Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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100 Years, 100 Songs: #83. America – “Sister Golden Hair”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 15, 2007

“I ain’t ready for the alter / but I do agree there’s times / when a woman sure can be a friend of mine

It probably wasn’t too wise for America to write several of the stupidest songs ever written before they unleashed their masterpiece. Observe some of the more telling chesnuts from their early singles:

“The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz / And the sky with no clouds / The heat was hot and the ground was dry / But the air was full of sound” (“A Horses With No Name,” 1972)
“‘Cause the free wind is blowin’ through your hair / And the days surround your daylight there / Seasons crying no despair / Alligator lizards in the air / IN THE AIR” (“Ventura Highway,” 1972)
“Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man / that he didn’t, didn’t already have / And cause never was the reason for the evening / Or the tropic of Sir Gallahad” (“Tin Man,” 1974)

Improbably enough, these were all still great songs–apparently Dewey Bunnell’s skills as a consummate soft-rock tune craftsman far outshined his skills as a lyrical saboteur. But it was kind of hard to take them seriously, and consequently, no one really gives them the credit they deserve for “Sister Golden Hair,” the breezy 1975 classic that managed to be as smooth and heartbreaking melodically as the rest of America’s AM gold, while actually maintaining a sort of lyrical coherence. Huzzah!

Actually, I think the lyrics to “Sister Golden Hair” are pretty nifty, though probably not as much as the song’s Wikipedia page. It’s about a guy not being able to committ to marrying the titular female, despite loving her, or some such. Written by Gerry Beckley instead of Dewey Bunnell, it’s even got one of the better opening couplets of the 70s, “Well I tried to make it Sunday, but I got so damned depressed / So I set my sights on Monday, and I got myself undressed.” And it’s got a hell of a title–one of those simple imagistic titles that ends up being way more evocative than it should be–and it comes from a non-chorus lyric in the song, which always scores points with me.

Of course, it’s still more about the music than anything. Like “Take It Easy” mixed with “My Sweet Lord,” “Sister Golden Hair” was maybe the decade’s most seamless fusion of country inflections into a rock/pop song. But as produced by George Martin–just about the only non-Beatles related credit I think I know of his–the song has such a beautiful, lush, full feeling to it, that it obviously stands apart from the decade’s “Amie”s or “Can’t You See”s. Plus, they were Brits anyway. I know, total false advertising, but I guess they prove that you don’t have to trust a band to know all the words to their songs.

That’s about all I got on this one. Just turn on your local mix station, it’ll probably be on within the half-hour.

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3 Responses to “100 Years, 100 Songs: #83. America – “Sister Golden Hair””

  1. Andrew W. said

    A well-deserved entry on any top 100 (no matter the genre or time period).

  2. Andrew W. said

    Not to comment twice, but they’re half American – so it’s not all a lie – their dads were American servicemen stationed in Britain.

  3. Kyle said

    Well, this particular entry is just fantastic. Love it and love Sister Golden Hair.

    ~KDub, APS2.0

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