Recall The Beginning – A Journey From Eden

LP, UK, Capitol, 1972

Recall The Beginning … A Journey From Eden
Steve Miller Band
1972

CD, 2018
Inside of gatefold sleeve: LP and CD
side oneside two
WelcomeLove’s Riddle
Enter MauriceFandango
High On You MamaNothing Lasts
Heal Your HeartJourney From Eden
The Sun Is Going Down
Somebody Somewhere Help Me
All tracks composed by Steve Miller

Produced by Ben Sidran

(LP Capitol SMAS 11022 1972
CD reissue 2018)

Musicians:
Steve Miller – guitar, vocal
Jesse Ed Davis – guitar *
Gerald Johnson – bass guitar
Jim Keltner, Roger Allen Clark, Gary Mallaber, Jack King – drums
Ben Sidran, Dick Thompson – keyboards

String and horn arrangements by Nick DeCaro

What the critics said:

…A perplexing album which showed (Miller) in a melancholic and lethargic mood
(Guinness Encyclopaedia of Rock)

I think this is a concept album  in which Miller’s rejection by a female drummer named Kim symbolizes ‘all the pointless suffering / Humanity.’ But I don’t intend to make sure. C-
(Christgau’s Guide to Albums of the 70s)

 … (from) the long and sleepy middle period in which the formula became tired and passé   * * * 
(Rolling Stone Album Guide)

Steve Miller developed a fanatically loyal cult following in the late sixties with a series of albums, Children of The Future, Sailor and Your Saving Grace which mixed psychedelic suites with basic blues. He recreated himself in the seventies as a soft-rock superstar, when the classic multi-platinum The Joker spawned a new career highlighted by massive hits like Fly Like An Eagle, Take The Money and Run, Swingtown and Jet Airliner. In the eighties he meandered from great but not great-selling albums like Italian X-Rays to the supper club ambience of Born 2B Blue. He reappeared on Paul McCartney’s Flaming Pie  album, with his guitar sound intact.

Recall The Beginning comes from that difficult middle period. It’s been utterly rejected by Miller, who has stated that it would never be released on CD. The earlier album, Number Five, was disliked by the critics even more, but that’s been available on silver disc for years. Rock Love, immediately preceding it, is also unavailable. When the lavish CD box set appeared, only one track from Recall The Beginning, the final Journey From Eden represented this album. The same track was the only representative on Anthology. A few months ago I saw a secondhand CD box set in a record fair. I’d been vaguely interested in buying it in the States for $39 and had been kicking myself for missing out on a bargain every time I subsequently saw it in HMV at £53. I started chatting to the guy who was selling it, and we discovered that Recall the Beginning was the favourite Steve Miller album for both of us. He popped the track Journey From Eden on the ghetto blaster, and a few minutes later a small group of Recall the Beginning  devotees had assembled. We all noted mournfully that the album’s been deleted for years. I replaced my worn out Capitol copy with a German vinyl import about ten years ago. And I still play it. I don’t play much else by Steve Miller, though The Joker always brings a smile to my face. I used to listen to him a lot in 1970. A friend played Sailor  all the time. Now I’m content with the greatest hits packages. If you like The Joker and Quicksilver Girl you may well love this album.

(2020 Note: This was written in 2001. The CD release was announced several times over five or six years, and finally saw an official CD release in 2018).

So, what’s it got, and what’s wrong with it?

Steve Miller recorded it following an early 1972 European tour in which he was in severe pain from an undiagnosed broken neck following a car accident, and when he was later hospitalized for the neck injury, he found out he had hepatitis. He was off the road for six months after its release, so no wonder it doesn’t bring back good memories for him. I wouldn’t call it lethargic, but there is a discernible painkiller haze. The whole album meanders after the same failing / failed relationship, so it may have personal unpleasant connotations for Miller.

The album track-by-track

UK LP, 1972

Welcome

Miller had been using two drummers on the 1972 tour, and the whole album is a 70s stereo drum demo. In other words, the stereo is the kind of thing they used to demonstrate headphones, the hottest word in 1972 hi-fi. The first track is an instrumental, Welcome. It begins with drums blasting in the left ear with nothing at all on the right, then the guitar comes in 100% on the right, following by a rumbling, burbling bass and horns that leap across tight under your chin … if you were wearing headphones it was the Fuzzy Furry Freak Brothers “Wow man …” sound. You certainly knew the stereo had two sides and that the mono button had not been inadvertently switched in.

Enter Maurice

Miller’s greatest hit, The Joker, starts by name checking Miller’s incarnations on disc, (repeating the gimmick also used on Space Cowboy.)

Some people  call me the Space Cowboy, yeah,
Some call me the Gangster of Love
Some people call me Maur …eece  (guitar wolf whistle)
Because I speak of the pompitous of love …

The guitar wolf-whistle is a quote from Enter Maurice, so is the pompitous of love.  C.D. Harris’s web page explains all. I’d wondered for years whether Miller was singing prophetess or properties. It is indeed what it sounds like, pompitous. The made-up word is a deliberate quote from a 1954 record by The Medallions called The Letter. The writer admitted that he’d meant to write puppeteuese. Anyway, Miller loved the mistake and repeated it for posterity.

It has a Ruben and The Jets quality, complete with Ooh – Hah chorus and cheesy guitar. It’s fun, it’s a piss-take. It also set a lot of the sound, a lot of the style of The Joker, which repeats the wolf-whistle effect after Lovey-dovey all the time … . Maurice is a total sleaze, a Ruben and The Jets hanger-on, quite possibly a pimp, at least that’s what he sounds like to me. Maurice is coming on heavy to his chick over greasy doo-wop choruses. This is a truly great Miller track. Notable semi-spoken lines  over the doo-wop chorus include:

My dearest darling, come closer to Maurice so I can whisper sweet words of epistemology in your ear and speak to you of the pompitous of love …

For you to leave me at this time darling must surely be wrong … so come back and reconsider one thing, Maurice is the only one to make your little heart sing …

I don’t know why you won’t make no more apple pie , since you’ve been gone it’s been starvation, momma, ever since  I lost my probation …

Don’t you remember the time  that you ended up in jail? That’s right, darling, it was Maurice who went your bail …

Just remember darling, I found myself a gun, and I will be the only one, to love you .

This song prefaced The Joker by a year, and reminds me of its greatness more than anything else in the Miller songbook.

High On You Mama

Very melodic, very lethargic, very falsetto, very spaced out.

But what tasty sparkly guitar bits.

And the drumming’s pulled back, nearly backwards. Great.

As for the lyrics they generally consist of You know that I’m high which he probably was. Nowadays you can bottle this sort of sound and sell it in health food outlets as New Age trance music. But then you’d have to lose the vocal.

Heal Your Heart 

A neat bass riff, punctuating electric piano from Ben Sidran, more high choral parts. Jesse Ed Davis joins Miller on guitar.

It’s unmistakable Steve Miller, and the middle eight is a bit dull, but then it’s the most average track on the album. Even so, if it was on CD, you wouldn’t skip it. Again, the theme of betrayal in love continues:

I gave you my love baby, you just used it
Gave you direction, mama, but you just lose it …

The Sun Is Going Down

A bash at a hokey country sound with tired-of-the-road lyrics. Maybe it’s a parody of the whole Dillards / Poco / Byrds / Burrittos thing. It includes a whistling solo, tambourine, and an uncharacteristically simplistic country  bass line, all note and fifth.

Somebody Somewhere Help Me

This repeats the theme of Welcome with added vocal and the same impressive double time drumming. The same woman is the subject. Everyone warned him that she was going to break him apart. He didn’t listen … nobody told him about her low down friends. Solid rock. It’s not just the title that reminds me of vintage Spencer Davis Group. Which reminds me of Homer Banks.

Side two lets the tracks flow into each other with interlocking themes. Side one was the fast(ish) side. This is the really lethargic side, and the best.

German copy (I have a German copy)

Love’s Riddle

Close miked acoustic guitar then a wash of cymbals before the distant voice, and finally Nick DeCaro’s strings.

What can you do when your love is untrue
and you’re feeling blue ,and left in sorrow
And your love is in vain and it causes you pain
There’s no tomorrow …

This theme of a broken relationship has been quoted as the reason for Miller’s aversion to the album, and it runs relentlessly throughout side two.

Fandango

Fandango: US single

As the last note of Love’s Riddle dies, pause, then a picked acoustic guitar comes in. The vocal comes from a mile away and is the bit Christgau was quoting, it sounds like:

Kieran (Kim? Karen? Carol?), come and play the drum …

but the published lyrics support Christgau’s ear rather than mine. It is Kim.

One verse and the music suddenly cheers up, the full band comes in, electric guitar is overdubbed, and Miller’s exhorting

Dance a light fandango … Take me round and around …
Dance a light fandango, …never let me down …

There’s only one place a reference to light fandangos can come from, Procul Harum’s huge 1967 hit A Whiter Shade of Pale (We skip a light fandango … ) which refers to the saying to skip the light fantastic, based on a line from John Milton’s, ‘L’Allegro” …

Sport that wrinkled Care derides
And Laughter holding both his sides
Come and trip it as you go
On the light fantastic toe.

Nothing lasts

The full swoop of strings starts it off,  then acoustic guitar again. There’s a lot of orchestral work here, courtesy of Nick DeCaro. It’s still on the death of love theme.

And you know so damn well
That your life is a heaven and a hell
And it’s very easy to tell
When you’re sick and when you’re well
So the secret to this life
Is so very easy to learn
If you ever love another
Never ask for anything in return

Journey From Eden

Acoustic guitar for the fourth track in a row. It’s ominous. Christgau thought it was pretentious, but not when you hear the relentlessness of the sound.

Listen to the blackbird sadly sing
For you. For Me.
Look at all the pointless suffering
humanity.

I am dreaming of a garden
And I see the midnight flight
Of a blackbird through my vision
To the  light …

She is standing

in the doorway
With the love light in her eyes
And she beckons me to journey
Through the night …

To the people who are naked
As they breathe in amber haze
As they wander
Endlessly narcotic
Through the maze …

The words don’t work cold on paper, but the best lyrics never do. It’s from the dark end of psychedelia as it wound its way out of public concern.

Re-appraisal

Every track is memorable. I find some earlier Steve Miller stuff (like Livin’ in the USA ) competent but dull. Other early stuff like Space Cowboy was packed with ideas, but the band didn’t ultimately have the skill to cope with the sudden jerks of time change – something that British prog rockers like King Crimson could do in their sleep. It all comes together here.  The bass and drum sound is exemplary and stands up proudly nearly fifty years later. For its time, it was exceptional. The melodies win right through this album.

I think it’s a (short) masterpiece.

One down for the critics. One down for Miller too. In any creative field, once you release an artifact you’re stuck with it. It has its own existence. 2018 was too long to wait.

AFTERWORD

Max Bell: (It) sounds like it was made on very heavy painkillers. Does that explain the antipathy towards it?
Steve Miller: It arrived during a very difficult period. For a long time, I didn’t like going there. I’m coming round. It didn’t sell, but yeah, it’s a serious piece of work. That had Gerald Johnson’s bass, one of the greatest I ever worked with (Johnson was poached from Elvis Presley’s opening act, The Sweet Inspirations) and the drummers Roger Allen Clark and Jack King. We played with them at The Rainbow in London. My wife loves it. I remember the producer, Ben Sidran, being slumped on the console muttering, “When will this everend?” So if I wasn’t hot on it for a while, I blame Ben, not engineer Bruce Botnick. For a while, I confused it with ‘Rock Love (1971)’ which also bombed and was mixed behind my back, and The ‘Circle of Love’ album (1981). I was also starting to feel like Capitol’s cash cow, but I got the masters back, and I put it out, so you should be happy about that.
Max Bell interview, Record Collector #521, August 2021

THE REVILED ALBUMS ARE (so far) …

Beatles For Sale – The Beatles
Their Satanic Majesties Request … The Rolling Stones
Speedway (and Elvis film music) – Elvis Presley
Electric Mud– Muddy Waters
Self Portrait – Bob Dylan
Byrdmaniax – The Byrds
Cahoots – The Band
Carl and The Passions- So Tough! – The Beach Boys
Wild Life – Wings
Recall The Beginning: A Journey From Eden … The Steve Miller Band
Hard Nose The Highway … Van Morrison
Chicago III … Chicago
Berlin– Lou Reed
Pinups – David Bowie
Death of A Ladies’ Man – Leonard Cohen
Born Again – Randy Newman
Mingus – Joni Mitchell
Everybody’s Rockin’ – Neil Young
American Dream – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

And here’s a rule-breaker. I’d decided one album each, but Van Morrison got so much vituperation from critics (unjustly) in 2021, that I had to add it:

Latest Record Project Volume1… Van Morrison

This list will grow steadily

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