A Beatles sequel four years after the Fab Four had folded? Well, not quite but not too far off either. America hit the U.S. top 40 this day in 1975 with “Lonely People”, a song written as a response to a Beatles hit. Not only that but none other than the legendary George Martin, the Beatles producer, produced it for them.
It was written by Dan Peek of the band, with help from his wife Catherine. Peek was probably the most spiritual of the band’s trio, and though a multi-instrumentalist talent, he wrote less of their popular material than bandmates Dewey Bunnell or Gerry Beckley. However, he hit paydirt on this one, which he wrote as a response to the Beatles “Eleanor Rigby.”
Peek said he felt emotionally “lacerated” hearing “Eleanor Rigby” and its chorus of “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?, All the lonely people, where do they all belong?” It resonated with him because “I felt like a melancholy, lonely person” until he got married, at which point “I felt like I’d won.” So he wanted to write a sort of follow-up to the song, but with a much more optimistic outlook for the lonely.
“Lonely People” was the second single off their fourth album, Holiday, after “Tin Man.” the album itself was a bit of a response to their previous album, Hat Trick, which was anything but for them. That one was something of a flop, and failed to yield a hit single unlike their first couple of albums…although they did have “Muskrat Love” on it, which would be a hit for the Captain & Tennille later. That record had been almost entirely done by them, from writing to playing to producing, and they and Warner Bros. agreed that perhaps the results weren’t optimal. So they were encouraged to get some new blood from outside and they thought big. Who better to produce than Martin?
Luckily, he agreed and recorded with them at his London studios. Peek says Martin “put everybody at ease”. Bunnell added “it was great working with George…we had that British sense of humor.” Despite being American citizens, all three of the America members were born over there. They said Martin helped them with the vocal arrangements, guitar work and came up with lots of all-round useful pointers that helped the album do far better than its predecessor – getting to #3 in the U.S. and Canada.
“Lonely People” made it to #5 in the U.S., their fifth top 10 single in three years. Bizarrely that was higher than “Eleanor Rigby”, which officially made it to just #11 there. Oddly, despite the presence of George and their own origins, it didn’t do much in the UK, failing to make the charts in fact.
America would go on to have a few more hits in the decade and early-’80s, but some of those were without Peek. He quit in 1977 to embark on a solo career in Christian music. He re-wrote this song with a few lines about Jesus added and his version made #2 on the more selective “Christian Contemporary” charts. It was covered later by Jars of Clay, while Rickie Lee Jones did a more conventional cover of the America version.