Once more your rockin’ writer felt the urge to resurrect his “Listen Again” series. For those of you just joining us, the “Listen Again” series is a series in which we revisit albums that for one reason or another didn’t receive the attention or acclaim they deserved when they were originally released. Whether it was the recording was ahead of its time, broke away from the artist’s usual style, was poorly publicized or initially misunderstood, the “Listen Again” series urges music fans to listen again. This time we revisit The Steve Miller Band’s Fly Like an Eagle.
For those not up on their 1970s hit-makers, an American rock group founded by Steve Miller in 1967 in San Francisco, California. The band is most famous for a series of mostly 1970s hit singles that have become classic rock radio staples. Fly Like an Eagle would be the band’s ninth studio album.
The material was recorded between 1975 and 1976. Steve Miller led the way with his lead vocals, guitar, keyboards and sitar. He would also produce the platter. He was backed by Lonnie Turner (bass), Gary Mallaber (drums and percussion) and guest artists on a few specific tracks.
The album opens on an original introductory instrumental titled “Space Intro”. It leads into the titular track “Fly Like an Eagle”. The original version of this song dates back to 1973 and includes a blues-influenced rhythm and no synthesizer. The main guitar hook here was recycled from his 1969 tune “My Dark Hour” which featured ex-Beatle Paul McCartney. Joachim Young guests on B3 organ.
The next number is “Wild Mountain Honey”. This one was written by Steve McCarty. It would go on to become a staple of their live gigs although obviously overshadowed on the album.
“Serenade” follows here. This is the first collaborative cut here having been composed by Chris McCarty and Miller. It’s often an encore number when they play live but is quickly forgotten due to “Dance, Dance, Dance”. This was also a team effort having been written by Miller and Joseph and Brenda Cooper. It features John McFee on dobro and also is often a live staple.
The side closes on a noteworthy cover of “Mercury Blues” by K. C. Douglas and Robert Geddins. (It would later be covered by the likes of Alan Jackson and Meatloaf as well.) The flip side opens on “Take the Money and Run” which is one of the stronger songs on the recording about a Bonnie and Clyde-like couple.
The musical momentum moves on with Miller’s “Rock’n Me”. Careful listeners might observe this is very reminiscent of Free but somehow Miller made it his own and the general public took no notice. It’s followed by a memorable cover of Sam Cooke’s classic “You Send Me” which actually includes a sound bite from Cheech & Chong’s “Championship Wrestling” from their 1974 release Cheech & Chong’s Wedding Album. Listen for the phrase: “C’mon, don’t be nervous!”
Also included here is the minute masterpiece “Blue Odyssey” which includes bluesman James Cotton on harmonica and leads into “Sweet Maree” which also features Cotton. The closing cut is “The Window” which was co-composed with Jason Cooper and includes several guest musicians including Curley Cooke and Les Dudek on guitar, Charles Calamise on bass, Kenny Johnson on drums and Young again on B3 organ.
Released on Capitol Records in the US in May 1976—the same year your not-yet-crusty chronicler earned Eagle Scout—the more than 38 minute work was a commercial success giving birth to three hit singles–the title tune, “Take the Money and Run” and “Rock’n Me”. Rolling Stone magazine even voted it 1976’s “Best Album”. It reached number three on the Billboard 200 chart (and eventually went multi-platinum).
In 2006, on its 30th Anniversary, the platter was remastered and re-released. The CD is includes bonus tracks and a bonus live 2005 concert DVD which features guest musicians George Thorogood and Joe Satriani. Allmusic more recently rated Fly Like an Eagle four-and-a-half stars.
In 2012, the recording was ranked at number 445 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. It’s a perfectly constructed work on which Miller admittedly regurgitates old riffs but with an undeniable professional polish that makes the derivation nearly unimportant. Much like Jefferson Starship, Fleetwood Mac and Bob Seger, The Steve Miller Band was a prototype late 1970s phenomenon.
Miller distilled his signature sound in the late 1960s and merely bided his time until the music market was right for his well-produced, virtual encyclopedia of riffs. The music is generally smooth and seamless in presentation and style.
If you’ve never listened to The Steve Miller Band’s Fly Like an Eagle, listen to it. If you’ve already listened to it . . . listen again.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.