'Along Comes Mary' Songwriter Was A Lost Talent Of The 1960s

Melissa Block talks to Parke Puterbaugh, a lecturer in music at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C. He's a former senior editor of Rolling Stone. He got to know Tandyn Almer in recent years and has written liner notes to a collection of his songs called Along Comes Tandyn.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

A story now about a man who wrote one big musical hit. His name was Tandyn Almer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALONG COMES MARY")

THE ASSOCIATION: (Singing) And then along comes Mary. And does she want to see the stains, the dead remains of all the pains she left the night before?

BLOCK: The Association took that song, "Along Comes Mary," to number seven on the pop chart in 1966. It was their first hit. The songwriter, Tandyn Almer, died last month. He was 70 years old. On the line to tell us his story is Parke Puterbaugh. He's a former editor at Rolling Stone, and he struck up a phone friendship with Tandyn Almer late in his life. Welcome to the program.

PARKE PUTERBAUGH: Good to be here.

BLOCK: There's so much going on in that song, "Along Comes Mary." It actually seems in that part we just heard that The Association can barely even get the words out there, so many of them piled together.

PUTERBAUGH: Well, it is a breathless set of lyrics. There's a lot of harmonic complexity, so it was a pretty challenging piece of music, especially for the time.

BLOCK: And "Along Comes Mary," the title gives an indication of some of the controversy that arose about this song and what it was about.

PUTERBAUGH: Well, Mary was a thinly veiled reference to marijuana. And he slipped this one in a pretty unsuspectingly.

BLOCK: Some of the lyrics: Along comes Mary, does she want to set them free, let them see reality.

PUTERBAUGH: From where she got her name.

BLOCK: Mm-hmm. Do you have a favorite line in the song?

PUTERBAUGH: I think it's a line that goes - yeah, when vague desire is the fire in the eyes...

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Yeah. Well, are you serious about this? OK. We...

PUTERBAUGH: How can anybody remember the lyrics?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALONG COMES MARY")

THE ASSOCIATION: (Singing) 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 at who is most to blame today. And then along comes Mary.

BLOCK: What do you hear in this song that made it a hit and that sticks with you now?

PUTERBAUGH: I hear several things going on. There is the just torrents of words and the internal rhyme and the enigmatic lyric, which are a cut above typical pop fare. Now, people like The Beatles and Bob Dylan were moving in that direction. In fact, Dylan was a big inspiration to Tandyn.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALONG COMES MARY")

THE ASSOCIATION: (Singing) When we met I was sure out to lunch. Now my empty cup tastes as sweet as the punch.

BLOCK: Was Tandyn Almer essentially one and done with this hit? I mean, he had this hit, and then kind of disappeared, became a recluse.

PUTERBAUGH: No, he wasn't one and done. In fact, he was a pretty prolific songwriter. He was a contracted songwriter. And there are many, many great songs. And to me, the puzzle is why weren't more of them recorded by other groups in the wake of "Along Comes Mary's" success?

BLOCK: He had mental health issues. He talked about being bipolar, I think.

PUTERBAUGH: Yes. And he would go in and out of phases where he could circulate easily and then just retreat.

BLOCK: What got you interested, Parke, in exploring what happened to Tandyn Almer?

(LAUGHTER)

PUTERBAUGH: It started out because I heard "Along Comes Mary," of course, when I was a kid. It was on the radio. And it always stuck in my mind. And then I became aware of the songs he had written with Brian Wilson that The Beach Boys recorded, and then in a very obscure single by a group called the Paper Fortress, and it was called "Sleepy Hollow People," I heard that. And I looked at the songwriting credit and saw Tandyn Almer's name. And from there, I just decided to dig. To my mind, he is really one of the lost talents of the '60s. And there is much more to be excavated and heard than the public is aware off.

BLOCK: Parke Puterbaugh, remembering the songwriter Tandyn Almer. He's written the liner notes for an upcoming collection of Tandyn Almer's songs. Tandyn Almer was 23 when he wrote "Along Comes Mary." He was 70 when he died last month. Parke, thanks so much.

PUTERBAUGH: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALONG COMES MARY")

THE ASSOCIATION: (Singing) Or will their waking eyes reflect the lies and make them realize their urgent cry for sight no more. When we met I was sure out to lunch. Now my empty cup tastes as sweet as the punch. Sweet as the punch. Sweet as the punch. Sweet as the punch. Sweet as the punch.

BLOCK: You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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