America – Performing Live
Unfairly labeled second rate Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young imitators by many music critics, America was able to crack the music charts in the early to mid 1970’s with a string of pop rock hits. Their influences ran from The Beatles to The Beach Boys to Jackson Browne.
Guitarists, singers and songwriters all, the trio of Dewey Bunnell, Gerry Beckley and Dan Peek crafted songs that have stood the test of time. Originally staples of AM radio and now relegated to light FM and background supermarket music play-lists, the band deserves a better fate. Their tight harmonies and musical abilities are quite honestly underrated. Especially live.
You should take America at face value and look at them with a new lens, without the intention of being imitators. What is probably most apparent in the videos presented here is that these songs and performances are infinitely better than today’s moribund offerings by no talent hip-hoppers, popsters and American Idol flavors of the month.
America’s bigger hits: Ventura Highway, Tin Man, Lonely People, and Sister Golden Hair, all still hold up as being excellent examples of finely constructed pop music. How can you not sing along to Gerry Beckley’s simple yet smart and catchy lyrics of Sister Golden Hair, shown here performed live on Burt Sugarman’s show The Midnight Special in 1980:
Well I tried to make it Sunday, but I got so damn depressed
That I set my sights on Monday and I got myself undressed
I ain’t ready for the altar but I do agree there’s times
When a woman sure can be a friend of mine
Well, I keep on thinkin’ ’bout you, Sister Golden Hair surprise
And I just can’t live without you; can’t you see it in my eyes?
I been one poor correspondent, and I been too, too hard to find
But it doesn’t mean you ain’t been on my mind
One true measure of a good band has always been to ask yourself, if you hear a song one time, does it stick in your head? I mean in a good way. America was able to achieve that on many of their hits which had great hooks.
America’s most famous song, 1971’s Horse With No Name written by Dewey Bunnell when he was just 18, has had its lyrics endlessly examined over its meaning. Many people thought the song was about heroin addiction because “horse” is drug culture slang for heroin.
According to John Corbett and his web site about America, Bunnell says the song was actually a kind of abstract summation of everything he was missing about the States while he was living abroad. He said:
“I really do like the desert a lot and ‘Horse With No Name’ was written while I was sitting in a room in England on a grey drizzly day — those last few years we were there it seemed like the sun never came out!” There is a visionary feeling to the song also: “It was at first just the two-dimensional version brought into the desert, and then the last verse has something to do with an ecological thing. The actual horse didn’t have much to do with it; it was representative of freedom or something, because it had no name and it just ran away at the end!”
An interesting sidelight is that if you ask a casual rock fan who performs Horse With No Name, more than half the time they will say Neil Young!
America is still actively touring, minus Dan Peek who left the band in 1977 and became a born-again Christian. Peek continued his musical career in the Contemporary Christian genre and died in his sleep as a result of fibrinous pericarditis at the age of 60 on July 24, 2011.
To show America at their artistic height, here are two video’s of them performing live on the German television show Musikladen from 1975 and one from 1977. The great thing here is that you get to hear Bunnell, Peek and Beckley each take a turn on lead vocals.
First up, Tin Man
Next, Lonely People
Finally, I Need You