3D Great Rock Bible
America iTunes Tracks America Official Website

America

Very much in the mould of CROSBY, STILLS & NASH, Messrs Dewey Bunnell, Gerry Buckley and Dan Peek delivered sunny-day vocal harmonies, reminiscent of occasional CSN cohort NEIL YOUNG and his more folk/country-orientated flirtations. Often lambasted by their laid-back Laurel Canyon sound, and personified by one song in particular, the chart-topping `A Horse With No Name’, AMERICA frequently found it difficult to let loose this albatross around their necks outside of the confines of their star-spangled homeland. Still, who could argue the merit of an outfit that had a string of cool-dude hits and several top-selling soft-rock sets, albeit with subsiding or pendulous returns.
Formed in London, England, by the sons of stationed U.S. Air Force servicemen, singer-songwriters/acoustic guitarists Bunnell, Beckley and Peek, had performed for a few years as Daze, before deciding on the name AMERICA, at the turn of the 70s. Spotted by promoter/producer Jeff Dexter (through his A&R time at London’s Roundhouse venue) and, in turn, recommended to Warner Brothers, the trio made an immediate impact in January 1972 when `A Horse With No Name’ bolted up the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Spawned from their equally-fruitful and self-titled AMERICA (1971) {*7} album, the West Coast was certainly on their mind as they strolled through pre-EAGLES-styled dirges such as `Sandman’, `I Need You’ (another Stateside smash) and the breezy `Riverside’.
Hoping to emulate its masterful predecessor, HOMECOMING (1972) {*7} was almost clone-like in nature, but in songs such as the excellent `Ventura Highway’ (Top 10), `Don’t Cross The River’ (Top 40), `Only In Your Heart’ (Top 75) and `California Revisited’, the amiable AMERICA painted a colourful landscape of cordial sunsets and homely horizons; it was clear as day they’d moved back to their American roots.
The inappropriately-titled HAT TRICK (1973) {*5} was an own-goal in terms of critical appraisal and commercial sales, only their syrupy rendition of Willis Ramsey’s `Muskrat Love’ (a healthier Top 5 hit for CAPTAIN & TENNILLE some three years on) and the 8-minute title track – for once, a collective group composition – rose above the folk-rock melange of `Rainbow Song’ and `Green Monkey’.
Roping in former BEATLES producer, George Martin, there was a certain soft-rock sophistication to follow-on albums, HOLIDAY (1974) {*6}, HEARTS (1975) {*5}, HIDEAWAY (1976) {*5} and HARBOR (1977) {*4}, while their native singles market was boosted by the likes of `Tin Man’ (Top 5), `Lonely People’ (Top 5), `Sister Golden Hair’ (No.1), `Daisy Jane’ (Top 2), `Woman Tonight’ (Top 50) and `Today’s The Day’ (Top 30). Never the greatest stamping-ground for country-rock, Britain was ironically one of the few European territories where the trio failed to make further in-roads; there was but only one EAGLES, and one CSN&Y for Old Blighty.
Reduced to a duo when born-again Christian, Dan Peek, sought out other Harbors and Hideaways, the almost pedestrian AMERICA LIVE (1977) {*3}, came in for some flak, and it was obvious that the remaining duo’s SEALS & CROFT-appeal was in need of a drastic overhaul. But this did not occur, as a more commercial direction was taken after signing to Capitol Records for the one-trick-pony SILENT LETTER (1979) {*5}. Avoiding the group’s exclusive re-dux minor hit of The MAMAS & THE PAPAS’ `California Dreamin’’, but opening with a cover of `Only Game In Town’, the lush and disco-fied AOR was the order of the day.
Despite the advent of new wave and arena-rock emerging around the duo, the pair persevered through a largely, critically barren early-to-late-80s period, that produced four LPs: ALIBI (1980) {*4}, VIEW FROM THE GROUND (1982) {*4} – the set that highlighted big hitter, `You Can Do Magic’ (penned by Russ Ballard), YOUR MOVE (1983) {*3} and PERSPECTIVE (1984) {*3}; almost insignificant was AMERICA IN CONCERT (1985) {*4}, their swansong effort for Capitol.
Squeezed somewhere in between these drip-fed sets, a curiosity was unearthed from Virgin Germany: the soundtrack to DAS LETZTE EINHORN (1982) {*6} – aka “The Last Unicorn”. Rather a unicorn with a name (Amalthea) than “A Horse With No Name”, soft-rockers AMERICA performed the score penned by “Wichita Lineman” songsmith, JIMMY WEBB. In fact, the latter even conducted the London Symphony Orchestra, augmented melodically by Messrs Bunnell and Beckley. WEBB kept it AOR for the most part, restraining himself from appealing to the movie’s main audience – the kids. The score’s best bits came via `The Cat’, `Man’s Road’, `Red Bull Attacks’, `In The Sea’ and a Mia Farrow/Jeff Bridges tearful duet, `That’s All I’ve Got To Say’, all effective and harmonious while relying on AMERICA’s acoustic guitars and other assorted string and wind instruments.
Although the inevitable split finally came in ‘85, the original trio reunited in 1993 to support The BEACH BOYS, albeit briefly as Bunnell and Beckley subsequently recording a comeback album, HOURGLASS (1994) {*4}. Nothing out of the blue or the bland, but with a familiarity that suited their loyal fanbase, the help of songwriter Russ Ballard was noticeable, while orchestral arrangements from Chip Davis (known to MANNHEIM STEAMROLLER buffs), played on their pop sensibilities.
HUMAN NATURE (1998) {*3} and a handful of concert sets kept AMERICA ticking over, and it was indeed a delight when the edgier and folkier HERE & NOW (2007) {*6} recaptured the hearts and minds of a fresh set of fans. A modern AMERICA, updating their staid sound via collaborations with “youngsters” RYAN ADAMS and BEN KWELLER, and taking on songs by NADA SURF (`Always Love’) and MY MORNING JACKET (`Golden’), the duo enjoyed renewed chart interest.
2011’s BACK PAGES {*5} was a nice enough covers set that showed signs the duo were glowing in their twilight years; one could test the waters from oldies `Woodstock’ (JONI MITCHELL), `Caroline No’ (The BEACH BOYS), `Crying In My Sleep’ (JIMMY WEBB), `Time Of The Season’ (The ZOMBIES), `Something In The Way She Moves’ (JAMES TAYLOR), `On The Way Home’ (NEIL YOUNG), `My Back Pages’ (BOB DYLAN) and er… `America’ (SIMON & GARFUNKEL), to relative newbies: `Til I Hear It From You’ (GIN BLOSSOMS), `Sailing To Philadelphia’ (MARK KNOPFLER), `A Road Song’ (FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE) and `Someday We’ll Know’ (The NEW RADICALS).
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD-LCS // rev-up MCS Nov2013

Share this Project

Leave a Comment