Sunday, January 17, 2016

Children of the Future - Steve Miller Band

Children of the Future
Steve Miller Band
Capitol SKAO 2920

Congratulations to Steve Miller for making it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  As I've mentioned in past posts, I despise that institution but I'm glad Miller received the recognition anyway.  No doubt he is in there for his work in the mid-1970s when he had a bunch of hits.  That is when I first encountered him.  I liked him because he sounded better than most of the other acts that were popular around that time, but I didn't become a fan until I discovered his work from the 1960s.  The first two albums by the Steve Miller Band, "Children of the Future" and "Sailor" impressed me when I was in college and obsessed with the San Francisco Sound.  I did buy some of his later albums, but these two are the only ones I still play very much.  It opens with the title song which like most of the record was written by Miller.  It begins with a frenzy of psychedelic noise before settling into a propulsive folk rock groove driving the flower child lyrics about the new generation, getting high and loving one another.  The song segues seamlessly into the rocking fragment "Pushed Me to It" which is about a break-up.  It  leads directly into another up tempo fragment "You've Got the Power" which is about the power of love.  Without a break the album abruptly shifts speed and feeling with the slow majestic organ line that introduces "In My First Mind" which Miller wrote with the band's organist Jim Peterman.  The song is driven by swelling organ and mellotron runs that remind me of Pink Floyd.  The song is a trippy love song that is one of my favorite tracks on the album.  There is a segue of seagulls and wave sounds that lead into the concluding song on side one, "The Beauty of Time is That It's Snowing (Psychedelic B. B.)" which is as surreal as its title.  There is a blues boogie at the beginning mixed low with sound effects on top.  It fades away for more ocean noises and then Peterman's organ returns playing the slow riff from "In My First Mind" over which the group repeatedly sings "We are children of the future" until the song fades out.  Side one is a remarkable piece of music, totally unlike any of the other San Francisco bands of the time that I've heard.  Side two is more conventional.  It opens with Boz Scaggs' "Baby's Callin' Me Home" which features a subdued lead vocal from Scaggs and harpsichord lines from Ben Sidran.  It is a simple love song but the melody is hypnotic and haunting giving the banal words a lot more feeling than they deserve.  It is my favorite track on the record.  It segues into another song by Scaggs, "Steppin' Stone."  In total contrast to the previous song this is a riff-driven blues rocker about a guy whose woman has done him wrong.  "Roll With It" is also a riff-driven rocker of the so-long-babe-I-gotta-ramble variety.  Miller at last unleashes his guitar for a stinging solo.  The album continues in a similar vein with Jim Pulte's "Junior Saw It Happen" which is about a guy whose woman has run off with another guy.  It is a fast paced boogie driven by Peterman's organ with another highly charged guitar solo from Miller.  The band's drummer Tim Davis sings the lead vocal.  It is followed by a cover of Buster Brown's 1959 blues classic "Fannie Mae" (listed as "Fanny Mae" on the album cover.)  Davis again sings lead and Miller plays harmonica on this jumping track that testifies to Miller's beginnings as a blues musician in Chicago.  The album concludes with a slow cover of Charles Segar and Big Bill Broonzy's blues standard, "The Key to the Highway."  I don't think Miller was a good enough singer to put the song over properly but I still enjoy the track thanks to the band's instrumental strength.  Stylistically this record jumps all over the place with one side of highly original psychedelic progressive rock and another of mostly derivative blues and rock.  I like both but side one is definitely my favorite.  It is records like this that make albums so appealing to me.  Not only do I like the programming and the way the songs flow together, but I also admire how it takes the listener on such an adventurous musical trip while sustaining a groove and a consistent mood.  I can't think of another album quite like it aside from the band's wonderful follow-up record, "Sailor."  Recommended to people who think it would be cool if Canned Heat jammed with King Crimson. 

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