Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Stealers Wheel - Selftitled (Scottish Folkrock UK 1972)


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Source: Japan SHM-CD Remaster

Stealers Wheel is the debut 1972 album by the Scottish folk rock band Stealers Wheel.

Encased in a classy sleeve painted by Scottish playwright John "Patrick" Byrne, the first LP from the tumultuous Stealers Wheel is a debonair affair comprised of the kind of accomplished and polished pub pop for which impetus Gerry Rafferty would become known as he subsequently rode out the decade on the sublime radio single "Baker Street ." Rafferty released his first solo slab, Can I Have My Money Back? (the title already showing signs of unrest) in 1971, and brought amigo Joe Egan from those sessions to the princely proceeding here. 

Worthy musical moments abound, all forever overshadowed by the clever corporate-snub "Stuck in the Middle With You" which branded the duo a one-hit wonder when the track took on a life of its own. Sadly, the song also foreshadowed the premature end of Stealers Wheel, and Rafferty and Egan continued to document the personal and professional turmoil of their short time together throughout their respective solo careers, even re-recording some of these early jewels. And though only Rafferty's star continued to rise, Egan harbors considerable talent as well, shining brightly on his Rubber Soul-influenced tapestry "Another Meaning"; however, he keeps bland company with Bad Company with the dumb thud of "I Get By." 

Meanwhile, Rafferty creates one of those oh-so-cosmic '70s grooves for "Outside Looking In," before being unfortunately caught in one of those oh-so-abrupt '70s fades at the end of side one. This vibe wouldn't be broken so drastically on CD, but for now, and seemingly forever, the platter must be flipped for the unique "Johnny's Song" wherein mountain-rock breaks surround Rafferty's wry life observations. Hidden nugget "Next to Me" extols mellow melancholy meditations exclusive to the West Coast and the Have a Nice Day Decade. 

Closing pastorale "You Put Something Better Inside of Me" inspired renditions by Ted Neeley and Raphael Ravenscroft. Ultimately, this very solid outing casts a somber shadow because of unfulfilled expectations. And any record this carefully crafted doesn't deserve to languish in the bins of obscurity, but such seems to be the fate of Stealers Wheel. At least the band will always be remembered through the cinematic revival of that supreme FM staple "Stuck in the Middle With You." 

Stealers Wheel are a Scottish folk rock/rock band formed in Paisley, Renfrewshire in 1972 by former school friends Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty.

Rafferty and Egan first met when they were teenagers in Paisley and they became the core of Stealers Wheel. In the early 1970s, the band was considered to be the British version of American folk/rock supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. They were initially joined by Roger Brown, Rab Noakes and Ian Campbell in 1972. However, that line-up only lasted a few months and by the time the band were signed to A&M Records later that same year, Brown, Noakes and Campbell had been replaced by Paul Pilnick, Tony Williams and Rod Coombes. This line-up recorded their self-titled debut album, Stealers Wheel and was produced by the influential American songwriters and producers Leiber & Stoller. The album was a critical and commercial success, reaching #50 in the US Billboard 200 album chart, with their million selling hit single "Stuck in the Middle with You", coming from the album.

Stealers Wheel - Italy Single 1972
By the time the first album was released Rafferty had left the band to be replaced by Luther Grosvenor, who remained with the band for much of 1973 on tour. DeLisle Harper also replaced Tony Williams on tour. "Stuck in the Middle With You" reached #6 in the US Billboard Hot 100 and #8 in the UK Singles Chart in 1973, and sold over one million copies worldwide, and with the album also selling well, Rafferty was persuaded to return. However, Grosvenor, Coombes and Pilnick all left the band. With so many changes in the band's line-up they officially became a duo, with backing musicians as needed on tour and in the studio. Later in 1973 the single "Everyone's Agreed That Everything Will Turn Out Fine" had modest chart success (the single version is different from the album version and all subsequent CD's) and, in 1974, the single "Star" reached the Top 30 of both the UK and US charts. Reviewing the single "Star", David Middleton at PopRockNation wrote:

"A catchy shuffle of the Lennonesque variety, "Star" is 3 minutes of pure shimmering acoustic-guitar pop loveliness and honey-throated vocal harmonies, punctuated with spikes of harmonica, kazoo, woodblock, and bawdy barrelhouse piano."

A second album Ferguslie Park was released in 1974, with the duo backed up by nine backing musicians. The album, named after an area of Paisley, just reached the US Billboard 200 and was a commercial failure. With increasing tension between Rafferty and Egan they could not agree on which studio musicians to use on the third album, and with Leiber & Stoller also having business problems, Stealers Wheel disappeared for eighteen months. By the time the album Right Or Wrong was released in 1975, Stealers Wheel had ceased to exist.

The last album, because of disagreements and managerial problems, was produced by Mentor Williams. All three albums had sleeve designs by artist John Byrne.

After 1975 the group was hardly known, and the two last single releases faded away in the charts. Both Rafferty and Egan recorded songs which included lyrics referring to the acrimonious history of Stealers Wheel and a Best of Stealers Wheel album was released in 1990. In 1992 director Quentin Tarantino used the track "Stuck in the Middle with You" in the soundtrack of his debut film Reservoir Dogs, bringing new attention to the band.

Stealers Wheel - Netherland Single 1972
In September 2001 a dance version of "Stuck in the Middle with You" was a UK Top 10 hit for Louise, with a music video that drew heavily on the original song's appearance in the soundtrack of Reservoir Dogs.

All three albums have been unavailable for a number of years, although in 2004 and 2005 the British independent record label Lemon Recordings, of Cherry Red, re-released them with remastered sound and new liner-notes.

After being contacted by iTunes and K-tel records in California, Tony Williams re-formed Stealers Wheel in Blackpool in 2008 with two other original band members, Rod Coombes and Paul Pilnick, together with locally based musician and songwriter Tony Mitchell. On 10 November 2008 they started filming a music video for a re-release of "Stuck in the Middle" on the Fylde coast. They also began writing songs for an album due to have been released in 2009, although they have no plans to go on tour. Luther Grosvenor has expressed his interest in joining the band should they tour.

Gerry Rafferty died on 4 January 2011 after suffering liver failure.

Personnel:
Gerry Rafferty - guitar, lead vocals
Joe Egan - keyboards, lead vocals
 Paul Pilnick - lead guitar
 Tony Williams - bass
 Rod Coombes - drums

01. "Late Again"  Joe Egan, Gerry Rafferty  3:16
02. "Stuck in the Middle with You"  Egan, Rafferty  3:23
03. "Another Meaning"   Egan  3:01
04. "I Get By"  Egan  3:16
05. "Outside Looking In"  Rafferty  3:54
06. "Johnny's Song"  Rafferty  3:45
07. "Next to Me"  Egan, Rafferty  3:37
08. "José"  Egan  3:23
09. "Gets So Lonely"  Egan  2:57
10. "You Put Something Better Inside Me"  Egan, Rafferty  3:50

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7 comments:

snakeboy said...

Has this really been over 40+ years?
There is so much more to the band than the overplayed hit. Thanks you for the post.

Anonymous said...

This is one amazing album Chris .... curious to know ow it sounds against the cheery red records reissue of a few years back ....
Be safe and healthy.
Happy New Year.

juan manuel muñoz said...

many thanks chris. Cheers

Jay said...

Thanks for the great post. Another band deprived of the credit they deserve.

Daniel said...

Great "beatlesque" folk-rock, thanks Chris

Anonymous said...

Only had the Gerry Rafferty version of these excellent songs. Thanks.
JJ

Anonymous said...

Only had the Gerry Rafferty version of these excellent songs. Thanks.
JJ