Seals and Crofts: The Forgotten Soft Rock Giants of the 1970s

They were one of the most successful acts of the ’70s with AM gold like “Summer Breeze,” “Diamond Girl,” and “Get Closer.” Pop-folk, soft-rock duo Seals and Crofts (James Seals and Dash Crofts) represented a place and time full of breezy nights, soft-disco, and feathered hair. But even at their peak, the duo’s religious beliefs ran counter to the ethos they represented, and their outspokenness may have hastened their commercial demise. Sadly, even years after their peak, the duo’s former label, Warner Brothers. did little to keep their memory alive.

The duo released their first two albums in 1969 for the boutique label TA/Bell Records. Then in 1971, Seals and Crofts moved to Warner Brothers, a major label that was known for supporting idiosyncratic acts — which they were. Their first effort with the label, A Year Of Sunday, wasn’t a big hit, but it did boast a few standout tracks, including “When I Meet Them” and “Paper Airplanes.”

The duo’s next album, Summer Breeze, was released in the the late summer of 1973 and the title song hit the singles charts at #6. The album was a more refined and striking product and offered tracks like “East Of Ginger Trees,” “Euphrates” and “Hummingbird” (#20 pop). Summer Breeze rose to #7 on the album chart, went gold by early 1973, and later went platinum. By this point, Seals and Crofts were hit makers, bringing with them a unique vibe.

The 1973 album Diamond Girl  followed up on the well-received Summer Breeze  and was filled with slick production, strong songs, and an adventurous spirit. Its blissful and jazzy title track also hit the charts at #4. Both albums boasted some of the best LA session players of the day – including Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro and members of The Wrecking Crew – and their producer Louie Shelton (who worked with the band from 1971 to 1980) had crafted a sound that was unique to the duo.

In the span of two years, the duo made appearances on The David Frost Show, The Helen Reddy Show, Roberta Flack: The First Time Ever, Dinah!  In Concert, Rock Concert, and The Midnight Special. Seals and Crofts also performed at the first California Jam music festival, that year headlined by Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Deep Purple. With all this media exposure, by 1974 it was safe to assume that Seals and Crofts were off to another gold album, but fate had other plans.

Seals and Crofts’ amiable eccentricity seemed to be their calling card. Despite their hippie-ish looks, they were known for being drug free, and – for better or worse – they were also known for their strong devotion to the Bahá’í religion. For a while the dichotomy between their hippie persona and clean-cut lifestyle would co-exist, but soon their faith — and the social beliefs that went with it — would wend its way into their songwriting.

In advance of their 1974 album Unborn Child, Seals and Crofts released the title track as a single. “Unborn Child” was a tuneful anti-abortion song, and with lyrics such as “Oh tiny bud, that grows in the womb, only to be crushed before you can bloom,” there was no mistaking what side the duo came out on over the issue. Released in the era of Roe vs Wade, the public didn’t want to hear their favorite odd yet innocuous duo singing about something so “heavy” or political. For a short while, Seals and Crofts were boycotted for their views expressed in the song.

Despite the controversy, Unborn Child was a hit album with classic reflective tracks such as “29 Years From Texas,” “Desert People,” and “The Story Of Her Love.” The duo went on an extensive tour throughout most of 1974, but the controversy took its toll.

By 1975 Seals and Crofts were back to less controversial fare when they released  I’ll Play For You. The album was filled with strong songs like the title track and “Castles In The Sand” and “Truth Is But A Woman.” The album proved slightly less successful though, only reaching #30 on the album charts. Then came their Greatest Hits album and, like many of acts of the time, it may well have been produced way too early. After all, it was released with just two and a half years of hits and featured then-recent singles releases “I’ll Play For You” and “Castles In The Sand” in addition to their earlier hits.

In early 1976, Seals and Crofts were profiled in an article in People magazine. Although the two were forthcoming about their devotion to the Bahá’í Faith, their eccentricities were on full display in a way that was  jarring to many. Shortly after, they released  Get Closer. Though it was filled with great moments and soulful songs like the title track, “Baby Blue” and “Million Dollar Horse,” Get Closer (#37, pop) was the duo’s least successful release since their 1971 Warner Brothers debut.

Oddly enough, the two got a bit of a musical — if not commercial — second wind for their last two albums for Warner Brothers. Takin’ It Easy featured the fun, late ’70s Beach Boys-esque title track and melodic and soulful songs like “Nobody Gets Over Lovin You,”  “Magnolia Moon” and the fan favorite “Sunrise.” The duo’s last album for Warner Brothers, 1980’s reflective The Longest Road, struck a more happy medium between their messages and commercial viability.

seals-crofts-clipping-studioBy late ’70s and early ’80s  Seals and Crofts toured variety shows, appearing on Donny And Marie, American Bandstand, The Mike Douglas Show, and the NBC-TV special Glen Campbell: Back To Basics. Yet despite this visibility, the duo seemed to lose support from both their label and their fans. It is unclear whether the loss in popularity was due to their creative output, changing musical trends, or their religious beliefs.

Unlike many acts with similar career trajectories, Seals and Crofts seemed to be airbrushed out of music history in a way many of their contemporaries were not. The duo’s old label Warner Brothers deleted their regular release albums from the catalogue; Greatest Hits was the only work available for decades. Eventually, only “Summer Breeze,” “Diamond Girl” and “Get Closer” were still played on AC radio.

Although the early ’80s found both of them tired and disillusioned with the record business, Seals and Crofts reunited in the early ’90s for a series of concerts and an album (Traces), which featured re-recordings of many of their popular songs. In 2004 the duo returned to pop culture via a version “Summer Breeze” that was remixed by Philip Steir and Ramin Sakurai and appeared on the compilation What Is Hip? Remix Project Volume One. The song also appeared in a popular GAP ad campaign.

If there’s anything that’s good about Seals and Crofts’ musical legacy, it’s that it hasn’t been co-opted for barren or irreverent nostalgia or kitsch. Their high musical standards and song craft has given the best of their work a timeless quality. Even through controversy and being buried by their label, their legend still endures and may well rise again.

About Jason Elias 5 Articles
Jason Elias is a music journalist and pop culture historian who lives in Easton, Maryland. His work has appeared on SoulTrain.com, All Music Guide, Upscale, SoulMusic.com, and in Upscale magazine, among others. He also runs the blog Pop Culture Idiot where he talks about pop culture and other fun issues. He has too many records, cassettes, and 8-tracks and loves to talk about music.
  • mr bradley

    Forty years on, few remember Seals & Crofts sang the theme song for the forgotten TV show “The Paper Chase,” which aired on CBS during the 1978-1979 season. The tune, “The First Years,” is catchy as all get out & a perfect vehicle for their soft vocal stylings. It’s my favorite recording of theirs. Why it was never released as a single, or even included as an album track, has always been a mystery to me. At least it’s accessible on Youtube, thank goodness.