Gerry Rafferty

TrackAlbum
Mary SkeffingtonCan I Have My Money Back?
To Each And EveryoneCan I Have My Money Back?
Baker StreetCity To City
Family TreeNight Owl
Already GoneNight Owl
Welcome To HollywoodSnakes And Ladders
The Right MomentSleepwalking
Winter's ComeNorth And South
Don't Speak Of My HeartOn A Wing And A Prayer
The Light Of LoveOn A Wing And A Prayer

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Contributor: Damien Spanjer

My first contribution to Toppermost introduces Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty, best known for his 1978 mega-hit Baker Street, arguably one of the greatest balladeers of his era. Though he has written many up-tempo numbers, it is through the ballads that the magic of his Celtic-folk-infused melodic songwriting and velvet voice can be truly appreciated. This list excludes Rafferty’s work as half of The Humblebums and Stealers Wheel, both perhaps deserving of their own entry in the Toppermost Music Bank.

I’ve started the list with Mary Skeffington, a dreamy look back on his mother’s early life that evokes fond memories of his father, Joseph Rafferty. Curiously, the version that appears on CD/digital releases of Can I Have My Money Back? differs to the that of the original LP release. The LP version starts with an acoustic guitar intro yet the CD version features the synth/harmonium intro. A 2014 Rab Noakes release of Demos and Rarities Vol.2: Adventures with Gerry Rafferty includes the original LP version he recorded with Rafferty plus an acoustic version from 2001. The song holds up very well no matter how it is performed or by whom. Indeed, my talented compatriot Olivia Newton-John has covered two Gerry Rafferty songs during her career, Mary Skeffington and The Right Moment, both of which appear on this Toppermost.

Next up is another from Can I Have My Money Back?, Rafferty’s first album to be produced by Hugh Murphy marking the start of a three decade long creative partnership. To Each And Everyone narrowly beat Sign On The Dotted Line, featuring a lyric to which professional musicians reading this may well relate. Tempting as it was to stay with Can I Have My Money Back? for a third, maybe fourth or fifth entry in this Toppermost, it would leave no room for the gems which follow. To Each And Everyone won its place here for its lilting musicality and unusual fusion of genres. It’s 2:42 of Celtic Folk/Baroque Pop perfection.

Next up is the 1978 mega-hit Baker Street. No treatise on Gerry Rafferty could be complete without mentioning this epic pop masterpiece. Featuring one of the most recognisable saxophone solos in popular music (perhaps rivaled only by George Michael’s Careless Whisper), the song also has a lot of intricate detail in the arrangement that often goes unnoticed: for example the calypso counter-rhythms of the verse and the subtle piano flourish at 4:38 (as a pianist I notice stuff like that). Sadly, this immaculately produced hit would ultimately contribute to (and fund) Rafferty’s alcoholism as he failed to replicate its success.

Moving swiftly on to Night Owl where again I have selected two songs for inclusion. The first, Family Tree, opens with a delightful recorder ensemble reminiscent of the Baroque chamber music written before the recorder was mass produced as a plastic instrument of torture used against elementary school children, their parents and teachers. Already Gone has a George Harrison feel to it, and wouldn’t sound out of place on Somewhere In England. Rafferty cited the Beatles and Bob Dylan as significant influences and fans of both will find much to enjoy in the Scotsman’s body of work.

Welcome To Hollywood is a tongue-in-cheek dig at superficial hedonism highlighting the contrast of the night life and the morning after, complete with an unconvincingly American accented monologue (not Rafferty’s voice) extolling the virtues of LA. This one made the cut for its humour more than anything. By contrast, the introspective and sparsely arranged The Right Moment documented Rafferty’s desire to break free of the merciless album/tour cycle. This was indeed the right moment for Rafferty, as he took a six year break after the release of Sleepwalking.

Returning in 1988 with a more country-infused offering, North And South maintained its Celtic influences and featured some beautiful Irish low whistle and uilleann pipe and playing from Davy Spillane who would later take a prominent position as a soloist in the Riverdance phenomenon on the pipes. It was tricky to select a song from this album for inclusion as it is one of his most consistent albums and Rafferty was in fine voice. Clearly the break did him some good! In the end I settled on Winter’s Come for its atmospheric intro, Spillane’s piping and Rafferty’s tasteful guitar soloing. Unfortunately North And South is one of two Rafferty albums currently out of print (the other being 1994’s Over My Head) but it’s worth tracking this one down. If you happen to be a fan of the mellow country-folk of Mark Knopfler, North And South is certain to appeal.

This list closes with two tracks from 1992’s On A Wing And A Prayer, a body of work heavily influenced by Rafferty’s divorce – it really is an album for the lovelorn and certainly connected deeply with me when I first experienced heartbreak towards the end of the last century. Suffice to say it received a lot of airplay on my radio shows at the time.

Rafferty would release two more albums after On A Wing And A Prayer but the superb songwriting and production of this album, and particularly Don’t Speak Of My Heart and The Light Of Love warrants their occupation of the last two available slots in this Toppermost. Both were co-written with Rafferty’s brother Jim and stand up as two of the finest songs written by either. It’s a great shame that personal disagreements had driven them away from each other for so long, as one can only imagine what the pair may have been capable of had they worked together from the start. Had they done so, this list may have been even harder to compile.

Gerry Rafferty didn’t match up to his prolific heroes in terms of quantity, but the quality of his back-catalogue more than compensates.

 

Gerry Rafferty (1947–2011)

 

Official Gerry Rafferty Website

Gerry Rafferty: Right Down The Line (BBC Scotland TV documentary)
Part 1 of 4

Stealers Wheel toppermost #465

Gerry Rafferty biography (iTunes)

Damien Spanjer is a classically trained musician and former member of Sydney-formed studio outfit Starflight. Check out his Soundcloud page for samples of his other musical work.

TopperPost #433

6 Comments

  1. Glenn Smith
    Apr 14, 2015

    Saxophone hooks in rock songs, they are the flares in the rock and roll wardrobe. They sound great at the time but later on they seem just a bit silly, case in point Who Can It Be Now, Men at Work. Now I know this is going to get the tanks rumbling out on the keyboard steppes that is Toppermost but I simply can’t listen to Baker St because of that accursed sax solo, and FM radio is determined to never let a day of your middle aged befuddlement pass without having to hear that riff. Having said that, I loved City to City, a great album and my inclusions in this great list would be Right Down the Line and the other single Home and Dry. A great first Toppermost Mr Spanjer.

    • Damien Spanjer
      Apr 28, 2015

      The saxophone seems to be a polarising element in pop/rock music. Many love it, many loathe it. For those in the latter category, I suspect the new romantics of the 80’s were the tipping point. Or was it just Kenny G? 😉

    • Rich
      May 4, 2018

      I beg to disagree – the Sax solo that opens Baker Street is one of Rocks most Charismatic moments. Don’t let the cheap copies that followed tarnish this hook that over thirty years has not lost its luster.

  2. Colin Duncan
    Apr 22, 2015

    A really good article, Damien. I know more about Stealers Wheel than Gerry’s solo work, but play ‘City to City’ often. Gerry’s funeral was held down the road from where I live and Rab Noakes hosted a concert in memory of Gerry at Celtic Connections, the big traditional song festival in Glasgow. I don’t have Mary Skeffington on my ‘Demos and Rarities’? Rab is a favourite of mine. I still play my Humblebums music every so often. Gerry was a perfectionist and Billy Connolly tells a story that when recording a Humblebums album, he went to the studio one morning to find that all the parts that he had recorded had been redone by Gerry during the night. Billy wasn’t bitter about it, he just said that was Gerry. The local museum had an exhibition dedicated to Gerry, and John Byrne’s iconic album covers are my favourite covers in music. I went through to Edinburgh recently to see a John Byrne exhibition and Gerry Rafferty’s painted guitar was on show – a thing of beauty. I was saying to my wife lately that I was going to collect the Gerry solo material as a retirement project and your article has spurred me on. Thanks.

    • Damien Spanjer
      Apr 28, 2015

      Thanks for your comments Colin. I was always more familiar with Gerry’s solo work more than Stealers Wheel, so I’ll defer to you for the Stealers Wheel Toppermost if you wish to write one. The Rab Noakes album is actually Demos & Rarities Vol 2, subtitled “Adventures with Gerry Rafferty”, now made clearer in the main text. The CD may be hard to track down but it’s on iTunes, Spotify, etc and definitely worth a listen. Have fun curating your Gerry solo collection. It’s well worth the effort.
      (I understand that Colin is revving up for a SW Toppermost even as we speak… Ed.)

  3. Colin Duncan
    May 3, 2015

    Thanks – I’ll pick up Demos and Rarities Vol 2. Rab Noakes is really good. A recommendation for you, Damien, is ‘Red Pump Special’, a great album, and a cult album back in the day. My cassette wore out, but I see a special edition of the album is now released. I’m all CD now, but I really regret giving Joe Egan’s first album on vinyl away. It was a good album, but has never been released on CD. Thanks again for the article, Damien. Really enjoyed it.

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