Supertramp was initially called Daddy until they set about turning a hobby into a profession in 1970. Keyboards man Rick Davies assembled his component parts from a Melody Maker trade advert and enlisted Hodgson, guitarist Richard Palmer and drummer Keith Baker. Testing-the-water gigs in Munich honed their stagecraft and they settled on their band name after coming across the William Henry Davies book The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp (whose sales would skyrocket in later years!).
Their debut self-titled Supertramp album was one of the first releases on the UK based A&M – the label being well established by Jerry Moss and Herb Alpert Stateside – and their canny blend of prog and psych was good enough to gain them exposure at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, although it was stylistically atypical of what would follow, especially when the new line-up featuring reeds player Dave Winthrop bedded down. This first foray is still well worth a listen. The songs are co-writes between Hodgson, Davies and then lyricist Richard Palmer and the arrangements are ambitious, with instrumentation running from for Indelibly Stamped cello and flageolet to harmonica and balalaika.
This somewhat whimsical opening didn’t prepare their following for Indelibly Stamped (1971), whose cover features the chest of a heavily tattooed Marion Holler and now looks way ahead of the time. It’s popular with the Ink mags, as you may imagine .The music inside is radically altered. The prog leanings switch to harder rock and there is a change of personnel with Kevin Currie taking the drum seat, Frank Farrell adding bass and keys, and key member Dave Winthrop brining along his saxes, flutes and vocals. The fine instrumental passages on ‘Aries’ caused some to claim the album was indulgent. It wasn’t so. The songs are mostly short and crisp and the harmonies are starting to ring clear.
Fast forward three years and Supertramp again sound completely different. Crime of the Century may have taken an age to perfect but the effort paid dividends with classic pop items ‘Dreamer’ and ‘Bloody Well Right’ doing the business on both sides of the Atlantic. Now they’ve taken on drummer Bob Siebenburg, additional woodwinds from John Anthony Helliwell, and Dougie Thomson’s bass – allowing Hodgson to move upfront with Davies as vocal partners, and concentrate on his guitar playing – and don’t forget the significant contribution of engineer Ken Scott, whose work with The Beatles and David Bowie, to name but two, makes him a legend in his own right.
The sonic alterations are magnificent, hence it became the first Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab vinyl reissue in 1977, and it sounds fantastic today. Stylistically and lyrically there are echoes of Pink Floyd – class struggle, social embarrassment et al. The Hodgson/Davies partnership is working to maximum effect on ‘Rudy’ and ‘Asylum’ and the whole thing is a well-considered account of alienation and angst.
Superstardom beckons now for Supertramp. Crisis? What Crisis? – title taken from a newspaper headline during the British ‘winter of discontent’ – is a pre-punk period peach. Once again Ken Scott’s immaculate production provides the polish to an album written on the roads in America. Stand out cuts include ‘Just A Normal Day’ and ‘Another Man’s Woman’ with its acerbic Davies vocal.
If Crisis?...lacked for an obvious hit then Even in the Quietist Moments…(1977) rectified that thanks to the smash ‘Give a Little Bit’ – now an FM standard – and an album’s worth of tunes that were perfectly in accord with American radio stations. Recording in Colorado and LA Supertramp excelled again. Their witty lyrics and off the cuff social commentary might have passed unnoticed at the time but plenty that’s good is revealed now on ‘Lover Boy’ and the epic Hodgson piece ‘Fool’s Overture’ where Winston Churchill, Gustav Holst and William Blake are mixed in with iconic London sounds – Big Ben, nee-naw police cars and street noise.
If Supertramp sometimes felt like prophets without honour in the UK, across the pond their appeal mushroomed exponentially with Breakfast in America (1979), a success of Fleetwood Mac super sized proportions. A rare case of the whole being as good as the sum of its parts, the Breakfast…effect was vast. Catchy and cute cuts like ‘The Logical Song’, ‘Goodbye Stranger’, ‘Take the Long Way Home’ and the title track itself ensured the album received two Grammy Awards in 1980. A quadruple platinum seller (and the biggest selling English language album of all time in France) this adult orientated soft pop rock, art rock beast – typecast it at your peril – may have a loosely satirical framework but isn’t really a concept, just a collection of classic songs that are brilliantly executed. At this moment the appeal of BIA hasn’t dimmed at all. It remains completely essential. We have it in remastered formats both Expanded and Deluxe and bloody well right too.
Following the double live album Paris (where the band are fêted as rock gods) comes …Famous Last Words (1982), the last to feature Hodgson before he commences a successful solo career. If there was tension in the ranks it only added spice. Fusing heavy progressive motifs with in-house pop chutzpah this was another worldwide sensation. Durable pieces ‘Waiting So Long’ and ‘Don’t Leave Me Now’ swamped the airwaves; meanwhile the big hit ‘It’s Raining Again’ (accompanied by Russell Mulcahy's evocative and influential video) continues to bring in Ackers thanks to being used by Fox Networks on their TV weather station.
Regrouping after Hodgson’s departure Brother Where You Bound enables Davies to shine. His composition ‘Cannonball’ was the hit but far from the only reason to check this disc out now. The 16 minute Cold War-inspired title track features dual guitar work from Thin Lizzy’s Scott Gorham and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour: long time fans were delighted to discover that Supertramp hadn’t forsaken their progressive background after all.
Taking stock with the superb compilation The Autobiography of Supertramp our heroes now venture into club mix territory – we kid you not – on Free as a Bird (1987), a contemporary example of rock, pop and programming that fared well on dance floors thanks to ‘I’m Beggin’ You’. If that was a shock to the (sound) system it was smart practise to offer The Very Best of Supertramp – a compilation that sounds definitive and flows seamlessly through the hits.
We bid the ‘Tramp adieu now with Retrospective – The Supertramp Anthology (2005), This is destined for discerning discoverers and true Trampers alike. Brilliantly handy as a single disc, it is more comprehensive as the double CD edition, though both feature the non-album single and B-side ‘Land Ho’ (remixed) and 'Summer Romance’. The enduring appeal of the group ensured this Anthology went platinum in the UK and it is wholeheartedly endorsed by the fan base and the media. Classic Rock magazine puts in the bracket of ‘the greatest compilation albums’ and listening is believing.
Good news is that Rick Davies is still out with an updated Supertramp and demand for their music doesn’t abate. Quality will out, long after the critics have gone home.
Words - Max Bell
Crime of the Century is the third album by English rock band Supertramp, released in 1974. Crime of the Century was their commercial breakthrough on both sides of the Atlantic, aided by the UK hit "Dreamer" and the U.S. hit "Bloody Well Right". It was a UK Top 10 album and a U.S. Top 40 album, eventually being certified Gold in the U.S. in 1977 after the release of Even in the Quietest Moments.... The album was Supertramp's first to feature drummer Bob Siebenberg (at the time credited as Bob C. Benberg), woodwinds player John Anthony Helliwell, bassist Dougie Thomson, and co-producer Ken Scott.
The album's dedication reads "To Sam", which is a nickname for Stanley August Miesegaes, the Dutch millionaire who supported the band financially from 1969–72.
Breakfast in America is the sixth album by British rock band Supertramp, released on 29 March 1979 by A&M Records. It was recorded in 1978 at the Village Recorder in Los Angeles. It featured four U.S. Billboard hit singles: "The Logical Song" (No. 6), "Goodbye Stranger" (No. 15), "Take the Long Way Home" (No. 10), and "Breakfast in America" (No. 62). In the UK, "The Logical Song" and the title track were both top 10 hits, the only two the group had in their native country. Breakfast in America won two Grammy Awards in 1980, and holds an RIAA certification of quadruple platinum.
In France, the album is the biggest-selling English language album of all time, and the third biggest seller overall.
Crisis? What Crisis? is the fourth album by progressive rock band Supertramp, released in 1975. It was recorded in Los Angeles and London – Supertramp's first album to have recording done in the United States of America.
A remastered CD version of the album was released on 11 June 2002 on A&M Records. The remaster features the original artwork and credits plus lyrics to all of the songs, which the original release lacked.
Record Mirror included Crisis? What Crisis? on its end-of-year list for 1975, recognising the best albums of the year.
Even in the Quietest Moments… is the fifth album by progressive rock band Supertramp, released in April 1977.
The album was recorded mainly at Caribou Ranch Studios in Colorado with overdubs, vocals and mixing completed at The Record Plant in Los Angeles and was Supertramp's first album to use engineer Peter Henderson, who would work with the band for their next three albums as well. By now, however, the band had moved permanently to the USA.
Indelibly Stamped is the second album by progressive rock band Supertramp, released in 1971. It marked a dramatic change in direction to a more straightforward rock sound, and by admission of the band's own liner notes, "Travelled" is the only song with any resemblance to their début album. Like their début, this album was a commercial failure upon release; however, in later decades it went gold in France and Canada. Original editions have a colour gate-fold cover and different text for the band name and album title. The cover photograph features the tattooed torso and arms of a woman. This is the first Supertramp album issued in the US; the cover was in colour (in 1971), but A&M pasted two gold stars over the nipples.
Supertramp is the self-titled debut album by progressive rock band Supertramp, released in July 1970. It has sometimes been published under the title Now and Then. The album explored a more conventional style of progressive rock than their later works, and was their only album recorded without a saxophonist.
Brother Where You Bound is the eighth studio album by progressive rock band Supertramp, released in 1985. It was their first album after original member Roger Hodgson left the band, leaving Rick Davies to handle the songwriting and singing on his own. The album features the Top 30 hit "Cannonball", edited down from the seven-and-a-half-minute album version.
Paris is a live album by progressive rock band Supertramp, released in 1980. It was recorded on Supertramp's Breakfast in America tour in Paris, France, with most of the tracks taken from a 29 November 1979 show at the Pavillon de Paris, a venue which was once a slaughterhouse. The album was originally going to be called Roadworks. Paris reached number 8 on the Billboard 200 in late 1980 and went Gold immediately, while the live version of "Dreamer" hit the US Top 20.