Saturday, September 14, 2013

Song #353 of 9999 - Space Intro/Fly Like an Eagle by Steve Miller Band

Song #353 of 9999 

Title: Space Intro/Fly Like an Eagle
Artist: Steve Miller Band
Year: 1976
Album: Fly Like an Eagle

When Steve Miller made his recorded debut in 1968, he was playing a mix of psychedelic rock and British blues that showcased his guitar talents but didn't really feature the kinds of hooks that were going to turn him into a radio star. 1969's "Space Cowboy" was clever enough, capitalizing on the recent Apollo 11 moon landing, but perhaps outdone by the even more clever and progressive "Space Oddity" by David Bowie.

After languishing in relative obscurity for another few years, Miller finally hit with "The Joker," certainly a step in the right direction in terms of establishing himself as more than just a B-grade Eric Clapton. The self-referential song has hooks and even invented words ("pompatus" anyone?)! The record was a big success and Miller had finally found the sizable audience he had sought.

What he did next is worth noting. I'm not old enough to know firsthand what the fan reaction was upon hearing the opening track(s) of Fly Like an Eagle but I like to imagine it was similar to that of Van Halen's 1984 almost ten years later. Where fans expected guitar rock (could the cover photo be any more deceiving?), they were greeted with washes of atmospheric synthesizers (Roland? Arp?—the debate rages) fed through an echoplex. Not to worry, these captivating tone colors eventually give way to one of Miller's trademark guitar riffs while the synths continue to swirl around and beneath. The combination of sounds really works, especially with the lyrics about "time" and the "future." Listening to it today, I can't help but wonder if Miller was influenced by Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, which came out the same year as The Joker and features a similar combination of sounds (bluesy guitar, organ, synths) and the theme of "time." It's almost as if he heard that album and then went away for a couple of years to figure out how he could work their sound into his brand of pop/rock without sounding derivative. And I think he did it. As great as it is, nothing on Dark Side of the Moon is as catchy as the singles from Miller's record. It's an excellent example of how a new musical setting can make the tried and true seem fresh and new.

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