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Daily Record 1/6/11: City to City-Gerry Rafferty (1978)

In 1970s, 1978, pop, record collecting, records, Rich's House of Vinyl, rock, singles on January 6, 2011 at 11:06 am

Today’s quite intentionally-picked Daily Record (back to randomness tomorrow) is Gerry Rafferty’s 1978 LP, City to City. Rafferty died earlier this week at 63.

I was just about to turn 13 years old when Rafferty scored a huge hit with “Baker Street,” the first single from City to City. That particular song, with its narrative, yet enigmatic lyrics and distinctive saxophone solo by Raphael  Ravenscroft, had a huge effect on many people when they first heard it. I know it was that way for me but I also know from somewhere in the back of my mind that my father, displaying Kal Rudman-like wisdom, proclaimed that “Baker Street” was going to a be a big hit the moment he first heard it.

Various Facebook comments posted by friends of mine this week attest to that initial blast of power that “Baker Street” packed for unsuspecting listeners in the spring and summer of 1978. In fact, my friend Greg mentioned that hearing the sax solo was what initially inspired him to want to learn to play a musical instrument.

What’s amazing to me about “Baker Street” (which I originally bought as a single, with its great non-LP B-side, “Big Change in the Weather”) is that, after hearing it hundreds of times, I still have an intense visceral reaction to “Baker Street,” particularly when I listen to it loud, as I did in my car not long after learning about Rafferty’s death; or closely (and loud) on headphones, as I’m listening to it at this moment, way too early in the morning.

Every element of “Baker Street” is important. The iconic sax solo that threads its way through the song, of course, but not just that. The cinematic, extended instrumental introduction; the opening lyric (“Winding your way down on Baker Street”) that sets up the encounter between the two characters in the song; the ensuing lyrics that hint at more than they actually say.

All of that, and then there’s this: about 4:15 into the song, the mysterious intro returns, 20 seconds later bursting into an explosive, cathartic guitar solo by Hugh Burns. While Ravenscroft and his sax are what stick in people’s minds about “Baker Street,” it’s the lead guitar from about 4:40-5:13 that stunned the hell out of me as a 13-year-old and that stuns the hell out of me this morning, 32 years later. I could be overthinking this, but it seems to me that whatever emotions are concealed by the characters in the song’s narrative, are suddenly, and irrevocably, revealed in that 30 seconds or so of electric guitar playing. Interestingly, there are no further lyrics once the guitar solo has led back to Ravenscroft who closes out the song with his saxophone. The story has been told.

I know there were many amazing guitarists and solos prior to “Baker Street,” but I’m pretty sure “Baker Street” was the first time I ever encountered the power of a well-executed electric guitar solo. If that’s not a life-changing event for a rock music fan, then I’m not sure what is.

Going on at length about the other musicians on “Baker Street” (and I heard a report yesterday that Rafferty recorded every instrument on City to City himself, but I’m pretty sure that’s wrong and, besides, the credits on the totally cool album cover flat-out contradict the idea that Rafferty did it all), does nothing to negate Rafferty’s impact on the song. After all, he wrote it and it’s his voice that ties all of the elements I’ve described together.

Perhaps the one problem with “Baker Street” is its ubiquity. It has become such a staple of classic rock radio that’s it’s easy to let the song glide by, without always plumbing its depths. But listen to it again sometime. Closely. Try to put yourself in the same headspace you were in when you first heard “Baker Street” and listen again.

Also, while fans and critics focused on “Baker Street,” the fact is that City to City is a great album, beginning to end. Every track, including follow-up single, “Right Down the Line,” has something to offer and City to City (which happens to have been one of the records in my very first “12 records for one penny!” shipment from the Columbia Record Club) stands today as an engaging and diverse collection of state-of-the-art late ’70s pop rock songs with ever-so-slight progressive touches. Released at the height of the disco era, the artistic and commercial success of City to City was no small achievement. Nor was the effect that the album had on millions of young listeners, who, I would imagine, probably took a few minutes this week to once again ponder the mysteries of “Baker Street” and bid Mr. Rafferty farewell.

Thanks, Gerry.

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