Songs Everyone Should Know
“The Joker”, The Steve Miller Band (1973)
If you were born under a rock as they say, you may not have heard this song, otherwise, I’m pretty sure you have. Released in late 1973 it went to number one in January 1974.
This song has some interesting lyrics. First of all, he makes reference to ‘Space Cowboy’ and ‘Gangster of Love’, both of which were previous Steve Miller songs. Some people think it draws heavily from Allen Toussaint’s song ‘Soul Sister’. The cadence sounds similar to me, and similar to other Toussaint songs like ‘Working in a Coalmine’.
Although Steve claims to have coined the term “pompitous”, as in “pompitous of love”, it really seems to originate from the song “The Letter” by the Medallions in 1954. This song has the lyrics:
Oh my darling, let me whisper
sweet words of pizmotality
and discuss the puppetutes of love.
As Vern Green the composer of the song says ”Pizmotality described words of such secrecy that they could only be spoken to the one you loved," and he term puppetutes "to mean a secret paper-doll fantasy figure who would be my everything and bear my children."
The so-called word ‘pompitous’ was also picked up and used by Wolfman Jack in the song “Clap for the Wolfman” by the Guess Who in late 1974.
Strangely, “The Joker’ went to number one in the U.K, and topped the charts in Ireland, Holland, and New Zealand. in 1990 for two weeks after it was used in a Levis commercial. This is the largest gap ever for a #1 song.
Miller formed the band in San Francisco in 1967 to backup Chuck Berry at the Filmore West. Soon after they were joined by guitarist Boz Scaggs (later a huge solo act) to perform at the Monterey Pop Festival.
In 1968 while in England they recorded their first solo effort entitled “Children of the Future” It was a very blues-oriented effort that did not get great chart success. The follow-up “Sailor”, however went to number 24 on Billboard, which included singles `Lucky Man ‘and `Livin`in the U.S.A.`as well as the Boz Scaggs penned "Overdrive" and "Dime-A-Dance Romance"
In 1969 the third album `Brave New World ‘and featured the song “Space Cowboy” and a song called “Dark Hour”, with bass playing courtesy of a Paul Ramone (aka Paul McCartney). This album went to number 22 on the charts.
In 1971 Miller suffered a broken neck in a car accident so they released a live album called ``Rock Love`.
Returning in 1973 with the completely different `Joker`, Miller was back in the game.
Three years later Miller hit the world with his `Fly Like an Eagle `featuring songs `Take the Money and Run` and `Rock `N Me`, which Miller said was a tribute to `Free`s`song, `Alright Now``.
1977`s follow-up, `Book of Dreams` included hits `Jungle Love`, my favourite Steve Miller song and `Swingtown`, `Jet Airliner‘ and another of my favourites `Winter Time`.
1978`s Greatest Hits package has now sold over 13 million copies.
One thing you may be wondering is `Why was this guy playing with rock royalty like Chuck Berry and Paul McCartney? What makes him so special”? Well it was his birth right kind of – you see Steve’s father, was good friends with Les Paul (you know the guitar, Les Paul Gibson?), and T-Bone Walker. Les Paul and Mary Ford were regular visitors to the Miller house and were best man and maid of honour at their wedding. Steve’s fatter was Dr. George “Sunny” Miller, a pathologist, jazz enthusiast, and amateur recording engineer, who was also an excellent amateur jazz singer.
When Miller was 5 his dad made a recording of him and Les Paul thought it was great. He was encouraged to play. I think Les was his godfather also. In 1950 the Millers moved to Dallas and Steve formed his first band at 17, teaching his brother to play bass and class-mate Boz Scaggs to play guitar.
Miller did finish high school in Dallas and then went to The University of Copenhagen in Denmark, dropping out 6 credits short of a degree in comparative literature, only really interested in his music. He then moved to Chicago and with a few connections played with Paul Butterfield, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Buddy Guy. Having learned what he needed to, the rest is history as they say...he just wanted to play his music in the sun...