Growing up listening to lite AM/FM, I've always been a secret fan of all that old AM gold (the Fifth Dimension, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Free Design, etc., though I become a bit more cautious with the Mamas and the Papas), but it wasn't until I picked up the Association's Greatest Hits a few years back that I appreciated them for much more than kitsch.
Though I can still listen to "Cherish" without cringing as much as some people (particularly when the Annie Potts prom flashback scene from Pretty in Pink comes to mind), the rest of Greatest Hits is what draws me. The Association does a good balancing act between psychedelic folk and post-Pet Sounds Beach Boys. With that, this is a heavy, heavy statement: the Association almost outdoes the Beach Boys, particularly on tracks like "Like Always" and the whacked out Gregorian intro on "Requiem for the Masses." The latter track almost approximates the mad genius of Brian Wilson stepping into the Smile era, with Wilson eeking out a tiny edge in that his arrangements are more fucked up (indeed, the Association released a song called "Broccoli" on their self-titled album in '69, analogous (ie just as ridiculous) to Brian Wilson's "Vegetables" on Smile).
There's also the quasi-garage tracks too, where the Association "rock out" as best they can (read: not much). "Along Comes Mary" is always fun to listen to, reminiscent of a lighter Left Banke. Extrapolate this even a little further and it isn't hard to hear precursors to Love and the Arthur Lee stuff.
Greatest Hits is a good start to the Association...one that I never really followed up on. As with many groups (for instance, aforementioned Love), the Association's never really seen a North American re-release, and Greatest Hits remains the sole CD offering that one could find easily. It heightens their mystery to me, and I'm almost reluctant to seek more of it out, lest I find myself back in kitsch territory. For now, the Association's fantastic in smaller doses.