Looking back, it seems odd that one of the Seventies’ greatest feel-good songs begins in such dispiriting fashion: “Well, I tried to make it Sunday/But I got so damn depressed.”
When “Sister Golden Hair” was released in 1975, America had little reason to be depressed. In the prior four years, the trio had taken over AM radio with breezy tunes like “Ventura Highway” and “Horse With No Name” that evoked images of the desert. (The latter bumped “Heart of Gold” out of the Number One slot in 1972, causing many to think it was actually a Neil Young song, including Young’s father.)
“Sister Golden Hair” — written by America singer-guitarist Gerry Beckley — would be no different. “I ain’t ready for the altar, but I do agree there’s times,” he sings, “when a woman sure can be a friend of mine.” Jackson Browne, who had just released the brooding, introspective Late for the Sky a year earlier, was a major source of inspiration. “I find Jackson can depress me a little bit,” Beckley said. “But only through his honesty; and it was that style of his which led to a song of mine, ‘Sister Golden Hair.'”
The song was produced by George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick, so it should come as no surprise that the song’s acoustic guitar riff and yearning lead line evoke a Beatles-like quality. “I very openly tip my hat there to ‘My Sweet Lord’ and George Harrison,” recalled Beckley. “I was such a fan of all the Beatles but we knew George quite well and I just thought that was such a wonderful intro.”
“Sister Golden Hair” was released 44 years ago today. In the video above, you can watch the band perform the tune while appearing on Burt Sugarman’s The Midnight Special in October 1980. By this point, founding member Dan Peek had been gone for three years, but Beckley and Dewey Bunnell are still basking in their Seventies denim glow. They continue to tour today, never leaving “Sister Golden Hair” out of their set.