After the Beatles signed James Taylor to their label Apple in 1968, McCartney played bass on the original “Carolina in my Mind” and Harrison sang back up. As Wikipedia elaborates below, the lyrics refer to Taylor recording his first album at Abbey Road while the Fab Four (“the holy host of others”) did the White Album. Taylor also sings of being on the dark side of the moon, which perhaps influenced another band that recorded at Abbey Road, Pink Floyd.
Also on Taylor’s first album was “Something in the Way She Moves,” which of course became the first line to one of Harrison’s biggest hits.
The song references Taylor’s years growing up in North Carolina. Taylor wrote it while overseas recording for The Beatles’ label Apple Records. He started writing the song at producer Peter Asher’s London flat on Marylebone High Street, resumed work on it while on holiday on the Mediterranean island of Formentera, and then completed it while stranded on the nearby island of Ibiza with a Swedish girl Karin he had just met. The song reflects Taylor’s homesickness at the time, as he was missing his family, his dog, and his state.
Dark and silent late last night,
I think I might have heard the highway calling …
Geese in flight and dogs that bite
And signs that might be omens say I’m going, I’m going
I’m gone to Carolina in my mind.
The original recording of the song was done at London’s Trident Studios during the July to October 1968 period, and was produced by Asher. The song’s lyric “holy host of others standing around me” makes reference to The Beatles, who were recording The White Album in the same studio where Taylor was recording his album. Indeed, the recording of “Carolina in My Mind” featured a credited appearance by Paul McCartney on bass guitar and an uncredited one by George Harrison on backing vocals. The other players were Freddie Redd on organ, Joel “Bishop” O’Brien on drums, and Mick Wayne providing a second guitar alongside Taylor’s. Taylor and Asher also did backing vocals and Asher added a tambourine. Richard Hewson arranged and conducted a string part; an even more ambitious 30-piece orchestra part was recorded but not used. The song itself earned critical praise, with Jon Landau’s April 1969 review for Rolling Stone calling it “beautiful” and one of the “two most deeply affecting cuts” on the album and praising McCartney’s bass playing as “extraordinary”. Taylor biographer Timothy White calls the song “the album’s quiet masterpiece.”
The song was first released on Taylor’s eponymous debut album in December 1968 (February 1969 in the United States), and was later released as a single in the UK in February 1969 and in the US in March 1969. However, owing to the same problems which plagued the release of the album (namely, Taylor’s inability to promote it due to his hospitalization for drug addiction), the single’s original release only reached number 118 on US pop charts and failed to chart in the UK. Indeed, Taylor had fallen back into addiction during the London recording sessions, and his line about being surrounded by Beatles had been immediately followed by Still I’m on the dark side of the moon.
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