♫ Sweet Baby James ♫

The other night when I played another James Taylor song, David mentioned this one, Sweet Baby James, as being one of his favourites and I promised to play it, since I’m still in James Taylor mode for the moment.  I learned some interesting things while researching this song, such as that Taylor Swift was named after James Taylor!  But more interesting is the background of the song.  This is one of his most popular songs, although it did not chart anywhere, and has been played at almost every James Taylor concert since its release in 1970!  According to SongFacts …

James Taylor is not singing about himself in this song, but about the child who was named in his honor. Taylor wrote the song in 1969, when he drove on his way to Richmond, Virginia to see his older brother, the late Alex Taylor. James had recently returned to America after recording his first album in England, and he was shocked to learn that Alex had become a father for the first time in his absence.

Alex and his wife, Brent Taylor, had given birth to their first child, a baby son, which Brent wanted to name Richmond, after the city in which he was born. However, Alex wanted to name the child James, after his younger brother. So after a few arguments, the couple named the boy James Richmond Taylor. James was elated to discover that he had a new baby nephew, also named James. So the title can be a little confusing, since both the singer and his nephew are named James. The singer is James Vernon Taylor, while his nephew is James Richmond Taylor.

This song is a soft lullaby that tells the story of a young cowboy who spends his lonely nights in the canyons, with nothing to keep him company but his horse and his cattle – he occupies his long and lonely hours of darkness singing himself to sleep.

There are some ways this song associates with its writer. As a young child, James Taylor, along with his siblings, often sang each other to sleep at night. The story goes that James couldn’t stand it when his mother sang, because she only sang opera. And because James’ mother was a lyric soprano, she never sang lullabies. James’ father never sang lullabies either, because he didn’t exactly have the knack for music.

So when he was a little boy, the young James Taylor was often put in the position of having to sing himself to sleep each night, hence the line, “Singin’ works just fine for me.”

In a 2018 Songfacts interview, James’ brother, Livingston Taylor, gave his take on this song: “James is a good writer. James is not a great pop writer. Both James and I, particularly early in our careers, because of the lack of input and the lack of structure around us, tended to write with initial kernels that were great but without terribly much follow through. So, for example, ‘Sweet Baby James’ has an unbelievable first verse and chorus – it’s as good as it gets in terms of character development, in terms of setting the stage. But after that, no bridge, not terrific development in the second verse. It lacks balance. As contrasted with James’ first #1 song ‘You’ve Got A Friend,’ written by Carole King. That is an exceptionally crafted song, as are most of Carole’s songs. They’re balanced beginning to end.”

And now, let the music play …

Sweet Baby James

James Taylor

There is a young cowboy, he lives on the range
His horse and his cattle are his only companions
He works in the saddle and he sleeps in the canyons
Waiting for summer, his pastures to change

And as the moon rises, he sits by his fire
Thinkin’ about women and glasses of beer
Reclosing his eyes as the doggies retire
He sings out a song which is soft, but it’s clear
As if maybe someone could hear

Goodnight, you moonlight ladies
Rockabye, sweet baby James
Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose
Won’t you let me go down in my dreams?
And rockabye, sweet baby James

Now, the first of December was covered with snow
So was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston
Though the Berkshires seemed dreamlike on account of that frostin’
With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go

There’s a song that they sing when they take to the highway
A song that they sing when they take to the sea
Song that they sing of their home in the sky
Maybe you can believe it if it helps you to sleep
But singing works just fine for me

So goodnight, you moonlight ladies
Rockabye, sweet baby James
Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose
Won’t you let me go down in my dreams?
And rockabye, sweet baby James

Source: Musixmatch

Songwriters: James Taylor

Sweet Baby James lyrics © Emi Blackwood Music Inc., Country Road Music