Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Steve Miller Band -- "Swingtown" (1977)

Steve Miller may be one of the luckiest rock stars of the 70's. He produced some spacey blues albums, had Boz Scaggs playing guitar in his band for a while, and could have remained a cult artist based on things like "Space Cowboy" and "Livin' In The USA."

Somewhere along the line, Miller must have drunk the Kool Aid and realized that he was not going to be be making any big bucks soon playing this progressive cosmic blues noodling. So he ditched a lot of the spacey stuff, focused on the blues part of the equation and added a serious dose of pop and the tables started turning.

First he broke through with the title song from The Joker, then went through the roof with Fly Like An Eagle (where he still couldn't help playing around on an echoed synth), and continued his hot run with Book of Dreams (aka more of the same).

Now Miller has had a handful of greatest hits albums, all repackaging the same catchy light blues-based rock tunes. He played tastefully, never really stretched out except in concert, and in their own funny way, they were perfect little pop songs. In retrospect, I don't know if Steve Miller had a profound influence on anybody except the Spin Doctors brief run of hits ("Two Princes," "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong), who showed you sometimes can't go wrong with a few basic major chords.

As much as I loved "Jet Airliner," which ruled the summer of 1977, I'm going to talk about probably the dumbest song on the album, "Swingtown," which was also deservedly a smash hit. I'd put "Swingtown" in the same category as Archie Bell & The Drells' "Tighten Up" and King Curtis' "Memphis Soul Stew" -- songs that were pretty much mostly instrumental, mostly about nothing except introducing one instrument at a time -- that was the entire point. You know, "show me some of that funky bass!" and the bass player goes thumbing around, then "let me hear the git-ar," and then the scratchy strings would join in.

"Swingtown" fades in with Gary Mallaber's drums playing this simple bouncy beat with sizzling hi-hats and a three kick thump. As far as I'm concerned, this song was Mallaber's show. He's grooving along on the drums, then some abbreviated guitars playing the three chord sequence, then the piano jumps in, the bass, and then three-stroke guitar chords. OK, the boys are all here. Then Miller yodels "woah-oh-oh-oh-oh" a couple of times for good measure. The three chords are working away with that steady bouncing beat, when Miller lurches right into the lyrics:

Come on and dance, come on and dance
Let's make some romance
You know the night is fallin'
And the musics callin'
And we've got to get down to swingtown!

Uh yeah. Then Mallaber is mixed right up front with a wicked fill across his snare and toms, and on the seventh chord, Miller adds this observation.

We've been workin' so hard
We've been workin' so hard
Come on baby
Come on baby lets dance
Come on, come on, come on
Come on, come on, come on
Come on, come on, come on

And if that's not enough, it's back to "woah-oh-oh" and another verse:

Come on and dance, come on and dance
We may not get another chance
You know the night is fallin'
And the musics callin'
And we've got to get down to swingtown!


Another Mallaber fill front and center -- which I always cranked up on the radio -- and then it just bounces its way into a slow fade, each instrument departing until it's just those drums.

I am sure it took these guys about, oh, a minute to write and arrange this song. Yet, and I say this in all seriousness, it's about as great a disposable a pop rock song that there is. Whaddya need in a rock song except begging your girl to go dancing? Didn't Bobby Freeman start it in the 50's (later to be redone by Bette Midler and The Ramones) with "Do You Want To Dance?"

So here's the Steve Miller Band doing it live in Georgia in June 2007, with everybody shouting the "woah-oh-oh-oh" part.


1 comment:

Jim said...

Great blog! Recently heard Steve Miller had Les Paul as his godfather, and Les taught him chords at age five.