While there are plenty of amazing moments on the Association's albums that never came anywhere near a single, the group was first and foremost a singles-oriented act, just as L.A. sunshine pop contemporaries like the Beach Boys (Pet Sounds notwithstanding) and the Mamas & the Papas were. That's part of what makes this anthology such an effective encapsulation of the group's gestalt. The last major Association anthology, Rhino's 2002 double-disc release Just the Right Sound, took a more expansive approach to organizing its retrospective. But by presenting the A- and B-sides of each Association single from 1965's Bob Dylan cover "One Too Many Mornings" to 1971's "That's Racin'" in chronological order, the Now Sounds collection allows listeners to experience the group's evolution in exactly the same way a fan of 45s would have done during the Association's heyday. And while assembled A-sides like "Along Comes Mary," "Cherish," "Windy," and "Never My Love" lend this two-CD offering a definitive greatest-hits aspect, the B-sides are often non-LP cuts, adding some serious heft to the archival side of the project.
Stylistically speaking, it's fascinating to hear the growth the Association experienced over the course of just a few years. While the succulent vocal harmonies remained a signature throughout the group's career, the arrangements and songwriting underwent some major changes. The band began in a folk-rock mode with tracks like the aforementioned Dylan tune before settling into a lush, heavenly pop paradise all their own on circa 1968 masterpieces like "Everything That Touches You." At the same time, the fuzzed-out guitar lines of another 1968 single, "Six Man Band," showed the Association to be entirely comfortable with psychedelia. By 1969, the hits pretty much stopped coming, but the group didn't hit the pause button on its evolutionary process. 1970 B-sides "I Am Up for Europe" and "Look at Me, Look at You" show that the Association was capable of convincingly shifting toward heavy, blues-based rock and country-rock, respectively, while it's easy to envision "It's Gotta Be Real" hitting the early-'70s R&B charts if only it had come from an act with a bit less of a squeaky-clean straight pop image. If you let it, The Complete Warner Bros. & Valiant Singles can simultaneously underline the Association's commercial peak and deepen your understanding of the group's true musical personality.