Jan 052011

One of the most faceless 3-hit wonders of my childhood—and possibly yours—Gerry Rafferty died earlier today at 63 years of age. Thanks to Townspeople andyr and ladymisskiroyale for notifying me and sticking the grandiose opening to “Baker Street” in my brain. It replaces the ringing in my ears following band rehearsal (did I tell you a number of Townspeople will be appearing Philadelphia’s at North Star Bar this Thursday night, January 6?), but it won’t help me get to sleep any easier.

You know Rafferty’s three big songs: “Stuck in the Middle With You,” which he did as part of the totally faceless Stealers Wheel (not even the standard solo Rafferty shot of him smiling, with his trimmed beard and smokey shades, comes to mind when I hear that band’s name); “Baker Street”; and the coke-ode “Right Down the Line.” Actually, I have no idea whether “Right Down the Line” is an ode to coke or whether Rafferty even snorted the smallest line of the stuff. If the works of an artist of the mysterious magnitude of Gerry Rafferty get stuck in my mind I can’t be entirely responsible for the playground shenanigans that ensue. It wasn’t until about 3 years ago that I even knew he was British let alone, what I learned more specifically tonight: that he was Scottish!

Who would have thought he was Scottish? With no explanation the man’s sound jumped from a humorous take on a previous decade’s wealth of Bob Dylan wannabes to some mind-meld of Steely Dan and Chuck Mangione. I’d love to hear a showdown between the theme from Mangione’s “Feels So Good” and Rafferty’s “Baker Street.” Eventually the themes would wind around each other, creating a healing forcefield, or wave, unrivaled since any creation from the original run of Star Trek. Townsman shawnkilroy would emerge from the crest of the healing wave, like sammymaudlin‘s hero, The Silver Surfer. Eventually Rafferty, Jeff Lynne, Ian Hunter, and Bob Welch would feel emboldened to remove their smokey shades. John Stewart (the musician, not the fake newsman) and Stevie Nicks would lead them through a few choruses of “Gold.” dr john (the Townsman, not the New Orleans musician) would find a way to drag Neil Young‘s Cadillac tail-fin from On the Beach into this scene. alexmagic (the Townsman, not Magic Alex, the recent guest of Mr. Moderator on Saturday Night Shut-In), however, would not lose sight of the opportunity Rafferty’s nationality provides us for referencing Hamish Stuart.

Finally, who would have thought the New York Times would know so much real stuff about the man’s life? Truly, Rafferty brought joy and perhaps even meaning to the lives of others beside me. I will choose to continue associating his songs with drives in my grandfather’s pickup truck as we went to and from the racetrack to groom and train his racehorses each summer morning. I’d rather forget about the scene in that movie that brought his music back into our collective consciousness once and for all, the point at which I left the theater in disgust.


  69 Responses to “Gerry Rafferty Dead”

  1. ladymisskirroyale

    May I suggest that Gerry Rafferty be the inaugural member of the Mom Rock category? Note the similarity in guitar sounds in Stealer’s Wheel’s “Stuck In the Middle With You,” and Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do,” SC being an agreed-upon denizen of the Dad Rock lineup.

  2. Two random things…
    1. I remember seeing Stealer’s Wheel playing “Stuck…” on Top of the Pops in the Spring of 1973 (we lived in the UK from 72-73). Research tells me 5/18/1973 to be exact.

    2. “Baker Street” is one of my most hated songs and is a large contributor to my dislike of Saxophone in rock songs. I unfortunately was reminded of this song every time I went to Milkmen practice in the early days when the guys lived on Baker Street in Manayunk – early 1980’s…

    So Rafferty was a depressive who drank himself to death…

  3. alexmagic

    Yeah, I’m usually not the type to use someone’s death as an opportunity to dump on their accomplishments, but I agree with Mr. Clean – I really don’t like “Baker Street” and the sax part in it feels like the thing that would keep the sax from ever rising up and retaking its place in rock from the guitar.

    But I do like “Stuck In The Middle”, though! And also, life is precious and god and the bible.

  4. I just saw that Japan/Dali’s Car bassist Mick Karn also died.


    Our original bassist used to play me that Dali’s Car album. I was afraid of anything from that scene, but it was pretty good.

  5. BigSteve

    I think Baker Street is a brilliant single. Overplayed sure, but it’s perfectly realized. It’s a kind of commercialized British folk-rock that has zero cool factor, but that sax lick (played by someone named Raphael Ravenscroft) is undeniable. It’s virtually the definition of an instrumental hook (the other main one being George Harrison’s Something). I am always appalled by the rampant saxophobia of RTH.

    And I’m always mystified by the concept that many people think Stuck in the Middle with You is a Bob Dylan record. To me it sounds only mildly Dylanesque. Love the slide guitar.

    Appalled and mystified, and it’s not even 10am yet.

  6. sammymaudlin

    I was gonna send this as well to Mr. Mod but thought “who cares”.

    Ditto Resevoir Dogs / Tarantino films.

  7. “With no explanation the man’s sound jumped from a humorous take on a previous decade’s wealth of Bob Dylan wannabes to some mind-meld of Steely Dan and Chuck Mangione. ”

    Love it!

    Sax solos not performed by Clarence Clemons or Bobby Keys in rock music tend to leave me cold

  8. I’m both thrilled and appalled by the sax theme in “Baker Street.” I’m not as big a saxophobe as many here, but I think one of the problems it poses in rock is that it typically makes such a grand entrance into a song. Imagine if 75% of guitar solos kicked off with feedback before the guitarist got down to the meaninful licks. The sax too often enters with a sort of Ice Capades’ fanfare, as is the case with “Baker Street.”

    Also, to be clear, I consider “Stuck in the Middle With You” to be Dylanesque-esque, if that makes sense. I think it’s a tongue-in-cheek version of the multitude of Dylanesque songs that cropped up in the second half of the ’60s. As I typed up this piece I actually had your objection to the Dylan tie-in in mind.

  9. BigSteve

    I’ve read that most non-music geeks just think of that song as one of Bob Dylan’s few radio hits. I mean, people will argue with you about it and insist that it is.

    But I like the concept of Dylasnesque-esque.

  10. misterioso

    Mod, I am right there with you. Quite possibly a sign of softening of the brain, but I was moved both by the Times’ obit this morning and by what you wrote. I am not making a case for Rafferty’s greatness or necessarily even goodness as a musician, singer, and songwriter; I cannot do so based on three songs I know as well as my own name and a couple others that I have heard once, maybe. As his songs conjure up childhood memories for you, so too for me–of summer and baseball cards and the irresistible riff of Baker Street, above all. A great song.

  11. misterioso

    BigSteve, your comments have partly restored my faith in humanity. I salute you!

  12. alexmagic

    I don’t consider myself a saxaphobe. I recall, when I was younger, thinking it was the coolest of all the horns. But I just can’t stand a certain kind of sax playing, the kind that tended to show up after the sax lost its place in rock, that the part in Baker Street exemplified.

    Mod’s point about the entrance is very intriguing. Truthfully, the way the sax arrives in Baker Street does indeed make me think of an apartment door being kicked open by a guy wearing a trenchcoat with big shoulderpads who has long curly hair and possibly a fedora. This guy is also wearing fingerless gloves. And he has a sax. And he’s somehow standing in that kicked-open doorway with one leg propped up on something as he starts playing. And he’s playing with the sax lustily pointed at two people who are totally goin’ at it on a bed with silk sheets, and the apartment room into which he’s burst has neon lighting and one of those weird things where there’s half of a wall made out of plexiglass blocks.

    Really, I guess, the sax on Baker Street was ahead of its time, because despite coming out in the late ’70s, it presaged the feel of cheesy ’80s sex thrillers. It’s possible that Cinemax would never have existed had the sax part in Baker Street never been written.

  13. I really liked “Baker Street” when I was a kid. Then I hated it for a while, ’round the time the song showed up in Good Will Hunting. Then, after that, I got to the point where I honestly could not tell if it was a good song or not. Well-crafted and arranged with pretty good lyrics and a kernel of real emotion, yes, but I’m still not sure if it is “good” or not.

  14. I agree with your sentiments exactly (including your nod to Stuck in the Middle, easily the second best Dylan knock-off after Public Execution by Mouse and the Traps).

    I would only add the the guitar in the middle of Baker Street that goes “Beow Beow Beow Beow Beooow!” is even more annoying than the sax.

  15. That’s an amazing description of that guitar part, cdm! I sucked at the game when HVB or you first posted it, but I’m reminded of an old thread in which a bunch of you played Name That Tune through writing out the sounds of songs, as you just did. Some of you may want to take the game to an Advanced Level, in which you spell out well-known instrumental licks that are not the main themes of their song.

  16. Agreed — the overplaying of songs strips my ability to determine if stuff is good or not after awhile. This seems to especially true of Easy Listening Hits of the 70s.

  17. Baker Street and Al Stewart’s the Year of the Cat are two songs that have always been linked in my mind for whatever reason (maybe it’s as simple as both being British songwriter-pop from relatively the same era). I’ve long hated both of them. My wife is a fan of both and she now has me on board with the Year of the Cat (the simple guitar riff on the right hand side of the mix at about the one minute mark was what sold it for me). No such luck with Baker Street. That is one annoying song.

    Perhaps we should have a Battle Royale to determine the best post-Exile use of the sax, although it’s probably Smooth Operator.

  18. misterioso

    Well, they’re both Scots. I associate them, too, although I think it was Time Passages that was a big hit around the same time as Baker Street. Gotta admit, I really like both songs. Say it loud, say it proud.

  19. Now “Year of the Cat” I hate. I hate Dave Mason’s “We Just Disagree” even more.

  20. Year of the Cat I used to hate — now I like.

    We Just Disagree — used to like — now I hate, but good for Dave for having a hit.

    Gary Wright’s Dreamweaver anyone?

  21. I don’t hate “Time Passages,” but it’s no Jefferson Starship’s “Miracles” among vaguely philosophical soft-rock hits of the era. I’m a big fan of “We Just Disagree,” however – or at least I was as a young teen. Maybe it all had to do with my soft spot for all things Traffic.

  22. Used to LOVE “Dreamweaver,” but now I’m embarrassed to let it play beyond the intro. I know, I’m usually a bigger man than that.

  23. I’m indifferent towards “Dreamweaver.” I love Traffic too, but mainly for John Barleycorn Must Die, which Mason had nothing to do with.

  24. Are you my only Traffic buddy in the Hall? I’ll re-create my uncle’s bedroom from the late-’60s someday and invite you over to dig their stuff on the 8-track.

  25. Sounds like a plan, Mr. Mod. Should I grow sideburns for this?

  26. Mod, John Barleycorn and Low Spark both get a spin every quarter or so in my house.

  27. misterioso

    I like Traffic very much in short stretches. I agree that John Barleycorn Must Die is the best lp, top to bottom. We Just Disagree is fine and I am amused when I listen to Dylan doing it live in 1980 on bootlegs.

    Dreamweaver has never recovered from its campy status, for me, but as I probably have said before, I am crazy nuts for Wright’s Love Is Alive. Probably I’ve sent this link before, too, complete with blazin’ keytars and sexy female backing vocalists/percussionists in judo outfits, or something.

  28. BigSteve

    Year of the Cat came out when I was in grad school, and I hated Al Stewart, who was ubiquitous on the radio in Baton Rouge. I think it was that lispy vocal style. But back then I had no idea who Nick Drake was. I haven’t listened to Stewart in years, but now I think I’m supposed to like him.

  29. Sure, and I’ll pick up the Day-Glo paints. Looks like cdm and misterioso will join us too. If anyone needs a ride I can pick them up in my uncle’s old, pale yellow Skylark – the one with the funny smell.

  30. BigSteve

    Also that thing of writing songs about historical personages just seemed so lame and middlebrow. Plus he was produced by the evil Alan Parsons.

  31. Sweet! I’ll bring one of those leather wine drinking sacks filled with Boone’s Farm. Is everyone cool with Strawberry Hill?

  32. I dig some Traffic. That S/T record is encrusted with goodness. I like John Barleycorn, too. GREAT band.

    I also have two (!) Steeler’s Wheel records. I’ve only listened to them once or twice. Maybe I should give them another turn in honor of GR.


  33. hrrundivbakshi

    That was bust-out-loud funny, Alexmagic. You’ll be happy to know yours was one of the few posts I’ve ever read out loud. Mind you, nobody else in my office understood why I was guffawing, but *I* thought it was hilarious.

  34. hrrundivbakshi

    Why not just come out and say you like “You Can Do Magic” (by… America? I think?) and get it over with. I just did. Also, “Still the One” by Orleans kicks ass.

  35. As I started reading this thread I had to nod in agreement with BigSteve’s props for Baker Street. I thought “Here’s another example of what I’ve said before about certain hallways in RTH, that disdain for great pop music for no particular reason other than that it is great pop music – or so it seems”.

    And then later in the thread comes this: “Well-crafted and arranged with pretty good lyrics and a kernel of real emotion, yes, but I’m still not sure if it is “good” or not.”


  36. I’ve actually thought that it sounded like solo-Lennon in a Dylanesque mode.

  37. I like the Dave Mason era Traffiic better than John Barleycorn. Those early albums are like the British version of the Band as far as I’m concerned. Later stuff, too much sax.

  38. Al, I’m all in favor of pop but it still has to be good. A song can be a well crafted piece of crap.

  39. I liked “Baker Street” so much when it was first on the radio that I bought the album and played it a lot, but that that song and “Right Down The Line” are the only two I remember.

    I got sick of the song and the album at a certain point, and sold it, but I’m still never sorry when either of those two songs come on the radio.

  40. Love is Alive if great — he plays it and Dreamweaver when touring with Ringo’s All-Star Band these days.

  41. I can spare a good word for Gerry. “Baker St”,”Right Down the Line” and the title track of “City to City” make that a fairly good 70’s record. Question is did HVB “wend his way down to Baker St” on his honeymoon trip to London? I think Madam Tussaud’s is on Baker St.

    Al Stewart is a whole different thing.”Year of the Cat” is maybe OK but the lisping “Time Pathigesth” is way too fey.

  42. For the record, I’m not anti-sax. I just have a problem with sax in ROCK songs. I listen to plenty of jazz and Dexter Gordon is a favorite of mine. I think sax can swing but it never ROCKS! …like a guitar does…

  43. How well-crafted does it have to be before it rises above “piece of crap”?

    And the comment was (1) well crafted, (2) good arrangement, (3) pretty good lyrics, and (4) a kernel of real emotion. All those positives and someone still don’t know if it’s good or not? Wow!

  44. I didn’t say it was a piece of crap. I said I still didn’t know if it was good or not. (Or more to the point, if I liked it or not.) It because of the intangibles that I like to remind people of around here. Sometimes a song or band can have all the right ingredients and still do nothing for me. See also, Spoon.

  45. Yes, “See also, Spoon” could become an RTH glossary entry for some of us.

  46. misterioso

    Yeah, but does he still have the keytars and the backup singers?

    Seems I forgot the include the link before: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCc7XJRDD74

  47. misterioso

    “Magic,” no. But “Sister Golden Hair”….

  48. townsmen oats, I know it was townsmen cdm who added the “piece of crap” tag.

    I understand what you mean about intangibles. I was just using your comment as an example.

    I don’t understand your distinction between “good/bad” and “I like/I don’t like”. Do you mean there are songs that you acknowledge as good but still don’t like? I really don’t get that.

    The last time I commented on this lurking attitude at RTH was when someone (I’m thinking it was hvb but I’m too lazy to check) said something to the effect (regarding a song I also can’t recall) of “I don’t like it because it’s too popular”. I understand that sentiment even less.

    I can understand saying “That song is good but I’ve heard it so many times I don’t need to hear it again for a long while” but that’s not what I’m hearing in these statements.

  49. Al, I took Oats’ comment along the lines of how I feel about Eva Longoria: by all objective measures she’s “beautiful,” but she leaves both my soul and loins feeling empty.

  50. Wouldn’t you say that someone like, say, Paul McCartney or Stevie Wonder is capable of writing a technically well crafted song that is a piece of crap?

  51. mockcarr

    This is great. But you know they didn’t even bother with a real sax since a synth was easier. I think early rock, like burlesque, was accompanied by tenor sax, so perhaps the switch to alto saxes in rock bespeak the “sensitive 70s man” influence. When it finally got to soprano saxes, they had to start LOOKING like women too.

  52. Didn’t people used to say it was Paul McCartney?

  53. I think they’re linked by being British singer-songwriter pop and both being good songs in spite of the fact that they both feel like they last about 20 minutes.

  54. Thank you. I’ve always hated that “good pop song” trope. It basically means “good not-very-good song,” and the fact that that’s a meaningless phrase proves my point.

  55. To answer townsman
    cdm, I’d say nope!

    To answer townsmen massimo, I’d say that’s the exact attitude I’m talking about – “if it’s pop it can’t be good”. How about a “great pop song”? Would you say that means a “great not-very-great song”? I don’t think the phrase “good pop tune” is meaningless at all. Otherwise you’ve just erased a ton of Motown songs from the “good” column.

    And to respond to Mr. Mod re Eva Longoria – we reach!

    But at least, Mr. Mod, you are not saying “Eva Longoria is not beautiful”. You are saying “She’s not my cuppa tea”. And that’s what I think is really being said when someone says “I acknowledge that this song is well-crafted, nicely arranged, has good lyrics, and some valid emotional content but I don’t know if I’d said it is good or not.”

    My semantics say you’ve just defined it as good; you are just saying it doesn’t do it for you.

  56. I maintain that I can think that a song is well-made, while still being ambivalent about whether I like it or not. I’m pretty sure I can hold this position about one song without turning into some kind of rockist strawman.

  57. BigSteve

    Sure you can, but that wasn’t the issue. It was whether you could say some song was a good pop song, well-made, and a piece of crap. ‘Maybe not my cup of tea’ is something else.

    I think this is the craft vs. art (crap vs. art?) debate, and we are not going to resolve it here.

  58. What BigSteve said (about what Oats said)!

  59. BigSteve wrote:

    I think this is the craft vs. art (crap vs. art?) debate, and we are not going to resolve it here.

    Man, can’t we at least rip each other apart trying?

  60. Al,
    I get your point but I still say:

    Good Lovin by the Rascals? Pure pop and the greatest single ever.

    Maxwell’s Silver Hammer? A technically well crafted piece of crap.

  61. misterioso

    With all due respect and love and malice towards none, I think the “Golly, that’s really well crafted and technically superb but just isn’t my cuppa tea” stance is a bit of a cop out, a way of appearing not to be “elitist” and say “That’s lousy.” I realize there are time when this is a necessary cop out, such as in casual conversation or when trying to impress someone or avoid insulting them. Like, if your boss is a huge Mariah Carey fan, I get why the appropriate response is not, “How can you listen to that crap?” But in a discussion among people who are more or less giving free vent to their musical opinions, I would like to see that waived. Go ahead, show your elitism. Politely, of course. And with love. Always with love.

  62. I dismiss the “not wanting to appear elitist while being elitist” charge. I am proudly elitist. I’m elitist because I am musically well-versed enough to hear why Captain Beefheart and Sun Ra are great. I’m elitist because I can draw the lines that connect barbershop quartet, a capella, gospel, and rap. I’m elitist by virtue of being a member of RTH. I’m not elitist because I challenge the statement that says “Well-crafted and arranged with pretty good lyrics and a kernel of real emotion, yes, but I’m still not sure if it is “good” or not.”

    btw, others here keep responding as if I said something well-crafted can’t be crap. I never did. I challenged the statement above which gave a lot more positive attributes than merely being well-crafted.

    But to try and move the discussion, I’ll ask cdm a question: what makes Maxwell’s Silver Hammer crap?

  63. I’m not sure how answer that. It’s akin Potter Stewart take on pornography (“I can’t define it but I know it when I see it.”).

    Maybe it’s that it is the cloying melody, but I often see MSH cited as one of the worst Beatles songs. I don’t bring that up as an example of why it’s crap, it just speaks to the fact that a lot of other people seem to think so too.

  64. I’m in the middle of a really busy day, but I saw a band last night that may touch on many of these questions. I’ll try to write something up over the weekend.

  65. mockcarr

    So not being sure is a problem? How many elements does it take to like or hate something? Is one not enough – can you set absolute rules about their quantity?
    What if the singer panders and sings like a douche except for a few words where you can almost believe them? That could be the “kernel”. Some will think that moment is the potential, many will think that moment is the con.

  66. misterioso

    al, I don’t in any way condemn musical elitism, even if it leads down blind alleys like embracing Beefheart, and I think it should be embraced, never more so than if it involves your insights into barbershop quartet! My point is merely that in these discussions one should unhesitatingly be elitist and openly so, if that is what is needed.

  67. I understand the “I know pornography when I see it” explanation when asked to define pornography. On the other hand, after I’ve seen a picture of the Siamese twins where one is screwing a sheep and the other one is screwing a cow I can definitively say “THAT, my friend, is pornography!”. So I’d expect more of a handle on what makes you say that a specific song is a piece of crap.

    But maybe it’s easier to answer the question: what makes MSH well-crafted?

  68. BigSteve

    This reminds me of the arguments I used to have with that girl Kristy on the old Big Takeover yahoogroup. She used to piss me off for many reasons, but I remember she used to always refer to something like MSH as schlock. And I used to always remind her that that word actually meant shoddy or poorly made.

    What she really meant was kitschy, I think. In other words, I think the music that pisses us off is deficient in taste, or somehow aesthetically deficient, but not deficient in craft. Music can also be well-made, but, if we feel that it’s made in bad faith, in other words motivated solely by the desire for money/sex/power/attention/celebrity/etc, then we might say it’s a “piece of crap.” In that case what we mean is that it’s without true value as a work of art to discerning listeners, but what we don’t mean is that it’s thrown together cheaply by people who don’t know what they’re doing.

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