June 27, 1998
America Ready For A Rediscovery
Veteran Pop Outfit Has A New Oxygen Album, Full Tour Schedule
BY CHUCK TAYLOR
NEW YORK---It may not have visited the Hot 100 in 15 years, but the pop/rock/AC outfit America is hardly waving the white flag.
Not only is the hitmaker of such classics as "A Horse With No Name," "Sister Golden Hair," and "You Can Do Magic" back with a new album on Oxygen Records--an arm of the King Biscuit Entertainment Group--but it continues to tour after nearly 30 years of making music. In fact, it says its most successful road stint was last year.
In addition, the band's 1975 "History/America's Greatest Hits" continues to sell in the neighborhood of 2,000 copies a week, according to SoundScan. Total sales since its release have topped 4 million units, according to the Recording Industry Assn. of America. The band also has a dedicated following among a number of fervently embraced World Wide Web sites that offer concert reviews, a message center, and photos. (A recent contest revealed "A Horse With No Name" as fans' favorite America song, beating "Ventura Highway" by a single vote.)
Its new album, "Human Nature," planned for an August release, offers 12 cuts consistent with the style the band is known for; it capitalizes on familiar harmonies, gentle melodies, and a focus on pop, AC, and country stylings.
The group includes original members Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell; third American Dan Peek departed in 1976 for a career in contemporary Christian music. The current members invited a number of old friends to participate in the project, including the Eagles' Timothy B. Schmit, the Beach Boys' late Carl Wilson (Beckley spoke at his funeral), Phil Jones of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and Robert Lamm and Jason Scheff of Chicago.
Elliot Schiner, who worked on Fleetwood Mac's recent "The Dance," mixed two songs, including the first single, "From A Moving Train." Phil Gladston, who co-wrote three tracks on Celine Dion's Grammy-winning "Falling Into You," co-wrote and co-produced two cuts. Publishing is held by Warner/Chappell.
"America is the third element of the California trio: Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, and America," says Steve Ship, president of King Biscuit Entertainment and Oxygen. "They rank up there, with numerous hits over a long career span and an enormous touring base. They're also the only group to be produced by George Martin as many times as the Beatles, which is one of the greatest legacies you can have in rock."
The deal to release America's latest album--its 19th--came after King Biscuit released a live recording of a 1970s America performance on the classic "King Biscuit Flower Hour" series. That album, released in 1995, had enough impact at retail--12,000 copies, says SoundScan--to raise Ship's brow. He had met with the artists during promotion for the live album and discussed the possibility of recording new material.
"I really liked them and heard some of their new material, and it sort of evolved from there," Ship says. Within a few months of the meeting he formed Oxygen, which is also releasing new material from Supertramp. He added America to the roster with a multi-album deal.
"We have found ourselves in the position of never having a shortage of work, up to 150 shows a year," says Beckley. "But the opportunity to record really only occurs when someone makes the offer. We're really pleased with the album. It's an exciting time after all of these years."
"Right now is pretty good timing for us," adds Bunnell. "There's a certain flashback thing going on with the '70s. There's also a strong interest in the singer/songwriter realm, which we fit into. We've never tried to pursue a trend, but it seems like the younger people are showing an interest to see where we fit in the picture of their musical consciousness."
Adds Eric Keil, purchasing VP for South Plainfield, N.J.-based Compact Disc World's nine stores, "Retro is in. You just have to look at the concert scene and release schedules to see that everybody from Culture Club to Vixen has things going on."
Even so, Keil wonders if a new project from America might have trouble finding an audience outside of its current fan base. "I know that the market for America has grown over the years, but a lot of fans are now in their 40s. Are they going to be accepting of a new America album? I don't know."
The pleasant, midtempo first single, "From A Moving Train," may also meet resistance at radio, which is a key component in getting the song past America's core fan base.
"If they could somehow gotten Dan Peek back in and promoted it as the original three members, it would have more pull," says Bob London, music director at AC KEZK St. Louis, which has four America oldies in its rotation. "I'm just not sure [what format] would break an America song now; they've been away for so long. Yes, our audience knows who they are and remembers what they've done, but I would really have to watch the song on the chart."
To help spread the word, Oxygen is planning a one-hour syndicated radio special targeted toward AC and classic rock formats via its 180-station King Biscuit network.
The label is also directing promotional money toward a 30-second cable TV buy that will begin in August. In addition, Beckley and Bunnell will likely appear on Howard Stern's program, where they were embraced in a guest shot last year. An appearance on "Live With Regis & Kathie Lee" is also in the works.
But foremost, the group, managed by Gallin & Morey, will continue its nonstop tradition of touring. At least through October, America will hit markets across the country, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, Denver, Houston, and Portland, Ore. The duo will tour Chile, Argentina, Spain, Italy, and France later in the year.
"We're trying to promote 'Human Nature,' but to be honest, we would be doing these dates regardless," says Bunnell with whimsy. "We have this new material, but otherwise it's a typical year."
Last Revised: 30 June 1998