June 27, 1998
America's California Dreams Helped Shape The Pop Terrain Of The '70s
BY CHUCK TAYLOR
NEW YORK--In the realm of the California pop/rock pantheon, only a handful of artists have launched a sound so defining as to tip the hand of an era's musical landscape.
If the Beach Boys, with their shiny, happy melodies, might be termed the granddaddies of the 1960s California-bred pop, then the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, and America represent their faithful offspring, who--with others, like James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and Carole King--redefined pop music for the 1970s.
America's three original members were Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnel, and Dan Peek; all were military officers' kids. The band formed in 1969 in London after its members met at a U.S. Air Force base. The group's name, in fact, was inspired by homesick blues.
The group moved to the U.S. in February 1972 with the Beatles and the Beach Boys at the fore of the members' consciousness; the band's first single was "A Horse With No Name." The song's sticky hook, effortless harmonies, and ringing guitars quickly soaked into the mainstream consciousness, earning gold status and spending three weeks at the top of the Hot 100 in early 1972.
America's eponymous debut album then catapulted to No. 1 on The Billboard 200, remaining there for five weeks and garnering platinum status.
The success inspired America's win that year as best new artists at the Grammy Awards--beating out its organic contemporaries the Eagles, Harry Chapin, Loggins & Messina, and John Prine. (The band lost the Grammy for vocal pop group to Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway's "Where Is The Love.")
The group's top 10 hits "I Need You" and "Ventura Highway" quickly followed. Next came the band's George Martin-produced tracks "Tin Man," "Lonely People," and its second No. 1, "Sister Golden Hair." In 1975, the album "History/America's Greatest Hits" was released.
In 1977, Peek departed; he became a successful contemporary Christian singer. America had one more top 10 hit: 1982's "You Can Do Magic," written by Russ Ballard. In all, the band has released 19 albums, with 11 top 40 singles and three AC No. 1 hits to its credit.
'A MOVING TRAIN'
"What we've been through has been a fantastic experience," says Beckley. "It's like a moving train where we pick up people along the way and drop them off at various points. And we're still moving at a pretty good clip."
"Our music has always been very approachable and easily assimilated," Bunnell says. "The melodies and the songs have been entrenched on radio, and even from the beginning, it seemed we attracted a fairly large mix of people."
"We never tried to pursue a trend. Everything is pretty natural with us," he adds. "We figured our core group isn't going to go for things like disco or grunge, so we stick to our old roots of the Beatles/Beach Boys-style of writing, that songcrafting thing."
As for the group's place in musical history, Bunnell considers America much like the mortar that binds the bricks of a wall. "I have this image of it where bands like the Rolling Stones are the bricks, and we are the mortar that holds those bricks together," he says. "Our songs are tenacious, but I don't think we've done anything earth-moving. I don't think we've revolutionized anything. We made strong material and songs that are there to hold together the big stuff."
Steve Ship--president of King Biscuit Entertainment, which owns the band's label, Oxygen Records--believes that America's rich catalog continues to influence today's artists. "You can hear their sound in other artists, like Sheryl Crow," he says. "And they continue to have an impact today, because they've never stopped touring; they've never broken up. They're the same guys."
"We're reminded nightly of the influence we've had," says Beckley of America's 100-150 tour dates a year. "There are certain songs that mean the world to those fans. It's wrong for me to put too much stock in that, but I certainly feel like we've earned our place--whatever place that is."
Last Revised: 30 June 1998