By Joe Matera
For folk-pop-rockers America, the start of the 1980s found the band at a career crossroads. The band’s early 1970s halcyon days were now behind them, and in the later part of that decade, the band struggled to keep the hits coming. The situation was made worse when in 1977 the three-piece became two primary members in the form of Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell when one of the three original members Dan Peek exited the group. The group soldiered on though, and as the 1980s dawned a much needed, reboot was in order.
First cab off the rank was to bring in and hire new producers after having worked with George Martin on seven albums during the 1970s. And secondly, a change in band personnel for the studio recordings was also much needed and welcomed. These changes had begun to be put into place with the group’s 1980 album Alibi which saw two new producers helming the recording sessions in the form of Matthew McCauley and Fred Mollin along with the enlisting of some of the top L.A. studio session players of the day. The studio musicians returned for 1982's View From The Ground but production duties this time around would be handled and shared between Beckley and Bunnell as well as Argent’s Russ Ballard and Blood, Sweat and Tears’ Bobby Colomby.
Ballard played an important role on View From The Ground as on top of production duties, he also contributed keyboards, bass and guitar on two tracks both written by Ballard, one of which was "You Can Do Magic," the track that would finally return America to the Top 40 charts peaking at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
“At that point with View From The Ground we had also changed labels and we hadn’t had a hit in a few albums” Gerry Beckley recalls today. “We had been approached by Russ Ballard’s manager who was promoting Russ and he had written this song for us. We listened to it and really liked it, so we decided to record it. And in his deal, it was agreed that he was to produce it, so that album we ended up co-producing it with a couple of friends. It became a hit song and definitely put us back in the charts.”
"You Can Do Magic" was a perfect slice of pop music, featuring a hugely infectious melody, heavenly West Coast vocal harmonies and a driving beat courtesy of a LinnDrum machine, one of the earliest of its kind.
“'You Can Do Magic' is basically a LinnDrum machine for the whole song,” reveals Beckley. “And Russ also overdubbed some tom toms on top of it, as well as played every instrument on it. When he sent us the demo, I suggested some chord changes and he was kind enough to incorporate them and stuff. The irony of it all was in all those years that we had worked with George Martin, we had never worked at Abbey Road, as George was done with EMI by that time and he had built a beautiful facility, AIR Studios. And then when we worked with Russ Ballard we ended up at Abbey Road”.
Both Bunnell and Beckley were joined by some of their musical brothers, with Beach Boy Carl Wilson, Christopher Cross, and the Eagles' Timothy B. Schmit all contributing backing vocals. And a longtime friend of the band’s, Bill Mumy, better known to audiences from the 1960s sci-fi series Lost in Space, who along as being an actor was also an accomplished musician, contributed guitar on several tracks as well as co-wrote three numbers.
View From The Ground opens with the infectiously catchy "You Can Do Magic," which brought the band back into the Top 10. The guitar jangle of "Never Be Lonely" should have been considered for a single release, as it’s a feel-good, upbeat tune with the classic signature America harmonies. The pace then slows with the slick balladry of "You Girl" before the voice of the band’s former producer George Martin is heard on a telephone call in the opening strains of the next track "Inspector Mills" which shows the group’s tasteful melodicism at its best. Next up is the smooth free-spirited sounds of "Love On The Vine," before the hard rocking "Desperate Love" edges the band more towards arena-rock territory. The beautifully pop smarts of "Right Before Your Eyes" is gorgeous, while "Jody" shares a similar spirit to "You Can Do Magic" due largely to it being the second Ballard track and it is also just as radio friendly. Next comes "Sometimes Lovers" which oozes with a sentimental West Coast feel before the bombastic "Even The Score" closes the album proper.
Released on July 6, 1982, the single "You Can Do Magic" b/w "Even The Score" was the first to be issued from the album, and it would eventually climb all the way up to No.8 on the Billboard chart. The album’s release followed soon after on July 15 and would make its way up the album charts before peaking just outside of the Top 40 at No. 41.
A second and final single was issued from the album in November of that same year in the form of "Right Before Your Eyes" b/w "Inspector Mills."
"Right Before Your Eyes" was not an original, but a cover originally written and recorded by Canadian singer-songwriter Ian Thomas for his band’s 1976 album Goodnight Mrs. Calabash. That single only managed to reach No. 45. In a strange twist of fate, both A and B side became hits for the band in The Philippines. In the U.K. a third single "Jody" b/w "Inspector Mills" was issued for that territory.
One of the interesting facts about the View From the Ground vinyl album is that it was also one of the last titles pressed by Capitol’s Los Angeles pressing plant which stopped pressing vinyl in 1982. Capitol also issued the album via their other pressing plants in Jacksonville, Illinois and Winchester, Virginia.
View From The Ground gave America a second wind of success, and saw the band regain their commercial standing. In it’s wake and wanting to continue the momentum, Russ Ballard returned and was given full carte blanche as producer for the group’s next album 1983’s Your Move.
View From The Ground
1 You Can Do Magic
2 Never Be Lonely
3 You Girl
4 Inspector Mills
5 Love on the Vine
6 Desperate Love
7 Right Before Your Eyes
9 Sometimes Lovers
10 Even the Score
Check out Gerry Beckley in the Aug/Sept 2022 issue of Goldmine (sample spread below) — you can buy the issue in the Goldmine shop!