The UK was always pretty good at creating pompously pretentious prog-rock – in fact we probably invented it. But when it came to geog-rock we lacked a little in the Big Thinking category. Americans could write about the expansive Route 66 and Highway 61, they could let their imaginations loose on the winsome Ventura Highway, ponder the meaning of Positively Fourth Street or powerhouse along Thunder Road. They could glamourize Broadway even if “all you got is one thin dime and one thin dime won’t even shine your shoes on Broadway.” We on the other hand had Blackberry Way (“absolutely pouring with rain, it’s a terrible day – goodbye Blackberry Way, I can’t see you, I don’t need you”), Penny Lane with its “barber showing photographs of every head he’s had the pleasure to know” and its banker who “never wears a mac in the pouring rain – very strange” and Pulp’s very specific 59 Lyndhurst Grove. Thankfully after 1978 at least we also had Baker Street with its unforgettable soaring saxophone riff, counterpart lead guitar work and the ever so distinctive lost voice of Gerry Rafferty. Seemingly arriving from almost nowhere Baker Street reached number one in America’s Cashbox chart and number two on the Billboard Hot 100. Additionally, it hit the top in Canada, reached number three in the UK, number one in Australia and South Africa, and hit the top 10 in the Netherlands. Almost certainly no-one saw that one coming – certainly not a few years earlier when Rafferty was part of The Humblebums, a Scottish folk rock band, based in Glasgow whose members included Billy Connolly (no, very few people saw that one coming either!) and guitarist Tam Harvey .The band was active from 1965 to 1971. Connolly co-founded the band with Harvey in 1965 and played in pubs and clubs around the city. Connolly sang, played banjo and guitar and entertained the audience with his humorous introductions to the songs. Harvey was an accomplished bluegrass guitarist. Rafferty joined later and for a short time they performed as a trio. However, Harvey departed shortly afterwards. The remaining duo broke up in the early 1970s after recording two albums of material. Connolly embarked on his mercurial solo career while Rafferty recorded a low-impact solo album, Can I Have My Money Back?, before forming Stealers Wheel with Joe Egan and coming up with the hugely influential 1974 hit Stuck In the Middle With You (remember the film Reservoir Dogs?). Named after Baker Street in London, his breakthrough song was included on Rafferty’s second solo album, City to City (1978), his first release after the resolution of legal problems surrounding the formal break-up of his old band, Stealers Wheel, in 1975. In the intervening three years, Rafferty had been unable to release any material because of disputes about the band’s remaining contractual recording obligations. He wrote the song whilst regularly travelling between his family home in Paisley and London, where he often stayed at a friend’s flat on, yes, you guessed it, Baker Street. As Rafferty later put it: “Everybody was suing each other, so I spent a lot of time on the overnight train from Glasgow to London for meetings with lawyers. I knew a guy who lived in a little flat off Baker Street. We’d sit and chat or play guitar there through the night.” He also spent a lot of time drinking, which he refers to in the lyrics, “light in your head and dead on your feet. Well another crazy day, you’ll drink the night away And forget about everything.” As well as: “He’s got this dream about buyin’ some land. He’s gonna give up the booze and the one night stands And then he’ll settle down, there’s a quiet little town And forget about everything” but also admits a change in lifestyle is unlikely even if the lawsuits are resolved: “But you know he’ll always keep movin’ You know he’s never gonna stop movin’ ‘Cause he’s rollin’, he’s the rollin’ stone And when you wake up, it’s a new mornin’ The sun is shinin’, it’s a new mornin’ You’re goin’, you’re goin’ home.” Rafferty’s daughter Martha has said that the book that inspired the song more than any other was Colin Wilson’s The Outsider (1956) and its exploration of alienation and of creativity, born out of a longing to be connected. As for that unforgettable sax riff, Rafferty claimed that he wrote the hook with the original intention that it be sung. Session musician Raphael Ravenscroft remembered things differently, saying that he was presented with a song that contained “several gaps.” “In fact, most of what I played was an old blues riff,” stated Ravenscroft. “If you’re asking me: ‘Did Gerry hand me a piece of music to play?’ then no, he didn’t.” However, the 2011 reissue of City to City included the demo of Baker Street which included the saxophone part played on electric guitar by Rafferty. A very similar sax line, however, was originally played by saxophonist Steve Marcus for a song called Half A Heart, credited to vibraphonist Gary Burton, that appeared on Marcus’ 1968 album Tomorrow Never Knows. For his part Ravenscroft, was in the studio to record a brief soprano saxophone part and suggested that he record the break using the alto saxophone he had in his car. The part led to what became known as “the ‘Baker Street’ phenomenon”, a resurgence in the sales of saxophones and their use in mainstream pop music and television advertising. According to legend Ravenscroft received no payment for a song that earned Rafferty an annual income of £80,000. A cheque for £27 given to Ravenscroft was said to have bounced and was framed and hung on his solicitor’s wall. However, the story was later denied by Ravenscroft during an interview on BBC Radio 2’s Simon Mayo Drivetime show in 2012. Rafferty reputedly loathed the 1992 dance music version of Baker Street by Undercover, but it earned him another £1.5 million, selling around three million copies in Europe and America. He never let the song be used for advertising, despite lucrative offers. For many years plagued by alcohol problems, in November 2010, Rafferty was admitted to the Royal Bournemouth Hospital where he was put on a life-support machine and treated for multiple organ failure. After being taken off life support, Rafferty rallied for a short time, and doctors thought that he might recover but he died of liver failure at the home of his daughter Martha in Stroud, Gloucestershire, on 4 January 2011.
|Hugh Murphy, Gerry Rafferty