I bought this record during one of my sojourns to London with Peter in 1971 showing me where to get a bargain. I bought it for £1.25 which was about half price. It was new but had no sleeve. I always felt cheated by not having the sleeve. I couldn’t read anything about the musicians on the album and had to focus entirely on the music. Some would say this is a good thing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the cover to this album until a minute ago when I found an image on Google. I bought a few albums like this, for example, the misleadingly titled “The Best Of Van Morrison” which is a good album but only features songs recorded for the sessions that yielded “Brown Eyed Girl”. I guess what comes around goes around and now it’s quite common for people to listen to an album without reading all about it because they are streaming it or have downloaded it.
I remember Peter defining the genre that Steve Miller fitted into quite comfortably: “safe-rock”. That’s good and describes it perfectly. It’s not really Middle Of The Road because it’s rock – maybe they were one of the first bands to play “heartland rock”.
I have the six of the first seven Steve Miller Band albums – for some reason I don’t have the sixth album, “Rock Love”, although I used to have it on a cassette. They are all very good albums and an agreeable listen. I stopped listening to Steve Miller when he became popular with “The Joker” and “Fly Like An Eagle” and I think it was 100% music snobbery that caused me to stop listening. “I knew them before they got famous” – that sort of thing.
Membership of the Steve Miller Band was fairly fluid throughout its inception and this album featured Nicky Hopkins on piano who played with everyone, including all four Beatles individually as well as playing piano on “Revolution”.
Steve Miller’s godfather was Les Paul, the guitar virtuoso for whom the Gibson Les Paul electric guitar is named. He is quoted as saying that the biggest influence on him was “my father’s relationship with Les Paul and T-Bone Walker when I was young. Growing up in Dallas, being part of that phenomenal music scene. I found a way to do what I really wanted to do, which is so important for a kid. Near the end of college, my parents said, ‘Steve, what are you going to do?’ I said, ‘I want to go to Chicago and play the blues.’ My father looked at me like I was insane. But my mom said, ‘You should do it now.’ So I went to Chicago. And that was a special time. I played with Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. I got to work with adults and realized music was what I wanted to do, what I loved.”
The Steve Miller Band released two albums in 1968, two in 1969 and “Number Five” in 1970. There are ten songs on the album and seven of them are sunny and optimistic with a light feel to them. The whole of Side One is very engaging. The album was recorded in Nashville and Charlie McCoy’s harmonica features heavily along with some lovely twelve string guitar. The first song “Good Morning” was written by the band’s bass guitarist, Bobby Winkelman, who sings lead vocals. After a psychedelic opening and cheery verse, it explodes into a glorious chorus with Steve Miller’s guitar adding a great hippy feel before the song fades out playing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”. I’m not kidding. It’s lovely.
“Hot Chili” starts with the sound of a mariachi band and a Spanish guitar before Steve Miller starts singing about the merits of going to Mexico. In the last verse, his wish is granted. “Passport in hand I made my plan to get away. Hopped on a plane, rode out of the rain the very same day. Soon as I landed, my wish it was granted. Lovely senoritas always drinkin’ tequila, yeah, yeah, yeah and eatin’ hot chili”.
This theme is continued with the first song on Side Two, “Going To Mexico” which has a blistering guitar solo from Steve Miller that plays out the song. It was interesting listening to the podcast “I Am The Eggpod” a couple of days ago because they were talking about a song on “Flaming Pie” by Paul McCartney called “Used To Be Bad” on which Steve Miller plays guitar. The two solos on “Going To Mexico” and “Used To Be Bad” are very similar. Both are great.
Side Two takes a darker turn after this with three songs which are drenched with sound effects, political themes and murky vocals. I like them a lot but they don’t fit with the sunny musical theme of the rest of the album.
The last song is “Never Kill Another Man” on which Steve Miller asks “When the wind blows you home to the shores of home, will you be one of those who killed another man?” While that may seem a strange question now, in the USA of 1970, this was a profound issue. It’s rightly over dramatic and ends a good solid safe rock album.