Supertramp’s golden era is generally understood to have been between 1974-79, spanning Crime of the Century through Breakfast in America. Perhaps predictably, none of our selections come from that period.
Before then, Supertramp was still trying to find their way, attempting with varying degrees of success to nail down the winning formula that would give Roger Hodgson, Rick Davies and Co. a pair of gold albums and then a four-times platinum smash in America in the bottom half of the 1970s. After 1982′s Famous Last Words, Supertramp would lose Hodgson to a solo career, and never quite regain its creative momentum.
WHEN GOOD BANDS DO BAD THINGS
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That doesn’t mean Supertramp didn’t manage a hit every now and then. (In fact, “Cannonball” went to No. 30 in the mid-1980s.) It just means we didn’t like too much of it … even, to be honest, “Cannonball” …
“ROSIE HAD EVERYTHING PLANNED,” INDELIBLY STAMPED (1971):
I wish Rosie had planned to keep this one in the can and spared our ears. Indelibly Stamped was an improvement over Supertramp’s self-titled 1970 debut, and there was some good stuff on it. There were even glimpses of the greatness to come on Crime of the Century to be found elsewhere. Unfortunately, the band was still trying to find their footing — and there are several songs on Indelibly Stamped that sound too much like Supertramp trying to be a different band, when that band was already out there — and doing a far better job of it than they were. “Rosie Had Everything Planned” fits that mold.
“CANNONBALL,” BROTHER WHERE YOU BOUND (1985):
I know this was a minor hit for Supertramp when it was released, but I don’t get it. I really don’t; I never have. The only justification for it being a hit is maybe enough other people were putting out even worse music at the same time that it was actually a decent song in that context. That thought makes me weep for the state of the music industry in 1985.
“FREE AS A BIRD,” FREE AS A BIRD (1987):
Considering how great this band once was, this track is downright painful to listen to. Utterly uninspired. Not even a decent John Helliwell sax solo can pull the song out of its quicksand of mediocrity.
“MAYBE I’M A BEGGAR,” SUPERTRAMP (1970):
The flute solo that starts the song is shrill and unpleasant, and Roger Hodgson’s vocals warble with uncertainty. He sounds as if he was recorded in the restroom of a London tube station, and the music is generally pretentious and overblown. Supertramp was latching onto the last vestiges of the dying psychedelic era. Unfortunately, even when the album was released, that genre had run its course.
“WHERE I STAND,” FREE AS A BIRD (1987):
Other than Davies’ vocals, there’s nothing about this song that sounds like Supertramp. In fact, while there are a few songs on the album that suggest classic Supertramp, the whole of Free as a Bird is rather pedestrian. This is one of the worst songs, however, because of its production style — over-done and sterile, like the worst of 1980s music. “Where I Stand With You” was dated before it even left the studio.