By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
The Association begin their reign of outrage in mid-1966 with their first single for Valiant Records, "Along Comes Mary." It's riding high on the charts and no wonder -- everyone thinks they are singing about MARIJUANA! Scheduled to perform the song on The Ed Sullivan Show, they are meekly asked by network censors if they wouldn't mind playing "Along Came Jones" instead.
Hah! Do you think the Association wussed out like the Stones would a year later when Mick sang "Let's Spend Some Time Together" to appease a buncha squeamish censors? Do you think they would bastardize Tandyn Almer's original lyrics and maybe sing "Along Comes Murray?" Not the Association. Those hooligans sang "Mary," goddamnit, and sang it often, citing Johnny Mathis' 1963 groundbreaking appearance on Sullivan when he was allowed to croon the offending word seven times during his carefree rendition of "What Would My Mary Say." Not wishing to incite any reverse discrimination lawsuits, the Sullivan people backed down, but made sure there would be no hot snacks and moist towelettes waiting for the Association backstage.
The controversy rages on at a 1966 Disneyland appearance, where the band is warned by law enforcement officials that the show will be stopped should they play "Mary." Badasses to the bone, but unwilling to cheat paying fans out of a show, the Association played the far more subversive call to arms, "Enter the Young." This was to be their follow-up to "Mary," but again they ran into trouble with the censors who thought its title would be "an invitation for pedophiles everywhere."
It's no accident that the Sex Pistols would eventually wind up on the same record label as the Association. If you were to strip "Anarchy in the UK" of all its snarling vocals, aggressive guitars, pummeling drums and anti-Christ sentiments, it would be virtually indistinguishable from "Enter the Young."
Worried that the three-minute-and-57-second length of their next single "Cherish" might discourage DJs from playing it, they purposely list the incorrect running time of three minutes and 49 seconds on the label. Quel rebeloso!
In 1967, Warner Bros. buys out Valiant Records so that it can secure the recording rights to the Association, and Lothar and the Hand People, who are about to sign with Valiant until Lothar decides that "the vibes just aren't conducive, man."
At this juncture, Gary is still wielding considerable power in the Association. The first order of business after signing with Warner Bros. is to re-release "Pandora's Golden Heebie Jeebies." When it fares even worse the second go-around, Gary recalls rocks being thrown through the windows of his home with Mandalay travel brochures tied to them. Henceforth the group vows to only record songs they are not embarrassed to say the titles of, like "We Love Us," "Toymaker" and "Rose Petals, Incense and a Kitten."
Given their sketchy luck with censors so far, it's amazing that they manage to sneak the line "Who's bending down to give me a rainbow" past those pesky AM watchdogs to score a second No. 1 with "Windy." In 1999, Mariah Carey will bend down to show us her rainbow on the cover of her new album. But by then, it's just a new ass dressing up the same old hat.
Once again putting the emphasis on ass, the ASSociation pose while dropping trou on the back cover of their 1967 album Insight Out. Warner Bros. quickly substitutes the cheeky rear photo with a seemingly innocuous picture of the sensational sextet standing in a field of daisies. If you look closely, they all have their flies open in protest.
It is here where the Association's greatest contribution to rock is realized. They refuse to record composer Jimmy Webb's "MacArthur Park," claiming that "any two guys in the group can write a better song than that." Crestfallen, Webb takes the song to overimbibing actor Richard Harris, who scores a massive worldwide hit with it. Now it is impossible to see the proverbial cake out in the rain without recalling the sick devotion Harris revealed for that long-lost recipe. Arguably rock 'n' roll's greatest moment. And the band did come up with even better songs -- witness "Rose Petals, Incense and a Kitten."
By 1970, the group's days of outrage and topping the charts are just a distant memory. Willing to try anything, they even let a totally blissed-out Gary, now calling himself "Jules" Alexander, rejoin. But rather than a return to their halcyon hooligan days, the eponymous album they release finds the Association pissing off what few fans remained with songs like the frightening "Broccoli": "I really dig it steamed, just plain with cheese and cream/I like to eat with my mouth, tastes so good, I like to eat with my mouth, it's my favorite food."
Not even a 1972 effort called Waterbeds in Trinidad can stop the S.S. Association from sinking into oblivion. Still, their influence cannot be ignored. Though never acknowledged by anyone at the time, the theme to TV's long-running game show To Tell the Truth was largely a hash of the Association sound. Even Madonna called attention to the group's impact by quoting lines from "Cherish" into her own composition of the same name. But she didn't give them any royalties. And, as Gary Alexander learned so painfully many years ago, there's a big difference between reverence and revenue.
The Association is scheduled to perform on Friday, December 31, at Phoenix Celebration 2000.