Thursday, January 6, 2011

He's Got This Dream About Buying Some Land

He's gonna give up the booze and the one-night stands...

Gerry Rafferty, best known for "Baker Street" and the Stealer's Wheel hit "Stuck in the Middle with You," is dead at age 63. Although his later career had few sucesses, he created at least three (and arguably four) nearly perfect pop songs.

I know three important things about Gerry Rafferty:

The name of his first solo album was Can I Have My Money Back?

The first Stealer's Wheel album (the one with "Stuck in the Middle with You") was produced by Lieber & Stoller ("Yakety Yak," "Jailhouse Rock," "Spanish Harlem," etc.). Rafferty had already quit the band by the time the record came out and started to sell millions.

And then there was a record store. In a mall. Where I found myself before I knew how uncool mall record stores were.

But in the carefully ranked pantheon of cool, record stores were still up there (even if they were in malls). And the record store clerks knew this and wanted you to know it too -- especially the ones who weren't quite cool enough to work to work in non-mall record stores.

So, while I was perusing the cut-outs, someone's Mom wandered up to the counter and asked for a Gerry Rafferty album. Except she didn't know the name Gerry Rafferty. Or the name of any of his songs. Instead, she asked if the clerk could identify a song for her. And then she started to sing (in a screechy, off-key way) the opening sax part of Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street."

The clerk let her go on for longer than he needed to. Then she stopped, somewhat embarrassed. And said she was going to get the record for her daughter, who loved the song.

A few years later, record store clerks would stop knowing much about music. A few years after that, record stores started to close and never come back. And now, you can limit your embarrassment to your smartphone because if you wanna know who sings any song in the world, hey, there's an app for that.

But this was back then.

"I know exactly what you're talking about," said the clerk. As he bounded up the aisle, I caught a glimpse of an intricate tattoo carefully hidden by a long-sleeve black t-shirt.

He picked through the albums, frowning, then squatted and went through the stacks stored below the inventory that was on display.

Finally, the clerk reared up to full height, as triumphant in his own way as the Raphael Ravenscraft sax solo on "Baker Street." As he handed the woman a record, I thought for a second the clerk (with hair all disheveled and eyes barely containing his fury at having to service the bourgeoisie) could have been a bear -- if bears listened to twitchy new wave bands and took speed in the woods.

The woman thanked the clerk and clutched the record to her. "My daughter will love this."

But when she turned back to walk to the cash register, I saw what she was carrying. It wasn't a Gerry Rafferty record at all -- it was a Sex Pistols album.

I looked at the clerk, who smiled conspiratorially at me, and held a finger to his lips.

Part of me knew it was wrong. But who was I to argue with anyone cool enough to work in a record store (even if it was in a mall)? And in pursuit of the cool and the dangerous, I didn't say anything. And who knows, maybe her daughter grew to love the Sex Pistols and became the bass player for an amazing pop-punk band (hopefully one that recognized how great a sax solo can sound).


Mister Pleasant said...

RIP Mr. Rafferty.

Those first three Stealers Wheel singles that he co-wrote are very near and dear to me.

As for your Baker Street story, it was certainly a dirty trick but it does make a great story. And gave me a big smile.

William V. Madison said...

That mall clerk was a smug little berk: "Baker Street" is a great song, although to this day I have no idea what it's about. ("Anarchy in the U.K.," on the other hand, I never had any trouble understanding, on any level.)

Moreover and more personally, "Baker Street" is that rare pop song I associate with the kinds of stories you tell here. Gerry Rafferty might have linked you or me, or both of us to that woman's daughter. Or something. Now we'll never know.

And if Rafferty could write a handful of songs that good, imagine what he might have done if he'd ever applied himself! Should we be grateful for what we got, or remorseful for what we'll never hear?

Alex said...

Mr. P, I haven't gone very deep on either Rafferty's solo stuff or Stealer's Wheel -- but I'm going to explore it further.

Bill, I agree completely. And wish I'd been less willing to condemn something so good just because it wasn't flashy or cool. (And is it a cop-out to say we should be both grateful and remorseful?)

tbrough said...

From what I recall, Rafferty wrote about Baker Street after he and Joe Egan had a chance meeting post-Wheel. And I am still yearning for the US 45 mix of "Everything Will Turn Out Fine," which I have discovred is on certain pressings of the reissued "Ferguslie Park" CD.

WZJN said...

To this very day, I'll still turn it up if Baker Street hits a station I'm tuned into. One of those songs that never seems to get old.

Great choice - thanks.

WZJN said...

Meant to post this on my comment but forgot - have you ever heard Baker Street done by the Foo Fighters? They do it justice.

Alex said...

I just heard the Foo Fighters version a few days ago -- very cool cover.

robert thomas kuhlmann said...

I always had a soft spot for Baker Street, but more because of the obscenely catchy Rapheal Ravenscroft solo than the lyrical content.

BTW, as a veteran record store employee, it's hard to believe that any mall store actually had a copy of a Sex Pistols record in 1978 :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I didn't really realize what a great lyric writer he was.