My Favorite Mary

Hungry? Hope so, because I invite you now to dine on the delicious “Along Comes Mary“, a #7 hit in 1966 by The Association.

Here’s a live performance of “Mary” from The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Before the song the band introduces itself, likening each of its members to an “integral part” of “an association machine”. Quite amusing. Then, at 1:20, they tear into “Mary” — a workmanlike performance that differs just enough from the studio version, particularly in the energy level of the lead vocal, to be appreciated on its own merits.

I love, love, love this record — it’s a full course meal of aural delights.

  • As an appetizer, we get the mood-setting intro that brings to mind The Doors’ “Love Her Madly”.
  • The main course, the soaring chorus: “And then along comes Mary-ee-eueeh“, bursts with melodic flavor.
  • Your wine selection is the ensemble vocal buildup immediately preceding the lyrical aside that ends each verse. The lead vocal rises in intensity while the backups rise in pitch and volume. Exquisite. Drink up!
  • After the second course, er verse, the woodwind solo serves as a palate cleanser and allows time to digest just enough of the meal to make room in the belly for the final verse.
  • Dessert is the lyrical aside, “When we met I was sure out to lunch, [ah, so this meal must be lunch] Now my empty cup tastes as sweet as the punch.” While most of us would need to read the lyrics in order to sing along with the verses, singing along with this aside comes easy.

Full yet?

The dining atmosphere is enhanced by the driving beat of the tambourine. The wait staff, obviously highly educated, is almost but not quite too chatty with its vocals. I’ll get to the lyrics in a bit but for now let me say they provide much — ahem — food for thought. Here’s a — ahem — taste from the second verse:

When vague desire is the fire in the eyes of chicks
Whose sickness is the games they play
And when the masquerade is played and neighbor folks make jokes
As who is most to blame today

And then along comes Mary
And does she want to set them free, and let them see reality
From where she got her name
And will they struggle much when told that such a tender touch as hers
Will make them not the same

When “Mary” had its chart run in 1966, I missed it. That is, I wasn’t listening to Top 40 radio at the time. So it wasn’t until “Mary” became an “oldie” that it penetrated my musical consciousness. The seminal moment of my “Mary” awareness took place in my parents’ car on a family outing to visit relatives in my city of birth, Newark, NJ. My best guess is this was 1968; I was 11. “Mary” came on the car radio just after we drove past the hospital in which I was born, a side trip taken primarily for my benefit. Typically my parents would not have allowed a rocker like “Mary” to play through; they would have changed the station. For whatever reason — they probably just weren’t paying attention — they let me hear it in its entirety. For that I am grateful. I was hooked.

Now about those lyrics. First I’ll say that I love the anachronistic usage of “out to lunch” and “chicks”, the former occurring three times and the latter twice. I won’t get much into the interpretation of the lyrics; that’s not really my thing. Much has been said — that’s for sure. The common wisdom is that “Mary” is about maryjane, aka marijuana. In fact, when The Association performed at Disneyland, they were forbidden from performing the song. However, there are many proponents of the theory that the song’s title character is the Virgin Mary. Songfacts.com has what I believe to be representative give-and-take on this. Read the comments from the bottom up. As counterpoint, Matthew Greenwald, in his rather unimpressive song review on AllMusic.com, dismisses those interpretations as “nonsense” and describes “Mary” as “a simple song about falling in love” like so many hit records of that era.

One of the contributors to the discussion at Songfacts.com, Kevin from Syracuse, UT, describes the lyrics thusly:

[Tandyn Almer’s] lyrics, if a bit surreal and colorfully opaque, are filled with clever and startling rhymes, alliterations, and other smart poetic devices.

I’ll second that.

So who is this Tandyn Almer, composer of “Mary”? Allmusic.com describes him as a “fascinating and enigmatic footnote to the West Coast pop scene of the late 1960s, pianist, composer and producer.” Songfacts.com commenter Victoria of Tacoma, WA, who claims to be a former roommate of Almer’s, says he is classically trained and is/was well respected by a several influential artists including Neil Young and the late Jim Morrison. Almer also co-wrote the underrated 1973 Beach Boys hit, “Sail on Sailor“, which I remember enjoying numerous times during a family vacation to Puerto Rico on an English-language Top 40 radio station out of San Juan.

AllMusic.com has this fascinating tidbit about Almer:

His most significant contribution to western culture may be the Tandyn Slave-Master, a waterpipe that was described in the headshop classic A Child’s Garden of Grass as “the perfect bong.”

That certainly lends credence to the theory “Mary” is about marijuana. For what it’s worth, here’s the opinion of Victoria, the self-proclaimed Almer roommate:

Tandyn was my friend, the song is not so much about the drug as about life in a drug culture that he observed first hand.

Also on Songfacts.com, ginnykub of Denver, CO says The Association performed “Mary” at the legendary Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and the performance can be seen on the Complete Monterey Pop DVD set from the Criterion Collection. I would like to see that. The Association was the festival’s opening act.

The Bloodhound Gang, from nearby Trappe, PA, recorded a punked up cover of “Mary” for the soundtrack of the 1998 movie Half Baked. It was also on TBG’s 1999 album “Hooray for Boobies.” You can hear it on Facebook/iLike. It’s vastly different from the original, but I kind of like it. Several other cover versions exist.

So yeah, “Along Comes Mary” by The Association is not only pretty good, it’s filling. At least I think so. If you would, direct your tributes to my impeccable taste to the comments section below.

Regarding the post title:

  • This “Mary” is my favorite in that she far eclipses other Marys with whom I’ve had, um, entanglements.
  • The title is also a nod to the old sitcom, My Favorite Martian, starring Ray Walston, of Fast Times at Ridgemont High fame, and Bill Bixby. “Martian” was popular during the era of “Mary”. The series ended just about the time “Mary” had its chart run.

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