Iconic Grammy-winning rock group AMERICA--led for four decades by Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell and as active as ever with over 100 live shows worldwide a year--will release a new album, BACK PAGES, July 26 via Entertainment One Music. It is a rich, joyous collection of a dozen glimmering interpretations of songs by Bob Dylan, The Buffalo Springfield, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beach Boys, Jimmy Webb, Mark Knopfler as well as Fountains of Wayne, New Radicals and Gin Blossoms, among others (see full track listing and Q&A with Gerry and Dewey below). Upon hearing AMERICA’s version of his song “Caroline No” by the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson said: "An absolutely stunning version...I almost got tears."
For all their success as hit writers of enduring rock-folk-pop classics like “A Horse With No Name,” “Ventura Highway,” “Sister Golden Hair,” and so many others, Gerry and Dewey have never created a project that paid tribute to their favorite songs and songwriters, until now.
The song list here--produced by Fred Mollin (Jimmy Webb, Kris Kristofferson)--stretches back in time to the ‘60s British Invasion (The Zombies’ “Time Of The Season”), right up to right now; “A Road Song,” a brand new Fountains Of Wayne song, is the focus track of BACK PAGES. Along the way, AMERICA offers new renditions of “new standards” by Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Brian Wilson, Neil Young, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Brian Wilson, Jimmy Webb and more.
“America's new version of my bridesmaid ‘Crying In My Sleep’ is the best ever,” says songwriter Jimmy Webb. “In a reasonable world this would be a top ten record. Beckley is on top of his game and still sounds eighteen. Production values here are over the top.” Songwriter Marshall Crenshaw, who co-wrote “Till I Hear From You,” with the Gin Blossoms, says: “I think I can speak for Jesse [Valenzuela] and Robin [Wilson] when I say that we're flattered that you did our tune, and thanks for doing such a nice job on it.”
Songwriter Gregg Alexander (New Radicals) offered these sentiments about AMERICA’s cover of “Someday Will Know": “When I found out that America were recording ‘Someday Will Know,’ it felt like something from a great dream. Much like the kind of dreams that, for instance, the ‘Tin Man,’ one of my all-time favorite songs, gave me as a child growing up in Michigan. I recall feeling an unexplainable wistfulness hearing that song while driving around with my Mom in her red Pontiac as a child...a child in the early 70's listening to AM radio with the windows rolled all the way down. Songs like ‘Tin Man’ reached me in a very deep way as only music and love can. Only years later as a teen in Laurel Canyon did I discover that the haunting and profound ‘Horse With No Name’ and ‘Ventura Highway’ were recorded by this ‘mystery group’ from my childhood book of musical dreams. America maintained a mystique and ego-less class that is virtually non-existent in today's shit parade that some people dare call music. Thank you Dewey and Gerry for touching my life with song, and providing me with the honor of recording one of my saddest compositions."
In many ways, AMERICA’s journey in music, still very much in progress, reflects the story of a whole nation of listeners for whom the tunes on BACK PAGES continue to matter. The album offers a fresh take on timeless songs and proves that, for all of their own rich history, America still has the ability to surprise and enchant us. As one of the most beloved groups in the history of pop continue their 40th Anniversary Tour this spring, summer and fall, they maintain a large and devoted fan base.
Q & A
WITH GERRY BECKLEY AND DEWEY BUNNELL
Can you tell us what inspired you to record an album of your interpretations of other artists’ songs?
Dewey: After 40 years of singing mostly self-penned songs, I liked the idea of singing some of those that got me interested in the first place.
Gerry: We'd always thought about the idea and finally the stars aligned.
It’s an outstanding collection of songs and performances on BACK PAGES. Why did you select these particular songs? (Various songs here reference the road.)
Gerry: Our list was much longer of course...this is just the ones that seemed to work for all involved.
Dewey: The list was so much longer, but it was a matter of simply wading in and grabbing a dozen or so. I enjoy lyrical imagery and "road songs" are usually rich in that regard...but it was not a conscious decision. I would have done "Born To Be Wild" if we had been limited to "road songs.”
“Road Song” is a new song by Fountains of Wayne (whose Adam Schlesinger co-produced America’s 2007 album HERE & NOW). What attracted you to this song?
Dewey: I love the song-writing craftsmanship of FOW songs...between lyric and melody, this is a well-balanced song with quirky twists and turns. Plus I like the opening line because I love Wisconsin.
Gerry: We love all of FOW songs...this is a new song from them but we probably could have done an entire album of their stuff.
It’s interesting, for example, that you have songs by the Gin Blossoms and the New Radicals alongside songs by Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel and Buffalo Springfield. What is it about the Gin Blossoms and New Radicals songs that attracted you to interpret them?
Gerry: Those two songs were favorites of mine from the more current collection of material ... just good strong songs I think.
Dewey: I was honestly unfamiliar with both these songs before Gerry brought them to the table for the project. They are both excellent songs and came out nice. I think they represent another musical era of songwriting to contrast the vintage songs that we chose from our youth.
What lead you to work with producer Fred Mollin and what do you feel he added to the album?
Dewey: We worked with Fred on album of ours called Alibi back in 1980. He initiated this project about two years ago and continued to encourage us to put together some lists of songs. He has good historic perspective and had a general direction for the album that we all agreed was worth trying.
Gerry: Fred came to us with the concept so he was involved right from the start. We always enjoyed working with Fred and he's building quite a legacy with his latest work. He was nominated for a Grammy last year for his Johnny Mathis album.
Can you talk about a few of the songs here and why they are important to you?
Gerry: I think you just need to see the list of writers that we chose to get a pretty good picture of who has inspired us over the years. When you collect songs of this caliber it's just humbling to sing them. It's a true reminder of how rich our generation has been in talent.
Dewey: A Brian Wilson song was a must...and I have always had a particular soft spot for "Caroline No." I think it lyrically speaks to the feeling of loss in a far broader sense than simply losing a girl. Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" is an anthem for me in the truest sense...a call to action....and I've always been a "child of the 60's" at heart. Paul Simon's "America" is a novel in a song and he's a great songwriting Treasure. I have several of his songs on my short list.
BACK PAGES track listing (with the artists who popularized the songs)
1. America (Paul Simon; Simon & Garfunkel)
2. A Road Song (Adam Schlessinger and Chris Collingwood; Fountains Of Wayne)
3. Woodstock (Joni Mitchell; Crosby, Stills & Nash)
4. Caroline No (Brian Wilson; Beach Boys)
5. Someday We’ll Know (Gregg Alexander; New Radicals)
6. Sailing To Philadelphia (Mark Knopfler)
7. Crying In My Sleep (Jimmy Webb; Art Garfunkel)
8. Time Of The Season (Rod Argent; The Zombies)
9. Something In The Way She Moves (James Taylor)
10. On The Way Home (Neil Young; Buffalo Springfield)
11. Till I Hear From You (Gin Blossoms co-wrote with Marshall Crenshaw)
12. My Back Pages (Bob Dylan)
The group’s debut album was released in late 1971 and quickly went Platinum. Five subsequent releases went either Gold or Platinum and their History greatest hits compilation reached the four million sales mark. #1 hits include “Horse With No Name” and “Sister Golden Hair.” Other hits include “Ventura Highway,” “Tin Man,” “Daisy Jane,” “I Need You,” “Don’t Cross The River,” “Lonely People” and “You Can Do Magic.” At the same time, there was always more to America than the hits indicated. In many ways the band was rooted in the melodic pop rock of the British Invasion, most particularly in Gerry Beckley’s hook-laden songwriting. This connection was made explicit when legendary Beatles producer George Martin came on board to help refine their sound. For his part, Dewey Bunnell brought a tinge of folk-jazz, combining Latin-leaning rhythms with playfully rhyming words and impressionistic lyric imagery. Catch up with the band and their tour dates at their official website: www.venturahighway.com.