Song of the Week, Part Deux: “Baker Street”

Greg’s all Dusty-Dusty-Dusty today, but I just wanted to mention that it’s Gerry Rafferty’s birthday today, too. He was a one-hit-wonder in 1972 with “Stuck in the Middle with You” with Stealer’s Wheel and then got into a legal foofah that had him spinning his own wheels for a few years.

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He came back big time in 1978 with another one-hit-wonder kinda hit, but this one was one of the greatest pop songs of all time. Not because of the vocals, which are kind of mewling. The lyrics, about Rafferty’s experiences as a street busker, are competent but nothing special. It has a really nice chord progression, although the resolutions are a little emotionally manipulative.

What really makes it memorable is THAT saxophone riff paired with the descending guitar slide behind it, four bars that encapsulate the ecstacy of pop music. It’s a pretty good song made absolutely stellar by great performances, arrangements and production. How great? Many have tried to cover this song and nobody, but nobody has ever pulled it off:

Country outlaw Waylon Jennings and his under-rehearsed band did a weird, clunky version that he can’t figure out how to sing.

British pop pioneers The Shadows did a well-meaning, lite-jazz version that I can imagine hearing in the dentist’s office during a root canal.

Don’t even get me started on the electronica cover versions and remixes. Undercover recorded a completely souless disco version (and this coming from someone who really likes disco) that sounds like it was recorded in dorm room by a college band who accidentally tripped over a drum machine on their way home from math class. And Michael Mind’s techno version has better sound production but even less passion (ironic since the accompanying video is remiscent of a soft-porn underwear commercial).

Jars of Clay did a live version which I’m sincerely hoping was better in person than the stiffly rendered performance caught in this fan video.

American Idol finalist Ace Young’s performance with saxophonist Michael Lington on the MDA Telethon in 2008 is actually one of the better versions I’ve found. Overly ernest and a little on the glossy side, but a nice arrangement, especially at the end; it’s an ambitious arrangement that they almost nailed.

Even the post-punk-alterna-new-hope-for-rock Foo Fighters give it a try with their often used quiet-verse/loud-crunchy-chorus approach. Meh.

Happily, Rafferty held on to his publishing rights and still receives substantial royalties on the song. And although his life over the past years has been the subject of rumors of alcoholism, disappearances and destroyed hotel rooms, he released a new album in late 2009 with six previously unreleased tracks as well as remastered tracks from his last three albums: On A Wing And A Prayer (1993), Over My Head (1994) and Another World (2000).

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