Friday, January 7, 2011

Stuck in the Middle

With all due respect to the recently deceased.

Tonight, I was working from home. I read a bit, did my dishes, and then headed out to a local restaurant/bar in my overly-hip and totally uncool Brooklyn neighborhood. I sat down at the bar to eat as I always do when I go out for a late dinner by myself. I know the owner and the staff fairly well, and I like them all very much. There were a group of men sitting at the bar who had all probably had too much to drink about an hour before I showed up. I tried to ignore them as they were deciding where True Grit ranked in the pantheon of Coen Brothers films, and one of them, who seemed to dominate the conversation by talking more loudly than the rest, (as drunks are prone to do), was starting to get on my nerves, "somewhere below Lebowski, and above Fargo," he said. The others cheered him on.

I talked a little bit to the bartender, a friend (who's probably in his late 20s or early 30s) as I finished eating. "Time for some Rafferty," he said. I shook my head in disbelief. "He's too young to know," I thought to myself. He walked over to the stereo, and with a remote control, there it was, the opening bars of "Baker Street," the monstrously huge hit from 1978.

And then the saxophone.

I excused myself and walked outside to have a cigarette. I could still hear the song clearly, and watched the guys at the bar through the plate glass windows fall all over themselves with excitement while pantomiming to the song. What the fuck? I was amused, but this record is still, after all these years, lame. I stayed outside until it was over, but heard it all including the cheesy guitar solo I had forgotten all about. It touched a raw nerve I guess. Maybe some suppressed memory from a Jr. High School dance. I'm not sure.

In the year of it's release, I turned 13 years old and was very much into music. There were some great records that year. A few that come to mind off the top of my head are: Road to Ruin by the Ramones, the vastly under-rated Street Legal by Dylan, Darkness on The Edge of Town by Bruce Springsteen, and the Rolling Stones last moment of true greatness, Some Girls. And while at least two of those records got a fair amount of radio play, a lot of things didn't. The airwaves were dominated by the worst of the worst: Styx, Kansas, Boston, Rush and Journey (a band who has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in recent years, by those too young to remember that they sucked then and will always suck.)

That same year, Elvis Costello, released, This Year's Model with the song "Radio Radio," which got him all but banned from my hometown when the corporate rock radio station KSHE, that sponsored his local appearance were not amused when he dedicated that very song to them. They deserved it then and still do.

"...and the radio is in the hand's of such a lot of fools trying to anaesthetize the way you feel."

Elvis got into a lot of trouble that year, most notably, when he played that same song--after being instructed not to do so-- on Saturday Night Live (the appearance was actually late 1977). Costello started playing the scheduled song, "Less Than Zero" from his then current record, My Aim Is True, and abruptly stopped the band, and announced "I'm sorry Ladies and Gentlemen, there's no reason to do this song here." He then called out "Radio Radio" to the band and launched into it. It's live television at it's finest. Producer Lorne Michaels was also not amused. You can't watch it on YouTube, but it is available HERE. Costello recreated that moment with a planned bum-rush on the Beastie Boys who backed him on SNL's 25th anniversary show.

The purpose of this rant is not to disrespect Gerry Rafferty. He was probably an okay guy, and while I admit I don't know that much about him, I am a fan of his first hit record, "Stuck in The Middle With You," which he recorded in 1972 while fronting Stealers Wheel. It's a good record, but it is, after all, a pretty good imitation of John Lennon imitating Bob Dylan. It's best known today as the soundtrack to Michael Madsen's sociopathic character "Mr. Blonde," in a gruesome torture scene from Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. I much more prefer this song than his cheeseball fluff of six years later.


"Stuck In The Middle With You" mp3
by Stealers Wheel, 1972.
available on Stealers Wheel

"Radio Radio" mp3
by Elvis Costello and the Attractions, 1978.
available on Live at the El Mocambo


steve simels said...

Rafferty? This is one the you need to hear.

Seriously -- no better single was released in 1973.

BTW -- I love this place, and have downloaded from it copiously.

Unknown said...

Great post, Ted, and you matched my indifference to Rafferty perfectly. What is also good is the distinction you make between hip and cool. Hipsters who try too hard are scenesters, looking for attention, and hipsters who persist simply just are who they are, and give no shits about it.

I also appreciate hearing a mono recording every now and then, though the stereo version is sufficiently well done that it's hardly necessary. I just like mono in the car and on my headphones sometimes.

Steve Pick said...

Very nice, Ted. I think you hit the nail on the head when you pointed out the bartender was too young to know the terrors of the establishment rock hegemony of the late 70s. I don't even hate "Baker Street" the way you do, but it was part of the enemy keeping all those great records off the air. "Stuck in the Middle" is indeed, much better, but there were even better Stealers Wheel songs, though I only first heard them the other day when a co-worker at Euclid Records threw on an old album.

Anonymous said...

just picked up Springsteen's 'The Promise' box set companion book, amazing original photos and stories frm the Darkness tour. Limited Edition

Anonymous said...

Hi Ted, Will here. I am glad to see that Gerry Rafferty's passing has not gone unnoticed, although I'm a bit surprised how many bloggers have posted about him. I see somebody beat me to linking to "Everyone's Agreed..." I bought that when it came out and still have my very beat-up copy. And bought Ferguslie Park and Can I Have My Money Back? when they came out, too. I no longer have the latter, not sure about Ferguslie.

Somebody please explain to me which one Rafferty is in the Stealers Wheel video for "Stuck in the Middle." If that's Joe Egan singing, I don't see Rafferty. And if that's Egan singing, it's not Rafferty. And if it's not Egan singing, explain this: And don't tell me that this is not the guy who sang "Stuck...":

So where's Joe Egan?

AntoniaJim said...

So here I am scanning your blog and what do I see but a mention of KSHE and corp. radio. I have a friend who says Kshe must be the richest station around because the haven't gotten a new album/cd in 30 someodd years. You can tune in any day of the week and most probably will hear Golden Country or Wheel In the Sky. All I have to say is "Thank God for KDHX and all the wonderful programs and hosts any time of the day, any day of the week. None of the hits all of the time."

Anonymous said...

Ok, I confess, I've always had a weakness for Baker Street. Great post though. W.