‘Along Came Mary’ Songwriter Dies at 70
Washington — When Tandyn Almer was 23, he wrote a catchy pop song that topped out at No. 7 on the Billboard charts. Great things were expected of him as a songwriter, and some thought he might even become a star in his own right.
But in all the decades that followed, there were few triumphs, and certainly nothing like the acclaim he received for composing the words and music of Along Comes Mary.
In 1966, the bouncy, enigmatic song became the first hit for the Association, one of the most popular bands of the era. Almer was praised as a musical mastermind who brought a fresh sophistication to the sun-dappled pop-rock of the time.
He was interviewed on national television by Leonard Bernstein, the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, and recorded an album of his own music. He became a close friend of Brian Wilson, the troubled creative force of the Beach Boys, with whom he collaborated on a couple of tunes in the 1970s.
And then he disappeared.
From time to time, people interested in the music of the 1960s wondered what had become of the young composer with so much promise. His half brother, Nicholas Minetor, recalled reading online speculation about whether Almer was still alive.
“That just tickled him to death,” Minetor said. “He liked being mysterious. And we knew he was living in a basement in Virginia.”
For the past few years, Almer had occupied an unkempt basement apartment in McLean, where he died Jan. 8. He had a combination of atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to his sister-in-law, Randi Minetor.
He was 70. Several acquaintances were surprised that he had lived that long. For years, Almer had no health insurance. He had been a chain smoker and made no secret of a bipolar disorder, which often led to dramatic mood swings. His right leg was amputated below the knee in 2011.
He told people that he came to Washington in the mid-1970s to compose music for a movie but that the project fell through. Stranded and all but penniless, he simply stayed. He didn’t become a recluse, exactly, but the heady days when he almost became a star were long in the past.
Yet somehow, Almer was never quite forgotten. Among fans of California sunshine pop, he remains something of a cult favorite, and tributes began to appear after his death. An online disc jockey played his music for an hour. An album of 15 of his songs, recorded by a British group in the 1960s, is scheduled for release in March.
“He’s one of the lost and hidden voices of the ’60s, and he left behind a body of work that’s ripe for rediscovery,” said Parke Puterbaugh, a former senior editor of Rolling Stone who wrote the liner notes to Along Comes Tandyn, the album coming out on Sundazed Records. “There’s a whole catalogue of incredible songs that he wrote that no one’s ever heard.”
When Puterbaugh began working on the project about five years ago, he didn’t know whether Almer was alive or dead. He eventually found an address in Northern Virginia and wrote a letter. A few months later, his telephone rang, and Almer was on the other end.
Although they never met in person, they often spoke about Almer’s personal history and his journey in music. Their last conversation took place Dec. 28.
“He was of the caliber — although he wasn’t as prolific or as well-known — as Brian Wilson,” Puterbaugh said. “He was very gifted, but he lived a kind of subterranean life.”
Tandyn Douglas Almer was born July 30, 1942, in Minneapolis. According to his half brother and sister-in-law, his parents couldn’t settle on a name, so they came up with Tandyn almost as a whimsical afterthought.
By the time he was 4, young Tandyn was playing classical music by ear on piano. When his parents separated, he and his mother moved into an apartment — a basement apartment — with two pianos.
Tandyn somehow pushed them together and played both at the same time.