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The essential James Taylor playlist

The essential James Taylor playlist

Since the 1960s, James Taylor has been one of the most enduring voices in American folk music. From his self-titled debut to his recent releases, Taylor’s catalog is positively packed with stunning songs that run the emotional gamut from sweet to emotionally devastating. 

Flip through the gallery for 20 essential songs that should be on any James Taylor playlist, from classics like “Sweet Baby James” to his iconic cover of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend.” 

“Fire and Rain”

This autobiographical tune appears on Taylor’s sophomore album “Sweet Baby James,” and it’s definitely a tearjerker. The lyrics were inspired by Taylor’s experiences with drug addiction and mental illness following the death of a longtime friend, and his emotive vocals manage to fully express the full range of emotions that this song explores. 

“Sweet Baby James”

The title track of Taylor’s 1970 album, “Sweet Baby James” was written for Taylor’s nephew, who was named after him. With its lullaby-like melody and sweet lyrics, it’s become a fan favorite throughout the years even though it wasn’t initially a major commercial success. 

“Carolina In My Mind”

James Taylor was feeling homesick in 1968 when he was recording in England at The Beatles’ Apple Studios, and “Carolina In My Mind” is the result of that beautiful longing for home. 


This breezy, optimistic tune about a night in Mexico earned Taylor a top-ten hit on the Adult Contemporary charts in 1975. Appearing on his album “Gorilla,” the cheery song is decidedly more upbeat than many of Taylor’s most well-known tunes. 

“How Sweet It Is”

First recorded by Marvin Gaye, James Taylor recorded his own version of “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” in 1975. It was a crossover hit, earning a place on the all-genre Billboard 100, and is a staple in Taylor’s live show. 

“You’ve Got A Friend”

Originally penned in 1971 by Carole King, James Taylor’s version of “You’ve Got A Friend” features Joni Mitchell on backup vocals. It was an instant success, scoring Taylor yet another #1 on the Billboard 100, and was reportedly written by King after hearing a lyric in Taylor’s iconic song “Fire and Rain.” 

“Country Road”

As with many James Taylor tunes, the simple melody in “Country Road” belies the deeply emotional lyrics within. The song was inspired by an actual country road near an inpatient mental health center that Taylor stayed at in 1965. 

“Something In The Way She Moves”

Arguably Taylor’s most beloved love song, “Something In The Way She Moves” is apparently the song that Taylor played for the Beatles as he tried to convince them to sign him to their record label. Clearly, it worked, and “Something In The Way She Moves” was released in 1968 on Taylor’s self-titled debut. 

“Shower The People”

Call it cheesy, but Taylor’s 1976 feel-good anthem “Shower The People” is honestly a solid life motto for these trying times. “Shower the people you love with love, show them the way that you feel,” he sings. “Things are gonna be much better if you only will.”

“Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight”

Appearing on Taylor’s 1972 album “One Man Dog,” “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” is a classic done-me-wrong song, with a lonely male protagonist that’s lost the one he loved to infidelity. Since its release, the song’s been covered by a slew of major artists, ranging from Liza Minelli to Joe Cocker to Garth Brooks. 

“You Can Close Your Eyes”

James Taylor’s other beloved lullaby “You Can Close Your Eyes” appears on his 1971 album “Mudslide Slim and the Blue Horizon.” It’s further proof that Taylor writes one hell of a song to help babies — or adults! — make their way to dreamland. 

“If I Keep My Heart Out of Sight”

Released on 1977’s “JT,” “If I Keep My Heart Out of Sight” is a sweet and tentative love song. The lyrics are ultimately hopeful if a little shy. “If I play my role just right, hen tonight could be my lucky night,” he sings. “And you could be mine if I keep my heart out of sight.” 

“Handy Man”

Even though James Taylor didn’t write “Handy Man,” he certainly recorded one of the most iconic versions of this song in 1977. It was a #1 hit, and the laid-back melody makes it a favorite among dedicated Taylor fans. 

“One Man Parade”

Even though it wasn’t a major commercial success, critics had plenty of praise for “One Man Parade” after its release in 1973. It’s catchy and the delightfully quirky lyrics make it perfect for a singalong. 

“Your Smiling Face”

This sweet love song was written while James Taylor was in the honeymoon phase of his relationship with Carly Simon, evidenced by its doting lyrics. “Whenever I see your smiling face my way,” he sings. “No one can tell me that I’m doing it wrong today.” Aww. 

“Only One”

Joni Mitchell and Don Henley lent their vocal prowess to this upbeat 1985 James Taylor classic, which appears on his album “That’s Why I’m Here.” It was a top-ten hit, the only one from this album, and remains an enduring part of Taylor’s live shows to this day. 


A testament to the copper-tinged soil of his North Carolina home, “Copperline” is a fond testament to Taylor’s beloved Chapel Hill. 

“Our Town”

A whole new generation of James Taylor was born after “Our Town” appeared in the popular animated Disney film Cars in 2006. Written by Randy Newman, “Our Town” won a Grammy Award for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture and earned an Oscars nomination for Best Original Song. 

“October Road”

The title track of Taylor’s fifteenth studio album, “October Road” proved that the artist still had the ability to move audiences when it debuted at #4 on the Billboard charts. 

“Steamroller Blues”

This arguably silly blues parody, was released in 1970 as a satire of what Taylor viewed as “inauthentic” music made by white artists of the era. It’s certainly one of his saltier hits, though it remains a fixture of Taylor’s live shows. 

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