On this special edition of Something Else Reviews’ One Track Mind, we hand the reins over Supertramp co-founder Roger Hodgson, whose first U.S. tour since 1983 is underway.
Find out how a sound effect from a hand-held Mattel football game made it onto one of Supertramp’s biggest singles. Why time means nothing to Hodgson when he’s composing. And how “Give A Little Bit” would have been the singer-songwriter’s personal anthem, whether it ever sold or not …
“THE LOGICAL SONG,” with SUPERTRAMP (BREAKFAST IN AMERICA, 1979): Called a “small masterpiece” by Rolling Stone, this track ended up settling in for a three-month stay on the U.S. singles charts in 1979. It remains a telling examination on the loss of childhood idealism, but at the same time “The Logical Song” was also marked by a Beatlesque sense of cheeky pop-song gumption — from the pains the band took to get the saxophone sound just right (reportedly repairing to a stairwell, then a bathroom) to the addition of a couple of contemporary sound effects, including a Mattel electronic hand-held football game.
ROGER HODGSON: (Laughs.) One of the band, I can’t remember who, was in sitting room of the studio, playing away on this video game. We’d hear that sound, over and over, coming from the other room. I think, at some point, we decided: Why don’t we put that sound on it? And it worked. We were always looking to create new sounds. There was a stairwell where we would put the saxophone, as well as the guitar, all sorts of things. We were always experimenting.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Supertramp was many things in its time — art-rockish proggers, post-Beatle popsters, kinda-classical rockers, memory-defining radio monoliths. What they never were: Forgettable.]
“FOOL’S OVERTURE,” with SUPERTRAMP (EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS, 1977): Fans of Supertramp’s compact radio hits might be taken aback by long-form compositions like this one, as it stretched to nearly 11 minutes. An episodic, very prog-rock collage of sounds, the original album-closing track features excerpts of Winston Churchill’s legendary “Never Surrender” speech to the House of Commons in 1940, a flash of Gustav’s Holtz’s “Venus,” a reading from Blake, even a snippet of Supertramp’s own track “Dreamer.” Listen closely, too, and you’ll even hear whispers of the Beatles’ “Fool on the Hill,” as well. Hodgson says his muse dictates how these things go.
ROGER HODGSON: I’ve always written longer songs, but then shorter ones, too — “Breakfast in America” is under three minutes. I don’t think, when I’m writing a song, that time ever enters into it. The song will be whatever it wants to be. I know that, when I start writing. I just have a natural feeling of where it needs to go, or how long it needs to be. “Fool’s Overture” was a pretty magical piece of music that came together out of three different pieces that I had had for about five years. One day, they all kind of stuck together and became the piece that I called “Fool’s Overture.” It’s still gives me goosebumps, playing that piece on stage.
“MY MAGAZINE,” solo (HAI HAI, 1987): This song, in its own cool rocking way, helps illuminate another often forgotten side of Roger Hodgson’s complex songcraft. Typically tagged as a pop ballad composer, he plugged in for “My Magazine” — offering one of his most unabashedly gritty sides. Unfortunately, it was part of a second solo LP that got widely panned for hewing too closely to the synthesized sounds of the day — despite having been co-produced by Jack Joseph Puig (who’d later work with No Doubt and Black Crowes) and featuring David Paich and Jeff and Steve Porcaro of Toto, as well as Omar Hakim, Nathan East, Lenny Castro and Leland Sklar, among others. Still, as Hodgson directs his venom at media miscreants (“Screw the facts, I can give you fantasy”), it’s hard not to connect the track to contemporary events like the widening scandal involving phone hacking by London’s now defunct News of the World. In that way, “My Magazine” feels even more timely today.
ROGER HODGSON: I love that song! It definitely didn’t go down too well with the fans. But I think it represents a part of me, and I love it. It didn’t quite come out as well I had hoped, but I had all of the Toto guys on it and — I don’t know, it’s got a great attitude. And with everything that’s happening with Rupert Murdoch, you’re right, it’s very relevant.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Every one remembers Supertramp’s hit-making era in the late 1970s. There were other times, however, when we wanted to tell them: “goodbye, stranger.”]
“SCHOOL,” with SUPERTRAMP (CRIME OF THE CENTURY, 1974): This jazz fusion-informed gem has long been obscured by a pair of seminal hits that helped propel Supertramp to its long-awaited commercial breakthrough. The group’s third album, of course, featured “Dreamer” and “Bloody Well Right,” helping Supertramp to the Top 10 in the UK and to gold-selling status in America. But “School,” in many ways, is the better song, if only because it distills so many of the band’s strengths. There’s the free-form creativity of its construction, the plaintive lyric (part nostalgia, part fitful rebellion), and a musical specificity that simply leaps out of the speakers — from the vivid piano lead, to the growling harmonica, to the thudding bass. “School” is a Supertramp manifesto.
ROGER HODGSON: Traditionally, the pop song is verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus — and “School” was nothing like that. There were a lot of different sections. There’s no rule, really. I think rules don’t work if you are an artist. You have to be free to let the songs go where they want to go.
“GIVE A LITTLE BIT,” with SUPERTRAMP (EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS, 1977): Hodgson’s easy-going, sing-along paean to the Golden Rule served as this album’s opening track, and became a huge hit. From there, “Give A Little Bit” could be found in countless movies (including the original 1978 version of “Superman”), in a string of Gap commercials in 2001, as part of numerous charitable causes (including commercials for funds set up to aid victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in 2005), and all over the radio yet again when the Goo Goo Dolls produced a mid-2000s remake that went Top 40. It’s perhaps of little surprise then that “Give A Little Bit” has also became something of a personal anthem for Hodgson, the song he’s perhaps most associated with — and his concert closer. He says that would have been the case, though, even it hadn’t shot to No. 15 on the Billboard pop singles chart.
ROGER HODGSON: I’ve always believed in love. I’ve always longed for love. It was written at the end of the 1960s, when there was a lot of hope. The whole movement was very powerful, back then. The Beatles had written “All You Need is Love,” and that might have influenced me, too. I think the wonderful thing about “Give A Little Bit” is how it’s stood the test of time. It’s still a song that’s in such great demand, from charities and fundraisers. It captures a much-needed spirit, right now, in a world where we are facing so many problems. We really do need to pull together, and give more than take. We need to share what we can, and that’s basically what the song says. In my shows, I usually play that as the final song — and after two hours of warming the audience up, and opening them up, it’s like the cream on the top of the cake. I start playing that song, and everyone just smiles from ear to ear and starts hugging each other and singing with me. It’s a very unifying song.
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