Musically, there were a lot of good things about the 1970s. People love to write off that era for easy comic effect, but there really was plenty going on. It’s just that when people complain about the ’70s, they’ve usually got bland-o-riffic FM “rock” (my quotes, brother) in mind.
Who can blame them? Record companies vomited FM pabulum like so many WASP volcanoes flinging forth great clumps of diet tapioca (any discussion of which should be prefaced with the fact that many of the future bland “rock” bands of the 1980s were busy in the early 1970s sharpening their dull skills on that bugaboo of yore: prog rock—future FM content providers like YES, for example, whose 1973 double album, Tales from Topographic Oceans consists of four songs at roughly 20 minutes each whose liner notes begin, ominously, as follows: “We were in Tokyo on tour and I had a few minutes to myself before the evening’s concert. Leafing through Paramhansa Yoganda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, I got caught up in the lengthy footnote on page 83 … For some time, I had been searching for a theme for a large-scale composition…”). Crosby, Stills and Nash. The Eagles. James Taylor (marked for death). The Moody Blues, who had inexplicably (but presciently) held on to their limp-wristed FM überwad, “Nights in White Satin,” for four years after recording it before finally releasing it in 1972.
Altamont busted a pool cue over the daisy-wreathed head of heady ’60s idealism. The drugs changed, and with them the listenability of much of the soundtrack to a revolution that petered out like a depleted trust fund. “Insipid” replaced “incendiary” or even “interesting” as the watchword for rock radio, and bands with nothing particular on their minds hustled in to fill the void. It was at this juncture that the arrogant “If you can remember, you weren’t there” of the salt ’n’ pepper ponytailed survivor was replaced with the “Don’t pretend you can’t remember” of his smirking needler.
Enter America, if you’ll pardon the pun, a harmless puff of dandelion fluff drifting across the shadow-streaked lawn of a late summer suburban evening. The button-nosed poster bunny for the New Blah Sound, scampering coyly. Lowfat, low-calorie, and guaranteed never to offend anybody. They outblanded the Eagles. They outblanded the Moody Blues. In a kind of velvet revolution that would be downright Oedipal if it weren’t so incredibly uninteresting, they even outblanded Crosby, Stills and Nash!
“Sister Golden Hair” and “A Horse With No Name,” both penned in time for inclusion on 1975’s unbidden History/America’s Greatest Hits, are textbook examples of songwriting team Gerry Buckley/Denny Bunnell’s uncanny knack for assigning a shape to the vanilla-scented breezes of vacuous self-importance that tease the wheat-tops before passing away as if they had never been. They named themselves America. They had seven consecutive albums beginning with the letter H. They defied a United Nations cultural boycott of South Africa when the rest of the world was pressing that country to undo apartheid. What a bunch of geniuses. Na na, na-na-na na.
It ain’t exactly Sun City, but it’ll do. America plays the Daly Mansion Amphitheater in Hamilton this Tuesday, Aug. 8 at 7 p.m. Tickets $19 advance, $22 at the gate. Call 523-7996.