Having a hit single the first time around is either a blessing or a curse. It’s a blessing because most musicians dream of instant recognition, but on the other hand sudden success means there’s a lot to account for when it comes to future endeavors. The pressure is on to create something just as fabulous if not better.
And that leads us to Stealers Wheel, a band from Paisley, Scotland, that bumped up against the too much, too soon dilemma.
Early-1973 saw the band’s debut single, “Stuck In The Middle With You” soar to the No. 6 slot on the charts, which immediately made them the toast of the music community. But they quickly met with internal issues, prompting them to dismantle. They eventually got back together though, with a shift in personnel, and in 1974, “Star” barely scraped the Top 30. After that, Stealers Wheel struggled to stay afloat. Disagreements between band members, coupled with a bountiful of business problems drove the group to their death.
Thankfully, the music survived, and Stuck In The Middle With You: The Hits Collection (Spectrum Music) holds forth as a sterling summary of the band’s greatest moments.
Fronted by the rather easy-going vocals of Gerry Rafferty, Stealers Wheel exhibited a sound and style very similar to the latter day Beatles and Badfinger. The band’s material was always finely honed, accented by sheets of firm melodies and crafty arrangements. Despite the fact Stealers Wheel did not always see eye to eye on a personal level, they were definitely on the same page musically.
[GERRY RAFFERTY -- AN APPRECIATION: We always thought 'City to City' sold so well because it sounded like the great, lost Paul McCartney album of the period.]
Splattered with handclaps and an infectious head-nodding groove, “Stuck In The Middle With You” is the tune Stealers Wheel is best remembered for. And it’s not hard to hear why, as every bit, every move and every nuance of the song is so incredibly catchy. Ruled by the band’s trademark attire sewn of supple harmonies, rich hooks and compact instrumentation, “You Put Something Inside Me,” “Star,” “Good Businessman,” “Everything’ll Turn Out Fine” and “Johnny’s Song” are all but a brief rundown of additional jewels featured on the disc.
Combining soft and gentle textures with a potent pop-rock edge, Stealers Wheel sported commercial appeal in spades. As mentioned, the Beatles were obvious role models, and on certain tracks you would swear it was George Harrison playing guitar. Strands of bleating horns also emerge here and there, while a strong folk influence further administers a fair amount of the compositions.
Prior to the formation of Stealers Wheel, Gerry Rafferty had a relatively fruitful solo career, and returned to the solitary route upon leaving the band. In 1978 and 1979, he garnered colossal fame with a series of hit singles, including “Baker Street,” “Right Down The Line,” “Home And Dry,” “Days Gone Down (Still Got The Light In Your Eyes)” and “Get It Right The Next Time.” But that was pretty much it, and he ultimately vanished from sight.
Gerry Rafferty sadly passed on in January of 2011. A talented singer and songwriter, he was never that comfortable in the spotlight, and his unassuming manner was evident in his frank and poetic tunes.