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In January 1971, sessions for Taylor's next album began.

His career success so far and appeal to female fans of various ages piqued tremendous interest in him, prompting a March 1, 1971, Time magazine cover story of him as "the face of new rock." Heathcliff and to The Sorrows of Young Werther, and said, "Taylor's use of elemental imagery—darkness and sunlight, references to roads traveled and untraveled, to fears spoken and left unsaid—reaches a level both of intimacy and controlled emotion rarely achieved in purely pop music." Released in April, Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon also gained critical acclaim and contained Taylor's biggest hit single in the US, a version of the Carole King standard "You've Got a Friend" (featuring backing vocals by Joni Mitchell), which reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in late July.

(A UK band with the same name emerged in 1969 with the hit song "Smile a Little Smile for Me".

The New York band's recordings were later released in 1971 as James Taylor and the Original Flying Machine.) Taylor would later say of this New York period, "I learned a lot about music and too much about drugs." Finally out of money and abandoned by his manager, he made a desperate call one night to his father.

They recruited Joel O'Brien, formerly of Kortchmar's old band King Bees, to play drums, and Taylor's childhood friend Zachary Wiesner (son of noted academic Jerome Wiesner) to play bass, and after Taylor rejected the notion of naming the group after him, they called themselves the Flying Machine.

After a series of poorly-chosen appearances outside New York, culminating with a three-week stay at a failing nightspot in Freeport, Bahamas for which they were never paid, the Flying Machine broke up.

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Mc Cartney and Asher brought in arranger Richard Anthony Hewson to add both orchestrations to several of the songs and unusual "link" passages between them; they would receive a mixed reception, at best."James had been through so much by the time he was twenty that he had so much to express in his music.His mother, the former Gertrude Woodard (1921–2015), studied singing with Marie Sundelius at the New England Conservatory of Music and was an aspiring opera singer before the couple's marriage in 1946.James would later say, "Chapel Hill, the Piedmont, the outlying hills, were tranquil, rural, beautiful, but quiet.The two began listening to and playing blues and folk music together, and Kortchmar quickly realized that Taylor's singing had a "natural sense of phrasing, every syllable beautifully in time.I knew James had that thing." There, he joined a band formed by his brother Alex called The Corsayers (later The Fabulous Corsairs), playing electric guitar; in 1964, they cut a single in Raleigh that featured James's song "Cha Cha Blues" on the B-side.

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