Reportedly, James Taylor was close to retiring from making music altogether when he agreed to play the Rock in Rio festival in January 1985. Appearing in front of more than 300,000 people must be re-energizing, because soon after, Taylor released his first album in four years, 'That's Why I'm Here,' with help from friends like Don Henley, Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash. His cover of this 1957 Buddy Holly classic was the album's big hit single.
'Her Town Too'
The title of Taylor's 1981 album 'Dad Loves His Work' directly addressed his marital problems. His then-wife, Carly Simon, reportedly asked him to cut back on recording and touring in order to spend more time with their young children. Taylor was apparently unwilling or unable to slow down his output, even as he was writing sad songs about love gone wrong, like this chart-topping duet with J.D. Souther.
'Sweet Baby James'
Back in 1968, Taylor was the very first artist signed to the Beatles' new label, Apple Records. Taylor's debut album sales came nowhere close to the amount of praise the record earned. Luckily, the Beatles kindly released James from his contract early, allowing him to issue his 1970 album 'Sweet Baby James' featuring this concert-favorite title track (titled after his newborn namesake nephew, by the way), on Warner Bros. instead. The result was his first big critical and commercial success.
'Shower the People'
After a series of chart successes -- cover versions or songs written for him by other musicians -- this massive hit from 1976's 'In the Pocket' gave Taylor his biggest self-written hit in four years. Then-wife Carly Simon can be heard harmonizing with him on this track, and friends Stevie Wonder, Art Garfunkel and Bonnie Raitt guest-star elsewhere on the album.
'How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)'
Some of the best James Taylor songs actually come from other authors. In recent years, Taylor has released two popular albums, 2008's 'Covers' and 2009's 'More Covers,' featuring his takes on classic songs written by other artists. In fact, Taylor has made a career-long habit out of recording songs from his friends, peers and influences. It all started with this astoundingly successful interpretation of Marvin Gaye's Motown classic, as featured on Taylor's 1975 'Gorilla' album.
'Your Smiling Face'
We've already seen the sad songs chronicling the end of Taylor's relationship with Carly Simon on this list, so it's nice to see this uptempo, still-in-love song from 1977's 'JT' album. That year must have been a great year for James romantically and professionally, as he followed up the unprecedented success of the previous year's 'Greatest Hits' collection with his best-reviewed album in years. Thanks to hit singles like 'Your Smiling Face,' it went on to become his best-selling studio record as well.
'Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight'
This song was the only hit single from Taylor's experimental 1972 concept album, 'One Man Dog.' The rest of the record consisted of short songs and instrumental fragments, recorded in his home studio and strung together.
'Carolina in My Mind'
For his 1976 'Greatest Hits' collection, Taylor rerecorded this song from his 1968 debut album -- the new version far outstripping the original in terms of popularity. Although more closely associated with Massachusetts -- where he was born and currently lives -- James actually grew up in North Carolina. He wrote this song while feeling homesick during recording sessions in London, and it has gone on to become the unofficial anthem of his former home state, even being frequently played at University of North Carolina pep rallies.
'You've Got a Friend'
Carole King giveth and Carole King taketh away: James Taylor's cover of his good friend's song gave him his first No. 1 single ever. But her hugely popular 'Tapestry' album kept his 1971 collection 'Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon' stalled at No. 2 on the album charts.
'Fire and Rain'
Many stories have developed to explain the lyrics of Taylor's breakthrough 1970 hit from the 'Sweet Baby James' album. 'Fire and Rain' does deal partly with the loss of a friend, but the much-rumored plane crash never happened. Instead, when James sings about "flying machines in pieces on the ground," he is referring to the breakup of his former band, the Flying Machine (not to be confused with the band that had a 1969 hit with 'Smile a Little Smile'), which released a couple of records before Taylor's solo career took off.