The rise and fall of America

Contrary to what their name (and many lyrics) tell you, the band America was formed in England in 1970. Dewey Bunnell, Dan Peek, and Gerry Beckley were all sons of U.S. Air Force personnel stationed in London who decided to make a band fresh out of High School. The trio started playing music with borrowed instruments in the style of folk-rock acts of the time such as Crosby, Stills & Nash. They chose the name America because they didn’t want people to think they were British musicians trying to sound like Americans. Their success was fast and within one year of playing several gigs in London, they were signed to Warner Brothers. Their first album came out in 1971, titled America.

When the album didn’t have the success the label was expecting, the band went back to the studio where Dewey Bunnell composed “The Dessert Song” which became widely popular after the band played it live during the 1972 Harrogate Festival. After a couple more performances of the song on TV and live radio, the band decided to rename the song “A Horse with no name” which to date is the most famous song from the band.

Even though the song was highly popular, several radio stations in the US banned the song because of supposed drug references, as the word “horse” is a common slang for heroin in the US. Controversy aside, the song sold over a million copies that same year. Due to the success, the label decided to re-release their album “America” this time including “A horse with no name” making the album reach platinum.

By mid 1972, the band moved to California where they started work on their new album. For the new album, the band changed their style from acoustic to something closer to the rock of the 70s and in November of the same year their new album “homecoming” was released. By December, the album had reached the million sales mark and the album was awarded a gold record. The main single in the album “Ventura Highway” was a tribute to the Pacific Coast Highway (California State Route 1) an iconic route that travels throughout the town of Ventura. The song itself is a conversation between an old man who advises a young man to go west. Part of the lyrics talk of “Purple Rain” which later on was used by Prince for both his song, album and movie. Not sure if there is a connection there.

The album won the band a Grammy for best new artists of 1972.

Between 1973 and 1979, the band released six more albums which included hit singles such as Tin Man, Lonely People, Sister Golden Hair and Today’s the Day. In 1977 Dan Peek left the band to pursue a more Christian lifestyle. Dewey and Gerry continued with the band and in 1979 they signed with Capitol Records where they made four albums, only one of them reached medium success.

In 1982 the band recorded several songs for the animated movie “The Last Unicorn” The soundtrack became fairly popular in Europe. By 1984 the band could no longer land a recording contract. They experimented with the use of synthesizers and drum machines in their new music but it was never the same. After Capitol, the band put out seven other albums with different record companies, many of them collections of singles and greatest hits as well as B-sides. To date Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley still tour the nostalgia concert circuit. Dan Peek had relative success in Christian music until July 24, 2011 when he died at age 60 at his home in Missouri.

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