It’s a foggy January 21, 2017 Saturday evening in Newton, NJ.
As we make our way through the mist blanketing downtown Spring Street, we stop in to check out some of the inviting restaurants and art galleries located on our way to address #234, The Newton Theatre, a gem of a concert hall in this quaint little northwestern New Jersey town.
Originally a motion picture theater, “The Newt” — as it’s affectionately known to the locals — now hosts an appealing line-up of live concerts in a 605-seat setting where every patron has a great view and is served by a staff which couldn’t be more friendly. Artists who have recently put on sold-out shows here include jazz giants Pat Metheny and Ron Carter and Partridge Family teen idol David Cassidy.
Tonight, however, we make our way out of the cold mist and into the warm and welcoming lobby of “The Newt” ready to experience the music of one of our favorite childhood bands — the legendary American pop group, The Association.
One of the most beloved acts of the ’60s, over the past half-century, The Association has sold over 80 million recordings, earning six gold and three platinum discs. Their Greatest Hits compilation is one of the best-selling albums in Warner Bros. Records history, and their singles continue to receive radio airplay years after their release.
The Association was formed in 1965 in Southern California. After rehearsing for several months, they began to perform live in coffee houses, folk clubs, and colleges, in addition to proms and parties throughout the state. Their fan base in Los Angeles grew into millions as their hit songs made their way up the radio airplay charts.
The Association also made history as the first band anywhere to open a rock festival — the now historic Monterey Pop Festival. During the 1960s, they were nominated for seven Grammy awards. At the time, they also made guest appearances on major television variety shows including The Ed Sullivan Show, Shindig, and American Bandstand.
As the packed crowd at The Newton Theatre waits for the show to begin, large screens on either side of the stage flash “blasts from the past” of The Association performing on television with the likes of Andy Williams, Carol Channing, and The Smothers Brothers. Interspersed with these classic video clips are still shots of albums including Insight Out and The Association featuring mod and psychedelic LP covers which bring back memories of younger days to this crowd of enthusiastic baby boomers.
As images of The Association dance on the screens, the actual members of The Association — Jim Yester on guitar and vocals, Jules Alexander on lead guitar and vocals, Del Ramos on bass and vocals, Jordan Cole on keyboards, Paul Holland on lead guitar and vocals, and Bruce Pictor on drums and vocals — take their places on the stage as the audience applauds in excited anticipation.
The members of the Association respond by playing the first notes of the unmistakable bass and guitar intro to their 1966 #1 hit “Windy.” Treating this nostalgic crowd to expert vocal harmonies and rhythmic instrumental accompaniment — not to mention a live baroque recorder solo! — the group delights the packed house with the joyful and infectious sound of their mega-hit and the fans react with smiles and cheers.
The clicking of drum sticks leads off the group’s second number, 1970’s “Just About the Same,” a breezy island-influenced pop ditty with a message of unity which, even today, reminds us, “Hey, everybody is/Just about the same/Just about the same/Hey, when you finally see/From where we came/From where we came.”
Long-time Association member and guitarist Jim Yester and newer addition drummer Bruce Pictor are featured together as lead vocalists on the next tune — a Top 10 hit from 1968 — the delightful “Everything That Touches You,” its message of “Love, love, love, love, everything is love” delivering good vibes to the entire Newton Theatre audience.
Keyboardist Jordan Cole — the son of late Association founding member and bassist Brian Cole — is featured next. Cole sings lead on the opening tune of the band’s best-selling debut album, And Then…. Along Comes the Association — a song which, in 1966, the group considered its “battle cry for the youth movement,” “Enter the Young.”
Asking the audience to “Sing along — but if you don’t know the parts, don’t — it’s embarrassing,” The Association performs a cover version of one of their favorite numbers from the 1960s — The Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee” — as the audience joins in, singing and clapping along, notably on the memorable chorus.
Named by music licensing agency BMI as “one of the 100 most-played songs of the last 100 years,” bandleader Yester tells the crowd that the group’s next tune “bumped The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’ from the list’s #2 spot.” Bassist and vocalist Del Ramos -- brother of the long-time Association guitarist and singer Larry Ramos -- dedicates the song to all the men and women who serve in the military. He also dedicates it to his 97-year-old mother and to his girlfriend, Linda — in the house for tonight’s show — and in doing so, evokes sincere “awwwwwws” from the crowd.
1967’s “Never My Love.”
As Ramos sings, waves of nostalgia overtake the audience, many of them bobbing their heads and smiling as they listen and hum along, several of them leaping to their feet in warm appreciation at the conclusion of the performance.
Next up is a cover version of a 1965 tune by The Mamas and the Papas — a group about which Ramos reveals, “the Association performed live on stage with more than any other band.” After a heartfelt rendition of “California Dreamin’,” they follow up with a tune Yester says they “debuted on The Ed Sullivan Show,” the distorted electric guitar signaling the beginning of their lively rocker — their 1968 single, “Six Man Band.”
After a short intermission, gravelly-voiced DJ Wolfman Jack appears on screen and introduces The Association as they perform a catchy tune from their 1995 album A Little Bit More entitled “Learn How to Land.” Featuring tight vocals and a fiery instrumental exchange from Jordan Cole and Paul Holland on electric guitars, this relatively unknown tune is well-received by the admiring crowd.
According to The Association, while on a concert tour in Southeast Asia, the group was once asked to play a song which they “didn’t know was a hit” in the Philippines. Their audience was so disappointed to learn the song was not a part of the band’s repertoire, following the tour, the members of the group made it a point to relearn it. Performing it tonight for the audience at “The Newt,” the group launches into Yester’s composition, “No Fair at All,” a tune which features lovely vocal harmonies and a unique baroque recorder solo by Paul Holland.
Introduced as a “vocal arranger, poet, science monitor, songwriter, and vital part of group,” Association founding member Jules Alexander is featured next as lead vocalist on the band’s folksy 1970 number, “Dubuque Blues.” A current resident of Texas, Alexander makes it a point to tell the crowd how proud he is of his “wife and daughter” who, he says, “participated in the Women’s March today in Austin,” prompting applause from the vast majority of baby boomers in the crowd.
After achieving pop music success in the 1960s, Jim Yester reveals The Association was deluged with an influx of material created by songwriters looking to have their work recorded by the group. According to Yester, in fact, “Sometimes, we would listen to as many as 200 songs per day.” Going on to mention the many hits the group rejected including “Joy to the World,” a #1 smash for Three Dog Night; “The Air That I Breathe,” a Top Ten hit for The Hollies; and “MacArthur Park,” a tune written especially for The Association by Jim Webb, but which charted at #2 and #1 respectively by Richard Harris and, later on, Donna Summer; Yester performs a hilarious cover version of another song the band never recorded — the Eagles’ “Desperado.”
And speaking of cover versions, following this bit of levity, The Association goes on to play covers of a jukebox full of classic hits including Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t it be Nice,” The Temptations’ “My Girl,” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising,” The Band’s “The Weight,” The Four Tops’ “It’s the Same Old Song,” and, for the grand finale, a powerhouse version of Hoyt Axton’s “Joy to the World,” the audience joyfully singing and clapping along.
Credited as the vocal arranger for one of the Association’s biggest hits, Jules Alexander tells the devoted crowd, “There’s not much we can say about this next song except ‘Thank you’ for making it the big hit that it was.” Listening to Jules and The Association perform their 1966 #1 smash “Cherish,” the audience is willfully transported back to another time and, following the number, they whistle, cheer, and stand in approval, after which Jules exclaims with a smile, “That’s a b**** to sing, but we still do it in the same key!”
Before their final number, Jules publicly introduces his long-time friend of 51 years, Jim Yester, to the audience, informing them that “Jim comes from a musical family” as “his father was the accordion player in the John Wayne movie Fort Apache” and his “brother Jerry was a member of The Lovin’ Spoonful.”
Performing The Association’s debut hit — a song which Alexander discloses “when it was first released, half the stations wouldn’t play it” — Yester and the group perform a sizzling version of 1966’s “Along Comes Mary,” its famous lyric declaring, “When we met I was sure out to lunch/Now my empty cup tastes as sweet as the punch.” The crowd reacts with one all-encompassing standing ovation.
Collectively thanking the audience and calling them “New Jersey strong” and then individually thanking them — all six Association members simultaneously talking over one another for laughs — the group performs a joyful version of their catchy title tune from the film Goodbye Columbus, cheerfully crooning, “It’s a lucky day,” before segueing into a reprise of the evening’s opening smash, “Windy.”
After more cheers and applause, as audience members begin to exit the auditorium, several react to the concert they’ve just experienced.
Larry and Sandy, a couple from Newton, NJ, call The Association’s performance tonight “just terrific” and “a wonderful show,” in addition to characterizing it as “a real walk down memory lane.”
Kevin, from North Jersey, is a long-time Association fan who reveals, “I still have my 45s and 8-tracks!” Telling us he first saw the group “in Dade City, Florida back in ’68” and “then, again in Asbury Park, NJ, ten years later,” Kevin says that although he misses some of “the original guys,” he still goes on to acknowledge that “talent is talent” for this group which, remarkably, is still together and going strong more than a half-century after its inception.
Lorri from Stillwater, NJ — a self-described “Woodstock girl” — discloses, “I grew up listening to The Association, saying, “They were great — just awesome!” Her friend, Helen, also from Stillwater, notes, “Their sound is so pure — I love the way they harmonize,” adding, “This is the second time I’ve seen them — the last time, I brought my 26-year-old son and he loves them, too.” Helen even shows us some of her ‘60’s era Association LPs which she brought with her to the show in an effort to get them autographed by the men of the The Association whom she characterizes as being “very gracious.”
Lastly, out in the lobby of the Newton Theatre, we have an opportunity to chat with long-time Association member Jim Yester who, when asked about performing here in the Garden State happily replies, “It’s great playing in New Jersey, because I live in New Jersey!”
Originally from Alabama, Yester informs us that he is currently “a resident of Galloway Twp.,” adding, “There are so many nice people in New Jersey.”
Explaining that for some of their live concert appearances — notably when they share a bill with other well-known groups — they don’t have an opportunity to perform their entire repertoire with the complete band, but Yester says he was really “looking forward to this show tonight because it’s the whole group.”
“We’re having so much fun!” Yester exclaims, stating, “With this band, the whole feeling and sound is just like it was in the ‘60s.”
And as we make our way out of the warm and friendly Newton Theatre and back into the reality of the misty fog on Spring Street, we can’t help but agree that, even though out here in the cold it’s 2017, inside “The Newt” this evening, the whole feeling and sound of this band was just like it was in the ‘60s!
To learn more about The Association — including information on upcoming show dates and appearances with the 2017 Happy Together Tour featuring The Turtles, Three Dog Night’s Chuck Negron, The Cowsills, The Box Tops, and The Archies’ Ron Dante — please go to www.theassociationwebsite.com. For more information on future performances at The Newton Theatre — including Poco on March 10, Herman’s Hermits featuring Peter Noone on April 21, and 10,000 Maniacs on May 6 — please go to www.thenewtontheatre.com.Photos by Love Imagery
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