Tag Archives: Soft Rock

America: Heritage – Home Recordings & Demos 1970-1973

Plotting the course of soft rock with demos from 1970-1973

The three expats that formed America in London in 1970 began their climb to stardom in late 1971 with the release of their eponymous debut. But it wasn’t until the album was reissued with the addition of “A Horse With No Name” that they captured the top spots on the album and singles charts. The debut also spun off “I Need You,” and the follow-up album, Homecoming, launched “Ventura Highway” the same year. The rest of the second album’s singles, and the third album, Hat Trick, registered successively lower on the charts, and it would take a few more years to return the band to hitsville with 1974’s “Tin Man” and “Lonely People,” and 1975’s “Sister Golden Hair.” The band has continued on to this day (minus Dan Peek, who left in 1977 and passed away in 2011), occasionally popping back up on the adult pop and contemporary charts.

Omnivore’s volume of demos and home recordings shows that the band was always destined for success. The magic blend of their voices was present from the beginning, and even as teenagers, they had a clear idea of their direction. Although many of these demos were successfully re-recorded for their albums, the excitement of recording together for the first time gives these initial takes their own unique feel. The earliest recordings were laid down at Chalk Hill Studios in 1970, and combines material from their debut (“Riverside” “Here” “Rainy Day” “Donkey Jaw”) with songs that never made it back to the studio. All are surprisingly well played and recorded, with the acoustic and electric guitars in balance and the harmony and backing vocals tightly arranged and sung.

The second set of recordings, from 1972 and 1973, were recorded at Gerry Beckley’s home studio, and include several titles that ended up on Hat Trick, songs and fragments that were never completed, and bits of studio chatter. Of interest to even casual fans will be a 1972 take of “Ventura Highway” that preceded the hit recording, and a vocal isolation of “A Horse With No Name” that’s nearly a cappella. Tracks 1, 3, 6, 7, 9 and 14 have been previously released on earlier America anthologies, but the remaining ten tracks are issued here for the first time. Founding member Dewey Bunnell provides original liner notes, and period photographs by Henry Diltz grace the cover and booklet. This is a great find for the band’s fans! [©2018 Hyperbolium]

America’s Home Page

Sammy Johns: Sammy Johns

Sammy Johns’ 1973 debut album

The massive success of “Chevy Van,” and the financial troubles of his record label consigned Sammy Johns to the career of a one-hit wonder. Which isn’t to say he was a flash-in-the-pan or an untalented singer-songwriter, because he was neither – he paid his dues in North Carolina clubs before making the big time, and he wrote other soft-rock tunes that are worth hearing. But like so many who had a brief flash of fame, the stars simply didn’t align to sustain a hit-making career. This self-titled debut album, recorded for and released by the General Recording Company in 1973, includes Johns’ chart smash, along with two lower-charting follow-ups, “Early Morning Love” and “Rag Doll.” With a hit in his pocket, he signed with Warner-Curb to record the soundtrack to The Van, but further hits failed to materialize.

This 14-track reissue includes eight of the original album’s ten songs (omitting “Jenny” and “Hang My Head and Moan”), and adds six more, including “Peas in a Pod” from The Van soundtrack. He’d get one more shot in the early ‘80s with Elektra, cracking the Country 100 with “Common Man,” before settling into a career as a songwriter. John Conlee topped the country chart with “Common Man,” and Johns placed songs with Waylon Jennings (“America”), Conway Twitty (“Desperado Love”) and a cover of “Chevy Van” by Sammy Kershaw. Johns passed away in 2013, but this eponymous album and its iconic hit single will forever be remembered for their laid-back echoes of the mid-70s. Now who’s going to get The Van back in print? [©2017 Hyperbolium]

England Dan & John Ford Coley: The Very Best Of

Poster boys of smooth ‘70s soft rock

Alongside Seals & Crofts, it’s hard to think of a duo more representative of 1970s adult contemporary soft rock than “England” Dan Seals and John Edward “Ford” Coley. The duo first performed together in a series of high school bands, including Theze Few and Southwest F.O.B., and debuted as a duo in 1971 on A&M. This collection picks up with their 1976 move to the Atlantic subsidiary Big Tree, and their breakthrough pair of Parker McGee-penned tunes “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” and “Nights Are Forever Without You.” They continued to mint Top 40 singles throughout the rest of the 1970s, including Todd Rundgren’s “Love is the Answer” and several self-penned hits, and topped the AC chart four times.

Varese’s sixteen-track set collects nearly all of their Big Tree singles, including the Japan-only “Keep Your Smile.” Omitted are “You Can’t Dance,” and the non-charting “If the World Ran Out of Love Tonight” and “Hollywood Heckle & Jive.” Filling out the track list are album- and B-sides, and a pair of tracks from the film Just Tell Me You Love Me, including the duo’s last single “Part of Me Part of You.” This stacks up well against the shorter Essentials, I’d Really Love to See You Tonight & Other Hits and the period Best Of. Superfans may want to indulge in the import The Atlantic Albums+, but for most, this set will hit all the radio high points, and provide just the right amount of smoothly produced, touchingly sung ‘70s pop. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

John Ford Coley’s Home Page

Paul Davis: The Very Best Of

PaulDavis_TheVeryBestOfComprehensive collection of soft-rock singer’s hits

Mississippian Paul Davis is best remembered for his breakthrough 1977 hit “I Go Crazy,” but the light-soul soft-rock singer-songwriter broke into the industry seven years earlier, and continued to chart regularly until 1982. Varese’s seventeen-track collection reaches back to his first single, “Revolution in My Soul” b/w “Constantly” (issued as The Reivers), and rolls all the way through a pair of chart-topping duets in the mid-80s with Marie Osmond (“You’re Still New to Me”) and Tanya Tucker (the terrific “I Won’t Take Less Than Your Love”). Along the way the disc collects all of Davis’ charting singles except the minor chart entries “Can’t You Find Another Way (Of Doing It),” “Keep Our Love Alive” and “Cry a Little.”

The two earliest sides, issued on the Los Angeles-based White Whale label, are great period pop, with the Muscle Shoals-produced A-side evincing gospel soul and the B-side tuneful bubblegum. The single gained enough notice to get Davis signed with the Bang label, where his first release was a sweet soul cover of the Jarmels’ “A Little Bit of Soap.” The single’s success led to an album, A Little Bit of Paul Davis, and an opportunity for Davis to spread his songwriting wings with “I Just Wanna Keep it Together.” You can hear a touch of labelmate Neil Diamond in the single’s near-spoken passages, though the production is more in line with the pop hits of Tony Orlando and UK acts Edison Lighthouse and the Flying Machine.

Davis continued to write imaginative hits for himself throughout the ‘70s, often producing or co-producing his own records. He added country rock flavor to “Boogie Woogie Man,” folk country to “Ride ‘Em Cowboy,” and turning more towards the pop mainstream with electronic keyboards on 1976’s “Thinking of You” and double-tracked vocals on the name-checking “Superstar.” The updated sound set the stage for Davis’ breakthrough with the following year’s “I Go Crazy,” a single that stayed on the Hot 100 for a then record-setting forty weeks. A follow-up duet (with Susan Collins) covering the Beach Boys’ “Darlin’” charted outside the Top 40, but the smooth “Sweet Life” brought him back to the Top 20 and crossed to the country chart.

Davis moved to Arista and notched a trio of hits in the early ‘80s, including his biggest chart success, “‘65 Love Affair.” His final hit for Arista, a cover of the Friends of Distinction’s “Love or Let Me Be Lonely” is included here in its original single version, featuring a third verse that was not on the album track. Davis largely retired from recording after 1982, guesting on a pair of country chart-topping duets in 1986 and 1988, and focusing on background singing and songwriting, including penning “Meet Me in Montana” for Dan Seals. This disc provides a good introduction to Davis’ music, from earlier, earthier sides through the slicker pop-soul sound of his solo hits, to the country duets with which he bowed out. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Gallery: Nice to Be With You – All Time Greatest Performances

Early ‘70s soft- and country-rock from Detroit three-hit wonder

Though they had three Billboard chart entries (including a cover of Mac Davis’ “I Believe in Music” and the original “Big City Miss Ruth Ann”), the fame of their first and biggest single, 1972’s “Nice to Be With You,” and the reductionist view of oldies radio has reduced this soft-rock band to a one-hit wonder. Formed in Detroit by singer/songwriter Jim Gold, the band recorded two albums for the Sussex label before splitting; Gold recorded a few more solo releases, and continues to write and make live appearances to this day. Though the original recording of the single appeared on a few well-sourced compilations, such as Rhino’s Have a Nice Day Vol. 8, it’s been released in re-recorded form on dozens of MP3 collections. The original albums were reissued on the grey market Nice to Be With You 2 on 1, but this appears to be the first fully licensed reissue.

Included here are all but one of the tracks from the group’s two albums, omitting a cover of Jay and the American’s “Sunday and Me” from their debut. Perhaps the reissue producers felt that Gold’s voice sounded enough like Neil Diamond (who wrote “Sunday and Me”) on “Nice to Be With You” to balance the omission, but with enough space on a CD to host both albums, the cover song’s absence is disappointing. Gallery’s soft-rock is tinged with both pop/rock and country sounds (most notable in Cal Freeman’s steel guitar on the hit), settling into the early ‘70s groove then inhabited by the Stampeders, America and Lobo. Surprisingly, the band was produced by Dennis Coffey, a Motown guitarist who’d hit for himself only a few months earlier with the hard funk instrumental “Scorpio.” It’s great to have these albums back in print; now where’s “Sunday and Me”? [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Jim Gold’s Home Page
Jim Gold’s MySpace Page

England Dan & John Ford Coley: Nights Are Forever

Classic ‘70s soft-rock

After stirring little U.S. chart interest with three albums with A& this Texas-bred duo discovered the song “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” and ignited a run of hits on the Big Tree label. This, their first album for Big Tree, was their best and most commercially successful. The album’s title track just missed the pop chart’s top slot, but did hit #1 adult contemporary. The song’s writer, Parker McGee, also provided the album’s title track (and the duo’s second hit single). The remaining titles were written by the duo, alone, together and with a few select collaborators. Dan Seals’ later reinvention as a country artist is presaged here in the pedal steel and harmonies of “Westward Wind,” “Showboat Gambler,” and “Lady.”

Though soft rock would become a cliché, it was still fresh in 1976, and Seals (the younger brother of Seals & Crofts’ Jim Seals) and Coley are energized and inventive with their vocalizing. It’s smoothly produced, as you’d expect, but any commercial calculation was the sort previously used in the Brill Building to lace together audience-connecting emotion, easily hummed melodies and hook-filled vocals. And it worked; if you like the hit singles, you’ll like how they filled out the album. With earlier CD reissues now out of print, this MP3 collection is a welcome bargain. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

John Ford Coley’s Home Page
Dan Seals’ Home Page

Manning-Dickson: Drive

Strong male duo sings honky-tonk, acoustic roots and 70s-styled harmonies

After listening to this Ft. Worth band’s debut, one might assume they’ve spent some time playing cover songs. That might be read as an insult, but it’s not; it’s an acknowledgment of the ease with which they cover a lot of country, country-rock and soft-rock sounds. The album opens with the foot-stomping “Cold as Her Heart,” effortlessly throwing out the lyrical hook, “if I could only find a beer as cold as her heart.” But the song’s harder honky-tonk sound is a bit of head fake, as the duo moves on to smooth, Eagles-styled harmonies that bring to mind ‘70s acts like Gallery, Brewer & Shipley, Alabama and the Stampeders. A little research reveals that Jason Manning leads the Eagles tribute band, 7 Bridges, and brings his influences with him to this duet.

The album punches up the vocals into modern rock-based country on the title track, but it’s the softer songs that really hit home. The whispery harmonies of “No More California” and West Coast sunshine pop of “Backroads” are superb. After tracking through all ten originals, the leadoff turns out to be an anomaly, which isn’t really disappointing – since the rest of the album is so perfectly tuneful. Perhaps there’s more boot scootin’ in their live set, but their quieter songs – including an acoustic reprise of the title tune – show this band’s ace-in-the-hole is their vocal prowess. Now that Brooks & Dunn have finally retired, perhaps Manning-Dickson can break through as a duo! [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Manning-Dickson’s Home Page
Manning-Dickson’s MySpace Page