Sweet Baby James (song)

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"Sweet Baby James"
Sweet Baby James promo single label.jpg
Single by James Taylor
from the album Sweet Baby James
B-side "Suite for 20 G"
RecordedDecember 1969 at Sunset Sound
Genre Soft rock, lullaby
Label Warner Bros. Records
Songwriter(s) James Taylor
Producer(s) Peter Asher
James Taylor singles chronology
"Knocking 'Round the Zoo"
"Sweet Baby James"
"Fire and Rain"

"Sweet Baby James" is a song written and recorded by James Taylor that serves as the opening and title track from his 1970 breakthrough album Sweet Baby James . It was released as the first single from the album but did not chart. [1] [2] Nonetheless, it is one of his best-known and most popular tunes, considered a classic. [3] Taylor considers it his best song. [4] [5]

James Taylor American singer-songwriter and guitarist

James Vernon Taylor is an American singer-songwriter and guitarist. A five-time Grammy Award winner, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. He is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 100 million records worldwide.

<i>Sweet Baby James</i> 1970 studio album by James Taylor

Sweet Baby James is the second album by American singer-songwriter James Taylor, and his first release on Warner Bros. Records. Released in February 1970, the album includes one of Taylor's earliest successful singles: "Fire and Rain", which reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album itself reached #3 on the Billboard Album Charts. Sweet Baby James made Taylor one of the main forces of the ascendant singer-songwriter movement. The album was nominated to a Grammy Award for Album of the Year, in 1971. The album was listed at #104 on Rolling StoneMagazine's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.



The song was written by Taylor for the son of his older brother Alex, who was also named James (and indeed was named after him). [4] Deliberately a cross between a cowboy song and a lullaby, it was first thought up by Taylor as he was driving through Carolina to meet his infant nephew for the first time. [6]

Cowboy animal herder

A cowboy is an animal herder who tends cattle on ranches in North America, traditionally on horseback, and often performs a multitude of other ranch-related tasks. The historic American cowboy of the late 19th century arose from the vaquero traditions of northern Mexico and became a figure of special significance and legend. A subtype, called a wrangler, specifically tends the horses used to work cattle. In addition to ranch work, some cowboys work for or participate in rodeos. Cowgirls, first defined as such in the late 19th century, had a less-well documented historical role, but in the modern world work at identical tasks and have obtained considerable respect for their achievements. Cattle handlers in many other parts of the world, particularly South America and Australia, perform work similar to the cowboy.

Lullaby soothing song, usually sung to young children before they go to sleep

A lullaby, or cradle song, is a soothing song or piece of music that is usually played for children. The purposes of lullabies vary. In some societies they are used to pass down cultural knowledge or tradition. In addition, lullabies are often used for the developing of communication skills, indication of emotional intent, maintenance of infants' undivided attention, modulation of infants' arousal, and regulation of behavior. Perhaps one of the most important uses of lullabies is as a sleep aid for infants. As a result, the music is often simple and repetitive. Lullabies can be found in many countries, and have existed since ancient times.

Taylor spent considerable effort on the lyrics, whose verses he later said used the most intricate rhyming pattern of his career. One of the most famous parts of the lyric is: [7] [8]

Now the First of December was covered with snow
And so was the Turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston
Lord, the Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frostin'
With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go

The song is composed as a waltz, in 3/4 time. [9] The chorus echoes the lullaby sentiment, with a reference to "Rock-a-bye Baby".

"Rock-a-bye Baby" is a nursery rhyme and lullaby. The melody is a variant of the English satirical ballad "Lillibullero". It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 2768.

According to Allmusic critic Bill Janovitz, the two verses contrast the new baby James, as a lonely cowboy, in the first verse with the lonely grown-up James singing in the second verse. [9] On the other hand, author James Perrone suggests that the young cowboy James in the first verse as well as the James traveling the Massachusetts Turnpike in the second verse are both the adult James who is singing the song. [10] Perrone notes that the two are linked near the end of the song when Taylor sings that the nighttime dreams of the first stanza cowboy and the dreams of the second stanza traveller "still inspire all who 'take to the highway.'" [10]

The Massachusetts Turnpike is a toll road in the U.S. state of Massachusetts that is maintained by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT). The turnpike begins at the New York state line in West Stockbridge, linking with the Berkshire Connector portion of the New York State Thruway. Spanning 138 miles (222 km) along an east–west axis, it is entirely concurrent with the portion of Interstate 90 (I-90) that lies within the state. The turnpike is the longest Interstate Highway in Massachusetts, while I-90 in full is the longest Interstate Highway in the United States.

"Sweet Baby James" was included on Taylor's diamond-selling Greatest Hits 1976 compilation.

<i>Greatest Hits</i> (James Taylor album) 1976 greatest hits album by James Taylor

Greatest Hits is the first compilation album by American singer-songwriter James Taylor. Released on November 1, 1976. To this day, it is the best-selling album of his career.

Live performance history

The Massachusetts Turnpike and signs from Stockbridge to Boston. Listening to SBJ upon entry Mass Pike.jpg
The Massachusetts Turnpike and signs from Stockbridge to Boston.

"Sweet Baby James" has been played at virtually every Taylor concert since its release. It is often saved for near or at the end of shows, where it serves as the emotional climax with Taylor performing it as the last encore coming back on stage without his band, [11] or perhaps with just a keyboard player accompanying his guitar.

Invariably, the second verse mentions of the Massachusetts Turnpike, Stockbridge, The Berkshires, and Boston bring cheers from people in the audience who lived in Massachusetts, once lived there, once went to college there, etc. [11] And if the concert is in Tanglewood or Great Woods, the commotion is enough to pause the song. [7] Taylor was born in Boston, and although he moved to North Carolina when very young, he spent summers in Massachusetts and went to boarding school there. [3] [12] This association has made Taylor a regional favorite in New England, including sell-outs at Tanglewood [8] and a record-setting concert stand at Great Woods. [3] Taylor, who underwent treatment at the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge in his younger years and later became a resident of the Berkshires, has spoken of the song's geographical reference points: "I really did drive the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston. I have a real connection to this place." [7]

He performed the song as part of his set on the first episode of Saturday Night Live's second season, which aired September 18, 1976. 15 years later, Taylor performed the song again on the Christmas episode of Saturday Night Live's seventeenth season on December 14, 1991.

In the "Four Together" benefit concert arranged by Harry Chapin in 1977, John Denver sang the harmony part of the chorus on this song.

A concert performance from 1992 was included on his 1993 album Live .

Jay Leno requested Taylor's live performance of the song on his final The Tonight Show (first stint) on May 29, 2009. He said he had listened to it on the car radio as he left Boston for Los Angeles in the early 1970s and that the "ten miles behind, ten thousand more to go" line resonated deeply with him. [13]

Taylor performed the song when campaigning for Deval Patrick's re-election during the Massachusetts gubernatorial election, 2010, and the "Stockbridge to Boston" line drew a huge reaction in that context as well. [14]

Other versions

Tom Rush, who made a practice of recording material from the best new singer songwriters of the era, put it on his October 1970 album Wrong End of the Rainbow . The Seldom Scene added harmony on their bluegrass version, released on their debut album Act 1 in 1972. Highway 101 closed their 1989 album Paint the Town with it. Daniel Greaves of The Watchmen often performs it a cappella during concerts.

Many listeners have thought the song was about, or additionally about, Taylor himself – a "self lullaby" being a reasonable interpretation given the name and "singing works just fine for me" lyric – and so Taylor is often referred to in the press by the nickname "Sweet Baby James". On ABC's Good Morning America on September 15, 2008, Taylor acknowledged "there was that element" about the song. [15]

This appellation has been used in other contexts as well. Celebrity chef James Martin has a BBC 2 show about desserts called Sweet Baby James.

The song is sung by Hank Heywood (Thomas F. Wilson) in the season four episode "Tender Is the Nate" of Legends of Tomorrow , to lull a minotaur to sleep. [16] It is later reprised in the season finale "Hey, World!" to inspire enough love to revive the deceased Nate Heywood. [17]

Related Research Articles

Stockbridge, Massachusetts Town in Massachusetts, United States

Stockbridge is a town in Berkshire County in western Massachusetts, United States. It is part of the Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 1,947 at the 2010 census. A year-round resort area, Stockbridge is home to the Norman Rockwell Museum, the Austen Riggs Center, and Chesterwood, home and studio of sculptor Daniel Chester French.

The Berkshires mountain range

The Berkshires are a highland geologic region located in the western parts of Massachusetts and Connecticut. The term "Berkshires" is normally used by locals in reference to the portion of the Vermont-based Green Mountains that extend south into western Massachusetts; the portion extending further south into northwestern Connecticut is locally referred to as either the Northwest Hills or Litchfield Hills.

Tanglewood is a music venue in the towns of Lenox and Stockbridge in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. It has been the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 1937. Tanglewood is also home to three music schools: the Tanglewood Music Center, Days in the Arts and the Boston University Tanglewood Institute. Besides classical music, Tanglewood hosts the Festival of Contemporary Music, jazz and popular artists, concerts, and frequent appearances by James Taylor, John Williams, and the Boston Pops.

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The Tanglewood Music Center is an annual summer music academy in Lenox, Massachusetts, United States, in which emerging professional musicians participate in performances, master classes and workshops. The Center operates as a part of the Tanglewood Music Festival, an outdoor concert series and the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO).

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Wheatleigh Historic country estate

Wheatleigh is a historic country estate on West Hawthorne Road in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, United States. Built in 1893 to a design by Peabody and Stearns, it is one of the few surviving great Berkshire Cottages of the late 19th century, with grounds landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted. Its estate now reduced to 22 acres (8.9 ha), Wheatleigh was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. It is now operated as a hotel.

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"Country Road" is a song written and performed by James Taylor. It appears on his 1970 second album, Sweet Baby James. The song was inspired by Somerset Street in Belmont, Massachusetts,} a wooded road running adjacent to the land owned by McLean Hospital, where Taylor had committed himself in 1965 to receive treatment for depression. "Country Road" reached number 37 on the Billboard pop singles chart and number 9 Easy Listening in early 1971. On the Canadian charts, the song was a bigger hit on both the Pop (#19) and Adult Contemporary (#3) charts.

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You Can Close Your Eyes song written by James Taylor

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Sunny Skies (song) 1971 song performed by James Taylor

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Gertrude Robinson Smith was an arts patron, philanthropist and a founder of the Berkshire Symphonic Festival, which came to be known as Tanglewood. At the height of the Great Depression, Smith gathered the human resources and secured the financial backing that supported the festival’s early success. Her leadership from the first concerts in August 1934 through the mid-1950s has been recognized as foundational to assuring the success of one of the world’s most celebrated seasonal music festivals.


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