Four years ago today, the music world lost one of its sweetest, and perhaps most unpretentious, voices with the sad passing of "England" Dan Seals, one half of the duo England Dan & John Ford Coley (EDJFC) from mantle cell lymphoma at the age of 61.
Musical Cross-Currents Define '70s Music
During the mid 1970s, music, mirroring the times itself had splintered into various incompatible cross-currents with easy listening retreating into the background as arena rock, soul, punk and disco competed for listeners. In that era of inflation, gas lines, and post-Watergate and post-Vietnam instability, a gentler form of pop was still able to briefly resonate on AM pop and easy listening FM stations.
Along with artists like James Taylor, Hall and Oates, the Eagles, Bread, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Seals and Croft, America, and Chicago, EDJFC secured a firm, albeit more gentle anchor in what would become the diverse, often conflicting set of musical genres of the 1970s. Commentator Bruce Eder notes, "The 1970s produced relatively little popular music displaying elegance and unassuming charm....England Dan & John Ford Coley were one of the better of such acts." Seals' former musical partner pianist John Ford Coley who he met in high school said after his passing:
For those of you that never got to know Dan, he was a truly gifted musician, singer, saxophone and guitar player. He had an extremely quick wit and he kept me laughing much of the time.
Unlike the compelling iconic images of 70s pop superstars like the bespectacled Elton John, the celestial David Bowie, Spacesuited Commodores, or the long haired Led Zepplin crooner Robert Plant, EDJFC could probably walk through a mall without being noticed, let alone mobbed. Even today, their still very 70ish, yet uncomplicated album portraits hint at the music inside. Their understated, almost average "boy-next-door handsome" look of mustaches, collar length brown hair and Sears vested suits with the big open collars make them look more like the musicians that would play slow dances at the end of your high school prom than those who would blast out pounding riffs at a large stadium, as was the new craze of that time.
However, it was their gentle, somewhat vulnerable, aura that helped make them one of the defining duos of the late 70s. While tunes like Donna Summer's repetitive "Love to Love You Baby," and Rod Stewart's "Tonight's The Night," were unabashedly provocative, EDJFC style was downright sweetly poetic, reflecting a deep heartfelt yearning, that was at times nervously tentative, even wistful.
Their 1976 breakthrough and biggest hit, "I'd Really Love To See You Tonight" by Parker McGee, reflected the gentle vulnerability that so often defines the nervously unsteady stages of youthful love,
Hello, yeah, it's been a while.
Not much, how 'bout you?
I'm not sure why I called,
I guess I really just wanted to talk to you.
And I was thinking maybe later on,
We could get together for a while.
It's been such a long time,
And I really do miss your smile....
While they were accomplished songwriters who wrote about topics such as their Baha'i faith and the experiences of a returning veteran, they will most be remembered for their flawless harmonious singing of pop love songs often written by others such as 1977's "Its Sad To Belong", by Randy Goodrum:
Met you on a springtime day.
You were mindin your life
and I was mindin mine, too.
Lady when you looked my way
I had a strange sensation
And, darlin thats when I knew....
Gentle Harmonies Yield Hits
In an era where song lyrics were often unintelligible and instrumentation jarringly overpowering, their hit songs had a simple sweet message that was delivered in exquisitely gentle, sometimes even pleading, harmonies. The careful, though simple orchestration of guitar, piano, strings, and subtle percussion backed the duo's vocals without drowning them out. A review on Amazon stated, "Their beautifully produced repertoire blended elegantly crafted pop, rock-oriented singer songwriter sensibilities and country-rock inflections."
Between 1976-1979 the duo scored six top 25 songs:
- I'd Really Love to See You Tonight, Number 2,1976
- Nights Are Forever Without You, Number 10, 1976
- It's Sad To Belong (To Someone Else), Number 21, 1977
- Gone Too Far, Number 23, 1977
- We'll Never Have To Say Goodbye, Number 9, 1978
- Love Is The Answer, Number 10, 1979
Seals' solo career commenced in the 1980s and resulted in a string of country hits, with eleven number ones including a 1986 duet with Marie Osmond, entitled "Meet Me in Montana." Seals, the son of a pipefitter from Texas came from a musical family. His older brother Jim, was half of another pop duo from the 1970s named Seals and Croft. It was Jim who gave Dan the nickname England Dan, after a temporary attempt at affecting an English accent as a youth. He was also known for his humanitarian work promoting tolerance as a follower of the Baha'i faith.
While these songs are a tad unfamiliar to many under 30, many others remember falling in love for the first time to them. And while cancer robbed the gentle voice that sang them, Seal's music still touches the heart--a poignant legacy that still lives on.