The five must-hear America tracks
On this day (December 29) in 1971, they released their multi-platinum-selling, self-titled debut album.
Go below for the five essential America songs.
A HORSE WITH NO NAME (1971)
A loping classic of early-70s hippiedom, this ode to the Californian desert was surprisingly written by the band’s Dewey Bunnell in an empty house in Surrey, England.
“I was trying to conjure a feeling of the heat and sun and that great expanse,” he says. “It’s not a terribly complex song, I’ve worked a lot harder on many other ones I’ve written. But you really can’t second-guess the era and the effect of youth. For a very simple song, it really went a long way.”
So how exactly did America go about fielding accusations that A Horse With No Name was little more than a Neil/CS&N rip-off?
“I really felt like nothing was contrived,” counters Bunnell. “We weren’t trying to be imitators. We were truly inspired by that music, just as we had been before by The Beatles and the Beach Boys. We were reflections of our generation and the whole hippie thing. And Neil was a big spokesperson for that.
“I didn’t expect some of the backlash after its success. Had the song just died on the vine people would have been more inclined to treat it differently. But then you get the Neil fans, who were rabidly protective. And of course, there’s the whole thing about the timing, with us knocking [Young's] Heart Of Gold off the top of the charts.
“It was ironic that, after all this, we moved back to the US [from England, the band members being sons of US servicemen stationed overseas in military bases] and were managed by David Geffen and Elliot Roberts, whose crown jewels were Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Even to this day, there are people who think A Horse With No Name is a Neil Young song.”
I NEED YOU (1971)
Band member Gerry Beckley’s lovelorn ballad was initially earmarked as America’s first single. The sound is all mellifluous folk-rock, but the feel is sometimes distinctly prog.
“Joe Smith, the President of Warner Bros., happened to be in London when we were mixing the first album,” recalled America’s Dan Peek, who sadly died in his sleep in 2011. “[Producer] Ian Samwell invited him into the studio, where Smith heard I Need You and instantly announced it would be a hit.”
VENTURA HIGHWAY (1972)
More nostalgic reverie. Puréed harmonies and delicate acoustic shadings are in order as Bunnell remembers the day in 1963 when his family were driving down the California coast from Vandenberg Air Force Base, where his Dad was stationed. Cue ‘alligator lizards in the air’ and ‘purple rain’.
It’s strongly rumoured that Prince was a fan. As was Janet Jackson, who sampled the hook on 2001’s Someone To Call My Lover.
TIN MAN (1974)
The band’s fourth major hit in the States. Bunnell’s lyrics allude to the Tin Man from The Wizard Of Oz.
“It’s my favourite movie, I guess,” he once offered. “I always loved it as a kid. Very obscure lyrics. Great grammar – ‘Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man.’ It’s sort of a poetic licence!”
Fabulous B-side too: In The Country, one of America’s less-celebrated and most underrated songs.
SISTER GOLDEN HAIR (1975)
America’s second US Number One, written by Beckley and inspired by the fact that each of their mothers were blondes. A gently cantering verse leads into the irresistible twang of its soft-rock chorus and Beach Boys-like harmonies.
One of several big hits produced and arranged by Beatles legend George Martin. Has since been covered by New Jerseyites Midtown and, in 2008, The Dandy Warhols.
Words: Rob Hughes