The vaults are open! The legacy of the enduring band America has received a long-overdue celebration with the recent release on compact disc and digital download of Archives Vol. 1. Featuring the versatile, original trio of Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and the late Dan Peek (as well as the talented musicians and producers who contributed mightily to the band’s earliest albums), Archives is a 15-track, non-chronological collection of previously unreleased alternate versions, early mixes, demos, rehearsals and outtakes spanning the period between America’s 1971 debut album America and 1975’s Hearts. In other words, this set features many of the band’s most beloved hits and album favorites as you’ve never heard them before. And for a true you-are-there, fly-on-the-wall experience, plenty of studio chatter has been retained. This collection follows the recent release of Lost and Found, a compelling package of unheard 21st century material from Beckley and Bunnell.
America’s ranks boasted three songwriters with highly individual voices: Peek played lead guitar to Beckley and Bunnell’s rhythm parts, and infused his songs with a pronounced country influence. Beckley’s natural gift for traditional pop balladry proved a potent counterpoint to Bunnell’s quirkier, abstract songwriting, but all three members found the perfect blend in musical and vocal harmony – think a British Invasion knack for pop filtered through the sounds of Southern California – as evidenced over and over in these fifteen songs.
The release kicks off with an alternate version of the Dewey Bunnell-penned “Ventura Highway,” the breezy first track off the band’s 1972 classic Homecoming. The famous riff is intact, but the feel of the track is a bit more laconic. There are numerous other variations from the finished recording; while Bunnell takes the chorus solo, the group’s wordless background part extends through the “Wishin’ on a falling star/Waiting for the early train…” verse. Added percussion and more prominent background vocals make for a busier-sounding reiteration of the chorus, and the overall feel of this embryonic take is less urgent than the final hit version. “Okay, should we keep that and do another one right off?” is heard immediately after the recording. “That was pretty good…” It was pretty good, and the finished version was still better – perfect, even. This track sets the tone for the array of work-in-progress tunes to follow, with differences big and small from the familiar versions of these classic songs.
Gerry Beckley could reliably be counted upon for beautiful, chill-inducing ballads. “I Need You,” the future pop standard introduced on 1971’s debut album America and subsequently recorded by everybody from Andy Williams to Harry Nilsson, is presented in a subtly different alternate mix. Dan Peek’s beautiful, acoustic “Rainy Day” is heard in an alternate mix with additional harmonies and alternative arrangement flourishes; there’s beauty in its stark simplicity. When Bunnell’s “A Horse with No Name” became a hit single, it was added to subsequent pressings of America. “Horse” is rather fully-formed in this alternate early mix, with Bunnell, Beckley and Peek all perfectly attuned to each other and with the support of Ray Cooper on percussion and Kim Hayworth on drums.
America followed up its debut with what might be its strongest album, the tight and atmospheric Homecoming. The demo here of Beckley’s bouncy, melodic and piano-driven “Only in Your Heart” confirms the song’s status as a “shoulda-been-a-hit” single. A rehearsal of Bunnell’s psychedelically-tinged “Cornwall Blank” features Bunnell, Beckley and Peek supported by The Wrecking Crew duo of Hal Blaine on hard-hitting drums and Joe Osborn on bass.
Titling its third album Hat Trick was only a minor exaggeration on America’s part, as the album didn’t reach the same commercial heights as its two predecessors. Nonetheless, it was filled with memorable melodies. Archives premieres a spine-tinglingly good alternate mix of Peek’s haunting, expansive “It’s Life,” an engagingly spare, raw demo of Bunnell’s “Rainbow Song,” and an early demo of Bunnell’s “Green Monkey” in gentle form. Its opening guitar parts nearly have an airy, bossa nova quality. Of course, it’s an out-and-out rocker on the album version with searing electric guitars.
Legendary producer George Martin joined America for 1974’s Holiday, the one album from America’s purple patch which isn’t represented here. (Perhaps “Tin Man” and “Lonely People” are being saved for a future volume…!) Archives picks up with a tour through the making of 1975’s Hearts with a rehearsal of Beckley’s “Daisy Jane” (oh, those chords!) sans both harmonies and George Martin’s mournful string arrangement, with Willie Leacox’s congas and David Dickey’s bass lending a lightly Latin underpinning to Beckley’s passionate lead vocal. A solo demo of Beckley’s era-defining smash “Sister Golden Hair” showcases alternate lyrics, and a funky rehearsal take of Peek’s rhythmic “Woman Tonight” cooks! A rare Beckley/Peek co-write, the underrated “The Story of a Teenager,” shimmers in this rehearsal performance. George Martin’s orchestration would, of course, add further dimension to the track in its later album version.
Archives Vol. 1 premieres one wholly unreleased America song: an acoustic demo of Beckley’s wry sing-along “Look Up, Look Down” (“Getting tired of my woman running around/Everybody says, give her a second chance/But that’ll be the seventy-second time in advance…”) with Gerry on lead and all instruments, and Dan and Dewey on background vocals. Recorded circa 1973, the track is relatively short (around two minutes) and clearly unfinished, but a fun and fascinating listen with a typically strong Beckley melodic hook. The set concludes with a live-in-the-studio 1971 take of the uptempo, acoustic guitar workout “Riverside,” the first track off America’s first album, to bring this release full circle.
This illuminating and celebratory tour through the development of some of the most vivid pop-rock music of all time has been compiled, designed and produced by Jeff Larson for America Records, and is housed in an attractive three-panel digipak. The stellar mastering has been handled by Mike Romanowski, and all that’s missing from this superb package is a booklet of liner notes and/or commentary from Beckley and Bunnell as to the songs’ varied origins. Happily, full credits for personnel are included with each track.
America, from 1971 to the present, has successfully fused pop, rock, country and folk sounds into a style of its own. Archives Vol. 1 is a most welcome present for longtime fans who have long wished for the vaults to open. Roll down the windows and crank this one up loud!
America, Archives Vol. 1 (America Records, 2015) (Amazon U.S.)
- Ventura Highway (Alternate Mix – The Record Plant, Los Angeles, CA, 1972)
- Daisy Jane (Rehearsal – The Record Plant, Sausalito, CA, 1975)
- It’s Life (Alternate Mix – The Record Plant, Los Angeles, CA, 1973)
- Rainbow Song (Demo – Buzz Studios, King’s Road, Los Angeles, CA, 1973)
- I Need You (Alternate Mix – Trident Studios, London, 1971)
- Horse with No Name (Alternate Early Mix – Morgan Studios, London, 1971)
- Sister Golden Hair (Demo – Buzz Studios, King’s Road, Los Angeles, CA, 1973)
- Woman Tonight (Rehearsal – The Record Plant, Sausalito, CA, 1975)
- Rainy Day (Alternate Mix – Chalk Farm Studios, 1971)
- Only in Your Heart (Demo – Buzz Studios, King’s Road, Los Angeles, CA, 1972)
- Cornwall Blank (Early Rehearsal – The Record Plant, Los Angeles, CA, 1972)
- Look Up, Look Down (Unreleased Song) (Demo – Buzz Studio, King’s Road, Los Angeles, 1973)
- Green Monkey (Demo – Buzz Studios, King’s Road, Los Angeles, CA, 1973)
- Story of a Teenager (Rehearsal – The Record Plant, Sausalito, CA, 1975)
- Riverside (Live in Studio – Chalk Farm Studios, 1971)