Supertramp Crime Of The Century (1974), Crisis? What Crisis? (1975), Even In The Quietest Moments (1977), Breakfast In America (1979)
When it comes to today’s generation of pop groups, it’s the letter B that gets all the glory when it comes to naming influences. The Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Byrds tend to get the most credit for inspiring musicians to pick up an instrument and start emulating; from there, there’s Big Star, the Bee Gees, and Badfinger.
These are pretty obvious (and valid) picks, all of them.
There are, however, some influences who’ve quite a bit of influence as well, even though they don’t tend to get mentioned in the same breath on quite as regular a basis.
You’ve got your Queen, who produced quite a bit more than just “We Will Rock You”, “We Are the Champions”, and “Another One Bites the Dust”. You’ve got your 10CC, who said “I’m Not in Love”, then waxed lyrical on “The Things We Do for Love”. And, of course, you can never forget ELO, mostly because Jeff Lynne won’t let you.
But you’ve also got your Supertramp.
Album-oriented radio, as it’s done to countless other artists, has diminished the impact of Supertramp over the years, though, leaving the casual listener with the impression that the band had a few good tracks, but, ultimately, not much else. Most folks who didn’t come of age during the ‘70s probably couldn’t even tell you the name of a single Supertramp album, though they might ask, “Does The Very Best of Supertramp count?”
But if actually you lived through the ‘70s, then not only would the phrase Breakfast in America erupt through your lips, but you could probably identify its album cover from half a block away.
A&M Records has taken to re-issuing the band’s seminal work in re-mastered form, and, when you’re talking about Supertramp, “seminal” begins with their third album.
I’m not sure how this piece of trivia got past me for lo these many years, but until researching the band’s history for this review, I was unaware that Supertramp actually got its start courtesy of a young Dutch millionaire named Stanley August Miesegaes. Miesegaes, it seems, was friends with Rick Davies, and, though it sounds suspiciously like an apocryphal anecdote, the story goes that, in 1969, the poor little rich boy offered Davies the opportunity to form a band and put the cost on his tab.
After an ad in Melody Maker, Supertramp was born. And, then, after two not-very-successful albums (a self-titled debut, followed by Indelibly Stamped, neither of which warranted re-mastering in A&M’s eyes), Miesegaes withdrew his financial support, leaving Supertramp without much in the way of money or fans. Ouch. That’s gotta hurt.
But then 1974 rolled around, and the band released the aforementioned third album, Crime of the Century. And unlike its predecessors, Crime of the Century had far less in the way of prog-rock noodlings, instead showing the band evolving toward more of a pop sound. Indeed, this was the album that produced “Bloody Well Right” and “Dreamer”; it also contains the lesser-known album track “If Everyone Was Listening” a song which, though it didn’t make the cut for the band’s first best-of, scored inclusion on Volume 2.
Next up was Crisis? What Crisis? , which showed the band finding their way closer and closer to the middle ground between prog and pop, though it doesn’t possess any song that screams “hit single”. Certainly, the album possesses a stellar pair of openers in the form of “Easy Does It” and “Sister Moonshine”. “Ain’t Nobody But Me” may not be any great shakes, but “A Soapbox Opera” more than makes up for it. Meanwhile, Jellyfish missed an opportunity by not covering “Poor Boy”. (In fact, when you come right down to it, when you look at their song arrangements after listening to these re-issues, it becomes clear that Jellyfish were probably just as inspired by Supertramp as they were by Queen, or anyone else for that matter.)
Even In The Quietest Moments followed much the same format as its predecessor, although it did remedy one error right up front, providing the band with an unforgettable hit single in the form of “Give A Little Bit” as the album’s opener. The instrument that graces the album cover is no coincidence because the material is almost entirely piano-based. Although some of the songs are a bit long (the album only has seven songs, and four of them are over 7 minutes in length), each track is a pop symphony unto itself. “Fool’s Overture”, the album’s closer, is positively epic in scale (10+ minutes), with a keyboard bit somewhere around the 3-minute mark that may or may not have been cribbed by the Buggles for their song “Living in the Plastic Age”.
Still, as strong as Even in the Quietest Moments may have been, it was its follow-up that was the band’s defining moment. Of course, it was also the watershed album in the band’s career, because, y’know, how can you top Breakfast In America?
The answer, inevitably, is that you can’t.
And Supertramp didn’t.
When they finally got around to releasing the follow-up studio album, Famous Last Words, the best song they could muster as a single was “It’s Raining Again”. No, it’s not a bad song, but when you compare it to Breakfast in America‘s “The Logical Song”, “Goodbye Stranger”, and “Take the Long Way Home”, it’s certainly not up to those standards.
Neither history nor the majority of Supertramp’s fans would deny that Breakfast in America is the strongest album in the band’s discography. From “Gone Hollywood” all the way through the grand finale, “Child of Vision”, this is an unabashedly melodic record. Almost entirely free of pretense and limited in pomposity, it’s just good old-fashioned pop music. It might not be a generation-defining album like Frampton Comes Alive, but very few individuals escaped the ‘70s without having the melodies from at least one or two of this album’s tracks stuck in the back of their mind for the rest of their lives.
It’s pretty easy to rank these four re-issues. Start with Breakfast in America and work your way back. And ignore anyone who says you only need a best-of collection. Once you’ve actually heard it, you’ll find that, unlike the albums that came before and after it, Breakfast in America is absolutely indispensable.
Still, it’s a shame about the name, don’t you think? I mean, honestly: Supertramp? Even now, that’s got to rank as one of the 10 worst band names ever.
“Crime of the Century” is the name of the album , but in hindsight ” Surprise Of The Century ” would of been a more apt title . Supertramp were formed in 1969 around Richard Davies , with the financial backing of Stanley August Miesegaes
(Known to his friends as Sam) .In the first auditions Richard met Roger Hodgson , who were to become the nucleus of the band we now know from legend as Supertramp. After various name changes the band decided to be called Supertramp after Sam suggested it from the W. H. Davies book published in 1910, ‘History of a Supertramp.’
The first self titled Supertramp album is released in 1970 , to no public or critical acclaim , the rest of the band are either fired , have a nervous breakdown ,or jump ship. A second album is recorded ‘Indelibly Stamped’ ( 1971) which if anything fared even worse than it’s predecessor. ( Both of these albums feature rather aimless songs featuring meandering solo’s and indifferent lyrics instantly forgettable .) after the tour to promote, Indelibly Stamped, the three new recruits to the band are all fired leaving just the duo of Davies and Hodgson again, at this point Sam separates from the band paying off the 60,000 pound debts already incurred , wishing them all the best for the future , but severing any further ties .
Davies and Hodgson bravely keep going recruiting new musicians in the shape of magical saxophonist John Anthony Helliwell ( Ex ‘Alan Bown Sound’ )The rock solid jazzy drumming of Bob.C. Benberg ( Ex ‘Bees Make Honey ‘, and ‘Ilford Subway’ with American Scott Gorman before he became famous with ‘Thin Lizzy’.)Perhaps most importantly of all Dougie Thomson came in on Bass guitar and also took over the business management of the band .At this point the band are gigging day to day to survive whilst writing new material for the proposed new album . But A&M Records had no future plans for the band, in fact they thought Supertramp had imploded . Roger Hodgson, Richard Davies under the watchful eye of new partner Dougie Thomson went back to A&M Records to plead their case for another bite at the cherry. For once somebody at the record company got it right .
In November 1973 the band are moved lock stock and if you want smokin’ barrel to a farm in Somerset ,England to work on the new material for the next album , from there in February 1974 they are moved onto Trident Recording Studio’s in London with the excellent Ken Scott holding down production duties , in June the band finish off recordings in the famous Ramport Studio’s .The third album under the Supertramp banner is released in September 1973, and with the full weight of the A&M publicity machine behind them, coupled with some ground breaking and prestigious live concerts, the band become overnight sensations . The first single off the album ” Dreamer” ( Which was to be the template for the Supertramp sound from here on, hammering piano, searing guitar licks , beautifully contrasting harmonised vocals, with catchy amusing lyrics , combustible saxophone and clarinets ,with a jazz influenced rhythm section.) was to peak at Number 13 in the British charts followed by the album itself which was in the Top Five by Christmas of that year .
All the songs on the album have a conceptual theme to them in this case insanity . All sorts of insanity whether it be brought on by ,Education( School), Dreaming( The first single), Love (Rudy),Shyness ( Hide In Your Shell) or authority ( The title track). Every track is instantly recognisable as Supertramp , and the album as a whole runs together perfectly , starting with the haunting harmonica opening of School to the final rousing crescendo of the title track . In-between there are some splendid melodies ranging from many of the bands influences ,Folk, Progressive/Rock, Pop, Jazz and the Classics ,combining the vocal talents of both Hodgson and Davies in there contrasting manner, giving Supertramp that essential variety, which is used in quite devastating effect on the albums centrepiece song Asylum ,where they both sound as if they are completely going off the planet , quite a blend you may think , but it all gels to stirring effect .
Supertramp were to go on to conquer the Adult oriented world of Rock music ,even the advent of Punk Rock did not dent their mercurial rise to Stardom . Three more smash hit albums were to follow, ” Crisis What Crisis?” (1975) , ” Even In The Quietest Moments” ( 1977) and culminating in the Worldwide Number One album “Breakfast in America”( 1979) which was to spawn four Hit singles on it’s own ( In those days Hit singles used to mean something .) The band toured Internationally on the strength of these records and would fill Stadiums where ever they went .
As in many marriages ,something that started out as blissfully perfect ruptured into bitterness and in family fighting, after one more not so successful album and world tour ,Roger Hodgson left the family taking with him John Anthony Helliwell, leaving Richard Davies to carry on with the name Supertramp . Of course by this time none of them needed to work for the money , and really did not care, nor to be quite honest did the public, enough was enough . Both carried on their careers in a very lack lustre manner , but were never to find that original spark again . All good things must come to an end.The Tramp was super for a long time and made enough to retire to it’s mansion , I do like a story with a happy( If not perfect) ending .I wonder if Stanley August Miesegaes ” Sam” ever got repaid for his original funding of the dream?
Review Summary: Crime of the Century is one of the better albums to be fished out of the sea that is 70’s progressive music and is Supertramp’s best work.
Being a teenager can be a hard and sometimes confusing time. A few years before my teen years began, my parents were involved in a somewhat lengthly and bitter divorce. On the day that my father moved out he gave me one of the greatest gifts I have received even to this day, his record collection.
At the time I had no idea what a monumental gift this was, but something changed when I became a teenager. One day when I was about fourteen or so I stumbled across my Dad’s record player in a box in the garage. I dusted it off, plugged it in, and then began my search through my dad’s old records. The first things that grabbed my attention were albums that I had known all my life by the likes of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the Who, but as I went through the boxes I began to see albums for bands I knew very little about or not at all. At the bottom of one of the boxes was Supertramp’s Crime of the Century. I remember just staring at it for a few minutes.
The depiction of a man trapped behind prison bars instantly struck a chord. After a few more minutes of taking it all in, I put the album on. The album remained on that turntable for a good two weeks before I put anything else on. Supertramp had managed to capture the confusion, rebellion, and angst of being a teenager better than any of the other albums that I began to obsess over. It wasn’t like Roger Waters’ constant blaming of everyone but himself for his unhappiness like in Pink Floyd’s The Wall nor was it the unabashed rage and animalistic spirit championed in Alice Cooper songs like Eighteen or Schools Out, Crime of the Century had a universal element to it that made it easy to relate to and more personal than the other albums of the like.
“Do as they tell you to/ Don’t want the devil to/ Come and pull out your eyes”
Lyrically, all of the songs on Crime of the Century are built off of the anger and alienation that come from being a confused, angsty young man. The opening track, School, is a diatribe on exactly that. The next track, Bloody Well Right, continues this theme where Roger Hodgson blast “So you think your schooling’s phoney, I guess it’s hard not to agree” as he sets the opening tone of the song. Together the two tracks come off with an anti-conformity vibe that is very reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.
The track, Rudy, is an attempt to add a personal side to that definitive James Dean style bad-boy with its character study of the song’s namesake. Not everything is as bleak and anger driven as these songs though. The album’s main single, Dreamer, comes across as stressing that classical ethos where even though it may be impossible for your dreams to ever come true, its the fact that you try and never give up and keep that optimistic spirit that really matters.
Musically, on Crime of the Century Supertramp play 70’s radio-pop with strong progressive tendencies. Neither side of Supertramp is superior over the other and they seem to play off of each other. Whenever the band lay heavy on their prog-chops they are quick to revert to their more sensible pop side. This keeps the music interesting and fresh since there are many shifts in the music stylistically and in time signatures. The opener and closer of the album, School and Crime of the Century respectively, are the most progressive tracks. School begins with a lonesome harmonica that reinforces the image of being trapped behind bars before spacey chords and driving bass power the verse.
Then the band really begins to show their chops with an amazing piano solo. Before Supertramp can go balls to the wall prog the 2nd track begins with its heavy blues influence shining through. Crime of the Century is rather similar to Dark Side of the Moon era Pink Floyd where at first listen the track seems rather simplistic in its make up, but slowly begins to unveil itself after repeated listens. It begins as just a simple piano ballad but soon shows its teeth with a ripping guitar solo as it builds to its crescendo with strings and saxophone overlapping piano and pounding drums.
As strong as this album is, it does have one downside: you begin to outgrow it. When I was 14 I listened to Crime of the Century constantly, now it only gets a few plays a month. When you are a teenager this album seems like a classic performance rooted in teen angst, but as you get older there becomes a disconnect. Since the lyrics are so rooted in the teenage experience it can seem a bit juvenile at times. Despite this sometime juvenile approach, Crime of the Century is one of the better albums to be fished out of the sea that is 70’s progressive music and is Supertramp’s best work.
Sheez, if every following Supertramp album is going to have the same rating (third time in a row already!), they’ll have to earn the title of the most consistently “pleasant mediocre” band in the world. Heck, they probably were the most pleasant mediocre band in the world, so who cares?
Anyway, after a couple years of decline and a radical change of band lineup (which now featured a near-full brass section and a new drummer), Supertramp emerged on the British art-rock scene again, with a record that hearkened back to the debut, but with a few significant changes in the sound. Apart from ‘Dreamer’, all of the songs are consistently ‘artsy’, with no straightforward rockers or rootsy inclinations at all; on the other hand, the running times for most of the songs lie somewhere within the five-six minutes range, so at least the band stays away from massive overblown epics. Any special sound characteristics? That’s the most intricate moment: it’s very hard to characterize Crime, as there are too many subtle variations on the basic style to sum it up in one sentence. Roughly speaking, you might envisage it as a continuation of the style developed on Supertramp (i.e. the jazz-folksy vibe a la Traffic), with a bit more pomposity and ambitious seriousness thrown in for good measure. Plus, don’t forget that Supertramp were always making their music more accessible for the general public – most of these songs could have served as decent pop numbers in another age. Even so, I can’t really accuse the album of inadequacy: this might be a pop record disguising itself as an ambitious progressive symphony, but there’s enough humbleness and enough taste and modest scarcity in the arrangements not to make you puke.
Of course, it’s another question if somebody actually needs this album. Because none of the songs, not even the best ones, have any kind of immediate hooks or unique moods, and when, after a lot of listens, these hooks and moods finally appear, the reaction is, like, ‘That’s it?’ Perhaps the best thing about the album is the ominous harmonica solo that opens the lead-in number, ‘School’, after which it just gets all neat and tricky, with cutesy little guitars popping in and out, Hodgson’s ‘miserable’ vocals once again reinstating the feeling of loneliness and being outcast, and a pretty piano-based ‘dance’ mid-section. Very nice mood music. In contrast, ‘Bloody Well Right’ is a bit more gruff – the lengthy introduction has a great gimmick in the short period of wah-wah riffage, while the main part has Rick Davies borrow on music hall legacy once again. Very funny throwaway piece.
‘Hide In Your Shell’, meanwhile, is far darker and even more ‘miserable’ than ‘School’, in parts, a six-minute mini-epic that has its nice moments, but really lacks solid riffs or gorgeous vocal hooks to help it get along. I mean, that ‘if I can help you if I can help you…’ section is pretty catchy, but not in a McCartneyesque kind of way. In that respect, I really prefer the pathetic soul groove of ‘Asylum’, where Rick Davies makes his finest performance on the album. I don’t even want to know what the heck he’s singing about, but he’s singing well, and you gotta admit, just to hear him groan ‘please don’t arrange to have me sent to no asylum, I’m just as sane as anyone’ is extremely pleasant. A hard-to-take song it is, though, quite unlike ‘Dreamer’, the most poppy number on the album, with Hodgson assuming a particularly ‘kiddish’ vocal tone that undoubtedly made many a rock lover vomit on the spot. Not me, though – I can take even that kind of bubblegum.
Then there’s ‘Rudy’, which is very similar to ‘Bloody Well Right’, and there’s ‘If Everyone Was Listening’, which is very similar to ‘Rudy’ and also very similar to some song off The Lamb Lies Down I can’t remember the title of right now, and then there’s the title track which is slow and grim and over-orchestrated and multi-layered and actually quite impressive because all the layers in the lengthy coda are underpinned by a wonderful piano riff. And then there’s the realisation that the album’s over, and then there’s that ‘That’s it?’ thingie I already mentioned. Because, to be frank, there’s just nothing that special – all the time, you’re kinda waiting that the band is gonna take off NOW, and they actually never take off.
But don’t get me wrong: this is a good album, the kind of album that may become one of your personal favourites on repeated listenings. You know the best thing about good albums? Any good album (if only it is good, and not bad) may become a great album on repeated listenings! That’s where Supertramp fans come from! Thank God I have to go listen to other records now – with a couple dozen more listens, I’ll become a Supertramp fan!
I believe Roger Hodgson must be some kind of beautiful soul for coming out with such a terrifically uplifting song as “Hide in Your Shell.” Without a doubt, it’s one of my favorite songs ever written–and it has held that status ever since the first time I heard it nearly 10 years ago. It starts with some pulsating electric keyboards and an engaging synthesizer solo before Hodgson begins to sing a gentle melody.
This gradually builds up with darker keyboard passages and timpani-like drums and then becomes completely airborne for the chorus that that features among other things thick saxophone passages and a theremin. (I don’t know why, but I’m always excited to hear a perfectly executed theremin.) The song spans epic length, almost seven minutes, and reaches the chorus three times, and amazingly it hits me equally those three times.
And yet that isn’t a terribly celebrated song, is it? It wasn’t released as a single, and most critics who’ve written reviews of it don’t seem to think much of it. So I guess I’ll chalk this up as a weird opinion of mine. And this is a good thing, because it’s fun having an unusual opinion about something. …Oh, and this might have been Supertramp’s third album, but it was their first to make any real impact on the charts. It was released a whole three years after their previous, which–in the 1970s rock ‘n’ roll world–was a friggin’ eternity, so there’s little surprise that their earlier albums are generally forgotten about.
The opening song “School” has often drawn parallels to Pink Floyd’s The Wall to the point that some people think Hodgson and Davies should have sued Roger Waters. True, there are certain similarities. The lyrical matter is probably the most blatant of them–it’s about how the institution of school stifles the imaginations and creativity of young minds. However it has some musical similarities as well: there are sound effects of children playing on a playground, and there is a prominent passage that’s stylistically similar to “Another Brick in the Wall.” That is, it features a crystal-clear and deep bass guitar that pulsates along with funky licks from a high-pitched rhythm guitar. …Of course, I wouldn’t support such a lawsuit (even though it would be a novel thing for someone to sue Roger Waters for something for once).
At best, all Pink Floyd were guilty of was expanding upon some ideas that Supertramp first proposed. Ideas are not copyrightable. Another thing that The Wall never did that “School” does was anything like its final half, which is a high-flying and spirited pop-rock jam with some frantically played acoustic guitar, some terrific piano playing, and a little bit of wah-wah guitar. You see, unlike Pink Floyd, these guys weren’t afraid to ROCK.
“Bloody Well Right” is the most beloved song of the album even though it was actually released as the B-Side to the less-celebrated “Dreamer.” It’s a catchy and snappy tune that’s loaded with its fair share of drama, but certain parts of it–notably the jazz piano playing throughout–turns out to be quite playful. I actually like listening to “Dreamer” quite a lot whenever it pops up, which is probably some kind of indication that I am overrating the CRAP out of this album, but I have to ask myself a simple question when I hear it: Are they overdoing it with those rapidly pulsating electric keyboards? I think if you asked a skilled player to improvise a song done in a generic Supertramp manner, he/she would play exactly that. “Rudy” is very dramatic has plenty of interesting musical passages, but it never really takes off for me–at least in the same way that “Hide in You Shell” took off.
Perhaps the best thing about it is how it gradually evolves into a heavy, proto-disco groove in the final third. This is part is quite similar to a 1977 Alan Parsons Project song called “The Voice.” “Asylum” is another minor gem that probably takes too long to get going, but when it does, it’s heavy, dark, dramatic, and soulful. It’s orchestrated brilliantly and sung with absolute verve by Richard Davies. Its main downfall is the melody isn’t especially memorable.
I’m having a tough time coming up with a rating for this album, and I was torn between a 12/15 and a 13/15. On one hand it has “Hide in Your Shell” in it, which I like a lot, and all these other songs are solid. On the other hand, that’s the album’s only truly great moment, and I think 13-scoring albums ought to have a few more goodies in them. Oh well.
So I guess I have to go with a 12/15. However, don’t fret too much over this “low” rating, since they’ve got a 13-scoring album in them yet!