America's Gerry Beckley had "Sister Golden Hair" in his back pocket for more than a year before he finally dusted it off to record. It could have been ready on the band's 1974 album, Holiday, but the song tune just didn't make the cut. They finally pulled it out for the next full-length, Hearts (1975).
"I can't really tell you if it was a lack of faith in the song or not, but it was interesting to see," he told Songfacts about the track. "It shows you that songs can have a life of their own - they might just need the right time and circumstances to surface."
When asked if the song was about anyone in particular, the songwriter insisted that it's just an ideal that exists in his mind.
"No, this is all poetic license," he explained. "With 'Sister Golden Hair,' as far as my folks were concerned, I was writing a song about my sister, and I couldn't quite fathom it; they must not have listened to the lyrics."
Musically, the track found America indulging in their love of the Beatles with producer George Martin manning the boards, and Beckley pulling out a lap pedal steel guitar.
"I very openly tip my hat there to 'My Sweet Lord,'" he revealed. "I was such a fan of all The Beatles, but we knew George quite well, and I just thought that was such a wonderful intro."
Released as a single on March 19, 1975, the song was an immediate radio hit, soaring to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week of June 14, 1975. It would be knocked from the top one week later by Captain and Tennille's "Love Will Keep Us Together."
"I'd like to point out that you can have a #1 record with a line that enters that darkly," Beckley said of the tune's opening line. "That's kind of my thing: I try to mix these emotions and I think 'Sister' was a great example. Pretty good message in there. John Lennon famously said, 'We don't know what these songs are about till people tell us.' So all of our songs, including 'Horse,' are open to interpretation. But 'Sister' was a relationship song and there is a variety of elements. We always combine them as songwriters so that they're not verbatim, word for word, for a particular circumstance. Poetic license we call it."