What does it sound like?:
The story of Stealers Wheel, Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty is a cautionary tale, one of triumph and disaster, often at the same time.
They were school friends in Paisley. Gerry honed his songwriting skills in The Humblebums with Billy Connolly. Billy enjoyed telling jokes between the songs but when the songs became interludes between the jokes, Gerry left to make a solo album, tellingly entitled Can I Have My Money Back? in 1971. He invited Joe to accompany him on vocals. Soon, they were writing songs together and Stealers Wheel was formed.
Their debut was as a five piece band, including Paul Pilnick on electric guitar. The record company, A & M, invested in top notch producers, Lieber and Stoller, and the ex-Beatles engineer, Geoff Emerick. The songs were evenly split between Joe compositions, Gerry compositions and co-writes. Some were folky, others were rocky. The rocky ones, most notably I Get By, would resemble Bad Company if not for the fact that Bad Company only came into being years later. The folky ones sound best when the pair of them sing lead together. Their vocal blend, backed by a set of silk strings and captured by Emerick, is delectable. Stuck In The Middle With You, somewhat unbelievably, was the third single and took months to hit the top ten. Those handclaps and that cowbell are irresistible and helped the entire album sell big.
The trouble was that Gerry had already left the band before the album had even been released. The prospect of matching its success persuaded him to return. He and Joe set about making a follow up with an entirely new band but the same producers. This time Lieber and Stoller were distracted by financial problems, the songs, if anything are stronger and more consistent and saxophone is more prominent. Named after a deprived area of Paisley, Ferguslie Park lacked a big single, although Star and Everything Will Turn Out Fine made top thirty, condemning it to a relatively mediocre commercial performance.
By the time the third album, Right Or Wrong, came out in 1975, with its addition of sluggish strings and a distinct loss in song quality, Stealers Wheel had ceased to exist. The lawyer bills must have consumed a big chunk of their royalties. Gerry went on to have a huge-selling solo album, City To City, and a satisfying follow up, Night Owl, but his reluctance to tour the U.S. and a label takeover stymied his career. Sadly, Joe failed to write his own Baker Street. He must have been delighted when Quentin Tarantino decided that Stuck In The Middle With You’s sinister undertone was perfect to soundtrack a brutal torture scene in Reservoir Dogs in 1992.
This three disc set brings together all three albums plus three tracks recorded live for the BBC in 1971. When they put their mind to it, Stealers Wheel make a beautiful sound and can rock as hard as anyone, their lyrics being equally capable of great cynicism and great delicacy. Sadly, their refusal to accept sales as representing a recognition of their craft and talent led to distrust, recriminations and fall out. Now, we can simply kick back and lose ourselves in those creamy vocals and sweet melodies.
What does it all *mean*?
What goes around comes around.
Goes well with…
Spare cash and at least two hours of spare time.
Might suit people who like…
Bittersweet Folk Rock with a dash of faux-naïf cover art by John Patrick Byrne, the first postmodern poet of Paisley.