling a lie." What a sleaze! This isn't our tasteful-shirted, zen-philosophizin' guy who's the only rock artist our grandmother liked! This guy's bad! He's more like someone on the Breaking Bad rotation of extras!

I couldn't feature "I Was Only Telling A Lie" here because I already did, but that's good because the character in "Johnnie Comes Back" from Taylor's subsequent album, 1979's Flag, is even more of a turdball. Simply put, he's trading sex for drugs. The girl, Johnnie, has been struggling through rehab stints and trying to stay away from this dude. (The way James sings "Watching her health return" is, to me, just nasty in its flippancy. Oh, and he sneeringly calls her a "good little girl," the snake.) But he's all too happy to let her back in to indulge in her artificial joy, 'cause he's obviously getting something out of the bargain as well. He sings in the final verse, "My God, she must despise me" as if he's just now figuring that out. This is the most screwed up, parasitic, exploitive relationship Taylor ever sang about. It's uncomfortable, it's cringeworthy, it's great. I wish he could do a side project and get all this stuff out of his system. I'll play tambourine and hash pipe.


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