Gerry Rafferty (1947-2011): An Appreciation

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Editor’s note: Here’s a repost of our review of 1978’s City to City by Gerry Rafferty, who died today in London from liver failure after a lengthy battle with alcoholism. Rafferty scored Top 10 hits first with Stealers Wheel (“Stuck in the Middle”) and then with his own “Baker Street” from this recording. City to City sold more than 5.5 million copies worldwide, as Rafferty’s sax-driven song named for a London roadway went all the way to No. 2. Last October, BMI announced that “Baker Street” has been played more than five million times worldwide. Rafferty was 63.

by Nick DeRiso

There is, inside of Gerry Rafferty’s most famous album — and, as a solo artist, his most famous song — this sense of rebirth, of finding one’s way again.

“When you wake up, it’s a new morning,” he sings on “Baker Street,” “the sun is shining, it’s a new morning … you’re going, you’re going home …”

Forget the way time has softened this tune, nearly filed it down into Muzak. “Baker Street,” and the bulk of Rafferty’s City to City, still sounds like a very adult look back at weary-eyed adenoidal wonder.

Rafferty captures both every teen’s overwrought personal manifest destiny — the record is a damn good excuse for driving too fast with the windows rolled down, because tomorrow’s got to be better and anywhere is better than here — even while he reconciles with finding, finally, what you are looking for.

Of course Rafferty’s voice, sad but hopeful, sounded familiar — even if nobody knew his name, since he’d had a 1973 hit with “Stuck in the Middle With You” as part of the band Stealers Wheel. But that project ended in a nest of legal problems, and it would be years before Rafferty could untangle himself for a solo career.

That time away, then, was part of what made City to City — powered by the singles “Baker Street” (No. 2 in the U.S. and No. 3 in Britain; embedded below), “Right Down the Line” and “Home and Dry” — such a jolting surprise. The album eventually sold more than 5.5 million copies, and remained on the charts for 49 weeks.

I’ve always thought, too, that City to City sold so well because it sounded like the great, lost Paul McCartney album of the period — filled with shuddering joy yet also a resigned majesty nearly unmatched that year by anyone, Beatle or otherwise.

“Right Down the Line” (No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart; No. 1 on the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks charts) belied its lyrics with a refined sense of melodic melancholy. “Home and Dry” (No. 28 in the U.S. in early 1979), featured all of the studio tricks of the day — synths, strings, choirs of background vocalists — but transcended its time with an unabashful hopefulness that’s all but lost in the world of too-hip pop music anymore.

The capstone, of course, arrived by way of this souring, almost mythical sax solo on “Baker Street” by Rapheal Ravenscroft (a sessions player who’d worked with Pink Floyd, Marvin Gaye, Abba, and others).

There’s more to City to City, including the gospelly “Whatever’s Written In Your Heart,” the loopy “Mattie’s Rag,” the chugging title track, and the towering yet somehow intimate “Waiting for the Day.”

Still, for whatever reason, Rafferty never settled back into this sweet spot. His next album, 1979’s Night Owl, produced “Days Gone Down” and “Get It Right Next Time” — but neither could get past No. 17 on the charts. Then, he sank again into a curious obscurity.

No matter. Yearning yet forever young, my old vinyl version of City to City is a reverie that will always take me back. Back to “Baker Street,” back to teenage dreams of flight — to a place we could never be found, to a place far away from this town — but then, importantly, to our inevitable return.

It’s appropriate, for me, then that I still must dust off the old turntable — carefully preserved, yet stored away from my every-day grownup life — to get there.

Gerry Rafferty brings me full circle.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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