The United States of America (album)
The United States of America is a 1968 album by The United States of America. Produced by David Rubinson, it was released by Columbia Records in 1968. The album was the only release by The United States of America when they were still together and received positive reviews on its release, charting at 181 on the Billboard 200. The album has been re-issued several times and continues to receive critical acclaim decades after its original release.
ProductionThe United States of America was produced by David Rubinson, who also signed the group to Columbia Records. Rubinson knew members Joe Byrd and Dorothy Moskowitz previously. Creating the electronic sounds on the album was difficult because of the technical limitations. 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." The oscillators were built for the group by Richard Durrett. Electronic devices were also used live and on the album to process other instruments and Moskowitz's voice. This is used on "The American Metaphysical Circus" where towards the end of the song the voice becomes so distorted it is unintelligible.
StyleByrd was the group's leader. He stated his aesthetic aims for the band and album were to have an avant-garde political/musical rock group with the idea of combining electronic sound (not electronic music), musical/political radicalism and performance art. 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 this title changed due to its political implications. Byrd suggested "Julius and Ethel Rosenberg" as a replacement title if the original title had not been taken.
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". "The American Metaphysical Circus" also starts out with no fewer than 5 layers of sound being heard in a collage. A calliope playing "National Emblem", a ragtime piano playing "At a Georgia Camp Meeting", 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.
LyricsDorothy Moskowitz and Joseph Byrd collaborated as lyricists on the album for most of the songs. In "Garden of Earthly Delights", Bogas wrote the lyrics for the first verse and chorus. Moskowitz came up with the track's title and the other tuneful changes and accents. On "Coming Down", Moskowitz contributed to the melody line as well as writing about the second and third. 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".
Inter band arguments about the direction of the group between Byrd and the rest of his bandmates led the band to split up within months of the album's release. The United States of America was first released in 1968 on Columbia Records. The album spent nine weeks on the charts in the United States, peaking at number 181 on the Billboard album charts in May 1968. The album failed to chart in Britain. The album was reissued on compact disc by Columbia Records in 1992 with two bonus tracks. In 1997, the album was re-issued in the United Kingdom on Edsel Records. On July 13, 2004 Sundazed Records re-issued the album on vinyl and compact disc with a new album cover from the original UK and Europe releases, and with the CD version containing 10 bonus tracks. USA member Joseph Byrd claims to have little input to the Sundazed re-release of the album. Byrd claims he was "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."
ReceptionThe album was originally released to minimal press. A review from Rolling Stone was fairly mixed, it was praised for its style by stating "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." But, "this first album falls short of being really satisfying. Mainly I think it's because the strictly technical abilities of the U.S.A. are not quite on a level with their ideas. The voices are flat and uninteresting, showing little technical or interpretive power. The instruments perform their assigned tasks adroitly, but all too mechanically".
Modern reception of the album has been very positive. Richie Unterberger of Allmusic gave the album a rating of four and half stars out of five, and referred to the album as "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. Music webzine Pitchfork Media gave the album a high rating of 8.9 out of 10, and claimed that "USA's self-titled album still stands above the work of most of their Monterey-era, psych-rock peers". Dusted Magazine also praised the album on its 2004 re-issue, stating "The most ambitious, idiosyncratic debut album of 2004 is 36 years old.". Negative points of the album were mentioned by Allmusic noting that "Occasionally things get too excessive and self-conscious, and the attempts at comedy are a bit flat, but otherwise this is a near classic." The Dusted Magazine review also noted this stating "The less successful tracks on the album are the ones that ditch subtlety for extremely strident attacks on bourgeois America." Pitchfork Media's only problem with the album was some of the dated electronic effects, suggesting that "some of the album's synthesizer works haven't aged well and are stigmatized by the "B-flick sound effects" tag that magnifies the wrinkles on so many electro-acoustic pieces from the analog years." It is included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
Track listingAll tracks are written by Joseph Byrd and Dorothy Moskowitz except where noted.
The United States of America