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Ventura Highway, Revisited: America Offers Re-Recorded “Hits”

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Buyer, beware! Eagle-eyed music browsers may have noticed a new title from America, the 1970s hitmakers behind such soft rock radio perennials as “Sister Golden Hair,” “Ventura Highway,” “I Need You,” and of course, the deathless “A Horse with No Name.” America Records released Hits: 40th Anniversary Edition last week, and buyers could be forgiven for thinking it was another repackage of History: America’s Greatest Hits. Seven of the twelve tracks on each compilation are identical. It would be hard to top Rhino Records’ stellar America releases of the past (including a box set, 2000’s Highway: 30 Years of America, and 2001’s The Complete Greatest Hits) but we here at Second Disc HQ wouldn’t mind a 40th anniversary celebration for the often underrated band. That said, the new Hits, carrying on the band’s tradition of albums starting with the letter “H,” isn’t that retrospective celebration. It’s, in fact, a collection of re-recorded songs that hew closely to the original arrangements but otherwise lack the magic. This type of late-career project is nothing new, especially to oldies artists and groups struggling to make a living sometimes without even a single original member. Neil Sedaka, Paul Anka, Squeeze, Chicago and even Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra are a few of the higher-profile artists to have made similar re-recordings, often for licensing purposes or to sell at concert appearances.

The trio consisting of Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and Dan Peek, three sons of U.S. Air Force officers stationed in the U.K., scored a big impression with 1972’s self-titled debut which spent five weeks atop the U.S. album chart. (The album was actually a reissue itself; the 1971 edition was withdrawn when “A Horse with No Name” became a hit. When it was added to the LP, both album and band took off!) America was most clearly influenced by the rich harmonies and acoustic guitar sound of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, with some listeners even mistaking “Horse with No Name” for a Young song (to Neil’s chagrin?). Besides Bunnell’s cryptic equine paean, he offered the haunting “Sandman” while Beckley showed off his timeless melodic sensibility with “I Need You.” If follow-up Hat Trick didn’t repeat its predecessor’s success, the band’s finest and most cohesive album, Homecoming, certainly did. Bunnell’s evocative “Ventura Highway” was another smash single while Peek’s “Don’t Cross the River” and Beckley’s “To Each His Own” were equally mesmerizing. America’s journey continues after the jump! 

A seven-album collaboration with the legendary producer George Martin followed, and he expanded the band’s sound with his trademark orchestration. The Martin/America teaming yielded further folk-pop smashes like “Sister Golden Hair,” “Lonely People,” “Tin Man” and “Daisy Jane.” Peek made a surprise exit from America after 1977’s Harbor, and the band moved from Warner Bros. to Capitol. The next major hit didn’t come until 1982 when Russ Ballard of Argent supplied them with “You Can Do Magic.” Bunnell and Beckley soldier on as America to this day; Beckley told Mike Ragogna in The Huffington Post that he and Bunnell still travel some 200 days per year. In 2007, they teamed with Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne for Here & Now, arguably their best album in decades and a throwback to America’s classic California soft rock sound before it crossed into Adult Contemporary territory. Despite being ignored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and unfairly categorized by many as a strictly AM radio act, Beckley and Bunnell were joined for Here & Now by some young musicians they influenced. These guests included Ryan Adams, Ben Kweller and members of Nada Surf and My Morning Jacket.

Gerry Beckley’s latest solo album, Unfortunate Casino, was also released last week, and Beckley and Bunnell have also indicated in recent months that another America studio venture might be forthcoming. A reunion with Peek, however, still doesn’t appear to be in the cards. So if the procession of re-recorded songs on Hits seems two steps back, there’s still a chance that America will take one step forward with new music sooner rather than later.

For those interested in hearing how Beckley and Bunnell take on their familiar songs today, a pre-order link can be found below!

America, Hits: 40th Anniversary Edition (America Records, 2011)

  1. A Horse with No Name
  2. I Need You
  3. Sandman
  4. Ventura Highway
  5. Tin Man
  6. Sister Golden Hair
  7. Daisy Jane
  8. The Border
  9. Survival
  10. All My Life
  11. Paradise
  12. Chasing the Rainbow

Tracks 1-3 original versions from America, Warner Bros. 2576, 1972
Track 4 original version from Homecoming, Warner Bros. 2655, 1972
Track 5 original version from Holiday, Warner Bros. 2808, 1974
Tracks 6-7 original versions from Hearts, Warner Bros. 2852, 1975
Track 8 original version from Your Move, Capitol 12277, 1983
Track 9 original version from Alibi, Capitol 12098, 1980
Track 10 original version from Silent Letter, Capitol 11950, 1979
Track 11 original version from The Complete Greatest Hits, Warner Bros./Rhino R2-74375, 2001
Track 12 original version from Here & Now, Burgundy 85749, 2007

Written by Joe Marchese

March 29, 2011 at 10:44

2 Responses

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  1. Normally, I disdain re-recorded classics but I am interested to hear this set.

    Matt Rowe

    March 29, 2011 at 10:54

    • Me too, Matt. I’m looking forward to hearing Gerry’s new solo album as well!

      Joe Marchese

      March 29, 2011 at 13:38

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