Home > Pissing off the Taste Police > Pissing off the Taste Police with America

Pissing off the Taste Police with America

August 6th, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

While we wait for the final two installments of the Songbirds series, let’s piss off the Taste Gestapo by focussing on one of the most underappreciated groups of the ’70s: America (who have just released their first studio album in 20 years, incidentally).

Yeah, I know, “Horse With No Name” has no cool factor, and remains the butt of many jokes. Oddly, I can’t think of any other #1 hit about drugs that enjoys so little credibility as “Horse”. Probably because it isn’t a very good song. Alas, because it is America’s best-known song, the group’s entire folk-rock legacy is tarnished. And that is a great shame, for there is much in America’s catalogue that is, at least within its genre, admirable. And if America was good enough to be produced by George Martin, who are we to argue?

Granted, America didn’t set out to shift musical boundaries. Indeed, they were in a large measure derivative, owing much to the various groups that donated their frontmen to Crosby, Stills & Nash (and, for that matter, to Neil Young). America’s place in history certainly is not on the pedestals occupied by the great innovators. But music need not establish a revolutionary manifesto to be enjoyed. And the mellow, harmonising sounds of America are greatly enjoyable. They create warmth, and they create happiness for those partial to mellowing, harmonising sounds.

So, in this post, no “Horse With No Name”. The other big hit is there, the joyous anthem for commitment-shy men and desperate argument for the value of cohabitation, “Sister Golden Hair” (1975), with its George Harrison-sounding guitar intro, singalong chorus, the doo-wop-n-doo-wops, and the counted outro.
America – Sister Golden Hair.mp3

“I Need You” (1971) is the song responsible for this post. While we had a power cut tonight, this song was stuck in my head. I cued it on the iPodm (thank goodness for its 73GB — though not the advertised 80GB; the fuckers are lying to us), and one thing leading to another, I listened to more America songs than I had planned, all with a huge grin on my face, thinking how the Taste Gestapo would despise me for my act rebellion against the consensus. Truth is, “I Need You” is a beautifully crafted love song.
America – I Need You.mp3

“Lonely People” (1974) is in great part pure Crosby, Stills & Nash rip-offery, except for the brief piano interlude, from the harmonies to the lyrically content. Dave Crosby surely would have been proud to have written this little gem. And thanks to this song, I cannot help myself saying “hit it” before any harmonica solo I hear.
America – Lonely People.mp3

A new generation of music consumers were introduced to America in 2001 when Janet Jackson sampled the guitar riff from “Ventura Highway” (1972) on her hit single “Someone To Call My Lover”. It is a stand-out riff. America should be remembered for that, not for horses in deserts. And did Prince pick up the “Puple Rain” idea from “Ventura Highway”? And just after the line about “purple rain”, “Joe” is advised of the option to “change your name”. Just as Prince did in the ’90s. Care to develop a crackpot theory about America’s pivotal influence on Prince’s life? Anyway, what are “alligator lizards” doing “in the air”? My theory, it’s another drug reference. Come on, lets go crazy!
America – Ventura Highway.mp3

Sampling the “Ventura Highway” guitar riff (and re-recording it, to save on royalties!) was not Janet Jackson’s first bout of “inspiration” by America. Listen to “Daisy Jane” and tell me how Janet’s “Let’s Wait A While” is not patent plagiarism. The song’s title was a play on Nick Drake’s “Hazy Jane”. The chorus, unviolated by Jackson, is quite lovely, despite the hoary cliché of love and “the stars above us” (but then, anyone who’s ever been in love will recognise the cliché).
America – Daisy Jane.mp3

And, while I’m at it, here’s a great video somebody made of this blog’s theme song by Steely Dan.

Be Sociable, Share!
  1. Kate
    August 7th, 2007 at 00:14 | #1

    Thanks for the link, I like your blog as well.

  2. Anonymous
    August 7th, 2007 at 06:40 | #2

    Hear hear! A well-written post about an under-rated group. Like you, I have no fondness for ‘Horse with No Name’, and champion every one of the songs you’ve posted as arguements for why America deserves a better standing in the alt-country/So Cal Rock history books.

  3. Wave
    August 8th, 2007 at 03:41 | #3

    Hi. Great posts. P.S. Your lostinthe80s.blogspot.com/ seems not to be working properly, something with the prefix of the URL. Just informing you. ~Wave

  4. Any major dude with half a heart
    August 8th, 2007 at 09:03 | #4

    Thanks for the props and for the correction, Wave. The link is now fixed. I looked at your blog, and enjoyed reading your posts.

  5. White Silk
    August 8th, 2007 at 18:31 | #5

    nice – haven’t listened to these guys in a while. Pretty pop harmonies with the alt-country twang thrown in…

  6. Anonymous
    August 11th, 2007 at 19:50 | #6

    Great post about an underrated band. I saw America in the late 1980’s. They were great. For a ‘soft rock’ band, they played very loud…my ears rang for a week!How about a little love for Bread now?

  7. Anonymous
    October 4th, 2009 at 21:23 | #7

    fuck Bread lol you’ll be asking about Tony Orlando and Jack Jones next! ;)

    am i the only person who likes horse with no name then? i think horse/ventura are the best 2 they did lol and i have all the albums!

  1. No trackbacks yet.