January 05, 2011

R.I.P. Gerry Rafferty

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Gerry Rafferty, who first claimed fame as a member of Stealer's Wheel (with Joe Egan). Their hit, Stuck in the Middle With You, seems to get as much radio play now as it did in 1974.

My favorite Stealers Wheel song has always been the wry Star:

But Rafferty's biggest hit was Baker Street, a song that has special meaning for me. In 1978 when it was released in the U.S., I was a newbie at NBC, working on soap operas and game shows in New York. My boss, Madeline David, the second female programming vice-president ever at the network, was given the assignment of supervising a summer series called Headliners with David Frost, a low budget hybrid talk-variety show featuring interviews, political satire, and one song.

Madeline knew how obsessed I was with rock music and along with producer, gave me the following challenge: Give us a song by an artist that no one has ever heard of now that will be in the Top 10 by the time the [live] show airs. That's a daunting assignment, but modesty aside, the only two acts I suggested that were booked fulfilled the promise. I'm especially proud of my out in left field pick of Bonnie Tyler's It's a Heartache, which hit #2 on the Billboard chart that summer. I had never heard of Bonnie Tyler before "Heartache," and was worried that it might not be a hit in the U.S., but I had every confidence in the world that Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street would be a smash. Everything about it, from the melody to the lyrics to the arrangement, especially the searing Raphael Ravenscroft sax solo, would be a hit. Gerry Rafferty was my number one recommendation, and the song hit #3 on the Billboard chart, and eventually, the fine album it was on, City to City, eventually hit #1 in the States.

The great music blogger, Bob Lefsetz, just posted a fine tribute to Raffery, with a link to an excellent obituary in the Guardian.

My one regret is that I never got to meet Rafferty. Because it was a live show, I was working during the hour and he disappeared as quietly as he arrived. But his music lives on: