I remember the moment in 1975 when I first heard Ambrosia. It was in Strawberry (or was it Raspberry?) Records in San Francisco, strolling down the aisles as I often did, when this music playing on the background music system stopped me in my tracks. It was something unusual, yet familiar - art rock that stretched somewhere between Pink Floyd and the Beach Boys. Inventive themes and arrangements, songs with both edge and sophistication, sailing harmonies, humorous touches, and an overall level of skill and imagination that I craved in my music-listening.
I instantly approached the front desk to find out who this discovery was, and bought Ambrosia's debut album as fast as I could find it. To my delight on returning home I found that it was not one of those two-good-songs-and-the-rest-filler kind of LPs – it was literally chocked full of great music and production from start to finish. Almost too much to imagine from a group I hadn't heard of before, and incredibly mixed by uber-engineer Alan Parsons, of "Dark Side of The Moon" fame. I devoured the music and savored the sonic memories, appreciating that this was something special, well beyond the radio fare of the times.
Nice, Nice, Very Nice touched me on many levels, from the funky orchestration to the Vonnegut paraphrasing, to the wonderment of just how they could have constructed a song like that. I marveled at the beauty, imagination and sonic sophistication of songs like Lover Arrive, Time Waits for No One and Make Us All Aware. Their first hit, Holdin' On To Yesterday demonstrated a unique fusion of rock and classical music, featuring classical violinist Daniel Kobialka, whose credits include serving as concertmaster for the premiere of Leonard Bernstein’s MASS. The skill and creativity demonstrated throughout this record were transcendent for me, truly a musical goldmine amidst all the mediocrity out there.
Coincidentally, and fortunately, I was editor of an up-and-coming music magazine, with the power to assign my own interviews to record and write up, always looking to discover a great story about a quality subject. Without hesitation I contacted the band via the recording studio they inhabited (a trick that works wonders to approach the unapproachable) and set up an interview with their lead guy, David Pack. To say it went well was an understatement. The interview was life-changing, recalibrating parts of my life that would take me deeper into music and open up many doors for years to come.
Ambrosia was just getting started with their invasion of the pop charts. Slightly adjusting their identity from progressive rock to a smoother hit sound on the ensuing releases to be more radio friendly, the band truly did strike gold on a run that put the David Pack penned songs How Much I Feel, You're the Only Woman, and Biggest Part of Me high in the Top Ten. They had arrived globally, and from there enjoyed a healthy run as the hottest band around.
Then, as is expected, the individuals moved on and experimented with personal projects. With that new freedom David came into his own as a creative force in music. Solo albums, writing hit songs for himself as well as other artists, and producing high-profile album projects put him in a creative category of his own. To hear his Songs of West Side Story soundtrack recreation – a re-invention of a masterpiece with 27 of the world's greatest artists – is to hear the limits of what is possible in popular music. His trio with James Ingram and Michael McDonald on Maria, as well as I Just Can't Let Go from his first solo album, feature some of the finest vocal harmonies ever recorded.
In more recent years the band's legacy has been treated with high respect, and even reverence. When their songs are referenced anywhere – reviewed or just discussed in social media – it is always with a five-star description.
Their songs have held up, and been continually rerecorded and reinterpreted, basically because the songs are built from total quality ingredients. Listening to their first record today is just as enjoyable an experience as the first time, unlike the many that haven't well stood the test of time. Ambrosia made the music world a better place, and their inspiration lives on in many artists who go for the high end of what's possible in their pursuit of musical creativity.
- David Schwartz Founder/Editor In Chief Mix Magazine +TEC Awards NAMM