The Four-Year Old Who Discovered America

It was rare when my parents would throw something on the turntable of the console stereo inhabiting the living room.

Yet, in the car, the radio was usually playing and, from the backseat of the Gremlin, the first hit songs that I experienced was the soft rock of The Carpenters, Jim Croce, John Denver. Cat Stevens, The Bee Gees…

…and America.

Paloma and I had long joked of our cat Sam having an affection for ’70s soft rock, especially America.

With Sam moving on last week, I couldn’t help but pause when – two days later – I read of the death of Dan Peek, one the three musicians that formed the trio in England.

I took it as synchronicity and couldn’t help but picture Sam hustling along through the scrub, dutifully following her new, troubadour friend as he rode a nameless horse through some desert in the afterlife.

(though, personally, I’m hoping that she’s lounging about in Clarence Clemons’ garden)

A Horse With No Name does occupy a special place in my heart, though. If I try and pinpoint the first song that I can actually remember hearing while it was popular, I do believe it would be that song which topped the charts in early 1972.

I was four.

The song fascinated me. It was all quite exotic and mysterious – a horse, the desert, birds, trees, rocks, things…

It had undeniable appeal to a four-year old tyke.

A Horse With No Name was America’s debut, so I was discovering the trio with the rest of the world. I doubt that I necessarily knew the band’s name, but I knew the song as I would I Need You, Tin Man, Lonely People, and Sister Golden Hair as well as several others.

By the time I reached grade school, I had never really known a world where one song or another by America wasn’t in constant rotation on the radio.

The commencement of my education meant less time in the car, held hostage on a seemingly never-ending succession of daily errands. That meant less time hearing the radio.

It would be another five or six years until curiousity led me to listen to the radio of my own volition and America was gone.

Their ’70s hits still popped up on light rock stations, but the group – now a duo following Peek’s departure – managed only a few hits in the early ’80s which didn’t appeal much to me.

But those early ’70s hits by America…yeah, I totally get why Sam and I were fans. Here are four songs by America…

America – A Horse With No Name
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box

It’s raining for the first time in weeks as I write and I remember that it always seemed to be raining when I’d hear A Horse With No Name on the radio as a kid. Using the logic of a four-year old, I felt the song’s desert setting was somehow connected to that rain.

(of course, the song was a hit during the spring months of ’72, so…)

I still love the song and its trippy vibe. Plenty of folks have carped over the lyrics throughout the years, but, even if arguably non-sensical, I find them evocative and far more interesting than your typical June/moon stuff.

I truly care little as to what the song is about as it feels like a trek through the desert.

(I just have long assumed that the three members were stoners)

America – I Need You
from History: America’s Greatest Hits

The lush, melancholic ballad I Need You has a dreamy quality that reminds me of The Beatles’ Something and, several albums on from America’s debut, the band would end up working with producer George Martin.

America – Lonely People
from History: America’s Greatest Hits

America received a lot of comparisons to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and, of the songs I know by America, the lovely, resilient Lonely People captures that vibe to me more than any other.

Maybe it’s the harmonies or the gentle melody or how much Dan Peek on lead vocal reminds me of Neil Young.

America – Sister Golden Hair
from Billboard Top Hits (1975)

Though I do find the lyrics on Sister Golden Hair to be pretty goofy and the protagonist to be a bit of a wuss – I keep picturing George Costanza bursting into tears to postpone his impending nuptials – I can’t help but be drawn to the song‘s sunny melody and infectious chorus.

One Response to The Four-Year Old Who Discovered America

  1. […] about Dan Peek, I suppose—and you could click over to Barely Awake in Frog Pajamas for a fine post on America—but we should probably spend a little time marking the passing of a guy who was part of some […]

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