History: America’s Greatest Hits

In 1972 I was one of the legions of musically jaded 16-year-olds who sneered at America’s “Horse with No Name” for this blatant imitation of Neil Young. Of course I played it when no one was around. It’s a drug trip, man! The narrator is wandering in the desert with no flight plan, on board a horse it never occurs to him to name. And the words – more than a hundred repetitions of “La”! What is he smoking, and can I have some?

You can’t outrun the song’s driving bass line. But if you stop mindlessly singing the lyrics and actually hear the words, you’ll be struck by America’s awesome powers of description:

On the first part of the journey,
I was looking at all the life.
There were plants and birds and rocks and things,
There was sand and hills and rings.

That’s a lotta nouns. “Things” pretty much covers everything that isn’t a plant, a bird, or a rock, but just to help us out they mention sand, hills, and rings. So this must be a drug trip because the guy is in the middle of a wasteland on a horse he can’t identify and he’s hallucinating about jewelry.

I could continue but this would lead us to the last line, “But the humans will give no love,” which I suspect they took from another song. I’ll instead point to their liberal use of prepositions in “’Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain,” which Bruce Springsteen echoed 15 years later in “Tunnel of Love” when he advised us “to ride on down in through this tunnel of love.”

Enough with the literary sneering. America’s oeuvre may showcase their way without words, but those boys knew how to write a pop song. “Ventura Highway,” “Sister Golden Hair,” “I Need You,” and “Lonely People” (which doesn’t make a lick of sense) make my brain freeze, but they are perfectly constructed pop numbers that will annoy snobs like me for another century. Unfortunately, America is guilty of salvaging the malodorous “Muskrat Love,” possibly from a garbage scow, and turning it into a hit. This led to another version, likewise a hit, by The Captain & Tennille! Surely this act of artistic cross-pollination violated some ban on chemical warfare.

Here’s the bottom line on America. One morning in my junior year, a bunch of us on the way to school sang “I went to school on a bus with no name/it felt good to outrun that old train.” We made up the lyrics as we went along and we were still laughing when we got to class. We had America to thank. We never did name the bus.

  1. Accused of Lurking says:

    In 1973, I owned six albums and I played them over and over and over again. One of them was America’s “Homecoming.” The hit single was “Ventura Highway” but my favorite songs were the ballads. The lyrics seemed deep and wise and they spoke of longing and experience. Today, reading the lyrics from those songs, I am completely appalled.

    To Each His Own

    I’m gonna miss you, yes, I will
    No matter who you are, I’ll love you still
    For my life is my conscience, the seeds I sow
    I just wanted to let you know

    Familiar faces that I’ve seen
    Turnin’ red and turnin’ green
    They just got caught with writing on their sleeve
    I guess I’ll leave

    Only In Your Heart

    Mary, have you seen better days?
    And will you find different ways?
    And does he really mean that much to your heart?
    Carry, all of the weight you can, find another man
    And lead him directly there to the source
    You’ve got to chart his course

    Of course, the lyrics may be nonsense, but the rhymes are terrific.

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      Familiar faces turn red and green? What is this, The Martian Chronicles? But we all have atrocities like this in our musical backgrounds. I admitted here that I listen to Simple Minds, and I’m an adult (theoretically). In 1973 you were a mere child (I was -17). You didn’t understand that the English language was under attack, you were lost in the music. Thank you for your candor, and for putting this…this thing in our heads.

  2. jazz queen says:

    Jazz wins again

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