1968 was a year when ‘hip’ went in one direction and the pop charts in another. While 45s were now considered kids’ toys, the rock album was gaining status as an art form. While kids heard new music over a.m. radio while riding in the car with their parents, the hip spun albums at home in stereo over the hi-fi or tuned in to new FM stations. While kids liked bubblegum; the hip sought something more potent. There was money in the pop charts (as long as the record company was paying you) but among the emerging rock intelligentsia, too much enthusiasm for hit singles made you look like a sell out.
It wasn’t easy for groups to maintain hip credibility and pop chart success. It worked for the Doors but they emerged on the scene late. Tommy James and the Shondells worked hard to shed their bubblegum image while straddling both sides of the fence with ‘Crimson and Clover.’
The mood of the times makes the Association a curious case. By 1968, members of the LA-based six-man band were ready to shed their squeaky clean image, and while their hair was getting shaggier (hip), they were still wearing suits on stage (not so hip).
From their beginning, the Association was more cool than other harmony-heavy groups, like the New Christy Minstrels. This had been the case ever since rumors spread that their first top-ten (and perhaps hardest rocking) single, 1966’s “Along Comes Mary,” was about pot. While their stunning set to open the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 could have cemented their hip status, footage of the Association was left out of the festival’s film version that made legends of album-oriented acts like Jimi Hendrix and The Who.
The Association’s fuzz-tone version of ‘Along Comes Mary’ at Monterey
When 1968 rolled around, the Association could have tried to become more heavy, more trippy, more in touch with the times. Rather than do just that, they doubled down on the distinctive sound that made them the Association, and in spring, they released ‘Everything that Touches You.’
It’s a song that begins with bouncy bass, drums, piano, and a ghostly jazz recorder line that underlies the first verse. After that, the song takes off like a Saturn rocket with harmonies so tight that even the Beach Boys couldn’t touch them.
Virile and angelic harmonies were always the trademark of the Association sound. As ‘Everything that Touches You’ progresses, you hear less of the instrumentation (except drums) as the vocalists double up on the trumpet line. The vocals drown out everything else.