4 Out Of 5 Stars
The original America trio of Vocalists/guitarists Dewey Bunnell, Dan Peek, and Gerry Beckley made faux CSN type of California pop so deftly that their initial single, "Horse With No Name," folled many into believing it was the other famed trio. Eventually the word got out and America soon began a string of seventies hits that made their first best of, "History," one of Warner Brothers' biggest selling catalog albums of the time. There have been many anthologies of America issues over the years, but this "Definitive Pop Collection" stands as one of the best.
Focusing solely on their WB tenure, "Definitive Pop" is a pretty exhaustive collection. Culling 30 songs from seven albums, the only things missing are "The Border" and "You Can Do Magic," but they were recorded for Capitol records and must not have been available to be licensed for this 2 disc set. (You can get them on "America - The Complete Greatest Hits.") But for the money, this comes up just short of the even more exhaustive Rhino box set Highway: 30 Years of America."
As to the music itself, the band kept it light but pure. The mainstay was well harmonized folkish pop, augmented with the occasional banjo ("Don't Cross The River"), electric guitar (the mysterious "Sandman") synthesizers ("Only In Your Heart"), and via producer George Martin on their later albums, some exquisite Beatlesy production (you try to listen to "Lonely People" without thinking of "Eleanor Rigby"). The three men also were a formidable songwriting trio, with each man capable of writing their own hits. In fact, it is only the treacle of "Muskrat Love" that came from an outside source on this set.
That's not to say there aren't some clinkers (I could have done without "Watership Down," for example), but they are far outweighed by such classic delights as "Sister Golden Hair," "Tin Man" or "Woman Tonight." Janet Jackson was so fond of "Ventura Highway" that she sampled it for her hit single "Someone To Call My Lover." Buoyed by many enjoyable album cuts, a decent band history/essay, and some missed singles like "Everyone I Meet Is From California" or "Amber Cascades," this is easily all the America you could ask for a minor price. The only thing better would be the "Complete" set, but it's also the America that went on without the late Dan Peek. This is the original trio in all its soft pop glory.