Saturday Single No. 207

Late last evening, as things were winding down, the Texas Gal – who was puttering on her laptop in the loft – called down the stairs. “I’ve put up a ‘Name That Tune’ at Facebook,” she said. “See if you can get it.”

Always up for a challenge, and usually able to name the tune, I checked out her page. She’d posted a snippet of a lyric: “As wise as a serpent, as gentle as a dove.” The words rang no bells. I thought of her favorite performers, and it sounded like something Stevie Nicks might have written, but mentally running through Nicks’ catalog – or that portion of the catalog I know – got me nowhere. Well, I thought, I’m not always going to get them, and I Googled.

That snippet is a portion of the chorus of a song called “As Wise as a Serpent,” which the Texas Gal had heard on Right Down the Line: The Best of Gerry Rafferty, a 1989 CD we’ve had for a little while. She, obviously, has listened to it more than I have. With the CD upstairs in the loft at the moment, I went to YouTube and did some searching, and I listened to the results as I did some digging on line. And I heard:

Well we sit in empty rooms and dream our lives away
While the spirits come and go without a sound
And just like you and me, they’re tryin’ to find a way
Find a way, find a way home

There’s a full moon in the sky, but that don’t worry me
I don’t ever hang my soul out on the line
When the witchin’ hour comes, I always fly away
Fly away, fly away home

There’s a light in the city, that comes down from above
Leavin’ you as wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove
Don’t blow your tomorrows, don’t throw away your love
You’ve got to be as wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove

Now you once asked me why we can’t communicate
But it doesn’t always pay to tell the truth
If I told you right now, you’d only run away
Run away, run away home

So, we sit in empty rooms and dream our lives away
While the spirits come and go without a sound
Yeah, just like you and me, they’re tryin’ to find a way
Find a way, find a way home

There’s a light in the city, that comes down from above
Leavin’ you as wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove
Don’t blow your tomorrows, don’t throw away your love
You’ve got to be as wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove

Well, that’s a little bleak, I thought, as I dug. An encouraging last chorus, but still. It turned out that “As Wise as a Serpent” was the closing track on Sleepwalking, an album Rafferty released in 1982. That came four years after he had hits with four singles from City to City: “Baker Street” went to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 4 on the Adult Contemporary chart; “Right Down the Line” went to No. 12 on the Hot 100 and to No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart; “Home and Dry” went to No. 28 on the Hot 100 (I don’t know if it did anything on the AC chart); and “Days Gone Down (Still Got The Light In Your Eyes)” went to No. 17 on the Hot 100. In the meantime, the album itself – City to City – went to No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

In the years between Baker Street and Sleepwalking, if one reads the comments at All-Music Guide and then reads between the lines a little, Rafferty became discouraged. In 1979, Night Owl went to No. 29 on the Billboard 200 but threw off only one hit single, “Get It Right Next Time,” which went to No. 21 on the pop chart. (Actually, it threw off two; see comments below.)  His next album, 1980’s Snakes & Ladders, reached only No. 61, while its best-performing single, “The Royal Mile (Sweet Darlin’),” got only as high as No. 54. I’ve not heard either Night Owl or Snakes & Ladders in their entirety, but what I have heard seems to match up with the reviews at AMG, which indicate that the music on them – though well-written and well–performed – seemed increasingly subdued.

Reading a little more between the lines, I wonder if that shift was because of the relative commercial failure of his work or because of Rafferty’s personality. In his review of Baker Street, AMG’s Doug Stone notes that “Gerry Rafferty is a huge talent, but a reluctant star.” And in its entry on 1982’s Sleepwalking, the album that followed Snakes & Ladders by two years, Wikipedia states: “It would be Rafferty’s last album for six years. He had begun to become discouraged because of his declining popularity. Once again, he refused to put together a tour for the album.” The entry adds that Rafferty was not fond of touring.

So maybe the joy clearly audible in “Baker Street” and the rest of City to City – no matter the emotional content of the songs – is the exception and not the rule. Not being a Rafferty scholar – assuming there are such out there – and having listened to only bits of Night Owl and Snakes & Ladders over the years, I can only surmise. But what I’ve heard of those two albums has seemed less, well, outgoing than Rafferty’s debut album.

And late last evening, through the benefit of YouTube, I made my way through Sleepwalking, including, as noted above, the track that spurred this exploration, “As Wise as a Serpent.” My earlier characterization of “bleak” was a bit harsh, and even “subdued” is not quite right. Having let the music settle overnight, I’d go with “pensive.” And along with that adjective goes another: “beautiful.” The eight tracks of Sleepwalking, which I’d somehow managed to avoid for twenty-eight years, are stunningly atmospheric.

So I thought about buying the CD. There has to be one out there, right? Well, there is, but it’s in short supply, and the cheapest copies of it at Amazon are priced at $125. I checked at my other favorite place, GEMM, and I found no CDs of the album for sale, although there are a few copies on vinyl, ranging widely in price, from seven bucks to $126. Well, I may order the vinyl, and I guess I’m going to have to dig around for Rafferty’s other stuff. I’m not sure why I’ve not already explored his stuff beyond “Baker Street” and a little bit of digging into his earlier groups, the Humblebums and Stealer’s Wheel.

But it’s way past time to do so, and here’s part of the reason why: “As Wise as a Serpent,” today’s Saturday Single:

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3 Responses to “Saturday Single No. 207”

  1. jb says:

    “Days Gone Down” was also a hit single from “Night Owl”–went top 20 in the summer of ’79, if I’m recalling correctly. I like “Night Owl” quite a lot. It’s not “City to City,” but then what could be?

  2. whiteray says:

    @jb: Yup. It was right in front of me as I wrote, and I missed it. “Days Gone Down” went to No. 17 in the summer of 1979. Thanks.

  3. porky says:

    listening to “City to City” completely conjures up the late 70’s for me.

    And I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that “Star” by Stealer’s Wheel is one of THE great overlooked singles of the 70’s.

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