Nothing prepared rock fans for the transformation that took place in the mid-70s when Jeff Beck joined forces with producer George Martin on his albums “Blow By Blow” and “Wired.” Beck, of course, was well known as the blues-based British rocker from the Yardbirds and The Jeff Beck Group who dabbled in jazz, but cut his teeth on what is now considered classic rock. By 1975, Beck’s band consisted of Phil Chen on bass, Richard Bailey on drums and Max Middleton, the sole holdover from The Jeff Beck Group, on keyboards. The sound was full-on instrumental Fusion Jazz which was previously the domain of Miles Davis, Weather Report and Chick Corea with Return To Forever. Beck’s foray into Fusion culminated with several records pairing his guitar work with the keyboard mastery of Jan Hammer. “Freeway Jam” was written by Max Middleton and is from the album “Blow By Blow.” The album featured an assist from Stevie Wonder who played keyboards on the track “Thelonious.” Beck had previously performed guitar duties on Wonder’s “Talking Book” album.
Last week I wrote about Freddie & The Dreamers single, “I’m Telling You Now,” and the American album of the same name. The record was not a Freddie & The Dreamers album per se, although they were the featured group on the cover. It was a compilation released in 1965 to introduce unknown British Invasion groups to American audiences featuring two tracks each by Freddie & The Dreamers, Mike Rabin & The Demons, The Toggery Five, Linda Laine & The Sinners, Heinz and the group whose song is today’s Song Of The Day, Four Just Men.
Four Just Men were one of the better groups to ride on the coattails of The Beatles and The British Invasion, and while their output was miniscule to say the least, it was indeed potent.
They were a Merseybeat group whose original name was Dee Fenton & The Silhouettes. Upon changing their name to Four Just Men in 1964, they were signed by George Martin who produce several non-charting British singles for them in 1964 through 1965. The group’s two Parlophone singles were “Things Will Never Be The Same” b/w “That’s My Baby (which were the two songs on the U.S. compilation album) and “There’s Not One Thing” b/w “Don’t Come Any Closer.” Both singles were originals, written by singer-guitarist Dimitrius Christopholus and guitarist John Kelman. They changed their name yet again, this time to Just Four Men after another band also calling themselves Four Just Men threatened to sue EMI.
While the group toured with The Rolling Stones, The Searchers and Del Shannon in support of the two singles, neither charted and they were dropped by EMI, only to resurface in 1966 as a psychedelic group called Wimple Winch, who were known for the local hits “Rumble On Mersey Square South” and “Save My Soul.”
The two Four Just Men singles, as well as eight previously unreleased tracks from the era and 16 songs by Wimple Winch were released on the now out of print import CD The Wimple Story 1963-1968.
Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #97 – America: “I Need You” b/w “Riverside” – Warner Bros. 7580
Like most of my contemporaries, the first time I heard the group America it was from their chart-topping single “A Horse With No Name” as it came pouring out of the AM radio. And like most people, I thought the single was the latest release from Neil Young.
Here’s what the song’s composer, Dewey Bunnell had to say about it: “I know that virtually everyone, on first hearing, assumed it was Neil. I never fully shied away from the fact that I was inspired by him. I think it’s in the structure of the song as much as in the tone of his voice. It did hurt a little, because we got some pretty bad backlash. I’ve always attributed it more to people protecting their own heroes more than attacking me.” (“Wikipedia”) Adding insult to injury, “A Horse With No Name” replaced Neil Young’s “Heart Of Gold” at the top spot on the charts as well in 1972.
The song was America’s calling card and it introduced fans around the world to their acoustic three part harmony sound. But the song wasn’t even on their debut album when it was initially released in Europe. After the album came out and didn’t sell well, the group reconvened in the home studio of Arthur Brown (of “Fire” fame) and began to work on a Dewey Bunnell song that had been kicking around since he was 19 years old called “Desert Song” which ultimately morphed into “A Horse With No Name.”
America consisted of Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley on guitar and Dan Peek on bass, and contrary to what you may think, the group didn’t form in America at all. Each member of the group came from a military family and they met each other and formed the group in London where they all lived and attended London Central Elementary High School. Their debut album wasn’t recorded in America either; it was recorded at Trident Studios in London. For their debut album, the group was augmented by the likes of Ray Cooper on percussion and David Lindley on electric guitar. The album topped the charts and spawned two hit singles; the aforementioned “A Horse With No Name” and “I Need You” which climbed to the #9 position on the charts.
But it was the album’s opening track (and flip of today’s jukebox single) that was the real stunner on the record. With its lengthy jovial fireside acoustic guitar intro and plush three-part CSN-inspired harmonies, the song set the stage for the sound that America would take to the top of the charts over and over again during the first four years of the group’s existence. The Dewey Bunnell-penned song wasn’t the A-side of the single it appeared on, but it’s the reason I purchased it for the jukebox. “Riverside” was released as the flip side of the group’s second single “I Need You.”
“I Need You” was composed by Gerry Beckley and while it was one of the big hit singles from their debut album, it’s not one of the album’s best tracks with its trite lyrics (“I need you / like the flowers needs the rain…”) and ultra-repetitious chorus. That said, the group can be forgiven since the album does include great songs like “Three Roses,” “Sandman” and the plush “Here,” making it their very best release.
America would go on to team up with producer George Martin and score numerous hits including “Ventura Highway,” “Tin Man,” “Lonely People,” “Sister Golden Hair” and “Daisy Jane” before the hits began to dry up. Peek left the group in 1977 to become a contemporary Christian recording artist leaving the remaining members to carry on as a duo. He died in July of 2011 of a heart disease, and the group continues to tour as a duo to this day.
“The Jukebox Series” focused on the 80 records that currently inhabit my 1963 Seeburg LPC1 jukebox. I’ve had my jukebox (or as I like to call it “the prehistoric iPod”) for a little over twelve years and in that time I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the mix of 45s within. Over the years, records have come and gone out of the ranks of the juke, but they were all at one time juke-worthy. I’ve decided to expand “The Jukebox Series” to include many of the “juke-worthy” records that are no longer currently in the mix, but at one time inhabited a coveted slot.