Label: Warner Bros
Genre: Folk, Folk-Rock
Musicians:Dewey Bunnell – Acoustic Guitar, Vocals, Dan Peek – 12-string acoustic guitar, Ray Cooper – Percussion, Dave Atwood – Drums, Dave Lindley – Electric Guitar, Kim Haworth – Drums on Horse With No Name, Gerry Beckley – Lead Guitar, Bass
Producer: Ian Samwell & America
Engineer: Ken Scott
America is a rock band, formed in England in 1970 by multi-instrumentalists Dewey Bunnell, Dan Peek, and Gerry Beckley.
America achieved significant popularity in the 1970s, and was famous for the trio’s close vocal harmonies and light acoustic folk sound. This popularity was confirmed by a string of hit albums and singles, many of which found airplay on pop/soft rock stations.
The band came together shortly after the members’ graduation from high school, and a record deal with Warner Bros. Records followed. Their debut, a 1971 self-titled album, produced the transatlantic hits “A Horse with No Name” and “I Need You”. Peek left the group in 1977 and their commercial fortunes declined, despite a brief return to the top in 1982 with the single “You Can Do Magic”.
Four decades into their career, the group continues to record material and tour with regularity. Official website: http://www.venturahighway.com/
While their fathers were stationed at the United States Air Force base at RAF South Ruislip near London in the mid-1960s, Beckley, Bunnell and Peek attended London Central High School at Bushey Hall where they met while playing in two different bands.
Peek left for the United States for an abortive attempt at college during 1969. Soon after his return to the UK the following year, the three met and began making music together. Starting out with borrowed acoustic guitars, they developed a style which incorporated three-part vocal harmony with the style of contemporary folk-rock acts, much like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Eventually the trio dubbed themselves America, chosen because they did not want anyone to think they were British musicians trying to sound American. They played their first gigs in the London area. Through Ian Samwell and Jeff Dexter’s efforts they were eventually contracted to Kinney Records (UK) in March 1971 by Ian Ralfini and assigned to the UK Warner Brothers label.
Their first album (the one under review here), was recorded at Trident Studios in London and produced by Ian Samwell. Samwell was best known for being Cliff Richard’s lead guitarist as well as writing Richard’s 1958 breakthrough hit, “Move It”. Jeff Dexter, Ian’s roommate was involved with the music business himself. He co-produced the album and became the trio’s manager. Dexter also gave them their first major gig, December 20, 1970, at “Implosion” at the Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, as the opening act for The Who, Elton John, Patto and The Chalk Farm Salvation Army Band & Choir for a Christmas charity event. Although the trio initially planned to record the album in a similar manner to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Samwell convinced them to perfect their acoustic style instead.
The debut album was released in 1971 to only moderate success, although it sold well in the Netherlands, where Dexter had taken them as a training ground to practice their craft. Samwell and Dexter subsequently brought the trio to Morgan Studios to record several additional songs. One of them was a Bunnell composition called “Desert Song”, which Dexter previously demoed during studio rehearsals in Puddletown, Dorset at the home of Arthur Brown. The song had its public debut at The Harrogate Festival, four days later, to great audience response. After several performances and a TV show, it was re-titled “A Horse with No Name”. The song became a major worldwide hit in early 1972. America’s debut album was re-released (1972), with the hit song added and quickly went platinum. The album resulted in a second major chart success with Beckley’s “I Need You”, which peaked at No. 9 on the U.S. charts.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/America_(band)
Not bad for a group who were still in their late teens and a freshman effort!
This particular album is one of the best I’ve ever heard in my opinion and one of my top 10 favorites in my library. The original Warner Brother pressings (1971-1972) are the best sounding outside the UK pressings. In fact, they sound better than the 180 gram reissues! This is one of my favorite LPs overall in my collection. The fidelity and dynamics are insane! There is a real depth of sound, this is one of the best recordings ever.
The music is incredible. Sit down and really listen to this album on vinyl (don’t bother with the CD, it sounds nothing like the vinyl version) and you will hear virtuosity in musicianship from the guitars to the incredible harmonies. Remember, this was done before Autotune! This is what real music sounds like folks.
Riverside: I’m not sure what this opening song is about, but it doesn’t matter.
Sandman: This is one of my all time favorites by this group. I can listen to this song many times over. The harmonies are great, the rhythm is very solid and has great depth. There is a short acapella moment in the bridge too. This being the height of the Vietnam War, the trio would often encounter soldiers that had seen action and hear their war stories. Bunnell wrote this song based on some of those tales he heard, stories about how when stationed in Vietnam, they were afraid to sleep for fear of attack, so they would stay up as long as they could (sometimes with the help of various substances), since sleep could mean death. The “sandman” represents sleep, which they feared. Thus they were always “running from the sandman.”
Three Roses: While I could not tell you anything about the meaning of this song, I can tell you that it showcases just how tight these guys are in performance. Exceptional guitar and percussion work and sound is deep.
Children: It’s not clear to what the lyrics are referring. This song has a kind of country flavor and as usual, the harmonies make it.
A Horse With No Name: Who doesn’t know this song? A song written by Dewey Bunnell. It was the band’s first and most successful single, released in late 1971 in Europe and early 1972 in the US, and topping the charts in several countries. It was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America. Due to the song’s resemblance to the work of Neil Young from the same time period, it is occasionally mistaken as having been written and sung by Young.The song’s resemblance to some of Neil Young’s work aroused some controversy. “I know that virtually everyone, on first hearing, assumed it was Neil”, Bunnell says. “I never fully shied away from the fact that I was inspired by him. I think it’s in the structure of the song as much as in the tone of his voice.
It was originally titled “Desert Song” and was intended to capture the feel of the hot, dry desert that had been depicted at the studio from a Salvador Dalí painting, and the strange horse that had ridden out of an M.C. Escher picture. Writer Dewey Bunnell also says he remembered his childhood travels through the Arizona and New Mexico desert.
Despite the song being banned by some U.S. radio stations because of supposed drug references to heroin use,the song ascended to number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and the album quickly reached platinum status. The interpretation of the song as a drug reference comes from the fact that the word “horse” is a common slang term for heroin.
Here: Again, don’t really know what the song is about, but sounds like retrospection to me. This is one of the best tracks on the LP in my opinion as it has interesting time changes. It starts out as a ballad and then goes into a rock sound and then back to ballad. As usual, the song structure itself is fantastic.
I Need You: This is a ballad featuring piano played by Gerry Beckley. It’s an obvious love song. The guitar work vocals and harmonies are fantastic as no surprise.
Rainy Day: If you listen close, you will note a false start to this song. Excellent guitar work including a steel guitar and harmonies. This song has a great particular structure and is impressive.
Never Found The Time: This ballad type song almost has a jazz type structure like Dave Brubeck. Again piano is featured, this time played by Dan Peek. It seems to be about a relationship and a breakdown in communication.
Clarice: This is another ballad, but with a surprise end. Great two-part harmony on the chorus. Towards the end it speeds up.
Donkey Jaw: Another one of my favorites off this LP. It has never been officially determined what the lyrics mean such as “Get behind me satan and stop ravishing this land”. It’s not a religious song to be sure, but nobody knows to whom or what those lyrics refer. It can be gathered that the song is about the environment. Listen close and you will hear some string bends on the guitar. Great bass work on this tune as well. Also another interesting time change on the bridge.
Pigeon Song: This tune is just acoustic guitar and vocal. Strange sad lyrics.
Sandman – https://youtu.be/bUJIgxdj8vc
Sandman live 2015: