Unsung And Hung Upon The Scars

A 23 year old Tandyn Almer wrote ‘Along Comes Mary’ which was a big hit for The Association, and later on he had a song ‘Sail on, Sailor’ for The Beach Boys that also made the charts.  In addition to his song writing talents, Almer invented a water pipe called the Slave-Master described in A Child’s Garden of Grass as the perfect bong.  Most people think that ‘Along Comes Mary’ is about marijuana, probably because pot is sometimes referred to as Mary Jane.  When you see the Association, they are usually dressed up real nice wearing suits which makes everyone think that they were straight laced, but the Association had a long and troubled association with drugs that were a lot harder than marijuana, as their bass player Brian Cole overdosed on heroin in 1972.

The lyrics in ‘Along Comes Mary’ are unbelievably vague, but filled with color and life, and all of the internal rhyme is magnificent.  There’s so much going on in this song, that it becomes hard to understand any meaning, as torrents of words are piled together.  Mary gives him comfort and improves his life, but his love for Mary erased some of his memory and all that remains is haunted remnants of the sweet punch that was in his cup.

Not all that much is known of Almer’s origins and upbringing, except that he was a child prodigy who was able to play classical music by ear on piano at the age of 4.  He attended a conservatory in Minnesota in his youth, and became fascinated with the jazz.  About 1961, he went to Los Angeles, where his musical interests shifted to pop and rock music.  In 1964, he graduated from Los Angeles City College and he became a fixture at a Los Angeles folk-music club the Troubadour, and some of Almer’s compositions were sung by a teenage unknown named Linda Ronstadt.  By 1965, he had written ‘Along Comes Mary’ and some people thought he was going to be the next Dylan.  Almer became good friends with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and helped him out on a project in 1969 rewriting some of the band’s songs and also performing background vocals.  A&M Records rejected the recording, in part because of the connection to Almer, who was once fired for creating a disturbance in the company parking lot.  Tandyn Almer had some medical issues and he basically dropped off the planet living a solitary life.

The Association’s lead guitarist Jules Alexander met singer Terry Kirkman and the two young musicians jammed together in Los Angeles in the mid-1960s.  Kirkman had played in groups with Frank Zappa for a short period before Zappa went on to form the Mothers of Invention.  In 1964, they eventually, formed a group called The Inner Tubes and played at the Troubadour along with Doug Dillard, Cass Elliot, David Crosby and many others who drifted in and out of this band.  In the fall of 1964, they formed The Men, a 13 piece Folk rock band.  After a short time, The Men disbanded, with six of the members electing to go out on their own in February 1965.  At the suggestion of Kirkman’s then-fiancée, Judy, they took the name The Association.

Like the Grass Roots, the members in this band are practically unknown to most people, and the original lineup consisted of Jules Alexander (using his middle name, Gary, on the first two albums) on vocals and lead guitar, while Kirkman sang vocals and played a variety of wind, brass and percussion instruments, Brian Cole sang vocals, played bass and woodwinds, Russ Giguere sang vocals, played percussion and guitar, Ted Bluechel, Jr. was on drums, guitar, bass and vocals, and Bob Page was on guitar, banjo and vocals.  Page was soon replaced by Jim Yester on vocals, guitar and keyboards before any of the group’s public performances.

In 1965, Jules Alexander was hired by singer, songwriter, musician, and record producer Curt Boettcher to play on a demo of ‘Along Comes Mary’, and he was so impressed by the song he asked if he could pitch it to his group could so they could record it.  Curt also sang lead on the demo.  Released in 1966, the single emerged as a blockbuster, defining the Association’s pioneering harmony pop sound.  It should have made Almer one of the hottest songwriters in Los Angeles, but he never scored a major hit again.

The Association soon had two smash hits ‘Along Comes Mary’ at #7 and ‘Cherish’ charted at #1, making them one of the hottest new bands of 1966.  It was no surprise that their debut album, featuring both of those songs, was also a big success, rising to #5 and remaining their highest-charting LP ever, with the exception of their Greatest Hits compilation.  The record also gave the Association the chance to showcase their versatility on material penned by both group members and outside songwriters, their complex multi-part vocal harmonies being the greatest unifying factor.

Composer and conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra Leonard Bernstein, recognized the song’s musical sophistication and he became one of Almer’s biggest fans.  During one of the latter’s famed Young People’s Concerts, he illustrated a musical concept called the Dorian mode (an ancient scale that was neither major or minor) by performing a sample of ‘Along Comes Mary’ on the piano to demonstrate the freshness of this mode.  Bernstein implied that the most relevant exploration for the revitalization of music had come recently through certain pop songs and that they were much more than simply catchy tunes.

Every time I think that I’m the only one who’s lonely
Someone calls on me
And every now and then I spend my time in rhyme and verse
And curse those faults in me

And then along comes Mary
And does she want to give me kicks , and be my steady chick
And give me pick of memories
Or maybe rather gather tales of all the fails and tribulations
No one ever sees

When we met I was sure out to lunch
Now my empty cup tastes as sweet as the punch

When vague desire is the fire in the eyes of chicks
Whose sickness is the games they play
And when the masquerade is played and neighbor folks make jokes
As who is most to blame today

And then along comes Mary
And does she want to set them free, and let them see reality
From where she got her name
And will they struggle much when told that such a tender touch as hers
Will make them not the same

When we met I was sure out to lunch
Now my empty cup tastes as sweet as the punch

And when the morning of the warning’s passed, the gassed
And flaccid kids are flung across the stars
The psychodramas and the traumas gone
The songs are left unsung and hung upon the scars

And then along comes Mary
And does she want to see the stains, the dead remains of all the pains
She left the night before
Or will their waking eyes reflect the lies, and make them
Realize their urgent cry for sight no more

When we met I was sure out to lunch
Now my empty cup tastes as sweet as the punch

Written for Daily Addictions prompt – Solitary, for FOWC with Fandango – Parking, for Sheryl’s A New Daily Post Word Prompt – Haunted, for Ragtag Community – Color and for Scotts Daily Prompt – Pitch.

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