America: Holiday (1974)

The fourth album by the folk-rock group, America.  Holiday followed the uninspiring and commercially weak, Hat Trick.

The album featured the songs “Tin Man” and “Lonely People”, both top five hits, and the album rose to number three on the Billboard chart.  Holiday was the first of the group’s albums to be produced by George Martin.

Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley recently told Dan Rather that after Hat Trick, the group knew they needed the help of a producer.  The developed a list of those they would like to work with, and Martin’s name was at the top.  They figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask, not at all sure he would be available or interested.  “He was our top choice,” Bunnell said. “Thankfully, he was going to be in L.A. for a meeting, and had two months open in his upcoming schedule.  He said ‘yes’.”

Beckley said that even though they worked on their songs for a long time before meeting Martin at his studio in London, he tightened up the songs and the arrangements.  Martin, from his years working with the Beatles, knew songwriting efficiency. He also added stylings, through his keyboard work and string arrangements. Smart, efficient and dramatic.  Martin brought in Geoff Emerick to engineer the recording.  Emerick worked the mid and later Beatles recordings, and now worked independently, very much in demand.  With Martin and Emerick, America hit paydirt.

Holiday was the first album that did not sound homemade.  Even songs like “Ventura Highway” and “Don’t Cross the River” had an informality, but were slicker than than other songs on their first three albums.  Their debut album and Homecoming offered a richness in the songwriting, which made up for an earthier production quality.  Hat Trick was absent the smartly written, melodic hooks that were endearing in their early work.  These radio-friendly songs balanced their darker, instrumental heavy songs.  The first two albums have many terrific deeper album cuts, songs you would not hear on the radio, but songs that showed their depth of songwriting and desire to be more than just pop song writers.

Holiday, is much more of a pop album, Martin makes sure of that. At times, the arrangements are a bit too sweet, the orchestral embellishments and sound effects overboard. He gives several of the songs a nostalgic flavor, which for the early 1970s period, fit the cultural fascination with the earlier twentieth century. Just look at the front album cover to sense the reflective atmosphere.

Holiday is really two albums: a sweet, slick pop performances choreographed by Martin; and the the laid-back, folk-rock, uptempo songs America had produced on three previous albums.

Outside of drummer Willie Leacock and Martin, the band performed all of the instruments and provided vocals.  The strongest songs are written by Bunnell, but the most interesting songs are by Peek.  Sadly, it is Beckley’s songs that seem to suffer from Martin’s arrangement.  Beckley has a rare talent for seductive, balladry, and a voice that is like a grand sports car with an extra gear.  Too much production buries Beckley’s talents.

The songs

“Miniature” Gerry Beckley   1:12  An orchestrated song to accompany Beckley on guitar.  Not exactly a fanfare, but a grand opening. This short song announces a different sound for America. It segues into “Tin Man”

“Tin Man” Dewey Bunnell 3:27  One of America’s best known songs.  In the spirit of “Horse With No Name” and “Ventura Highway”.  The usual colorful lyrics, tight harmony vocals, stunning acoustic guitar work.  The song soars in the right places, dripping with melodic hooks, and exquisite musical fills.  Martin adds the right touches to a beautiful song.

“Another Try” Beckley   3:16  A romantic ballad, aching and sentimental.  A style that Beckley specialized it.  A piano-driven song with string instruments beating the rhythm, where the guitars would normally be.  A solitary horn adds atmospheric texture.  Martin again adds the right kind of ribbon.

“Lonely People” Dan Peek, Catherine Peek  2:27  The other really well-known song from the album.  This song could have fit nicely on Homecoming, it has that soaring folk-rock vibe that would take root in your brain.  The best song Peek wrote for America.

“Glad to See You” D. Peek  3:42  A sweet piano melody, a song that could have been on an earlier album.  An overlooked song.  Martin’s backing arrangement with strings, horns and everything else, borders on too much, it almost overpowers the gentleness in the melody.

“Mad Dog” Beckley  2:39  A vaudeville vibe, I’ve never quite understand what they were aiming at.  Penny Lane type arrangement with the bouncy piano and old fashioned horns and woodwinds.  For me, a misfire.

“Hollywood” Bunnell  2:49  Another hidden gem, a guitar-driven song, great lyrical imagery.  A song that wants to cut loose, but stays under control.

“Baby It’s Up to You” Beckley   2:24  A throwback to their early albums, the folk-rock focus.  This song is better than filler, but a deeper track.  Martin allows them to rock out a bit on this song and keeps a rougher edge.

“You” D. Peek  2:25  Another better than average song that rocks gently, with nice chord changes and an orchestrated bridge, a Beatleque technique, something Jeff Lynne would excel doing.  The Penny Lane horns are a bit much.

“Old Man Took” Bunnell   3:10  Bunnell returns with another rocking, soaring song with great lyrics. Bunnell does not write as sweetly as Beckley, his songs instead are melancholy and adventurous. An overlooked song, worth a listen.  Martin powers up the backing with strings and horns (no hint of Penny Lane).

 

“What Does It Matter” Beckley  2:18  Another old-fashioned sounding song, a Paul McCartney type song.  It’s a nice melody underneath, my problem is with the arrangement.

“In the Country”  D. Peek    2:58  Another song that could have been on Homecoming, it rocks.  Lead vocals are buried in echo, interesting effect.  Great cowbell!  Raucous guitars.

 

Next up, we will take a look at Homecoming.


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