Tuesday, March 27, 2007

albums of the day

Fly Like An Eagle and Book Of Dreams by The Steve Miller Band.

Most people in this country probably know Steve Miller best for being one of the long line of people who had a number 1 single with a tune used in a Levis jeans advert (1973's The Joker, in 1990). However, they were a seriously big deal in the USA in the late 1970's, to the extent of co-headlining a major stadium tour with The Eagles in 1977. That's co-headlining, not supporting, and consider that The Eagles were coming off the back of Hotel California at the time. History and critical hindsight perhaps hasn't been as kind to these two albums as to Hotel California, and possibly rightly so, but nonetheless they mark the band's commercial zenith, and, dammit, probably their artistic one as well, for all that the early psychedelic blues stuff around the time of Sailor in the late 1960's was interesting (and if Pink Floyd hadn't listened to Song For Our Ancestors before writing and recording Echoes and, in particular, Shine On You Crazy Diamond, I'll eat my hat).

Neither album is perfect, their common faults being mainly a bit of a penchant for swirly synthesizer instrumentals (Space Intro, Blue Odyssey, Threshold) and an occasional tooth-rotting tweeness (Wish Upon A Star, Babes In The Wood, Wild Mountain Honey). But it's all redeemed by Miller's fabulously languid and treacly vocal style and some great songs: you could make a pretty faultless single album out of the highlights of these two, specifically: Fly Like An Eagle, Serenade, Mercury Blues, Take The Money And Run, Rock'n Me, Jet Airliner, Winter Time, Swingtown, Jungle Love, Sacrifice, The Stake. Two other minor criticisms: Miller completists will notice that he's nicked the central guitar riff for Fly Like An Eagle straight out of his own earlier tune My Dark Hour, and secondly the slightly ill-judged voice-over to the otherwise excellent cover of Sam Cooke's You Send Me ("come on, baby, come on, no, come on, don't be nervous") makes the whole thing sound just a little bit rapey.

More importantly, these two albums, and Book Of Dreams in particular, were among the small collection of albums that formed the soundtrack to my childhood. My parents weren't fanatical album-buyers, and we lived abroad for a significant chunk of the 1970's, so it was a fairly small collection of stuff, each of which of necessity got listened to quite frequently. Off the top of my head this collection comprised:
  • Abraxas by Santana
  • The Best Of Cream
  • Simon And Garfunkel's Greatest Hits
  • The Best Of John Denver
  • Led Zeppelin I
  • Big Hits (High Tide And Green Grass) by The Rolling Stones
  • a pirate Greatest Hits compilation by Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • A Day At The Races by Queen
No doubt there were others. Funny how that sort of exposure at an early age makes it difficult to be objective about these particular albums' merits now - to put it another way I own all of these (possibly in a slightly different format in the case of the compilations) on CD now. Then again they were hardly obscure niche-market experimental Icelandic jazz ear-flute explorations, so maybe it's just that they're good albums. I guess we'll never know.

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