America’s 1975 #1 Hit
June 15, 2022
For those who were teenagers and in their early 20’s in the 1970’s, those words are instantly recognizable as belonging to the song Sister Golden Hair – one of the musical group America’s two songs to hit the top of the Billboard charts.
The song was released on March 19 and took the number one spot on June 14, 1975.
Written by Gerry Beckley – one of the three original members of America – it was a song which seemed to find him. From the Infallible Wikipedia:
“Beckley says ‘There was no actual Sister Gold Hair.’ The lyrics were largely inspired by the works of Jackson Browne. Beckley commented, ‘[Jackson Browne] has a knack, an ability to put words to music, that is much more like the L.A. approach to just genuine observation as opposed to simplifying it down to its bare essentials… I find Jackson can depress me a little bit, but only through his honesty; and it was that style of his which led to a song of mine, Sister Golden Hair, which is probably the more L.A. of my lyrics.’ Beckley adds that Sister Golden Hair ‘was one of the first times I used ‘ain’t’ in a song, but I wasn’t making an effort to. I was just putting myself in that frame of mind and I got those kind of lyrics out of it.’”
Beckley succeeded in creating a song which was a bit depressing. And yet it resonated because of its naked truth. He conveys to the nameless ‘sister golden hair’ that he likes her; heck, he might even love her. But commitment is not in the cards and, what he seems to hope is that she will be willing to accept his terms.
Not exactly a recipe for a successful relationship.
In my journey as a novelist, this song – perhaps more than any other – has provided perspective into the emotions of the male protagonists and antagonists of my stories. But also the psyche of the heroines.
It encapsulates the journey we humans are on. Women and men frequently find themselves at odds with each other because one or the other is not in an emotional place where they are ready for a lifetime commitment… and, yet, the yearning to be loved and cherished persists.
This particular song came out the spring before my 18th birthday. I had recently become involved with a young man in what was my first serious relationship. At the time we thought of ourselves as being so mature, certain we knew everything we needed to know.
But there was Sister Golden Hair to suggest, perhaps, that we had not experienced enough of life to qualify us to be making life altering decisions. We simply did not know what we did not know.
I was Sister Golden Hair in more than one relationship, its lyrics returning to my head when things didn’t work out:
Unless you married your high school sweetheart, the chances are you’ve either been in the position of the singer or a Sister Golden Hair at least once in your life. This song continues to resonate some 47 years later precisely because it captures what it means to be human.