Friday Night Forgotten Oldie: 1/2 of lilting vocal harmony

Seals and Crofts (Jim and Dash) had a string of major soft rock hits in the 1970’s. On June 6 Seals died at his home in Nashville. His wife, Ruby Jean Seals, said the cause was an unspecified “chronic ongoing illness.” He was 80.

Seals played acoustic guitar and fiddle while Crofts played electric mandolin and piano.

“Summer Breeze” was the recording that made the duo really famous. The song was written and recorded by Seals and Crofts in 1972.

Texas Monthly reported in February 2020:

Jim Seals sat in a Woodstock, New York, recording studio…It was 1970, and Jim, 28 years old with long brown hair and a full goatee, was taking a break during the recording of his duo’s second album.

By many measures, Seals and Crofts were a successful group. Though their first album hadn’t cracked the Billboard 100, Jim and his partner, Dash Crofts, were opening for acts like Chicago, the Guess Who, and Eric Clapton, getting their music heard by huge crowds in famed venues like the Fillmore East and the Boston Tea Party. But the pair wanted to do more than just play cool tunes. They wanted their placid words and lush harmonies to soothe a world reeling from the nonstop chaos of the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, and the unending riots in the streets. They wanted to make a difference.

The melody that came to Jim that day was simple and sweet, and it nudged a series of images into his mind. Curtains hanging in a window, a newspaper on the sidewalk, music coming from a neighbor’s house, a man walking up the steps and through the front door, a smiling woman waiting for his arrival. Home.

In Jim’s imagination, he was a boy again, before his parents had split up and his life changed forever. The house he was remembering wasn’t anything special, a narrow shotgun shack identical to dozens of others around it. But it was home, a solid, sure thing to a six-year-old boy. The melody and words of this new song carried him back as if he were actually there.

Seals and Crofts went from being a promising opening act to bona fide rock stars, with their own jet plane and thousands of fans waiting at every tour stop. The singles that followed made the duo paragons of a new genre, soft rock, which turned its back on the excesses of sixties hard rock and attempted to establish a peaceful vibe for a new era. Their smiling, bearded faces were everywhere as soft rock was embraced by millions and ruled the pop charts for much of the rest of the seventies—even as it was reviled by critics, who pointed their fingers at Southern California as the likely source of this plague of mellow.

After the upheavals of the late sixties and early seventies—the assassinations, the race riots, the violence at Altamont, the deaths of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison, and the ongoing cruelties of the Vietnam War—that seemed to be what millions of people wanted.

But Seals and Crofts would have been just another pair of polite, bearded longhairs if it weren’t for “Summer Breeze.”

The wistful song quickly caught on in Boston; other markets, like Philadelphia and Dallas, soon followed. When Jim and Dash got back to L.A., they heard “Summer Breeze” on the car radio. Not long after, they had a show in Ohio. “There were kids waiting for us at the airport,” remembered Jim. “That night we had a record crowd, maybe forty thousand people. And I remember people throwing their hats and coats in the air as far as you could see, against the moon. Prettiest thing you’ve ever seen.”

Rolling Stone called it one of the “Best Summer Songs of All Time,” a “sublimely mellow, CSN&Y-style ode to lazy, June-time domesticity.”

It’s November 2, 1972, at Hofstra University Auditorium in Hempstead, NY. A taping took place for a segment broadcast later that month on ABC’s In Concert. Seals is in the glasses and cap.

From the NY Times:

“Around 1980, we were still drawing 10,000 to 12,000 people at concerts,” Mr. Seals told The Los Angeles Times in 1991, when the two revived the act. “But we could see, with this change coming where everybody wanted dance music, that those days were numbered.”

Six years earlier, though, the pair had begun to fall out of favor with some listeners and critics because of their sixth album, “Unborn Child,” which was released in 1974 not long after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights. The title track urged women who were considering an abortion to “stop, turn around, go back, think it over.”

Mr. Seals, in a 1978 interview with The Miami Herald, acknowledged that the record damaged the duo’s career.

“It completely killed it for a while,” he said. Radio stations refused to play the record. Some Seals & Crofts concerts were picketed, although there were also hundreds of letters of support. In the 1991 Los Angeles Times interview, Mr. Seals said the pair had never intended the song to be a lightning rod.

“It was our ignorance that we didn’t know that kind of thing was seething and boiling as a social issue,” he said. “On one hand we had people sending us thousands of roses, but on the other people were literally throwing rocks at us.

“If we’d known it was going to cause such disunity,” he continued, “we might have thought twice about doing it. At the time it overshadowed all the other things we were trying to say in our music.”

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