Pure Prairie League, Greatest Hits
Unassuming country-rockers' greatest sides
The Norman Rockwell-originated cowboy character of Luke, with his handle-bar mustache, spurs and leather chaps, looking out somewhat mournfully from the cover of every Pure Prairie League album, was about the only predictable component of the group's rise to improbable — though deserved — success. Their breakthrough hit, "Amie," hit the charts nearly three years after it was recorded, and two years after the song's writer and singer, Craig Fuller, had left the band following a long legal battle to preserve his conscientious objector status during the Vietnam war.
PPL were among a wave of early '70s country-rock bands that were less self-conscious about their melding of the two forms. They were no Nudie suits and Opry trappings a la the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo or The Flying Burrito Brothers; instead the blend owed more to Crosby, Stills and Nash, a soft and harmonious rock in which songcraft took precedence over shotgun marriage.
The band had formed in southern Ohio at the tail of the '60s, with Craig Fuller and George Powell sharing vocal duties, and the Jims Lanham and Caughlan as the rhythm section, and was discovered by RCA A&R executive Bob Ringe in late 1971. Their first album (featuring the first four songs on this compilation) was sweetened by large helpings of John Call's steel guitar, and though only Fuller and Powell were on board for the group's sophomore (and eventually breakthrough) release, Bustin' Out, their basic approach didn't change. RCA had also just signed David Bowie, which accounts for Mick Ronson's sympathetic string arrangements on the album. Just as Bustin' Out was bustin' out, however, the band had to move to Toronto due to Fuller's conscientious objector declarations, limiting their ability to promote the album. He would finally return to America to face trial in 1973, serving community service, at which point the band returned to live performance without him. Slowly, PPL gathered momentum, and in an ironic twist of fate, saw "Amie" break into the Top 40 in early 1975, followed by its once-overlooked album. That Bustin' Out looms so large in the PPL discography is witnessed by the fact that eight of its nine cuts (tracks five through twelve) are on this Best-Of collection, showcasing the group's plaintive, heartfelt vocals and understudied grace.
Rounding out their RCA career, as this album does, the group signed with Casablanca in 1980 for another wild card hit ("Let Me Love You Tonight," not included here). Fuller returned to the band in 1985, and after a hiatus in the nineties, the group resumed making records and touring in 2000. As "Amie," likes to chorus, "Whatcha gonna do…?"