Almost Hits: Steve Winwood, “Arc of a Diver” (1980)

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A harbinger — be that good or bad — of what was to come as arena-rock morphed into synth-driven MTV fare, Steve Winwood’s Arc of a Diver smoothed the way for a smash return in the 1980s. And there wasn’t a better song on it, not even the Top 10 smash hit “While You See a Chance,” than this one — though the elliptical, atmospheric “Arc of the Diver” only rose to No. 48.

Working in the purpled mid-tempo that always best suited Winwood’s Ray Charles-influenced vocal approach, this track’s longing tribute to the elusive muse finds him collaborating with lyricist Viv Stanshall rather than Will Jennings — whose rather ordinary narratives on tracks like “While You See a Chance” haven’t aged nearly as well.

There seemed to be something more personal going on here. Lost, it seemed, after a whirlwind trip through rock stardom that began as a teen in the Spencer Davis Group, then continued through Traffic, Blind Faith and then Traffic again, Winwood set about recording what would become very much solo effort in Arc of Diver after a lengthy period of solace at a farm on the British countryside. Only in his early 30s, it seemed Winwood was washed up.

Then came this, from an album on which he played every instrument, and after that rudimentary comeback hit: a song that thrummed with poetical emotion, a song about overcoming creative adversity, a song that brilliantly said all of this without ever spelling it out. Sure, Winwood had enjoyed similar collaborative successes before. All it took was a soon-to-be-ubiquitous Yamaha DX-7 to make everything sound brand new.

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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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