Sunday, January 5, 2014

America: A Band and An Album

Tijuana Border Traffic Sign
Heading To The Border 

Part 1 Of A Series Of 6
Highway 101 Crossing The Border:

We have done a pretty good job of exploring Tijuana Mexico. Its time to head north, get on Highway 101 and start this trip in earnest. First, though, we have to cross the border. In my experience this can be a quick painless experience or a long drawn out grueling experience. You have the variables of traffic, the possibility of secondary examination, and did I mention traffic? As we begin jostling in line to cross back into the United States, America comes to mind.

America (band)
America in 1976
When I search my music collection for America, the first thing to come up is a folk rock band from the 1970's.  Founding in 1972, America released a long string of hits during the 70's. Some of their hits included "A Horse with No Name", "Sister Golden Hair", "Ventura Highway", "Tin Man", and "Muskrat Love" which was successfully covered later in the decade by the Captain and Tenille. The group was a trio, Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell, and Dan Peek. The first three albums they issued were released to acclaim and commercial success, however the third album that they released was Hat Track and it did stumble a bit in sales, only producing one hit "Muskrat Love". For their fourth album they called in famed Beatles producer George Martin. It would be a partnership that would last their next four studio albums. He produced some of their biggest hits, "Tin Man", Sister Golden Hair", and "Lonely People". During this time he produced a greatest hits package. History: America's Greatest Hits is a classic and an essential in many people music collections. A solid release it has one great song after another. Look at this track listing:

Album: America's Greatest Hits - History    America
1.  A Horse With No Name 4:07 
2.  I Need You 3:05 
3.  Sandman 4:08 
4.  Ventura Highway 3:22 
5.  Don't Cross The River 2:31 
6.  Only In Your Heart 3:12 
7.  Muskrat Love 3:05 
8.  Tin Man 3:28 
9.  Lonely People 2:28 
10.  Sister Golden Hair 3:20 
11.  Daisy Jane 3:08 
12.  Woman Tonight 2:22 
That is a solid album! It's in my collection and it is the next album to be added to our playlist.

In 1977, a founding member of America, Dan Peek, left the band. The 1970's rock star lifestyle of rampant drug used had left him weary and he decided to leave the band to lead a more spiritual Christian lifestyle. He would later be successful in contemporary Christian music. The remaining band members, Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell, decided to soldier on as a duo. At this point, they had lost a founding member and were at the end of a contract with Warner Bros., they decided to release an easy live album to complete their contract. The album was titled America Live. The album was a live concert from the duo. In fact, it was their first release without Peek. The show from the Greek Theater in Los Angeles in July of 1977 was full of the hits. Here is a track list:

Album: America Live    America
1.  Tin Man 3:44 
2.  Ventura Highway 3:44 
3.  I Need You 2:21 
4.  California Dreaming 3:15 
5.  Sandman 5:00 
6.  Daisy Jane 2:51 
7.  Never Be Lonely 3:40 
8.  You Can Do Magic 3:37 
9.  Sister Golden Hair 3:11 
10.  Horse With No Name 3:44 

Hoping to get an idea of their live sound, I bought this CD. I didn't know the history of the band, but noted that the songs didn't sound as full as they did on History: America's Greatest Hits, I had blamed either a not so well produced live recording or a lackluster performance as to the cause. I would later find that it was the loss of the third member that leaves this album a little thin. It's not as bad as I am probably making it sound, in fact it's pretty good and is the next addition to our playlist.

America has continued to tour and release album, while never acheiving the success in album sales of their glory years in the 1970's they do continue to draw a crowd. Until recently they continued to perform over 100 live shows a year.  To round out your America experience, I found 2 videos. The first is a live performance from German television program Musikladen, It captures the band at their peak, while Peek was with them. Sorry, I am a sucker for bad puns. The second clip is a recent feature on them from Entertainment Tonight. Enjoy.

The next album to make it onto the playlist, from the British prog rock band Supertramp, has an obvious Amercia connection. I will let Wikipedia introduce:
Breakfast in America, released in March 1979, which reached number 3 in the UK[20] and number 1 in the United States and Canada and spawned four successful singles (more than their first five albums combined): "The Logical Song" (no. 6 U.S., no. 7 U.K.), "Goodbye Stranger" (no. 15 U.S., no. 57 U.K.), "Take the Long Way Home" (no. 10 U.S.), and "Breakfast in America" (no. 9 U.K.).
This album was a huge hit and really doesn't need a lot of backstory. However I did find a great clip from "Breakfast in America". Enjoy!

OK, so that isn't the Breakfast in America we were looking for. I didn't find any particularly interesting clips to go with this album, so that's what you end up with. As I have said before, I can't pass up a good pun or a bad one for that matter. I have to plead guilty to something else here. I have seen the cover to this album probably thousands of times in my life, and in the course of my research I realized I had been missing the obvious. The parody of the statue of liberty being portrayed by a waitress was always obvious enough, but what I didn't notice was that the skyline of New York City in the background of the shot was really a model structured out of various breakfast foods and dishes and cutlery. Sometimes the obvious escapes me. Anyway here is the tracklist for those of you who are riveted to their screen taking copious notes on my musical ramblings on old highways.

Album: Breakfast In America    Supertramp
1.  Gone Hollywood 5:19
2.  The Logical Song 4:10
3.  Goodbye Stranger 5:50
4.  Breakfast In America 2:39
5.  Oh Darling 4:02
6.  Take The Long Way Home 5:08
7.  Lord Is It Mine 4:09
8.  Just Another Nervous Wreck 4:25
9.  Casual Conversations 2:58
10.  Child Of Vision 7:28 

I fibbed a bit about finding clips. I did find the following audio program discussing the album, including an interview with band member Roger Hodgman. Here you go:

As we suspected, there is a lot of traffic slowing us down as we try to cross the border back to old Highway 101 and our main journey. At least we are creeping forward a little bit. Join us next Sunday as we get patriotic at the thought of returning to the USA. Don't forget to check in on Saturday as we continue to explore the city of Chicago, on Route 66, from our usual musical point of view.

To read more Old Highway Notes, choose an offramp and click on the highway sign:

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