Record #10: America – America (1971)

Up until listening to this record (today being its first time on my platter), the only America song I knew, like you probably, was “A Horse With No Name,” a mildly convincing Neil Young impression.

Given that to go on, I was expecting an album that opens with the hit single, and then offers a bunch of attempts to rehash its success.

I was wrong.

The single doesn’t arrive until five tracks in, using the preceding four to reintroduce America to the fan who bought the record solely on the merit of their most well-known song.

And these opening four songs are strong in their own right, showcasing an America that is capable of writing folk-pop songs that bounce higher and rock harder (“Sandman” features a beaten drum set and a fuzzed out lead guitar) than the relaxed, midtempo “Horse,” and the excellent vocal harmonies that weave through all of the songs conjure more Simon & Garfunkel than Neil Young, which is a welcome comparison (compare anyone to Simon & Garfunkel and I’m there).

By the time “Horse With No Name” arrives (which was added on later editions, as it hadn’t been recorded on the album’s debut. Thank you Wikipedia) it’s more impressive than any of the other times I’ve heard it. The band sounds more confident, sure-footed and, judging on the four tracks that precede it, more self-aware of themselves than the amateurish copy-cats that the listener could have dismissed the group as after hearing the single out of context.

America goes on from “Horse” to prove themselves more than competent as songwriters, composers, and instrumentalists, especially on “Here,” which starts with a slow droning chord progression, then bursts into a raucous clap along before an impressively executed acoustic guitar solo takes the front of the mix, dies down, and returns to the opening segment.

Side two opens with “I Need You” (the album’s second single), which is the only weak song on the album. “Here,” America hangs up their guitars and tries their hand at a Beatles-style piano ballad. The result is boring and disappointing, and even the writing suffers (“I need you/like the flower needs the rain.” Really, guys?) “I Need You’s” shortcomings are only augmented as the group takes the guitars back after the next song and continues on the album doing what they do best, which is making guitar songs that, while pretty, explore enough through means of song structure and tempo changes, are still interesting enough to have merited the 1972 Grammy for Best New Artist.

America, we’ll be hearing from you again.

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