Triple Played: A salute to America, weird, catchy lyrics and all
America was the first band that I saw perform at Red Rocks. It was in 1974 with a buddy from high school. I had been a big fan since I heard “A Horse With No Name” from their first record.
America’s self-titled debut was released in 1972, a year in which we also saw terrific debut recordings from Jackson Browne, Steely Dan, Paul Simon and the Eagles. Other great recordings from 1972 included Little Feat’s “Sailin Shoes,” Neil Young’s “Harvest,” David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars,” Deep Purple’s “Machine Head,” Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon,” Stephen Stills “Manassas,” Doobie Brothers “Toulouse Street,” Stevie Wonder’s “Talking Book,” Todd Rundgren’s “Something Anything,” New Riders of the Purple Sage’s “Powerglide” and ZZ Top’s “Rio Grande Mud,” among many others. America won a Grammy Award for the best new artist of 1972 among stiff competition.
America was made up of Dewey Bunnell, Gerry Beckley and Dan Peek. All three were sons of U.S. Air Force officers stationed in the UK, which is where they met and formed the band. Their first record was an acoustic guitar-driven, folk-rock masterpiece. It was a classic album that influenced many of their peers. I can still remember like it was yesterday, seeing their first single, “A Horse With No Name,” right next to Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes” and “Take It Easy” from the Eagles on 1230 KEXO radio’s printed top 40. You could pick them up downtown at KEXO’s studio, Woolworth’s and JC Penney in their respective record departments. There were two other charted singles from America’s first record, “I Need You” and “Sandman.”
I can remember my mother saying that “A Horse With No Name” was a stupid song that didn’t make any sense. I didn’t agree with her in 1972, but I have come to see her way over the years. If you listen to the lyrics, it is kind of stupid, but it’s catchy. That was the case on more than one of their songs. However, the music and the musicianship were incredible me. My favorite songs from America’s first record were not any of the three charted songs. Songs that I liked the most then and still do are “Three Roses,” “Donkey Jaw,” “Here,” “Riverside,” “Rainy Day” and “Children,” with these lyrics:
Does it take the children to make you understand?
Does it take the children to make a better land?
Their songwriting showed depth, compassion and excellent social awareness.
“Homecoming” was the follow-up the America’s very successful first record. Featuring 10 terrific songs, the album was the logical successor. Playing with more confidence and tighter technique, “Homecoming” was every bit the record its predecessor was. Ventura Highway was the first song and one of my very favorite songs by America; an incredibly clean and uplifting tune driven by those amazing acoustic guitars. Other great songs from this record include “Don’t Cross the River,” “To Each His Own,” “Moon Song,” “Only In Your Heart,” “Cornwall Blank,” “Till the Sun Comes Up Again,” “California Revisited,” and a great cover of John Martyn’s “Head and Heart.”
America released two more LPs before I saw them at Red Rocks: “Hat Trick” in late 1973 and “Holiday” in 1974. Excellent records, but not quite as good as the first two.