The United States of America (album)

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The United States of America
Unitedstatesamericaalbum.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedMarch 6, 1968 (1968-03-06)
Recorded1967[1]
StudioCBS Studios, Hollywood[1]
Genre
Length37:07
LabelColumbia
ProducerDavid Rubinson
Alternative cover
Usa album papersleeve.jpg
Singles from The United States of America
  1. "The Garden of Earthly Delights"
    Released: 18 October 1968 (UK only)
  2. "Hard Coming Love"
    Released: 2004

The United States of America is the only studio album by American rock band the United States of America. Produced by David Rubinson, it was released in 1968 by Columbia Records. The album combined rock and electronic instrumentation, experimental composition, and lyrics reflecting leftist political themes.

The United States of America received positive reviews on its release and charted at number 181 on the Billboard 200. The album has been reissued several times and continues to receive critical acclaim decades after its original release.

Production[edit]

The United States of America was produced by David Rubinson, who also signed the group to Columbia Records. Rubinson previously knew members Joseph Byrd and Dorothy Moskowitz.[6] Creating the electronic sounds on the album was difficult because of the technical limitations.[6] Byrd recalled "the only available functioning keyable synthesizers were Robert Moog's at +$20,000. We were left with whatever sounds I could squeeze from three variable wave shape generators, modulating one another."[6] The oscillators were built for the group by Richard Durrett.[6] Electronic devices were used live and on the album to process other instruments and Moskowitz's voice.[6] Towards the end of the song "The American Metaphysical Circus", for instance, her vocals are distorted to the point of being almost unintelligible.[7]

Style[edit]

Joseph Byrd, the band's leader, stated that his aesthetic aim for the band and album was to create avant-garde, political rock music; he envisioned that their music would combine electronic sounds (not electronic music), musical and political radicalism, and performance art.[8] During the 1960s, Byrd was drawn to the leftist Communist Party group, explaining that it was "the one group that had discipline, an agenda, and was willing to work within the existing institutions to educate and radicalize American society." The song "Love Song for the Dead Ché" reflects these ideas. Columbia Records originally wanted the song's title changed due to its political implications.[8] Byrd suggested "Julius and Ethel Rosenberg" as a replacement title if the original title had not been used.[8]

The album is littered with references to Byrd's obsession with old-time American music, such as the Dixieland jazz intro on "I Won't Leave My Wooden Wife for You, Sugar".[9] "The American Metaphysical Circus" starts out with no fewer than five layers of sound being heard in a collage,[7] including a calliope playing "National Emblem", a ragtime piano playing "At a Georgia Camp Meeting", and two marching bands playing "Marching Through Georgia" and "The Red, White and Blue" switching between left and right channels. The other two tracks are of electronic sounds.[7]

Lyrics[edit]

Dorothy Moskowitz and Joseph Byrd collaborated as lyricists on the album for most of the songs. On "The Garden of Earthly Delights", Ed Bogas wrote the lyrics for the first verse and chorus,[10] while Moskowitz came up with the track's title and other tuneful changes and accents.[10] On "Coming Down", Moskowitz contributed the melody line and lyrics for the second and third verses. On "Hard Coming Love", Byrd wrote the title and first verse, and Moskowitz contributed to what she referred to as the "lame doggerel that follows".[10]

Release[edit]

"It wasn't half bad. Some of it was embarrassing but some of it really stood up over time. My favourite cut is 'Where Is Yesterday.' It represents the best synthesis of our talents and if we were given the chance at a second album, I think we should have gone in this direction."

Dorothy Moskowitz, on the album in 2003[10]

The United States of America was released in 1968 by Columbia Records.[11] The album spent nine weeks on the Billboard albums chart in the United States, peaking at number 181 in May 1968.[6] It failed to chart in the United Kingdom.[6] Arguments between Byrd and the rest of his bandmates about the band's direction led the band to split up within months of the album's release.[12]

The United States of America was reissued on compact disc by Columbia in 1992 with two bonus tracks.[13] In 1997, the album was reissued in the United Kingdom by Edsel Records.[14] On July 13, 2004, Sundazed Records reissued the album on vinyl and CD with a new album cover differing from the cover used for the original UK and Europe releases,[15] and with the CD version containing 10 bonus tracks.[16] Joseph Byrd claims to have had little input on the Sundazed reissue of the album. Byrd says he had been "interested in doing notes, and I figured this was a chance to get my voice heard – Dorothy and Rubinson had both done extensive interviews referring to me in unpleasant fashion (as justification for their coup, I imagine). I asked for $300 and got it. I've written elsewhere to you that Sundazed took out all references they found controversial, including one about Bill Graham."[17]

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic4.5/5 stars[11]
Mojo4/5 stars[18]
Pitchfork8.9/10[5]
Record Collector4/5 stars[19]
Uncut5/5 stars[20]

The United States of America was originally released to minimal press. "The tunes are infectious, the harmonies adventurous yet eminently satisfying. And the lyrics (which Columbia has wisely printed on the jacket) are the best thing of all", wrote Barret Hansen in his 1968 review for Rolling Stone. He nonetheless found that the album "falls short of being really satisfying" due to the band's musicianship being "not quite on a level with their ideas", noting: "The voices are flat and uninteresting, showing little technical or interpretive power. The instruments perform their assigned tasks adroitly, but all too mechanically."[3]

Modern reception of the album has been very positive. Richie Unterberger of AllMusic deemed it "one of the most exciting and experimental psychedelic albums of the late 1960s" and compared some of the band's more hard-edged material to early Pink Floyd and the Velvet Underground.[11] He concluded: "Occasionally things get too excessive and self-conscious, and the attempts at comedy are a bit flat, but otherwise this is a near classic."[11] "The most ambitious, idiosyncratic debut album of 2004 is 36 years old," opened Mark Hamilton's review of the 2004 reissue for Dusted Magazine.[21] Pitchfork's Cameron Macdonald said that the album "still stands above the work of most of their Monterey-era, psych-rock peers", despite the presence of some dated electronic effects typical of "many electro-acoustic pieces from the analog years."[5] It is included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[22]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by Joseph Byrd and Dorothy Moskowitz, except where noted.

Side one
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
1."The American Metaphysical Circus"Byrd4:56
2."Hard Coming Love" 4:41
3."Cloud Song" 3:18
4."The Garden of Earthly Delights" 2:39
5."I Won't Leave My Wooden Wife for You, Sugar" 3:51
Side two
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
6."Where Is Yesterday"Gordon Marron, Ed Bogas, Moskowitz3:08
7."Coming Down" 2:37
8."Love Song for the Dead Ché"Byrd3:25
9."Stranded in Time"Marron, Bogas1:49
10."The American Way of Love" (divided into the segments:
  1. "Metaphor for an Older Man" (Byrd)
  2. "California Good-Time Music" (Byrd)
  3. "Love Is All" (Byrd, Moskowitz, Rand Forbes, Craig Woodson, Marron))
 6:38
1992 reissue bonus tracks
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
11."Osamu's Birthday"Byrd2:59
12."No Love to Give"Moskowitz2:36
2004 reissue bonus tracks
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
11."Osamu's Birthday"Byrd2:59
12."No Love to Give"Moskowitz2:36
13."I Won't Leave My Wooden Wife for You, Sugar" 3:45
14."You Can Never Come Down"Byrd2:32
15."Perry Pier"Moskowitz2:37
16."Tailor Man"Moskowitz3:06
17."Do You Follow Me"Kenneth Edwards2:34
18."The American Metaphysical Circus"Byrd4:01
19."Mouse (The Garden of Earthly Delights)" 2:39
20."Heresy (Coming Down)" 2:32

Personnel[edit]

The United States of America

Additional musicians

  • Ed Bogas – occasional organ, piano, calliope
  • Don Ellis – trumpet (on "I Won't Leave My Wooden Wife for You, Sugar")

Technical staff

Charts[edit]

Chart (1968) Peak
position
US Billboard 200[23] 181

Release history[edit]

Region Date Label Format Catalog
United Kingdom 1968 CBS LP 63340
United States Columbia CS 9614
United Kingdom 1997 Edsel CD EGCD 541[14]
United States July 13, 2004 Sundazed SC 11124
2008 LP LP 5211

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Irvin, Jim (2008). The Mojo Collection: The Ultimate Music Companion (4th ed.). Canongate Books. p. 119. ISBN 9781847670205.
  2. ^ Smith, Bradley (1998). The Billboard Guide to Progressive Music. Watson-Guptill. p. 270. ISBN 9780823076659.
  3. ^ a b Hansen, Barret (May 11, 1968). "The United States of America: The United States of America". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on January 6, 2008. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
  4. ^ Tudor, Dean (1984). Popular Music: An Annotated Guide to Recordings. Libraries Unlimited. p. 610. ISBN 9780872873957.
  5. ^ a b c Macdonald, Cameron (October 18, 2004). "United States of America: United States of America". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on January 11, 2012. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Holm-Hudson 2002, p. 49.
  7. ^ a b c Holm-Hudson 2002, p. 51.
  8. ^ a b c Holm-Hudson 2002, p. 48.
  9. ^ Holm-Hudson 2002, p. 53.
  10. ^ a b c d Spozio, Iker. "The United States of America – The Garden of Earthly Delights" (PDF). Ptolemaic Terrascope. Retrieved May 9, 2008.
  11. ^ a b c d Unterberger, Richie. "The United States of America – The United States of America". AllMusic. Retrieved May 9, 2008.
  12. ^ Holm-Hudson 2002, p. 56.
  13. ^ "United States Of America, The - The United States Of America (CD, Album) at Discogs". Discogs. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
  14. ^ a b Holm-Hudson 2002, p. 59.
  15. ^ File:Unitedstatesamericaalbum.jpg
  16. ^ "United States Of America, The - The United States Of America (CD, Album) at Discogs". Discogs. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
  17. ^ Colli, Beppe (August 26, 2004). "An interview with Joseph Byrd". Clouds and Clocks. Retrieved May 9, 2008.
  18. ^ "The United States of America: The United States of America". Mojo. No. 129. August 2004. p. 106.
  19. ^ Needs, Kris (August 2014). "The United States Of America – The United States Of America: The Columbia Recordings: Remastered And Expanded Edition". Record Collector. No. 430. Retrieved November 9, 2020.
  20. ^ "The United States of America: The United States of America". Uncut. No. 87. August 2004. p. 112.
  21. ^ Hamilton, Mark. "The United States of America – The United States of America". Dusted Magazine. Archived from the original on August 28, 2004. Retrieved May 9, 2008.
  22. ^ Dimery, Robert, ed. (2009). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Octopus Publishing Group. p. 143. ISBN 9781844036240. Retrieved September 23, 2012.
  23. ^ "Billboard 200". Billboard. June 8, 1968. Retrieved November 9, 2020.

References[edit]