Monday, 10 January 2011

Do it on the microphone, thank you Gerald!

Last week saw the untimely passing of one of my all-time favourite artists - Gerry Rafferty. Rafferty was never particularly prolific, and indeed his output in the past ten years was limited to a half-dozen recordings (mostly hymns and other non-originals) which saw official release on 2009's sadly ironically-titled compilation Life Goes On. Despite, or perhaps, because of this, his catalogue is one of the most consistently excellent in rock. A shame then that he will forever be known solely for two hit singles, Stealers Wheel's Stuck in the Middle With You and, of course, his post SW solo smash, Baker Street. Not that either is a bad thing to be remembered for (both are true classics and deserve all the attention they get), but to me it just seems a tremendous shame that most people will never know of the other hundred or so equally brilliant songs he penned, from his days with Billy Connolly in the Humblebums, right through to his last proper album, 2000's Another World.

Most of his solo albums are out of print, but all are worth tracking down; if pressed to do so I would name 1988's North and South (see clip below) as my personal favourite. For me, while the Humblebums and Stealers Wheel albums contain their fair share of fine material, only the second SW album, the criminally overlooked Ferguslie Park, matches the quality of his solo output. Many obituaries have made the somewhat startling assertion that the quality of Rafferty's albums declined along with their sales; I would be shocked to learn that anybody writing such nonsense had ever heard any of those later albums (and if by any chance one of them had, and had an unwanted copy of 1994s extremely tricky to find Over My Head to pass on to a more appreciative set of ears I'd be glad to relieve them of it!).

In addition to falling into the trap of including such blatantly lazy generalisations and focusing too heavily on Rafferty's personal problems in later life, most reports of his death have mentioned that Baker Street alone was still generating an annual income of approx £80, 000 - while I'm sure royalties kept him more than comfortable I've yet to see this substantiated, so it looks like another one of those 'facts' that has been proven merely by the number of people reporting it. In any case the song has certainly generated income for somebody this week - death has always helped sales, and already Baker Street is back in the UK singles chart at #55, only two places lower than it managed when re-released (in remixed fashion) in 1990. Time will tell how long it sticks around, but I'd bet on it rising on next week's chart...if only downloading the song still got you the brilliant non-LP B-side Big Change in the Weather as featured on the old vinyl single I'd be purchasing it myself in a heartbeat! I can only hope that at least some of those buying the song for the first time will be encouraged to dig deeper - they will certainly be rewarded if they do.

Now, if only we die-hards could also be rewarded with a release containing Big Change...and his other B-sides and rarities we'd have something 'new' to remember Gerry by, something he was sadly unable or unwilling to provide himself in his last decade of time spent on Earth. Gerry, time may have caught up on you, but 'if ever we should meet in another life, I will recognise your soul' - rest in peace.

My recommendations - Gerry Rafferty: 

Top 5 albums:

Can I Have My Money Back? (1971)
Ferguslie Park  (with Stealers Wheel, 1974)
City to City (1978)
North and South (1988) (Features Shipyard Town; see video below)
On a Wing and a Prayer (1992)

Compilations:  There are many, but none can truly be called definitive, probably the best to date is One More Dream: The Very Best of... (1995)

Missing from my own collection: Over My Head (1994)

Avoid: Erm, nothing!

No comments:

Post a Comment