A City in Progress

Like everybody else in the summer of 1978, I dug Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street,” and I was impressed when City to City managed to knock Saturday Night Fever out of the #1 spot on the album chart.  That fall, as I endured the difficult transition during my first semester in college, “Right Down the Line” made me feel better every time it came on the radio. But it wasn’t until years later that I actually owned a copy of City to City, and years after that before it became one of my desert-island records.

It was inevitable, really. On City to City, Rafferty sings about finding one’s place, as on “Baker Street” and “The Ark”. “City to City” and “Home and Dry” are about the irresistible lure of home. “Whatever’s Written in Your Heart” is about letting go and moving on, but with the hope of someday finding the way back. If I could write songs, those are the subjects I’d write about.

Although Rafferty’s delivery is sometimes fairly low-key, it’s actually more committed than it seems. He’s singing the hell out of some of these songs, especially “City to City” and “Whatever’s Written in Your Heart. And his band does magnificent work: “Baker Street” is as close to perfect as any piece of music can be, and the two ballads, “Stealin’ Time” and “Whatever’s Written in Your Heart,” are gorgeous.

(Yeah, I really really really like “Whatever’s Written in Your Heart.”)

City to City got the two-disc Collector’s Edition treatment in 2011. The first disc adds “Big Change in the Weather,” which was the B-side of the “Baker Street” single. The bonus tracks on disc 2 are mostly demos of songs on the album, an early version of “Take the Money and Run,” a song that would eventually appear on Rafferty’s 1979 album Night Owl, plus a couple of ambient 30-second instrumental tracks, recorded for what purpose I dunno.

The bonus tracks are demos, after all, so it’s hard to blame Rafferty for sounding flat and inexpressive on most of them. The best of the lot are the demos of “Big Change in the Weather” and “City to City”—the later is performed at a slower tempo than the finished version, which gives it a sly, bluesy feel. The demo of “Baker Street” is even more clearly a work in progress, hazy and drenched in reverb, with a wah-wah guitar in place of the iconic saxophone on the finished version. If nothing else, it makes you appreciate the brilliance of the decision to use the sax. Without it, it’s doubtful whether anybody would have noticed “Baker Street” at all.

If you want to hear the whole second disc, it’s here. There’s about 30 minutes of music in all, enough to push the total length of the album to about 85 minutes and require a two-disc set. Given that the bonus tracks are little more than curiosities, leaving one of them off to fit the whole package onto a single CD might have been a kindness, to record buyers at least, if not to the Rafferty estate. There are no lost treasures, apart from “Big Change in the Weather.” What the demos do mostly is to confirm the greatness of the performances on the finished album. When it was time to get down to work, Rafferty and his band created a classic worthy of 35 years in the hot rotation, and one that will remain popular for a while yet.

4 thoughts on “A City in Progress

  1. Yah Shure

    CTC’s title track has long been a personal favorite. United Artists’ decision to speed up the entire US CTC album really benefitted that track. Going back to listen to the US “City To City” 45 (issued several months ahead of the LP in October, ’77) is like listening to molasses flow, as it was cut at the original master tape speed. Small wonder it didn’t chart (not that the choppy edit helped its cause, either.)

    Favorite killer Raffertyesque hook: Ween’s “Stay Forever” from 2000’s ‘White Pepper.’

  2. I so wish “Whatever’s Written in Your Heart” had been a single and a hit one at that, thereby ensuring there’d be a karaoke track today. I’d love to tackle that one. I’ve played it on Sound Awake before to positive response from people who’d never heard it before but recognized that voice right off.

    Was not aware that CtC was sped up for American consumption. That explains why that promo clip of “Baker Street” I catch on occasion sounds too slow to me. I thought it might have been a mastering error.

    (Oh, and even though it’s naturally his most available karaoke track, “Baker Street” doesn’t lend itself to the experience, as it’s only two verses and you’re done before you pick up steam. This is also why I’ve never done Gary Numan’s “Cars”…too minimal.)

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