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JT & Carly Simon
BBC IN CONCERT (1970)
UP NEXT (at Number 9): REFLECTIONS ON THE KING OF POP
Earth Day Countdown:
James Taylor stuck in “Traffic Jam”
By B SHAWN CLARK
April 13, 2016
ENGLEWOOD, PLANET EARTH (Three Rocks Over). A funny thing happened on the way to the nearest place where they keep greeting cards. A few weeks prior there were plenty of cards for Saint Patrick. Easter cards were there in spades afterward (even before and during). When the day for mothers comes around the stacks will be filled – but there will be precious little, if any, in advance of that day for the one set aside to honor everyone’s: Mother Earth. A “holiday”, and an idea, recognized by Congress (but, perhaps more importantly, not so much by Hallmark), expressing love for the place we all call home, the air that we breathe, the dirt we walk upon, the pure water and food she provides to sustain us (which is too often given no respect, if not thoughtlessly polluted) finds short shrift in American popular culture.
We search for succor in such a barren landscape in a place that expresses what we feel as deep as any soul-searing place we want to call our home: music. There, if we search (using Google mainly) we should find what we seek: a treasure trove of odes to Planet Earth and a catalogue of all the things we have done to keep her pure.
Alas, that cupboard is more than a little bare.
That putting together the top ten pieces of popular music devoted to extolling the beauty of nature, and the need to preserve her, is so difficult bodes less than well for any significant role popular music – or its culture, such that it is – cares to take in keeping the planet from skidding off into some dark space. Why this is so is as much a reflection of what the populace wants, as what our artists will feed them.
Scrounging around for the best music with this sort of message which is, at once recognizable as a popular work of art, and actually GOOD music to listen to, proves to be a far more difficult task than it ought to be. A case in point is Traffic Jam, a somewhat obscure song by James Taylor (less than 2 minutes long) appearing on the very notable 1977 album JT that has such great hits as Handy Man, Bartender’s Blues Terra Nova (with Carly Simon) plus Secret O’ Life (JT came in just behind the legendary Rumours by Fleetwood Mac for Album of the Year at the 1978 Grammys, although that year Taylor got the nod for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for Handy Man).
While a very cute, nice little song that most people will recognize, Traffic Jam just barely makes the cut into the top ten Earth Day songs mainly because of the paucity of other music that can truly be considered worthwhile, with a message that all who love Mother Earth (and even those who don’t) can appreciate. But the lyrics that wind up this song not only give it a little bit of a kick at the end, they seem very much prescient, given they were written in 1977, almost 40 years ago:
Now, I used to think that I was cool
Running around on fossil fuel,
Until I saw what I was doing,
Was driving down the road to ruin.