Give a little bit MORE of your love to them. Because they’ve been re-mastered, you know . . .
When it comes to today’s generation of pop groups, it’s the letter B that gets all the glory when it comes to naming influences. The Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Byrds tend to get the most credit for inspiring musicians to pick up an instrument and start emulating; from there, there’s Big Star, the Bee Gees, and Badfinger.
These are pretty obvious (and valid) picks, all of them.
There are, however, some influences who’ve quite a bit of influence as well, even though they don’t tend to get mentioned in the same breath on quite as regular a basis.
You’ve got your Queen, who produced quite a bit more than just “We Will Rock You”, “We Are the Champions”, and “Another One Bites the Dust”. You’ve got your 10CC, who said “I’m Not in Love”, then waxed lyrical on “The Things We Do for Love”. And, of course, you can never forget ELO, mostly because Jeff Lynne won’t let you.
But you’ve also got your Supertramp.
Album-oriented radio, as it’s done to countless other artists, has diminished the impact of Supertramp over the years, though, leaving the casual listener with the impression that the band had a few good tracks, but, ultimately, not much else. Most folks who didn’t come of age during the ‘70s probably couldn’t even tell you the name of a single Supertramp album, though they might ask, “Does The Very Best of Supertramp count?”
But if actually you lived through the ‘70s, then not only would the phrase Breakfast in America erupt through your lips, but you could probably identify its album cover from half a block away.
A&M Records has taken to re-issuing the band’s seminal work in re-mastered form, and, when you’re talking about Supertramp, “seminal” begins with their third album.
I’m not sure how this piece of trivia got past me for lo these many years, but until researching the band’s history for this review, I was unaware that Supertramp actually got its start courtesy of a young Dutch millionaire named Stanley August Miesegaes. Miesegaes, it seems, was friends with Rick Davies, and, though it sounds suspiciously like an apocryphal anecdote, the story goes that, in 1969, the poor little rich boy offered Davies the opportunity to form a band and put the cost on his tab.
After an ad in Melody Maker, Supertramp was born. And, then, after two not-very-successful albums (a self-titled debut, followed by Indelibly Stamped, neither of which warranted re-mastering in A&M’s eyes), Miesegaes withdrew his financial support, leaving Supertramp without much in the way of money or fans. Ouch. That’s gotta hurt.
But then 1974 rolled around, and the band released the aforementioned third album, Crime of the Century. And unlike its predecessors, Crime of the Century had far less in the way of prog-rock noodlings, instead showing the band evolving toward more of a pop sound. Indeed, this was the album that produced “Bloody Well Right” and “Dreamer”; it also contains the lesser-known album track “If Everyone Was Listening” a song which, though it didn’t make the cut for the band’s first best-of, scored inclusion on Volume 2.
Next up was Crisis? What Crisis? , which showed the band finding their way closer and closer to the middle ground between prog and pop, though it doesn’t possess any song that screams “hit single”. Certainly, the album possesses a stellar pair of openers in the form of “Easy Does It” and “Sister Moonshine”. “Ain’t Nobody But Me” may not be any great shakes, but “A Soapbox Opera” more than makes up for it. Meanwhile, Jellyfish missed an opportunity by not covering “Poor Boy”. (In fact, when you come right down to it, when you look at their song arrangements after listening to these re-issues, it becomes clear that Jellyfish were probably just as inspired by Supertramp as they were by Queen, or anyone else for that matter.)
Even In The Quietest Moments followed much the same format as its predecessor, although it did remedy one error right up front, providing the band with an unforgettable hit single in the form of “Give A Little Bit” as the album’s opener. The instrument that graces the album cover is no coincidence because the material is almost entirely piano-based. Although some of the songs are a bit long (the album only has seven songs, and four of them are over 7 minutes in length), each track is a pop symphony unto itself. “Fool’s Overture”, the album’s closer, is positively epic in scale (10+ minutes), with a keyboard bit somewhere around the 3-minute mark that may or may not have been cribbed by the Buggles for their song “Living in the Plastic Age”.
Still, as strong as Even in the Quietest Moments may have been, it was its follow-up that was the band’s defining moment. Of course, it was also the watershed album in the band’s career, because, y’know, how can you top Breakfast In America?
The answer, inevitably, is that you can’t.
And Supertramp didn’t.
When they finally got around to releasing the follow-up studio album, Famous Last Words, the best song they could muster as a single was “It’s Raining Again”. No, it’s not a bad song, but when you compare it to Breakfast in America‘s “The Logical Song”, “Goodbye Stranger”, and “Take the Long Way Home”, it’s certainly not up to those standards.
Neither history nor the majority of Supertramp’s fans would deny that Breakfast in America is the strongest album in the band’s discography. From “Gone Hollywood” all the way through the grand finale, “Child of Vision”, this is an unabashedly melodic record. Almost entirely free of pretense and limited in pomposity, it’s just good old-fashioned pop music. It might not be a generation-defining album like Frampton Comes Alive, but very few individuals escaped the ‘70s without having the melodies from at least one or two of this album’s tracks stuck in the back of their mind for the rest of their lives.
It’s pretty easy to rank these four re-issues. Start with Breakfast in America and work your way back. And ignore anyone who says you only need a best-of collection. Once you’ve actually heard it, you’ll find that, unlike the albums that came before and after it, Breakfast in America is absolutely indispensable.
Still, it’s a shame about the name, don’t you think? I mean, honestly: Supertramp? Even now, that’s got to rank as one of the 10 worst band names ever.