AMERICA - America (1971) & America Live (1977)
A light folk-rock act of the early '70s, America had several Top Ten hits, including the number ones "A Horse with No Name" and "Sister Golden Hair." Vocalists/guitarists Dewey Bunnell, Dan Peek, and Gerry Beckley met while they were still in high school in the late '60s; all three were sons of U.S. Air Force officers who were stationed in the U.K. After they completed school in 1970, they formed an acoustic folk-rock quartet called Daze in London, which was soon pared down to the trio of Bunnell, Peek, and Beckley. Adopting the name America, the group landed a contract with Jeff Dexter, a promoter for the Roundhouse concert venue. Dexter had America open for several major artists and the group soon signed with Warner Bros. Records. By the fall of 1970, the group was recording its debut album in London, with producers Ian Samwell and Jeff Dexter. "A Horse with No Name," America's debut single, was released at the end of 1971. In January 1972, the song - which strongly recalled the acoustic numbers of Neil Young - became a number three hit in the U.K. The group's self-titled debut album followed the same stylistic pattern and became a hit as well, peaking at number 14. Following their British success, America returned to North America, beginning a supporting tour for the Everly Brothers. "A Horse with No Name" was released in the U.S. that spring, where it soon became a number one single, pushing Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" off the top of the charts; America followed the single to the top of the charts. "I Need You" became another Top Ten hit that summer, and the group began work on their second album. "Ventura Highway," the first single released from this collaboration, became their third straight Top Ten hit in December of 1972. In the beginning of 1973, America won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist of 1972.
America Live marked the beginning of the group's history as a duo. Recorded at the last of a series of four shows at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles in July of 1977, with film music legend Elmer Bernstein conducting the orchestra and George Martin producing, the album closed out the group's original Warner Bros. contract and was mostly released for that reason, following the Harbor album and the departure of co-founder Dan Peek. Their ninth album in seven years (counting a greatest-hits compilation), it filled in a hole in the group's history and represented America surprisingly well, given the circumstances of its release. Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell are both in excellent voice, and one could hardly ask for a sharper or more balanced live recording. The expected mid-'70s hits such as "Tin Man," "Ventura Highway," and "Sister Golden Hair" (all brilliantly sung, and worth the price of the album) are here, and more modestly charting but highly personal tracks like "Amber Cascades" are represented as well, along with early classics like "I Need You" and "A Horse With No Name" (the latter done with a beautifully elegant yet restrained orchestral arrangement). One does wonder, however, if there were more to this show than the 14 songs represented on the original LP, which might make for a good CD expansion someday. On the other hand, given that Warner Bros. has never seen fit to release this album on CD anywhere but in Europe and Japan, that might be too much to hope for.
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