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Talent, Tenacity, Tequila & a Tale of Two Texas Teenagers

Alan Bryson By

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"Back before computers, Jimmy would make notes about songs and put them in the bottom of his guitar case. He might have a verse, or a chorus or whatever. Anyway, when were starting the Diamond Girl album Jimmy said he didn't have anything except this, and starts playing the beginning of "Diamond Girl." I only heard two lines of it, but I told him to finish it, it was a great song. That's the way a lot of that stuff happened." Louie Shelton continued: "Initially Seals & Crofts had been considered kind of folky, but when I heard "Summer Breeze" I thought we could pump it up a bit. A&M was known for a softer sound, so I went to the Sound Factory studio where we had recorded the Jackson Five and a lot of Motown artists, and I used Dave Hassinger as the engineer because he got more of a punchy sound. That factor alone brought a lot to the record, plus I brought along session players that I knew well and had worked with, including Marty as an arranger."

Things Change

In 1974 the Unborn Child album marked a turning point in a couple of ways. The two young fathers with babies at home ignored warnings from their label and released a pro-life single "Unborn Child." It was a courageous move, but also a career threatening risk that resulted in the alienation of many fans, some bitter protests at their concerts, and boycotts of their music. In 1991 Jimmy Seals, when speaking to the LA Times with the advantage of hindsight, recognized that it might not have been the wisest of decisions:

"'Unborn Child,' Seals said, "was really just asking a question: What about the child? We were trying to say, 'This is an important issue,' that life is precious and that we don't know enough about these things yet to make a judgment."

"It was our ignorance that we didn't know that kind of thing was seething and boiling as a social issue. 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, 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."

In fairness to their decision, before it was released they played the song in concert and the reaction wasn't hostile. For example, in 1973 they had hosted an episode of a very popular late night concert show on network television. Towards the end of the show they previewed "Unborn Child" and got a good reception, and the audience clapped enthusiastically when Dash announced they would probably title their next album Unborn Child. Nonetheless, although the album landed at 14 in the charts, the single peaked at #66. The other single, "King of Nothing," languished at #60. It was an upbeat catchy tune with a style and horn arrangement that would have been a good fit for a singer like B.J. Thomas who sang, "Raindrop Keep Falling on my Head," but seemed out of place on a Seals & Crofts album.

They had stepped on their primary message of unity, and the resulting controversy and protests caused radio station programmers to avoid their music. They remained successful, but the arch of their career never quite recovered. In the ensuing years, with the exception of a Greatest Hits album, none of their six albums for Warner Brothers made it to the Top Twenty in the charts. They did manage one more Top Ten hit, "Get Closer" and two Top Twenty singles, "I'll Play for You," and a disco song "You're the Love." Despite the mass appeal of these singles, given the fact that their sincerity and authenticity had been their calling card, one could argue these singles cast a bit of a shadow on their image and legacy. Even so, despite the inconsistency in the style and caliber of some of their music after 1974, there were some excellent songs on their albums post 1974—if you are interested in digging a little deeper, check the credits below this article for playlists. Lest I give you a false impression, their concerts (and backing musicians) were always excellent and they continued to draw five figure crowds throughout the 70s.

Jazz Adjacent

There were a number of successful popular musical groups in the early '70s who were "Jazz Adjacent." The Allman Brothers Band, Santana, Focus, Steely Dan, and Earth, Wind & Fire come to mind, and there are other examples. To varying degrees, these jazz adjacent groups drew upon jazz and incorporated elements of it in their music. I've referred to such groups here on All About Jazz as gateway bands who expanded their fans' musical awareness and opened them up to jazz.

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