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"Baker Street"
Gerry Rafferty
United Artists 1192
May 1978
Billboard: #2    Lyrics Icon Videos Icon

Gerry Raffertyor the time being I feel good, at the moment," Gerry Rafferty said in the summer of 1978 as his song "Baker Street," from his second solo album City To City, was the number two single in America.

Rafferty had previously been a "one-hit wonder" five years earlier in 1973, when his band Stealers Wheel topped the charts with "Stuck in the Middle With You." Stealers Wheel was led by Rafferty and Joe Egan, friends since both were sixteen-year-olds playing in bands in their hometown of Paisley, Scotland, a bleak industrial city near Glasgow. To Rafferty's utter disbelief, his parody of Bob Dylan's paranoia, tossed off as little more than a joke, struck pay dirt in the States -- by which time he had already said goodbye to the band.

"I was going through a very strange period in my life right then," he explained. "I'd got married, had a child, I was twenty-four, and one day it was like I'd been living in a dream for six or eight years and suddenly I woke up. It was a pretty scary kind of feeling. Perhaps I was on the edge of a nervous breakdown -- that's how it felt, anyway. I just had to get away, away from groups, managers, record companies, the whole thing. So I picked up and moved [from London] back to Scotland to sort myself out."

Eventually Rafferty was prevailed upon to rejoin Stealers Wheel, and he resumed writing songs that conveyed "pretty scary kinds of feelings" and condemned "managers, record companies, the whole thing." Though he and Egan sugarcoated their bitter pills with sweet melodies and glossy pop arrangements, they were unable to repeat the success of "Stuck in the Middle."

City To City
Released in May 1978, Gerry Rafferty's City to City album peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 200 and remained on the charts for 49 weeks. It was certified platinum one month later by the R.I.A.A. His acclaimed first solo album, Can I Have My Money Back?, was reissued on compact disc for the first time in Feb. 2002.
Rafferty originally had conceived of Stealers Wheel -- which he formed after spending three years as the better half of a folk-rock duo, the Humblebums -- as a quartet of singer/songwriters, sort of a Scottish Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. But two of the initial recruits deserted before they even recorded, and as musicians came and went, Stealers Wheel deteriorated into Rafferty and Egan backed by a cast of dozens. They never toured America because the band, according to Rafferty, when it existed at all, was "a f---ing shambles," and they wrangled angrily with their managers.

Still, they managed to record a brilliant second album, Fergusie Park, which like their 1973 debut album, Stealers Wheel, was produced by the legendary songwriting and producing team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who composed several hits for Elvis Presley and produced the Coasters, among others. "The producers we had, had little to do, actually, with the results we got on the board, because they were great in terms of sound and all that," Rafferty said. "But they were old-school producers... There was a generation gap and a culture gap. We didn't share a sense of humor or much of anything."

Before long, Rafferty and Egan decided "it was time to stop the whole f---ing farce," which they did after completing a lackluster third album, Right or Wrong, with another producer. But extricating himself from his management deal took Rafferty three more years, during which he commuted unhapily to London from the town outside Glasgow where he and his family resided. His frustration during this period underlies "Baker Street," which took its name from the London street where he often stayed in a friend's flat. And the final resolution of his legal and financial hassles accounts for the understated exhilaration of the song's last verse: "When you wake up it's a new morning/ The sun is shining, it's a new morning/ You're going, you're going home."

And where did "Baker Street"'s magnificent and hummable saxophone line come from? At first it was part of the melody, Gerry said, and he reckoned he'd sing it. Then he tried it out on guitar, and that didn't quite sound right. Enter Raphael Ravenscroft, a session saxophonist who came highly recommended, and the rest is history -- or at least a hit single.

After "Baker Street" became a huge international success -- reaching number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US -- Rafferty's next single, "Right Down the Line," peaked at #12, and the City to City album from which they were culled went platinum and topped the US album chart. Rafferty, who rarely performs live and then only in England and Europe, never repeated the magnitude of "Baker Street"'s success, though his next album, 1979's Night Owl, generated two Top 40 hits, "Days Gone Down (Still Got the Light in Your Eyes)" (#17, 1979) and "Get It Right Next Time" (#21, 1979). In 1987, he produced the Scottish folk-rock duo the Proclaimers' single "Letter to America," which went to number three in the UK. The following year, he released the well-received album North & South, and 1995's On a Wing and a Prayer became his fourth solo album of melodic, polished pop.

- Ken Emerson, Rolling Stone, 8/24/78.

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