James Taylor on His First No. 1 Album After 45 Years: 'I Was Surprised at How Much It Meant to Me'

James Taylor
Eric Ogden

James Taylor photographed on May 13, 2015 at The DiMenna Center in New York. 

BEFORE THIS WORLD
1 Week On The Billboard 200

When James Taylor’s managers Sam Feldman and Michael Gorfaine called the artist to say Before This World hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200, Taylor, 67, revealed that he had never had a No. 1 album in the 45 years since he first charted with his 1970 LP, Sweet Baby James. Those who worked on the release attribute its success -- including two Grammy nominations, one for best pop vocal album -- in part to Concord Records’ willingness to give Taylor the time he needed to make the album he wanted and an astute marketing and promotion strategy.

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DAVE O’DONNELL, producer: Right from the first song we recorded there was a special feeling. James’ voice was in great shape.

FELDMAN We had set up a world tour well off into the future to give him time to finish the record, but he ended up having to tour prior to it being done. In a funny way it worked out: Because of the touring, he was on people’s minds when the record was finally released.

GORFAINE We took a deliberately prismatic approach to getting this record to as many people as possible via radio, TV, print and social media. James embraced it all, but a few things stood out: The candid interview he did with Howard Stern, the “Two James Taylors on a Seesaw” skit with Jimmy Fallon and the “In My Pants” record commercial with Jimmy Kimmel.

TAYLOR You’ve got to be game for all of those opportunities. Occasionally, one will get some notice in our great, distracted popular culture.

MARGI CHESKE, president, Fantasy Label Group: A Boston Red Sox executive named Charles Steinberg, who is a friend of James and myself, helped us premiere “Angels of Fenway” at Fenway Park. We wanted the Red Sox to have some ownership because it’s a tribute to them.

TAYLOR When they called [to tell me the album had hit No. 1], I think I said, “Well, how about that.” I was surprised at how much it meant to me to have a success like this. It used to be sort of uncool to be motivated by sales and by chart position and stuff like that.

Billboard Year in Music 2015

This story originally appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of Billboard.

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