Thanks to the endurance of hit songs like “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” and “We’ll Never Have to Say Goodbye Again,” the music of England Dan (Seals) and John Ford Coley is still in regular rotation on soft-rock and oldies radio stations today. The duo was only together for roughly a decade, but in that time they notched over ten charting singles, three of which went Top 10 Pop and four of which topped the Adult Contemporary chart. England Dan and John Ford Coley released eight albums, including one soundtrack, on three different labels between 1971 and 1980. Their most commercially successful period, for Atlantic Records’ Big Tree imprint, has recently been collected in full by Edsel as the 2-CD set The Atlantic Albums Plus.
The Texas natives born Danny Wayland Seals and John Edward Colley met at Pleasant Grove, Texas’ W.W. Samuell High School. Seals hailed from a musical family including Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Troy Seals and country music artist Brady Seals, but he most took after his old brother Jim Seals, who in 1969 formed the duo Seals and Crofts with Darrell “Dash” Crofts. Dan Seals and Colley first joined forces in high school, circa 1965, when sophomore Colley was invited to join the older students Seals, Randy Bates, Zeke Durrell, Doc Woolbright and Ovid Stevens in the band that became known as Southwest F.O.B. The group scored a minor hit when a Stax subsidiary picked up its cover of The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band’s “Smell of Incense” for national distribution; Southwest F.O.B. also recorded an entire album and shared bills with Led Zeppelin and Three Dog Night. But in 1971, Seals and Colley split from their bandmates to follow in the footsteps of Seals and Crofts. After a brief period as “Colley and Wayland,” the friends settled on “England Dan and John Ford Coley.” Dan earned his “England” nickname as a result of his frequently mimicking an English accent, while Coley dropped one “l” and added “Ford” after Confederate general John Ford.
Louie Shelton, session guitar pro and producer of Seals and Crofts’ hits like “Summer Breeze” and “Diamond Girl” took an interest in England Dan and John Ford Coley. He arranged for their signing to A&M, where they recorded two albums in 1971 and 1972. (A third A&M album, with some new material, arrived in 1976 on the heels of their first hit record at Atlantic.) “New Jersey,” from their A&M debut, “bubbled under” on the Billboard Hot 100, and “Simone” from sophomore LP Fables fared impressively in France and Japan. But A&M didn’t renew the duo’s option, and they continued gigging on the road and honing their craft.
A demo of songwriter Parker McGee’s “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” found its way to Seals and Coley, and they pitched it to Atlantic. Though the label proper passed, Dick Vanderbilt and future Sony Chairman and CEO Doug Morris swooped in to sign the duo for their Big Tree imprint. Enlisting Nashville producer Kyle Lehning, who had produced the McGee demo, England Dan and John Ford Coley headed to Hendersonville, Tennessee, to record their Big Tree debut Nights Are Forever. The album was named after another Parker McGee song. As it turned out, both of McGee’s songs proved golden for England Dan and John Ford Coley. “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” made it to No. 2 Pop/No. 1 AC and “Nights are Forever” got to No. 10 Pop. Seals and Coley stretched their own muscles as songwriters on many of the album’s breezy, melodic, country-meets-California-style rock tracks, with Louie Shelton returning to provide an arrangement on Coley’s “Westward Wind.” Seals’ “Showboat Gambler” showed off Seals’ C&W chops.
Edsel’s two-CD collection presents all four of the team’s Big Tree/Atlantic albums: Nights Are Forever, Dowdy Ferry Road (1977), Some Things Don’t Come Easy (1978) and Dr. Heckle and Mr. Jive (1979). Dowdy Ferry Road, named after a Texas thoroughfare, didn’t match the success of its predecessor, but did yield a No. 1 AC/No. 21 Pop hit by songwriter Randy Goodrum, “It’s Sad to Belong.” Parker McGee was once again represented by “Where Do I Go from Here,” also recorded by Barry Manilow and The Carpenters. Seals and Coley penned the rest of the material themselves, including Coley’s shimmering, pretty “Falling Stars” and the jointly-written “Holocaust” with its dark orchestral introduction. The track, a plea for “the world as one,” was inspired by both men’s Bahá’í faith. Some Things Don’t Come Easy continued England Dan and John Ford Coley’s success, largely thanks to Jeffrey Comanor’s song “We’ll Never Have to Say Goodbye Again.” Introduced on a Comanor LP in 1976 and then recorded by Deardorff and Joseph (a group that had opened for Seals and Crofts) and Maureen McGovern, it was clear that the song belonged to Seals and Coley. It reached No. 9 on the Pop chart and spent six weeks atop the AC chart. Tim Ryan and Bob Yeoman’s “You Can’t Dance” cracked the Pop Top 50.
England Dan and John Ford Coley’s final Big Tree album, Dr. Heckle and Mr. Jive, featured an A-list team led by producer Lehning including Toto’s Steve Lukather and Jeff Porcaro, session veterans Greg Phillinganes, Lee Ritenour, Richie Zito, Wilton Felder, Ernie Watts, Leland Sklar, and arranger Gene Page. But it was Todd Rundgren who stole the show – as a songwriter. Phillinganes, Felder, Lukather, Ritenour and Watts were among those who played on “Love is the Answer,” introduced by Rundgren with his band Utopia on the 1977 album Oops! Wrong Planet. Rundgren’s warm yet rousingly anthemic melody gave Dan and John another Top 10 Pop hit and another AC chart-topper – their final smash hit. It was joined on the LP by another tune by Randy Goodrum (“Broken Hearted Me”) and a number of original songs.
After recording one more LP (the MCA Records soundtrack to Just Tell Me You Love Me), England Dan and John Ford Coley went their separate ways, with Seals carving out a successful country music solo career and Coley pursuing film and television as well as music. Seals died in 2009 but Coley continues to perform today and pay tribute to his old partner. Edsel’s collection features three bonus tracks to round out the duo’s Atlantic/Big Tree years. “In It for Love” and “Why Is It Me” both appeared on the 1979 compilation The Very Best of England Dan and John Ford Coley. The peppy “Keep Your Smile” was released on 45 in Japan, where it was also used for a television commercial; it makes its CD debut here.
Peter Rynston has remastered The Atlantic Albums Plus. The slipcased set includes a full-color, 36-page booklet with new notes by Paul Myers and full credits for all four albums. You can order this anthology from the soft rock greats at the links below!
- I’d Really Love to See You Tonight
- I’ll Stay
- Westward Wind
- Long Way Home
- There’ll Never Be Another for Me
- Nights Are Forever Without You
- It’s Not the Same
- Showboat Gambler
- The Prisoner
- Everything’s Gonna Be Alright
- Dowdy Ferry Road
- It’s Sad to Belong
- Soldier in the Rain
- Love is the One Thing We Hide
- Gone Too Far
- Where Do I Go from Here
- Falling Stars
- You Know We Belong Together
- Don’t Feel That Way No More
- In It for Love
- Why Is It Me
- Keep Your Smile
- Some Things Don’t Come Easy
- If the World Ran Out of Love Tonight
- You Can’t Dance
- Who’s Lonely Now
- Hold Me
- We’ll Never Have to Say Goodbye Again
- Lovin’ Somebody on a Rainy Night
- Beyond the Tears
- Calling for You Again
- Wanting You Desperately
- Just the Two of Us
- Hollywood Heckle and Jive
- What Can I Do with This Broken Heart
- Another Golden Oldie Night for Wendy
- Broken Hearted Me
- Children of the Half Light
- Rolling Fever
- Love is the Answer
- Only a Matter of Time
- Caught Up in the Middle
- Running After You
- What’s Forever For
CD 1, Tracks 1-11 from Nights Are Forever, Big Tree/Atlantic K 50297 (UK)/BT 89517 (US), 1976
CD 1, Tracks 12-21 from Dowdy Ferry Road, Big Tree/Atlantic K 50362 (UK)/BT 76000 (US), 1977
CD 1, Track 22 from Big Tree/Atlantic single BT 17002 (US), 1979
CD 1, Track 23 from The Best of England Dan and John Ford Coley, Big Tree/Atlantic BT 76018 (US), 1979
CD 1, Track 24 from Big Tree/Atlantic single P-459A (Japan), 1979
CD 2, Tracks 1-11 from Some Things Don’t Come Easy, Big Tree/Atlantic K 40570/BT 76006 (US), 1978
CD 2, Tracks 12-22 from Dr. Heckle and Mr. Jive, Big Tree/Atlantic K 50602 (UK)/BT 76015 (US), 1979