On the heels of two million-selling albums, Summer Breeze and Diamond Girl, Jim Seals and Dash Crofts found themselves at a crossroads. They’d managed to work many of the key tenets of the Baha’i faith into their lyrics, and after every concert they returned to the stage, house lights up, and held informal “fireside chats” about their religion with whomever felt like sticking around.
That seemed to be enough. Proselytizing was and is a no-no for Baha’is, but Seals and Crofts had found a safe middle ground, where they could express their beliefs, and still have hit records.
In 1973, however, when Roe vs. Wade was handed down, the singing/songwriting duo decided to put their mouth where their money was. And it cost them. The landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the United States went against everything they believed in.
Lana Day Bogan, wife of the duo’s recording engineer and longtime crony Joe Bogan, had seen a television documentary on abortion and was moved to write a poem, from the point of view of the fetus. Seals, at Lana’s suggestion, put it to music.
Oh, little baby, if you only knew.
Just what your momma was planning to do …
This was the proudly pro-life “Unborn Child,” Seals and Crofts’ follow–up to the sweet and singable pop hits “We May Never Pass This Way (Again)” and “Diamond Girl.” The album, also called Unborn Child, appeared in February 1974.
Crofts: “Warner Brothers warned us against it. They said, ‘This is a highly controversial subject, we advise that you don’t do this.’ And we said, ‘But you’re in the business to make money; we’re doing it to save lives. We don’t care about the money.”
Both Seals and Crofts insist the song’s message was, simply “don’t take life too lightly,” to stop and think before going through with an abortion. But the critics tore the record to pieces, and Seals and Crofts with it. The public did not respond at the cash registers: Although the album made it to No. 14 on the Billboard chart, the single stalled at No. 66.
“It was a double–edged sword,” Crofts says of the Unborn Child controversy. “It hurt us in one way, and helped us in another. It turns over fans, is what it does. If you’re against something, you lose those fans. But if you’re for it, you gain some fans. And that’s kind of what happened.”
“I don’t know whether people knew what was in there or not,” Seals recalls, “but some of the pro–abortionists called up the radio stations and demanded equal time. Well, that killed the airplay on it. What we had done is we had taken a single issue. Before, we were dealing with the general concept of things.
“I think everybody in the world, regardless of whether they’ve previously been a racist, or an atheist or whatever, can accept, without getting too upset, the fact that mankind is one family. We’re all here on one dot and we need each other. It’s obvious. But when you pull it down and start taking the different really hot issues, if a person is not looking at the overview that you are, then they’re not gonna connect the parts together. They just see one thing.”
This one thing got Seals and Crofts concerts picketed all across the country. “I think we got more good results out of it than bad,” says Crofts, “because a lot of people called us and said, ‘We’re naming our children after you, because you helped us decide to save their lives with that song.’ That was very fulfilling to us.”
“I thought either it would be very much accepted, on the strength of the song itself, or that it would be the biggest bomb that we ever had,” Seals explains. “But it was incidental by that point, because the music was gone. I was out of gas already.”
Unborn Child hurt Seals and Crofts’ reputation: They had crossed that thin line, that sacrosanct divider that separated their music from their religious beliefs. They toured for much of 1974 with the issue hanging over their heads.
The following year saw the release (in quick succession) of I’ll Play For You and a greatest hits package. The former steered way clear of lyrical controversy, while the latter pointedly did not include the track “Unborn Child.” In 1976, Seals and Crofts scored their last (and, ironically, biggest) hit with the atypical “Get Closer.”
They’d struggle along for another few years, hitless, before giving it all up in the early ‘80s. “Unborn Child” was, for Seals and Crofts, the beginning of the end.