Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another Saturday is upon us, which means it’s time to take a fresh look at newly released music. My picks for this week include melodic punk, pop country, indie rock and some contemporary reggae. All tunes appear on releases that came out yesterday (August 6).

Fake Names/It Will Take a Lifetime

Fake Names are a supergroup featuring members from Swedish and American punk bands I’m not familiar with. According to this review in Broadway World, the line-up includes guitarists Brian Baker (Minor Threat, Dag Nasty, Bad Religion) and Michael Hampton (S.O.A., Embrace, One Last Wish), lead vocalist Dennis Lyxzén (Refused, International Noise Conspiracy, INVSN) and bassist Johnny Temple (Girls Against Boys, Soulside). In May 2020, Fake Names released their eponymous debut album. It Will Take a Lifetime is the opener of their new self-titled EP. The tune is credited to all four members. The recording also includes guest drummer Brendan Canty (Rites of Spring, Fugazi). I rarely listen to punk but find this pretty accessible. Obviously, it’s not hardcore, which isn’t my cup of tea, plus it’s pretty melodic!

Allison Ponthier/Cowboy

Allison Ponthier is a singer-songwriter based in Brooklyn, New York, who originally hails from the Dallas area. This feature in Atwood Magazine describes her music as “equal parts Taylor Swift, Kacey Musgraves, and Phoebe Bridgers.” Cowboy is from Ponthier’s debut EP Faking My Own Death. The tune first appeared in March as her debut single. “”Cowboy” is the story of when I moved from my hometown in Texas to Brooklyn and ended up coming out as a queer person,” Ponthier explained to Atwood Magazine. “I was always trying to run away from different aspects of myself, and I guess it was time to live my truth as a gay cowboy.” According to the publication, “Ponthier is quickly asserting herself as one of 2021’s freshest and most exciting new singer/ songwriters.” While I know way too little about her music to comment on the statement, I find Cowboy pretty intriguing.

Laura Stevenson/Continental Divide

Laura Stevenson is a folk and indie rock-oriented singer-songwriter from Long Island, New York. According to her Apple Music artist profile, Stevenson is the granddaughter of Harry Simeone, an arranger and conductor who was co-credited with writing the Christmas classic “Little Drummer Boy.” Simeone’s wife, Margaret McCravy, sang for Benny Goodman’s Orchestra in the 1930s under the name Margaret McCrae. By her late teens, Stevenson was already writing her own songs and performing locally when she befriended members of band the Arrogant Sons of Bitches. They temporarily disbanded in 2004, and when lead singer Jeff Rosenstock quickly formed the ska-punk collective Bomb the Music Industry!, Stevenson was enlisted as keyboard player. She continued to play solo shows during her time with the group, with members often contributing to her backing band. Credited as Laura Stevenson & the Cans, she made her solo recording debut in 2009 on a split EP with BTMI, adding the three-track “Holy Ghost!” later the same year. Her full-length debut, A Record, followed on Asian Man Records in 2010 and included collaborations with Rosenstock. Fast-forward 11 years to Stevensons’ new and self-titled sixth album, for which she wrote all tracks. Here’s Continental Divide – check out that great warm sound – very nice!

Sizzla/On a High

When being asked about reggae music, I’m quick to say I dig it because it’s groovy and makes you want to move. The truth is I mostly base this on Bob Marley, the only reggae artist I’ve explored beyond just a song or two. Perhaps tellingly, I had not heard of Sizzla (born Miguel Orlando Collins), who according to Wikipedia is “one of the most commercially and critically successful contemporary reggae artists.” Well, if they say so. Sizzla was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. In 1995, he met Jamaican record producer Philip “Fatis” Burrell, who produced his debut album Burning Up that appeared in September of the same year. Sizzla is a prolific recording artist who has since released more than 50 additional albums, frequently several during the same year. On a High, written by Collins, is the title track of Sizzla’s new album. Feel free to groove along!

Sources: Wikipedia; Broadway World; Atwood Magazine; Apple Music; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another week came and flew by. I can’t believe we are already in June, and the official beginning of summer (June 20) is just two weeks away. As usual, Saturday means taking a look at newly released music. All featured songs are on albums that came out yesterday (June 4).

This collection leads with a pop rock band from down under that initially was formed in 1985, reemerged in December 2019, and is now out with their first new studio album in 11 years. There is also new music by a rock band from New Jersey and, no, it’s not Bon Jovi, as well as a singer-songwriter of Nigerian heritage and a psychedelic folk rock band, both based in Nashville.

Crowded House/Start of Something

New music by Crowded House came as a surprise to me, especially since I had associated Neil Finn with Fleetwood Mac. Of course, he officially joined the band together with former Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell in April 2018 after the firing of Lindsey Buckingham. Finn and Campbell subsequently went on tour with the Mac for their extensive 2018-2019 tour of North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Since the tour ended in November 2019, Fleetwood Mac have been in limbo. Mike Campbell went on to focus on his own band The Dirty Knobs and released their debut album in November 2020. And Finn decided to revive Crowded House, the Australian pop rock band he co-founded in Melbourne in 1985. After four studio albums the group broke up in June 1996. Following two reunions and two additional albums, Crowded House were on hiatus as of late 2016. In December 2019, Finn announced a new line-up that apart from him includes the band’s former producer Mitchell Froom (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals), original co-founder Nick Seymour (bass), as well as Finn’s sons Liam Finn (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals) and Elroy Finn (drums, guitar). Start of Something, co-written by Liam Finn and Neil Finn, is a track off Dreamers Are Waiting, Crowded House’s new album, their first since Intriguer from June 2010.

Latewaves/Enough Is Enough

Latewaves are a rock band from Asbury Park, N.J. According to their website, they were formed in 2016 and include Mike Pellegrino (guitars, vocals), Howie Cohen (bass, vocals) and Shawna Grabowski (drums). In August 2017, they released Face Down, the lead single of their debut EP Partied Out that appeared the following month. Latewaves describe their sound as “full of rage and attitude” and “full of explosive, guitar driven riffs.” Based on what I’ve heard thus far, I think that’s a fair characterization. I would also add their songs are relatively melodic. In that sense, they remind me a bit of Green Day. Here’s Enough Is Enough, a tune from their new and first full-length album Hell to Pay. The song is credited to all three members of the band.

Joy Oladokun/Someone That I Used to Be

Joy Oladokun is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter who grew up in Casa Grande, Ariz. Both of her parents came to the U.S. as immigrants from Nigeria. According to her profile on Apple Music, Oladokun’s music fuses the deep emotions and confessional nature of classic singer/songwriters with music that encompasses contemporary folk, R&B, and pop…While she has been playing guitar since childhood, it wasn’t until 2015 that Oladokun quit her job and took a shot at realizing her dream of making music full-time. She released a solo acoustic EP, Cathedrals, that year and followed it up with 2016’s Carry, a full-band effort that included the single “Shelter,” which introduced her to a wider online audience...Full of personal, emotionally powerful songs, Carry helped Oladokun expand her audience, and she followed it up with touring in the United States and the United Kingdom. Someone That I Used to Be is the opener of Oladokun’s new and third studio album In Defense of My Own Happiness. I like it!

Sun Seeker/Gettin’ Tired

Sun Seeker are a psychedelic folk rock band from Nashville. Initially formed as a quartet of friends who had known each other from middle school, the band’s current line features Alex Benick (guitar, vocals), Asher Horton (bass guitar), and Ben Parks (drums), according to their website. Their Apple Music profile notes the band’s debut single appeared in 2016 after they had been signed by Third Man. The first EP Biddeford was released in the summer of the following year. Gettin’ Tired, co-written by Benick, Horton and Park, is a tune from Sun Seeker’s first full-length album A Sunrise in a Basement. I find this quite catchy.

Sources: Wikipedia; Latewaves website; Apple Music; Sun Seeker website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: S.T.S./Da Kummt Die Sunn

For this one, I have to give a shoutout to my fellow German blogger sori1982, who currently resides in Austria and recently brought to my attention this amazing cover of Here Comes the Sun, performed in German Austrian style.

I’m sure many of Sori’s visitors have heard this already, but at least in my case, I can say the clip she called out at the time didn’t work on my end – likely due to silly YouTube legal restrictions. So for the benefit of North American and perhaps other ex-European audiences, I hope this will do the trick!

S.T.S., which stands for Steinbäcker, Timischl & Schiffkowitz, were an Austrian trio from Graz, the second largest city in Austria. They were founded in 1975 by Gert Steinbäcker, Günter Timischl and Schiffkowitz (Helmut Röhrling). Between 1981 and 2007, S.T.S. released 11 albums. At first, half of their lyrics were written in English before they settled on the Austrian dialect spoken in the southeast region of Styria. In July 2014, the trio officially called it quits, citing health issues for Timischl.

Da kummt die Sunn appeared as a single in 1981. Apart from beautiful harmony singing, I love how S.T.S. ingeniously translated George Harrison’s original lyrics to the Styrian dialect. This gives it a unique charm. Tell me this doesn’t sound amazing!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Here Comes the Spring

While mornings in Central New Jersey are still on the chilly side, it’s slowly starting to feel like spring. Recently, when I stepped out for a morning walk prior to starting home office, I could hear birds singing. And just yesterday, I had the same experience again, so chances are the birds are real and not just in my head! Hoping this won’t jinx the start of the milder season, I’ve decided to put together this little playlist featuring songs that are about spring, at least in a broader sense.

The Beatles/Here Comes the Sun

I can hardly think of a more perfect tune to mark the upcoming season than Here Comes the Sun. The song, which appeared on The Beatles’ real final album Abbey Road from September 1969, remains one of my favorite George Harrison tunes.

Electric Light Orchestra/Mr. Blue Sky

Admittedly, this song doesn’t mention spring anywhere (neither does Here Comes the Sun), but I feel the lines Mr. Blue Sky/Please tell us why/You had to hide away for so long? can be interpreted as a reference to winter having passed. Written by Jeff Lynne, the tune is included on Electric Light Orchestra’s seventh studio album Out of the Blue released in October 1977. It also became one of the record’s five singles and was one of ELO’s higher charting songs in the UK, climbing to no. 6 on the Official Singles Chart.

Johnny Nash/I Can See Clearly Now

This is one of the best picker-uppers I know. Again, the tune could be about sunshine following the rain in pretty much any season. But heck, let’s not over-complicate things here! I Can See Clearly Now was written by Johnny Nash as the title track of his 1972 studio album. The tune was also released as a single and became Nash’s biggest hit topping the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S., as well as the charts in Canada and South Africa. It’s been covered by Jamaican reggae singer Jimmy Cliff and many other artists. There’s just something about Nash’s soft vocals in that tune that always puts me at ease.

Judy Collins/So Early, Early in the Spring

While I just cleverly noted there’s no reason to overthink things, you still may find it a bit peculiar that up this point none of the featured songs in this post have the word “spring” in the title or the lyrics. Okay, I shall relent and offer you So Early, Early in the Spring by Judy Collins, a pretty tune with a nice Joni Mitchell vibe. Collins included this traditional on her 1977 compilation So Early in the Spring… The First 15 Years. BTW, now 81 years old, the American folk singer is still active, some 62 years into her career. According to her website, Collins performed two online concerts in New York two weeks ago – incredible!

Indigo Girls/Southland in the Springtime

Without striving to be a spring song over-achiever, here’s another lovely tune that clearly names the season: Southland in the Springtime written by Emily Saliers, who together with Amy Ray makes up American folk rock duo Indigo Girls. This is a track from their third studio album Nomads Indians Saints that came out in September 1990. Really like this!

The Flaming Lips/Can’t Stop the Spring

Let’s wrap up this set of spring tunes with a rocker. And, yes, it’s yet another track that has “spring” in the title: Can’t Stop the Spring by The Flaming Lips. While I would put this tune in the weirdly catchy department, it’s got a good motto to me. Can’t Stop the Spring, credited to the entire band, is from their sophomore album Oh My Gawd!!! released in January 1987. Formed in Oklahoma City in 1983, The Flaming Lips are still around. Last September, I featured a tune from their most recent album American Head in a Best of What’s New installment.

Sources: Google; Wikipedia; Judy Collins website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

This is the fourth installment in a row of my recently introduced feature that highlights six random songs I like. I’m becoming cautiously optimistic I can keep up the pace and make this a weekly recurring series.

Clannad/Caisleán Õir

Irish folk group Clannad was formed in 1970 in the parish of Gweedore located on the Atlantic coast in northwest Ireland by siblings Ciarán Brennan, Pól Brennan and Moya Brennan, together with their twin uncles Pádraig Duggan and Noel Duggan. Initially known as Clann as Dobhar and since 1973 as Clannad, according to Wikipedia, the group has adopted various musical styles over the decades. This includes folk, folk rock, as well as traditional Irish, Celtic and new-age music, often incorporating elements of smooth jazz and Gregorian chant. Clannad’s eponymous debut album came out in 1973. They have since released 15 additional studio albums, the most recent of which, Nádúr, appeared in September 2013. The group remains active to this day, with Ciarán, Moya, Pól and Noel still being part of the line-up. Pádraig passed away in August 2016. Caisleán Õir is the breathtaking opener of Macalla, their eighth studio album from 1985. It became one of their most successful records, partially because of a collaboration between U2’s Bono and Clannad vocalist Moya Brennan on the tune In a Lifetime. Macalla brought Clannad on my radar screen in the mid-’80s. The vocals on Caisleán Õir, co-written by Ciarán Brennan and Máire Brennan, still make my neck hair stick up. I recommend using headphones for that tune!

Fretland/Could Have Loved You

Fretland are an Americana band from Snohomish, Wa., which I featured last May in a Best of What’s New installment. Unfortunately, it appears the situation hasn’t changed, and publicly available information on this band continues to be very limited. Fretland were founded by singer-songwriter Hillary Grace Fretland  (vocals, guitar). The line-up also includes Luke Francis (guitar), Jake Haber (bass) and Kenny Bates (drums). Could Have Loved You is the opener and title track of the band’s upcoming sophomore album scheduled for March 26. Here’s the official video of the pretty tune, which was written by Hillary Grace Fretland. Her voice reminds me a bit of Sarah McLachlan.

 John Mellencamp & Carlene Carter/Indigo Sunset

Heartland rock and Americana singer-songwriter John Mellencamp, one of my long-time favorite artists, needs no introduction. To country music fans, the same is probably true for Carlene Carter, the daughter of June Carter Cash and her first husband Carl Smith, who just like June was a country singer. June’s third husband, of course, was the man in black, Johnny Cash. With so much country in the gene pool, it’s perhaps not surprising Carlene became a country artist as well – and a pretty talented one I should add! During Mellencamp’s 2015–2016 Plain Spoken Tour, where Carter opened each show for him, the two artists started writing songs together. Eventually, this resulted in Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, Mellencamp’s 23rd and most recent studio album of original material, which was released in April 2017. Here’s one of the tunes Mellencamp and Carter wrote and performed together, the beautiful Indigo Sunset. I absolutely love this song. Check out the incredibly warm sound. I also think Mellencamp’s and Carter’s voices go perfectly with each other, even though they couldn’t be more different.

Simply Red/If You Don’t Know Me By Now

British pop and soul band Simply Red were formed in Manchester in 1985. They came very strongly right out of the gate with their studio debut Picture Book from October 1985. The album, which spawned various popular singles including Money’s Too Tight (to Mention) and Holding Back the Years, brought the group around smooth lead vocalist and singer-songwriter Mick Hucknall on my radar screen. After a four-year break between 2011 and 2015, they remain active to this day and have released 12 albums as of November 2019. Their amazing cover of If You Don’t Know Me By Now was included on their third album A New Flame that appeared in February 1989. It became hugely successful, topping the charts in the UK, Switzerland and New Zealand, and placing within the top ten in various other countries, except the U.S. where it stalled at no. 22. If You Don’t Know Me By Now was co-written by songwriting and production duo Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who are credited for developing the so-called Philly sound. The tune was first recorded and released in 1972 by Philly soul group Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Man, Hucknall’s got soul – so good!

America/Ventura Highway

Formed in London in 1970, folk and pop rock group America was one of the bands my sister unknowingly introduced me to as a 7 or 8-year-old. She had their first greatest hits compilation History: America’s Greatest Hits, a fantastic introduction to the group. I realize the trio that originally consisted of Dewey Bunnell (vocals, guitar), Dan Peek (vocals, guitar) and Gerry Beckley (vocals, bass) sometimes is dismissed as a copy of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Even if you think that’s true, I’d consider it to be a compliment; because that comparison largely stems from America’s harmony singing. How many bands can you name that sing in as perfect harmony as CSN? Or America, for that matter? Anyway, Ventura Highway, written by Dewey Bunnell, is the opener of America’s sophomore album Homecoming from November 1972. Every time I hear that song, I picture myself driving in some convertible on the California coastal Highway 1, with the free wind blowin’ through my hair. BTW, America exist to this day, with Bunnell and Beckley still being around. Peek, who left the group in 1977 and became a born again Christian, passed away in July 2011 at the age of 60.

Cream/Strange Brew

You didn’t really think I could do a Sunday Six without at least one ’60s tune, did ya? Of course, you didn’t! I trust you’ve heard about British rock trio of ingenious bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce, guitar god Eric Clapton and drummer extraordinaire Ginger Baker. Co-written by Clapton, producer Felix Pappalardi and Gail Collins, Strange Brew is the opener of Cream’s second studio album Disraeli Gears that came out in November 1967. If you had asked me, I would have bet Sunshine of Your Love was the highest-charting song from the album. Not so, at least not in the U.K. – turns out Strange Brew climbed to no. 17 there, while Sunshine of Your Love peaked at no. 25. In the U.S. it was different. Sunshine surged all the way to no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, while Brew didn’t chart at all. Funny how these things can go – perhaps it was too strange for American taste!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another weekend brings another slate of new music. This installment of Best of What’s New features a nice mix of big name and lesser known artists. Genres include country-oriented rock, folk, indie rock and folk rock. Let’s get to it!

Bon Jovi & Jennifer Nettles/Do What You Can

Jon Bon Jovi and country band Sugarland frontwoman Jennifer Nettles joined forces for an updated version of Do What You Can, a tune from Bon Jovi’s 15th studio album 2020 scheduled for October 2. Written during the early days of COVID-19, initially, the song only included the first verse and the chorus. Jon Bon Jovi invited fans via social media to contribute lyrics, essentially asking them to tell their own pandemic stories. He first revealed an acoustic version of the complete song during the Jersey4Jersey benefit online concert. The tune was subsequently released as a single on July 23. “As I finished the mix and did the video, I said, ‘Boy, this song would have such crossover potential’, Bon Jovi told Rolling Stone. “It makes you feel good and the message is just right on at this time that when you can’t do what you do, do what you can,” added Nettles during a recent Facebook chat. Do What You Can very much has the same feel of the artists’ previous collaboration Who Says You Can’t Go Home from 2006. Both tunes remind me of The Lonesome Jubilee, one of my favorite John Mellencamp albums from 1987.

Jeff Tweedy/Love Is the King

American songwriter, musician and record producer Jeff Tweedy is best known as vocalist and guitarist of alternative rock band Wilco, founded in 1994 by former members of Uncle Tupelo, an alternative country group, which Tweedy co-founded as well. Between these two bands and his solo efforts, Tweedy has released close to 20 albums over the past 30 years. Love Is King is the title track of his fourth solo album that is set to come out on October 23. As reported by Pitchfork, Tweedy announced the tune on September 15, together with a second track of the forthcoming album, Guess Again. “At the beginning of the lockdown I started writing country songs to console myself,” he pointed out in an accompanying statement. “Folk and country type forms being the shapes that come most easily to me in a comforting way. “Guess Again” is a good example of the success I was having at pushing the world away, counting my blessings—taking stock in my good fortune to have love in my life. A few weeks later things began to sound like “Love Is the King”—a little more frayed around the edges with a lot more fear creeping in. Still hopeful but definitely discovering the limits of my own ability to self soothe.”

Elizabeth Cook/Perfect Girls of Pop

Elizabeth Cook is an American country singer-songwriter who has been an active recording artist since 2000. Originally, she hails from Wildwood, Fla. where she was born as the youngest of 12 children. Cook already joined her parents on stage at the age of 4. Her mother Joyce was a mandolin and guitar played and her dad Thomas played upright bass, which he had learned while serving time in an Atlanta prison for illicit production of high-proof distilled spirits. Cook holds the distinction of having performed more than 400 times on the Grand Ole Opry since her March 2000 debut, the most appearances to date by a non-member. Her studio debut The Blue Album came out in November 2000. Perfect Girls of Pop is a track from her seventh and most recent album Aftermath released on September 11. It’s catchy tune that sounds much more like indie pop rock than country.

Native Harrow/Carry On

Native Harrow are a folk rock duo from Eastern Pennsylvania, comprised of Devin Tuel (lead vocals, guitar) and her partner Stephen Harms (bass, drums, keyboards, guitar). Unfortunately, publicly available information on them is limited and the following is based on this Facebook piece and a review by Staccatofy. Carry On is a beautiful tune from Native Harrow’s fourth studio album Closeness, which came out on August 21. Two things about this song grabbed me right away: The warm sound, especially the keyboard, and the vocals by Tuel, who apparently is a classically trained singer. I also think the gospel style choir in the last third of the track is a perfect fit to what essentially is a gospel song. Tuel and Harms recorded the album’s 10 tunes at a Chicago studio together with drummer and engineer Alex Hall over the course of only two 3-day sessions in late December 2019 and early January 2020. The basic tracks were captured live in studio with Tuel, Harms and Hall on vocals/guitar, bass and drums, respectively. The album follows their 2019 release Happier Now.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Pitchfork; Facebook; Staccatofy; YouTube

Neil Young Releases Second Upfront Single From “The One That Got Away”

Evidently trying to build some buzz ahead of Homegrown, Neil Young on Friday released Vacancy, the second single from his long-awaited album that originally was supposed to come out in 1975. It’s a classic Young mid-tempo rocker he wrote and, as reported by Ultimate Classic Rock, one of seven tracks that were never issued on any other of his subsequent albums.

Homegrown was recorded at Young’s Broken Arrow Ranch Studio in 1974 and early 1975, and features Stan Szelest (organ), Ben Keith (lap steel), Tim Drummond (bass) and Karl T. Himmel (drums). Additionally, there are guest appearances by Levon Helm and Emmylou Harris. Originally, this album was scheduled to come out after Harvest and prior to Comes a Time.

I apologize, wrote Young on his website back in February. This album ‘Homegrown’ should have been there for you a couple of years after ‘Harvest.’ It’s the sad side of a love affair. The damage done. The heartache. I just couldn’t listen to it. I wanted to move on. So I kept it to myself, hidden away in the vault, on the shelf, in the back of my mind…but I should have shared it. The love affair Young alluded to was his relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress from late 1970 until 1975.

The album is actually beautiful, Young went on. That’s why I made it in the first place. Sometimes life hurts. You know what I mean. Anyway, it’s coming your way in 2020, the first release from our archive in the new decade.

Five of Homegrown’s 12 tracks were previously released on other Young albums: Love is a Rose (Decade, 1977), the title track (American Stars ‘n Bars, 1977), White Line (Ragged Glory, 1990), Little Wing (Hawks & Doves, 1980) and Star of Bethlehem (American Stars ‘n Bars).

Homegrown was recorded in analog and mastered to vinyl from the original master tapes, restored with love by John Hanlon, Young further explained. This album, in vinyl, displays the beauty, feeling and depth of music recorded in the analog domain, before digital. It’s the perfect example of why I can’t forget how good music used to sound.

This is the one that got away…Well, while 45 years certainly is a long time, I have no doubt many Neil Young fans will be excited and think it was worth the wait! Homegrown is scheduled for June 19.

Sources: Wikipedia; Ultimate Classic Rock; Neil Young website; YouTube


What I’ve Been Listening To: America/ History: America’s Greatest Hits

America’s vocal harmonies and smooth folk rock sound make for one of the best ’70s greatest hits compilations

I was nine or 10 years old when I listened to History: America’s Greatest Hits for the first time. The album grabbed me right from the beginning. It was one of the vinyl records my older sister had, which among others also included Carole King’s Tapestry; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu; and Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits – all albums I dig to this day.

Recently, I rediscovered History. To me, it’s one of the best greatest hits compilations I know, which were released in the ’70s. Others that come to my mind are Neil Young’s Decade, Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), Santana’s Greatest HitsSteely Dan’s Greatest Hits and the aforementioned Simon & Garfunkel album. There are probably some others I’m forgetting – in any case, it’s not meant to be a complete list.

I recall reading somewhere that America were dismissed by some as a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young knock-off. While I generally don’t think highly of music critics in the first place, I feel this notion is silly. Yes, America’s three-part harmony vocals are reminiscent of CSN/CSNY, but this doesn’t make them a copycat or somehow bad artists! On the contrary, if anything, the vocal similarity to CSN/CSNY is a huge accomplishment – after all, there aren’t many bands that can harmonize like CSN/CSNY did! On to History.

America
America (from left): Gerry Beckley, Dan Peek & Dewey Bunnell

Released in November 1975, History encompasses America’s 11 most successful singles at the time, plus an edited take of Sandman from their December 1971 eponymous debut. In addition to that album, History includes material from four additional studio records: Homecoming (November 1972), Hat Trick (October 1973), Holiday (June 1974) and Hearts (March 1975).

History opens with one of my favorite America tunes: A Horse With No Name from their debut album. It was written by Dewey Bunnell, who formed America with Dan Peek and Gerry Beckley in London in 1970. The three had met there in the mid-’60s as high school students whose fathers were stationed on a nearby U.S. Air Force base.

A Horse With No Name became America’s most successful single topping the Billboard Hot 100. It also stirred some controversy due to the similarity of Bunnell’s voice to Neil Young, and what some viewed as mediocre lyrics. Coincidentally, the song knocked Young’s Heart Of Gold off the Billboard Hot 100 top spot. I really don’t care whether it sounds like Young, who by the way is one of my favorite artists. With its two chords and killer harmony vocals, this tune simply gives me goosebumps each time I hear it.

Ventura Highway, another Bunnell composition, is from the Homecoming album. When I listen to this song and close my eyes, I can literally picture myself in an open convertible driving on the Pacific Coast Highway 1 from L.A. up north to San Francisco. I actually did that trip in 1980 as a 14-year-old, together with my parents. Even though we had a lame station wagon as a rental, not some hot convertible, it was an unforgettable experience! Ventura Highway became a top 10 Billboard single for America, reaching no. 8 and no. 3 on the Hot 100 and Easy Listening charts, respectively.

Another beautiful tune is Lonely People, which was credited to Dan Peek and his wife Catherine Peek. The song was written a few weeks after their marriage. An obituary in TMR that appeared in the wake of Peek’s death in July 2011 at the age of 60 quotes him: “I wrote it probably within a month of getting married to my long-lost love Catherine…I always felt like a melancholy, lonely person. And now I felt like I’d won.” America  initially recorded Lonely People for their fourth studio album Holiday. It topped the Billboard Easy Listening chart and peaked at no. 5 on the Hot 100.

One of my favorite songs on History written by Gerry Beckley is Sister Golden Hair. Recorded for America’s fifth studio album Hearts, the tune also became the band’s second no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The lyrics were inspired by Jackson Browne. In this context, John Corbett’s America Revisited quotes Beckley: “Jackson Browne has a knack, an ability to put words to music, that is much more like the L.A. approach to just genuine observation as opposed to simplifying it down to its bare essentials… and it was that style of his which led to a song of mine, “Sister Golden Hair,” which is probably the more L.A. of my lyrics.” I guess this means in addition to CSN/CSNY, America also stole from Browne – unbelievable!

The last song I’d like to call out is the final track on the History compilation: Woman Tonight. It’s another tune from the Hearts album and was written by Peek. Released as the third single, it charted within the top 50 in the U.S.

History was produced by none other than George Martin, who had started working with America on their fourth studio album Holiday. Martin also remixed the first seven tracks on History, which he had not produced originally. The compilation became a huge success in the U.S., giving America a no. 3 on the Billboard 200. In October 1986, the Recording Industry Association of America certified the album 4X Multi-Platinum.

Since History, America have released 12 additional studio albums, 10 live records and numerous other compilations. Now in their 48th year, America continue to perform, featuring co-founders Beckley and Bunnell. Peek left the band in May 1977, long before his death, after he had renewed his Christian faith.

The band’s current tour schedule on their website is filled with dates until January 2019. After playing the MTV music festival Gibraltar Calling in the British overseas territory on September 21, the band is off to a series of gigs in the U.S., including Denver (Sep 27), Emporia, KS (Sep 28), Dodge City, KS (Sep 29), San Jose (Oct 4) and San Diego (Oct 5),  before going back over the Atlantic to Israel and doing some shows in Europe.

Sources: Wikipedia; TMR; John Corbett: “America Revisited”, AccessBackstage.com, May 29, 2004; RIAA Gold & Platinum certifications; America website; YouTube