United Artists 840
Producers: Hugh Murphy and Gerry Rafferty
Track listing: The Ark / Baker Street / light Down the Line / City to City / Stealin’ Time / Mattie’s Rag / Whatever’s Written in Your Heart / Home and Dry / Island / Waiting for the Day
By the time Stealers Wheel first gained notice in America with the top 10 hit single “Stuck in the Middle with You,” trouble was already brewing in the band. Although singer/guitarist Gerry Rafferty, who had quit the group, rejoined following the success of the single, things were never quite the same. “Stealers Wheel had great potential,” says Rafferty. “Unfortunately its potential was never fulfilled, so I pretty much decided I was going to pursue a solo career.”
It wasn’t Rafferty’s first attempt at going it alone. Following the split of an earlier group, the folk-based Humblebums, Rafferty recorded Can I Have My Money Back? in 1971 (it wasn’t released in America until 1973). Rafferty’s second stab at a solo career took a while to get off the ground. Following the dissolution of Stealers Wheel, he found himself entangled in a web of legal hassles surrounding the band. “After Steelers Wheel finished, I was living in Scotland with my wife and child, and I would have to make frequent visits to London to sort out the legal mess,” he recalls. These problems prevented Rafferty from recording for two years, but his frequent travels to London would serve as the inspiration for some of his new material. “I used to stay in London for four or five nights at a time. I spent a lot of time wandering around London, wondering if I was going to be able to get out this terrible mess” says Rafferty.
Although Rafferty wrote “Baker Street” back home in Scotland, the song was about his experiences in London. “It’s about the feeling of being alone in a city and how huge a city can be and how small and insignificant a person can feel in the face of it,” he says.
The trademark riff of the song, played by Raphael Ravenscroft on saxophone, was always part of the song, but Rafferty didn’t initially have saxophone in mind. “I felt at one point I would write lyrics for that part and I would sing it,” Rafferty says, “but once the actual song structure came together, I realized it would make a good instrumental passage, but I didn’t know what instrument would be appropriate.” Rafferty tried guitar and piano, before deciding on the sax.
The track “Right Down the Line,” written for Rafferty’s wife at the time, was also inspired by the legal problems. “She had stood by me through some really heavy times,” he says. “It was just my way of saying thanks.”
The ballad “Whatever’s Written in Your Heart” is “one of my favorite songs I’ve written over the past 25 years,” Rafferty says, while the album opener, “The Ark,” which features fiddles and mandolin, reflects his background in Scottish and Irish folk music.
City to City was recorded “pretty much live,” says Rafferty, at Chipping Norton Studios in London, except for some guitar overdubs. “It was a good band with a really gifted bunch of people,” Rafferty says. “There was something about the chemistry that just really clicked.”
In June 1978, “Baker Street,” the second single from the album, climbed all the way to number two on the Hot 100, but was unable to dethrone Andy Gibb’s “Shadow Dancing.” Yet Rafferty would eventually have his revenge on the Gibbs, as City to City ended the six-month chart-topping reign of Saturday Night Fever, featuring Andy’s older brothers, the Bee Gees. “It was an incredible surprise to me,” says Rafferty. “I would have been happy if the album had sold 200,000 in the U.K. and Europe.”
THE TOP FIVE
Week of July 8, 1978
1. City to City, Gerry Rafferty
2. Saturday Night Fever, Soundtrack
3. Natural High, Commodores
4. Some Girls, The Rolling Stones
5. Stranger in Town, Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band