May 082013

When I was a teenager, I enjoyed the hits of Steve Miller Band. I never got around to buying a single record by the guy, not even a 45, but Miller’s hits bridged the leap I was making from AM to FM radio. Compared with so much of the sludge I found myself wading through in the new (to me) world of FM rock, Miller’s music was catchy, fun, and kind of old-fashioned. Even when he mixed in the occasional long space jam intro, his songs eventually got down to the simple business of hammering home a couple of meaty hooks and some off-hand lyrics that espoused only the slightest trace of cool. Steve Miller wasn’t that cool, mind you, but his level of cool was attainable.

When I was in my 20s, fully reveling in my role as a rock iconoclast, I found opportunities to pump up my mild teenage enjoyment of this artist. As mainstream rock got more ponderous and underground rock became less disciplined and hook conscious, the humble strengths of Miller’s big hits suddenly shined. I held onto this perspective for the next 10 to 15 years.

Then, for a few years, I toyed with officially upgrading Miller, holding him in the same regard I hold for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: rock-solid radio fare that’s always worth letting play out when flipping the dial. I seriously considered picking up Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits.

About 2 years ago, however, seemingly overnight, I found myself recoiling when Steve Miller Band songs came on the radio. My wife still digs him for all the reasonable reasons anyone could dig him. She wants to let the songs play through, but his lyrics are so dumb and his delivery so devoid of anything but the lowest-level sense of cool and self-deprecating humor that I feel it beneath me to expect so little of any artist. I’ve had it with Steve Miller. I think there’s only a single lyric from all of his hits that still resonates with me in any way, that “really like your peaches, want to shake your tree” line from “The Joker.” I like the “midnight toker” line, too. They are both so evocative of a type of feeling that was in the air at that time with some kids at my school that they mean something to me. They’re like the musical equivalent of Spicoli. The rest of Miller’s lyrics and delivery can go to hell. I’m not buying his Greatest Hits. I’m no longer considering him for a Critical Upgrade. I’m not even going to play the “Steve Miller is actually great” card to piss some rock snob off. It’s not worth it.

Steve Miller, I’ve had it!


  29 Responses to “Steve Miller, I’ve Had It!”

  1. I have always hated Steve Miller’s AM radio hits, with the exception of The Joker. I think The Joker being a hit was sort of a fluke. I don’t think he knew that would be the brass ring. Everything after that is totally manufactured; it sounds stilted and ’70s in the worst way. It’s as if after having one hit, he hired a team of hacks to put together something that could be just as big. Sadder still, it worked.

    I like Sailor a lot. Boz Scaggs was in the band at that time and both guys came up with some really good songs. If you wanna get really aggravated with how worthless late Steve Miller was, listen to Sailor.

  2. dbuskirk

    What next, hating Chuck Berry ‘cuz you don’t like “My Ding-a-Ling?” It’s the earlier incarnation of the Steve Miller Band that is most worthwhile, the five records the band made between the classic SAILOR and NUMBER 5 (I particularly like BRAVE NEW WORLD) that are the meat of his discography. “Space Cowboy” and “Living in the USA” come from this era but there are all sorts of gems before he climbed to his hit-making mid-70s peak.

  3. Wait a second, are “The Joker” and “Space Cowboy” the same song, or do I still like 2 songs by Miller? I used to like “Living in the USA,” but I got sick of that too.

    The comparison to Chuck Berry doesn’t work, db, because Miller’s now critically acclaimed works (in the eyes of 2 legendary Townsmen whose opinions I fully trust) were done in the underground. Berry’s best songs were his early, most popular ones.

    I’ve barely heard that earlier Miller stuff. Growing up in the ’70s and being inundated with his hit singles, what business did I have digging deeper? I’ll try those earlier records, though, because you and geo generally have a good feel for the kind of hippie music I like.

  4. bostonhistorian

    “really like your peaches, want to shake your tree” isn’t even a Miller original. However, he’s still better than the execrable Tom Petty.

  5. I’m actually someone who bought Steve Miller’s Greatest Hits. I don’t listen to it much, but it was perfect antidote after a regretful attempt to get into Pavement by listening to three of their wretched CDs in a row a while back. Sometimes just listening to pure catchiness feels pretty good.

    I wouldn’t say Steve Miller deserves a critical upgrade, but I agree with Dan that Brave New World is a damn good album. Much better than any of the mid-70s output. “My Dark Hour” with Paul McCartney on background vocals truly rocks.

  6. BigSteve

    The “attainable level of cool” concept is insightful. I think that kind of lowered expectations approach is essential to his appeal. He’s not trying to bowl anybody over with his musicianship or songwriting. But the studio sheen applied to these non-entities is the thing that puts me off, because then they give off the feeling that he actually *could* be a lot better. It seems like he’s dumbing things down because he doesn’t think the audience deserves any better. I think Mod just finally caught on to the condescension.

  7. I’d like to know everyone’s thoughts about the following Steve Miller video.

    Alexmagic and I have been fascinated by this clip for years. Pay particular attention to the spazzy tambourine player high-fiving everyone in the front row at the beginning.

  8. I was just about to direct the Mod’s attention to Lovey Dovey by the Clovers:

  9. That video brings back fond memories of MTV circa 1981-83! They played the hell out of that clip.

    My thoughts:

    -Love the lefty guitarist’s look
    – Does he really need 3 fender strat’s in the band?
    -Why did every band – no matter what the music type – had to have someone be “New Wave”

  10. Steve Miller is to bland to get worked up about. That blandness (and radio ready slickness) is best exemplified by the difference between his version of Jet Airliner:
    and Paul Pena’s original:

    Thanks, by the way, to dbuskirk for turning me onto the original. On the other hand, no thanks are offered to dbuskirk for telling me that the Paul Pena documentary was worth watching.

  11. Wow, that other guitar player should consider switching to decaf cocaine.

  12. misterioso

    Yeah, I can’t get too worked up about Steve Miller. I grew up hearing Book of Dreams and Fly Like an Eagle and I have a certain, limited, ability to enjoy some of those songs still, mostly for nostalgic reasons.

    Those two records came out in ’76 and ’77. Obviously, they were huge. I see that he didn’t put out another record until 1981, by which time he’d apparently become the truly loathsome guy in that video Oats posted above. So, what the hell was he doing for those years? Honing his suckiness?

  13. jeangray

    Sir Paul also performs bass & drums on “My Dark Hour” as well.

  14. BigSteve

    That tambourine is the glue that holds the sound together.

  15. jeangray

    Yeah, that was most definitely a calculated approach after his first five, vastly superior albums bombed. Under the same circumstances, most major label artists would & have followed suit.

  16. diskojoe

    Here’s a clip of the Goldberg Miller Blues Band doing “The Mother Song” on Hullabaloo w/the into by Robert Vaughn of the Man From UNCLE fame:

  17. hrrundivbakshi

    A few Steve Miller thoughts:

    1. I still love “Jungle Love.” It’s on my list of songs I have to cover before I die.

    2. The cover of “Fly Like an Eagle” rocks. I don’t know why, it just does. Plus, when I was a kid, the low-light photo on the cover made it look like the pickguard on the guitar *was* the guitar, if you follow me. I thought it was the coolest mini-guitar ever!

    3. I am probably the only Townsman who likes “Abracadabra.” Even my wife questions my sanity on that one. It’s my “Kokomo.”

    4. I saw Bo Diddley at Little Steven’s mega-garage whatzamahoozit a few years ago, and I *swear* Steve Miller was the other guitar player on stage.

    5. The following songs do not get censored in my car: “Fly Like an Eagle,” “The Stake,” “Jet Airliner,” “Jungle Love.”

    6. The following songs *do* get censored: “The Joker,” “Take the Money and Run.”

    7. Having said that, one of my fave gotta-wait-for-it moments is when SM says “Ah-OOOOO-Loord!” in “Take the Money and Run.” Mind you, another fave gotta-wait-for-it moment is when Johnny Bongiovi says “I’ve seen a thousand faces… and I’VE ROCKED THEM ALL!”

    8. What we really need is a Big Choice Poll asking the simple question: Steve Miller Band in the 70s, or Bostin in the 70s? That would be revealing.

  18. 2000 Man

    Execrable? C’mon. Damn the Torpedoes is a great album. Sure, he’s done some lousy stuff, but he’s done a few things that are well worth listening to. Billy Joel is execrable. Petty is just a guy that doesn’t have much to say.

  19. 2000 Man

    I can’t get too worked up over Steve Miller, either. I think he was probably about done releasing records when The Joker made him famous. I don’t think he was in a position to tell the label he was gonna do another Brave New World, and if he’d have not had a contract, it wasn’t like he was good enough to become a great session guitarist. I can listen to Fly Like an Eagle and The Joker and Brave New World and that’s about it for me. They’re all pretty okay, for different reasons. If I didn’t have any of those albums, I don’t think I’d care much.

  20. bostonhistorian

    I heard that line in an even older Big Joe Turner song, I think. I seem to recall finding a history of that phrase online, but I’m too lazy to look it up.

  21. bostonhistorian

    Petty is just one of those guys I’ve never had much use for. But yes, I’d listen to him before I’d listen to Billy Joel.

  22. ladymisskirroyale

    Hvb, I may be the only other townsman to own that album (with Abracadabra on it). I admit to having a fondness for Miller: he’s like a Laurel Canyon-type blues artist. And he was damn sexy on the cover of Fly Like An Eagle.

  23. I think Petty is among rock’s greatest at delivering quality rock ‘n roll within limited means.

  24. Oh my, I need to make more time with this video. I don’t recall seeing it back in the day.

    We may have to have a post examining the Token New Wave band members of that era!

  25. jeangray

    You aren’t the only one with that “Abracadabra” album! It contains some of his quality attempts at New Wave. 🙂

  26. Hate Steve Miller. I’ll collect 2 – 3 songs from just about ANY 70’s rock group from my youth (Doobie Bros, Player, Grand Funk) but not Miller. I always assumed he just ripped everyone off (including himself with My Dark Hour/Fly Like an Eagle) and put it out there to big sales numbers. I never heard the original version of Jet Airliner before but it confirms my suspicion.

    I read somewhere that he was a veteran of the Summer of Love and behaved like the 70’s acclaim was simply what was owed to him.

  27. I loved Steve Miller growing up through the seventies and owned several LPs and as I grew older and musically wiser dug a little deeper and bought the early Greatest hits (or some sort of collaboration) and continue to appreciate it al as it has that soft spot of my youth. However as I have aged and become a member of that “Live music is better” club an odd thing occurs with Mr. Miller. His live stuff falls far below my expectations. I was able to see a recent tour for his CD “Bingo” (crap) as well as recently bought his “83” live CD…kinda sucks. Looking at these videos posted above continues to cement the idea that I just dont dig him live, rather much prefer the studio efforts. Not sure at this moment who else I could apply this do, never mind as strongly as I do him.

    Perhaps a new thread? Who do you appreciate studio albums of but just have a real hard time tolerating live?

  28. H. Munster

    He has a greatest hits collection that ends at The Joker. One of my favorite albums. I think his guitar work on “Little Girl” and “Jackson-Kent Blues” is remarkable.

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