America – Sister Golden Hair

I’ve always liked the slide guitar in this song. It has a George Harrison sound to it. The song was on America’s album Hearts. The former Beatle producer George Martin produced this album.

Gerry Beckley wrote “Sister Golden Hair,” America’s second and final number one hit. Beckley has said that Jackson Brown and George Harrison inspired this song.

The song peaked at #1 in the Billboard 100, #11 in Canada, and #26 in New Zealand.

Gerry Beckley: “I very openly tip my hat there to ‘My Sweet Lord,'” “I was such a fan of all the Beatles, but we knew George [Harrison] quite well and I just thought that was such a wonderful intro.”

One interesting thing about the album… Phil Hartman, who was a graphic designer before his star turn in Saturday Night Live, designed the cover to the Hearts album.

 

From Songfacts

America’s first single, “A Horse With No Name,” went to #1 in 1972. That song was written by Dewey Bunnell, who formed the band in 1970 with Gerry Beckley and Dan Peek (the group became a duo when Peek left in 1977).

In 1975, they scored another #1 with “Sister Golden Hair,” another enigmatic track with lots of harmony. It was written and sung by Beckley, who says that it was based on a composite of different girls. When asked if it was written to anyone, Beckley said: “No, this is all poetic license. With ‘Sister Golden Hair,’ as far as my folks were concerned, I was writing a song about my sister, and I couldn’t quite fathom it; they must not have listened to the lyrics.”

“I’d like to point out that you can have a #1 record with a line that enters that darkly,” he said. “That’s kind of my thing: I try to mix these emotions and I think ‘Sister’ was a great example. Pretty good message in there. John Lennon famously said, ‘We don’t know what these songs are about till people tell us.’ So all of our songs, including ‘Horse,’ are open to interpretation. But ‘Sister’ was a relationship song and there is a variety of elements. We always combine them as songwriters so that they’re not verbatim, word for word, for a particular circumstance. Poetic license we call it.”

In our interview with Gerry Beckley, he explained that he made a demo of this song before America recorded their fourth album, Holiday, but he was happy with the songs they chose for that album so “Sister Golden Hair” sat on the shelf for a year, making the cut for their next album, Hearts.

“I can’t really tell you if it was a lack of faith in the song or not, but it was interesting to see,” he said. “It shows you that songs can have a life of their own – they might just need the right time and circumstances to surface.”

This song was used in a bloody scene in the 2001 episode of the TV series The Sopranos, “Another Toothpick.” After a mobster kills two people, the song plays on his car radio as he drives off. When he has trouble breathing and can’t reach his inhaler, he crashes the car and dies, but the song keeps playing.

“Sister Golden Hair” also appears in the movies Cherish (2002), Radio (2003) and All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006).

George Martin, who was The Beatles producer, produced this track and the rest of the Hearts album (he started working with America on their previous album, Holiday). It was Martin’s 20th US #1 as a producer, and his first away from The Beatles (by this point, each former Beatle had reached #1 outside of the group). Martin would have three chart-toppers: “Ebony and Ivory,” “Say Say Say” and “Candle In The Wind ’97.”

This was recorded at the Record Plant in Sausalito, California. The engineer on the session was Geoff Emerick, who worked with George Martin on much of The Beatles output.

Beckley played lap steel guitar on this track. He told Songfacts that the musical influence came from George Harrison. “I very openly tip my hat there to ‘My Sweet Lord,'” he said. “I was such a fan of all The Beatles but we knew George quite well and I just thought that was such a wonderful intro.”

The group recorded a version in Spanish called “Hermana de Cabellos Dorados.” Gerry Beckley doesn’t speak Spanish, so he did it phonetically.

Sister Golden Hair

Well I tried to make it Sunday, but I got so damn depressed
That I set my sights on Monday and I got myself undressed
I ain’t ready for the altar but I do agree there’s times
When a woman sure can be a friend of mine

Well, I keep on thinkin’ ’bout you, Sister Golden Hair surprise
And I just can’t live without you; can’t you see it in my eyes?
I been one poor correspondent, and I been too, too hard to find
But it doesn’t mean you ain’t been on my mind

Will you meet me in the middle, will you meet me in the air?
Will you love me just a little, just enough to show you care?
Well I tried to fake it, I don’t mind sayin’, I just can’t make it

Well, I keep on thinkin’ ’bout you, Sister Golden Hair surprise
And I just can’t live without you; can’t you see it in my eyes?
Now I been one poor correspondent, and I been too, too hard to find
But it doesn’t mean you ain’t been on my mind

Will you meet me in the middle, will you meet me in the air?
Will you love me just a little, just enough to show you care?
Well I tried to fake it, I don’t mind sayin’, I just can’t make it

Doo wop doo wop …

Simon & Garfunkel – America

I could listen to this song on a tape loop for eons and eons and be happy. Paul Simon is on a different level than other songwriters. This song peaked at #95 in the Billboard 100 and #25 in the UK in 1972. The song was originally on the album Bookends released in 1968 but this record was released as single in 1972 to promote their Greatest Hits.

The first Simon and Garfunkel album I bought was the Greatest Hits in the 80s. None of the songs ever get old to me.

From Songfacts.

In this song, Paul Simon and his longtime girlfriend Kathy Chitty (from “Kathy’s Song”) are coming to America (moving from England). Paul is deeply confused and unsatisfied, but he doesn’t know why. He just knows that something is missing. It is also about the “American Dream” – the guarantee that you will make it if you stumble upon this country. That is why they are coming to America.

The song is a great example of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel singing in unison, which was a hallmark of their sound. Garfunkel is especially fond of the section where they sing, “And walked off to look for America.” To told Paul Zollo in 1993: “That has a real upright, earnest quality because we both have the identical soul at that moment. We come from the identical place in our attitude, and the spine that’s holding us up, we are the same person. Same college kid, striking out.”

There are no rhymes in this song, which is quite a feat of songwriting. In his Songfacts interview, Gerry Beckley of America (no relation) broke it down: “The entire song is prose. There’s not one line that rhymes and I will tell some of the best songwriters you’ve ever met that particular element and you can see them stop and go through it in their head. We’re oblivious to that being an ingredient because we’re so involved in the story. You’re not sitting there going, ‘That didn’t rhyme, wait a second.’ It’s not an issue.”

The prolific session drummer Hal Blaine played on this, and considers it one of his favorites. Blaine also played on Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.”

Other musicians on the track include Joe Osborn on bass and Larry Knechtel on organ.

At their live show in Central Park, Simon & Garfunkel repeated the line “Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike” because the home crowd could relate to the image of massive traffic on New Jersey highways. 

This was used by James Leo Herlihy in his all-but-forgotten classic novel, The Season of the Witch. The story begins with a pair of teenage runaways traveling by bus to New York, riffing off the lyrics all the way. When they actually see the moon rising over an open field, they feel their journey was meant to happen.

In the movie Almost Famous, the teenaged character Anita (Zooey Deschanel) plays this song to explain why she is leaving home to explore the country. The song is included on the soundtrack to the film.

The progressive rock band Yes recorded a vastly different version which they released as a single in 1972. Their rendition, with layered vocals and musical breakdowns, made #46 in the US. The single version ran 4:06, but a full 10:28 version was also released on a sampler album called The New Age of Atlantic later that year, and included on their 1996 Keys To Ascension album.

In our interview with Yes bass player Chris Squire, he explained: “When Yes first formed, Simon & Garfunkel were very prevalent hit makers at the time and both myself and Jon Anderson were big fans of them. That’s why we covered the song ‘America.’ But we did it differently than their way. We wanted to expand things, which is basically what we did. When Pop tunes were expected to be three minutes long, our mantra was, ‘Let’s make them 10 minutes long.’ So that was really what we did.”

Paul Simon gave Bernie Sanders permission to use this song in a campaign ad when Sanders was campaigning for the Democratic nomination against Hillary Clinton in 2016. Simon told Billboard magazine: “Look, here’s a guy, he comes from Brooklyn, he’s my age. He voted against the Iraq War. He’s totally against Citizens United, thinks it should be overturned. He thinks climate change is an imminent threat and should be dealt with. And I felt: Hats off to you! You can use my song.”

America

Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together
I’ve got some real estate here in my bag
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner’s pies
And we walked off to look for America
Cathy, I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh
Michigan seems like a dream to me now
It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw
I’ve gone to look for America

Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said, be careful, his bowtie is really a camera
Toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat
We smoked the last one an hour ago
So I looked at the scenery
She read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field

Cathy, I’m lost, I said though I knew she was sleeping
And I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all come to look for America
All come to look for America
All come to look for America

America – Lonely People

Maybe my favorite America song along with Sister Golden Hair. It peaked at #5 in the Billboard 100 and #16 in Canada in 1975. The song was a positive response to the Beatles Eleanor Rigby’s “All the lonely people: where do they all come from…where do they all belong”(according to wiki). Both songs were produced by George Martin.

From Songfacts.

Famed Beatles producer George Martin helmed this song along with the rest of the album in London. Peek recalled to Circus: “Gerry (Beckley) had been in England, and we’d talked about using George Martin as our producer. He’s such a hot arranger, thinking about all the stuff he’s done. There were several other people we wanted to use, but that idea sort of flashed and George was available. Gerry had a house outside of London where we knew we could rehearse.”

The trio met with George Martin in Los Angeles, at the offices of America’s managers, Geffen-Roberts. Peek remembered with a laugh: “The first thing he did was take his shirt, sweater and shoes off. He said it was too hot in L.A. He put everyone at ease, and we just got along well from the first second. He has a very musical mind, and as we began working we bounced ideas off of him quite a bit, with things like vocal arrangements and guitar parts. It was an amazing experience working for a mind-producer.”

 

Lonely People
This is for all the lonely people
Thinking that life has passed them by
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
And ride that highway in the sky

This is for all the single people
Thinking that love has left them dry
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
You never know until you try

Well, I’m on my way
Yes, I’m back to stay
Well, I’m on my way back home (Hit it)

This is for all the lonely people
Thinking that life has passed them by
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
And never take you down or never give you up
You never know until you try