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My favorite non-hits by James Taylor

Updated on October 5, 2014
James Taylor at Tanglewood in 2008.
James Taylor at Tanglewood in 2008. | Source

The best James Taylor songs that didn't chart

So I'm not going to talk about that soul-bearing song about his friend's suicide that defined James Taylor as an artist.

Or the saucy one about the "broken heart mender" that won him a Grammy.

Or the inspiring anthem of undying friendship that he covered and delivered a Grammy to Carole King.

Or any of the songs on the Greatest Hits album that sold 11 million (11 million!) copies.

Not right now, anyway.

This particular page is a collection of my favorite non-hits from my favorite pop singer. Reviews of wonderful James Taylor songs that didn't climb the charts but make my heart soar with feelings of delight, dismay, romance, empathy, hope, and fun.

Another Day - From "Hourglass" (1997)

1999 - Beacon Theatre Show

Another Day
Another Day

Written by James Taylor.


This song is everything we love about James Taylor. Sweet, sensitive, searching.

I have a favorite iTunes playlist made up of songs that all speak to me in the same way about a dark or sad time being over and the joy and hope of a new dawning. It includes songs from Barry Manilow, the Beatles, Andrae Crouch, and Mary Mary. And this one -- "Another Day".

. . . walk with me into this light . . .

I love the musical structure of "Another Day". It starts with a beautiful line that doesn't really sound like a complete verse or a chorus. The phrase ends on a six-chord that doesn't resolve; it sounds like it's leading into another part. Then other passages follow it, a different one each time, always coming back to the opening, which closes the song on the unresolved chord. It feels like a beginning instead of an ending. I can't think of any other song I know that is structured that way.

Another Grey Morning - From "JT" (1977)

I don't have any real experience with depression myself, but James Taylor does, and I get the feeling that "Another Grey Morning" paints a picture of what depression is like. You can feel heaviness in the song right along with its beauty.

The main guitar riff has a bluesy feel and the bassline partly resembles another great blues tune, Ain't No Sunshine by Bill Withers. The guitar groove is very appealing and could even sound a little bit funky or sexy if it were paired with a different melody and lyrics, but in the context of the song it adds to the feeling of droning repetition; it succeeds in sounding like a rut instead of a groove.

And James, of course, complements it perfectly with his singing. The intimacy of his vocals help you feel like you're getting inside someone else's head.

Blossom - From "Sweet Baby James" (1970)


Written by James Taylor.


Sunny and pretty and romantic. The bright guitar playing and sweet singing bring an instant smile. And I love the "la la la" ending. If he's trying to woo her with a serenade, I think it will definitely work.

The message of "Blossom" seems to be that the nicest way for a guy to get in touch with his feminine side is to hook up with a good woman.

You get the feeling from this live performance that Taylor really likes this song. I love his comment at the beginning: "Sometimes I can't believe I wrote it."

If I Keep My Heart Out of Sight - From "JT" (1977)

Lushly romantic but with a modern edge as well. This song enchanted me when I was a teenager. Every woman's fantasy is that there's some terrific guy out there who's strategizing about how he can marry her.

I love the sparkly electric keyboard accents on this song, and Taylor does an excellent job hitting his high notes without sounding affected or strained.

Mean Old Man - From "October Road" (2002)

First of all, this song doesn't sound like "a James Taylor song". When I first heard it , I thought it was probably a cover and was surprised to find that it's an original. It feels like an old standard, complete with jazz piano accompaniment.

"Mean Old Man" is a fun song. It has a great marriage of music to lyrics, with a melodic sequence that climbs the scale as more and more cutely rhymed words are piled on to form a caricature of the grumpy protagonist.

And so danceable, too.

Oh, Susannah - From "Sweet Baby James" (1970)

Oh, Susannah
Oh, Susannah

Written by Stephen Foster.


Yes, this is a cover of the old folk song. Taylor does it with no other backing instruments or vocals, just himself and his acoustic guitar. He sings and plays it with expression and great musicality. In his hands, even the silly lyrics seem meaningful.

Video from 1971. James Taylor appears on Johnny Cash's TV show and performs "Oh, Susannah", with Cash joining in with a second verse (a different second verse than the one Taylor does on his album).

Sarah Maria - From "Gorrila" (1975)

Sarah Maria
Sarah Maria

Written by James Taylor.


A love song/lullaby that Taylor wrote for his baby daughter (born in 1974). The chorus is just her name.

Sarah, Sarah Maria

Sarah Maria, ya, ya, ya, ya

Here's a somewhat decent cover version by mumd2003 on YouTube.

Sleep Come Free Me - From "Flag" (1979)

Sleep Come Free Me
Sleep Come Free Me

Written by James Taylor.


This song is a stunner. It makes me feel sort of like I felt the first time I heard the slow movement of Beethoven's 3rd Symphony. Like I had been completely vacuumed out.

"Sleep Come Free Me" is a portrait of depression and hopelessness, with a protagonist who has a good reason to feel hopeless -- he's serving a life sentence in prison.

I remember reading an article once where a former child abuse victim said that in the home where they grew up, the children were at risk for being beaten during all their waking hours. The only time they felt safe was when they were asleep. The prisoner in this song is having a similar experience. When he sleeps, he's not aware of his situation, and that's the only time.

I think "Sleep Come Free Me" features some of James Taylor's very best singing. He immerses himself in the song, with an emotional performance that sounds totally authentic.

Some Children See Him - From "James Taylor at Christmas" (2006)

Some Children See Him
Some Children See Him

Written by Alfred Burt and Wihla Hutson.


I don't think James Taylor is a Christian, but he has shown many times that he can be very comfortable and convincing singing religious lyrics. He does it very well on the entire "James Taylor at Christmas" album (you should also check out his rendition of "Go Tell It On The Mountain").

I admit that I had never heard "Some Children See Him" before I came across his version of it, so my reaction could be more to the song itself than to James. But he does sound great on it. With a song about little children and Christmas, it could be easy to end up sounding syrupy, but he gets it pitch perfect.

Terra Nova - From "JT" (1977)

Terra Nova (Album Version)
Terra Nova (Album Version)

Written by Carly Simon and James Taylor.


A co-creation with Carly Simon, to whom he was married at the time. Her backing vocals complement him beautifully in this song that expresses the pull between the excitement of setting out for adventures and the familiar comfort of home.

If I ever decided to study guitar, one of the first things I would want to learn is the opening riff from "Terra Nova". So pretty.

Traffic Jam - From "JT" (1977)

Traffic Jam (Album Version)
Traffic Jam (Album Version)

Written by James Taylor.


I stay away from even the mildest four-letter words, so this song is a guilty pleasure for me. Everyone can relate to the humor and the emotions expressed. It sounds like Taylor and his background singers are having plenty of fun on this a cappella song, between the four-part harmonies on the chorus and the spoken word verses.

Actually, it's not really a cappella. It has drums.

"Traffic Jam" sounds like a song someone would write in Los Angeles, and indeed he did.

Vote for your favorite!

Which of these James Taylor songs do you like best?

See results

Maybe there's another great non-hit that I haven't heard but I really should. Or maybe you just have different tastes from me.

What James Taylor song do you adore that didn't chart?

Don't let me be lonely . . . - Leave a comment!

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    • profile image

      JC 2 years ago

      You Make It Easy - off of the live album is phenomenal.

    • TerriCarr profile image

      TerriCarr 3 years ago

      Wow! I love James Taylor. I will bookmark this page for a place to come back to for some JT tunes.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Really nice page. I'm a life-long JT fan. Got the chance to meet him and his band a few years ago, and had him sign my guitar (an Olson, of course!). My first conversation with my future wife 30 years ago was about James (they went to the same high school) and we were married on the first day of may. You know why. Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for putting a well thought out tribute together.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I have to agree with the Sarah Maria selection. My wife and I named our daughter after that song and it was playing while she was born. She just turned 14.

    • rooshoo profile image

      rooshoo 5 years ago

      This is a great idea for a lens. There are sure some underrated songs in James Taylor's catalog. Such a beautiful voice.

    • jdpslc profile image

      jdpslc 5 years ago

      This is a great lens, and the inspiration to my lens: John Denver's Greatest Misses!! Thanks again for the lens and the inspiration :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I went to see the great James Taylor in concert, what a treat that was. :)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      Sometimes positions on charts doesn't reflect the quality. Another Grey Morning is one such example...

    • bushaex profile image

      Stephen Bush 5 years ago from Ohio

      James Taylor is also one of my favorites. You have given us timeless information about a timeless artist. SquidAngel blessings.

    • profile image

      KaraAshton 5 years ago

      Grew up loving James Taylor and never knew of these old songs. Thanks for compiling them so neatly. You put so much love into every lens you do. Thank you.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 5 years ago from Colorado

      This is fantastic. I've loved James Taylor's music forever and yet was unaware of most of these songs. I really like how you presented them. Thank you for bringing me the pleasure of new music today. I'll have to get my guitar out and give them a go. I'll think of those riffs you love as I strum my way into these exquisite songs.

    • JoanieMRuppel54 profile image

      Joanie Ruppel 5 years ago from Keller, Texas

      Long Ago and Far Away - love it!

    • jadehorseshoe profile image

      jadehorseshoe 6 years ago

      A Very Nice Lens!

    • hughgrissettsr lm profile image

      hughgrissettsr lm 6 years ago

      great lens! his version of handyman is one of my all-time favorites!

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 6 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      I'm familiar with a lot of these songs, as I used to own just about every James Taylor album there was. I've seen him twice live, and he was excellent in concert. I love most of his hit songs, but many of his lesser known songs are just as great.

    • dezwards profile image

      dezwards 6 years ago

      What a great lens. Just bought JT tickets for July and can't wait. Really good idea to highlight some of the lesser known songs. Many thanks!

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 6 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      I love ALL James Taylor songs -- popular or not. I just love to hear him sing (and play). I'm not sure if James Taylor is considered part of the 'Folk Music' era of the 60s, but it has always felt that way to me. Therefore, am lensrolling this to my 'Kingston Trio' music lens.

    • EuroSquid LM profile image

      EuroSquid LM 6 years ago

      I love JT and love this lens. Blessed by yet another Squid Angel. You have quite a collection of blessings by now!

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 7 years ago

      My favorite is Mockingbird with his then wife Carly Simon. I only heard about it on one of her albums so I guess it wasn't really a 'hit'

    • lisals7777 profile image

      lisals7777 7 years ago

      Love James Taylor. You've covered it all and then some!

    • KarenHC profile image

      Karen 7 years ago from U.S.

      I've enjoyed James Taylor since I was in high school, and way back then someone taught me how to play the opening bit of "Blossom". I've heard most of the songs that you featured here and like them all. I can't think of a James Taylor song that I don't like. I love how you write about his music!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 7 years ago from United States

      Wow! I love James Taylor's music. I can't believe you featured so many that I have never heard before. Fantastic!!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      This is Go Tell it on the Mountain. It's the best version I've ever heard.

    • ajgodinho profile image

      Anthony Godinho 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Great idea for a lens - very well done! One of my favourites was "If I Keep My Heart Out of Sight".

    • corinnemwestphal profile image

      corinnemwestphal 7 years ago

      OK, you just won my heart. I'm a #1 fan of J.T. going further back than I want to admit. You got me all teary-eyed, thumbing through your lens. I will return often. Thanks for this. Sadly, I can only favorite this once.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      This is a joyful trip down memory lane! One of my all-time James Taylor favorites is "Steamroller Blues." It's another one like Traffic Jam that has a grittiness to it, and a couple of cuss words. :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Just blessed this one, Joan!

    • profile image

      poutine 7 years ago

      My own fave is "You've Got A Friend".

      Excellent lens.

    • Violin-Student profile image

      Violin-Student 7 years ago

      Great lens. Thanks for sharing. I love James Taylor, and this is a wonderful collection of some of his best (and best known -- although those two categories don't always coincide) work.

      Art Haule

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 7 years ago from Canada

      Very nicely done, Joan.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Beautiful lens about James Taylor. 5*, blessed

    • The-Java-Gal profile image

      The-Java-Gal 7 years ago

      I love James Taylor style - hard to choose a favorite. Like you, I find some of my favorite songs never hit the charts. Loved your lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      What a wonderful lens about James Taylor! I had the privilege to see him live in 1970 or 1971 and he was just as good live. His opening act that night was...Carol King! What a night of music we were treated to!

    • SoyCandleLover profile image

      BW Duerr 7 years ago from Henrietta, New York

      Sorry, to say I can't remember anything that was not a hit. Listening to too much pop maybe? :D I did pick Blossom as favorite here. Used to the relaxed sound of JT, but really like the upbeat sound of this song. Thanks for sharing.

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 7 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      These are all awesome songs. I got hooked on JT the first time I heard "Traffic Jam" and I've loved him ever since.

    • KarenTBTEN profile image

      KarenTBTEN 7 years ago

      A lot of care obviously went into wriitng about these songs and arranging them for listening and purchase. I lensrolled this to "Songs of My Childhood".

    • groovyfind profile image

      Samantha Devereux 7 years ago from Columbia Mo

      Fab lens!

    • joanhall profile image

      Joan Hall 7 years ago from Los Angeles

      @anonymous: Wow, the "Terra Nova" video was just there yesterday. OK, I've replaced it with another one (sound quality isn't as good, but good enough).

      And you might be right about why some songs aren't big hits. I remember back in 1979 when the "Flag" album came out, a pop radio station that I listened to announced that they were about to play a new James Taylor song for their listeners to rate. They said it was "Rainy Day Man", but by mistake they played "Mill Worker" instead. I really liked it, but the listeners and the DJ all gave it a zero.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Great idea for a lens. JT is a genius, and how many gifts he was given - a gorgeous voice, wonderful guitar player, songs for the ages, and good looking to boot! But came with a burden of sorrow... I liked your descriptions of what you liked about the songs. I'm going to feature this on the Squidoo music blog. BTW - your "Terra Nova" video link is kaput.

      Maybe the reason these songs didn't become huge hits is precisely what you liked about them - that they don't fit the mold.

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 7 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      I'm a JT fan, familiar with most of these songs. I love many of his non-hits, but it's been too long since I've listened to his music. That's going to change tonight, though. You've inspired me to go pull out a CD or two.