Monday, January 22, 2018

Drink the Night Away

Gerry Rafferty : Baker Street

On January 20, 1978 Scotsman Gerry Rafferty released City to City, an album that would eventually knock the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack from the top of the U.S. charts. Most people bought it for "Baker Street", a US #2/UK#3 hit most famous for its saxophone solo by session player Raphael Ravenscroft. 

One Saturday I rode my bike off my boarding school campus, illegally crossing the state line into Millerton, New York , four miles away, to pick up a cassette copy at Oblong Books and Music.

City to City kept me company for many, many days, becoming one of the soundtracks of my teenage years. Its wistfulness and melancholy were an apt mood setter.

Rafferty made a fortune from the album but he wasn't interested in stardom. He would spend most of his life in hiding, eventually drinking himself to death.

Ken Emerson of Rolling Stone wrote this rave review:

Even in his mother's womb, Gerry Rafferty must have expected the worst. This Scotsman entitled his melancholy 1971 solo album Can I Have My Money Back? (the answer was "No!"). And when Stealers Wheel, the group he subsequently formed with Joe Egan, became an overnight success with the hit single "Stuck in the Middle with You," only to lapse into morning-after obscurity, he probably said, "I told you so." On City to City, his first LP in three years, Rafferty sticks grimly to his guns. Not only does he use the same producer (Hugh Murphy) and several of the same musicians, but a similar un-self-pitying fatalism pervades the record.

However, there is a slight but significant change for the better that makes City to City as eloquently consoling as the spirituals Rafferty echoes in "Whatever's Written in Your Heart." Indeed, there's a prayerful quality to the entire LP, a quality reminiscent of the dim dawn after a dark night of the soul. "The Ark" begins as a Highland death march, complete with doleful bagpipes, but swells into a stirring hymn to love. And, after etching a relationship stalemated by the inability of two lovers to express their feelings, the somber "Whatever's Written in Your Heart" (whose only instruments are a piano and a hushed sythesizer) concludes with a coda of vocal harmonies that sing of sublime forgiveness. Hope, in almost all these songs, lurks on the horizon. And when it springs fully into view -- as on "City to City," with its rollicking train tempo, and on the jaunty "Mattie's Rag" -- the music almost burbles with anticipation.

Gerry Rafferty still writes with the sweet melodiousness of Paul McCartney and sings with John Lennon's weary huskiness, and his synthesis of American country music, British folk and transatlantic rock is as smooth as ever. But his orchestrations have acquired a stately sweep. For all their rhythmic variety -- from the suave Latin lilt of "Right down the Line" to the thump of "Home and Dry" -- these are uniformly majestic songs. The instrumental refrain on one of the best of them, "Baker Street," is breathtaking: between verses describing a dreamer's self-deceptions, Rapheal Ravenscroft's saxophone ballons with aspirations only to have a sythesizer wrench it back to earth with an almost sickening tug. If City to City doesn't rise to the top of the charts, its commercial failure will be equally dismaying. And our loss will be greater even than Rafferty's. After all, when was the last time you bought an album boasting more than fifty minutes of music? And great music at that.

From Robert Christgau's B- review:

A miraculously homogeneous album -- except for the breakthrough sax refrain on "Baker Street," neither voice nor instrument ruffles the flow of hard-won axioms and sensible hooks. Very nice, I mean it -- if yin and yang is your meat, this beats Percy Faith a mile. But Fleetwood Mac it ain't.

No comments:

Post a Comment