Supertramp was an English rock band that released nine studio albums and a live double-LP on A&M between 1970 and 1987. Their radio evergreens include “School,” “Give a Little Bit,” “The Logical Song,” “Goodbye Stranger,” and “Take the Long Way Home.” Their sound ranges from rock, folk, and R&B to cabaret and orchestral pop.
They were formed in late 1969 by the songwriting team of singer–multi-instrumentalist Roger Hodgson and singer–keyboardist Rick Davies, who served as the two mainstays of the band until Hodgson’s departure in 1983. On their self-titled debut, the pair shared writing duties with musician–wordsmith Richard Palmer-James, who later penned lyrics for Emergency and King Crimson.
Supertramp’s first two albums witnessed the transfer of several members, but the lineup stabilized to a classic five-piece with the 1974 release Crime of the Century. The album elevated the band to global prominence, as sustained through the ensuing releases Crisis? What Crisis? (1975), Even in the Quietest Moments… (1977), and Breakfast in America (1979).
After their 1982 release …Famous Last Words… and the hits “My Kind of Lady” and “It’s Raining Again,” Hodgson left for a solo career. Supertramp continued as an augmented four-piece with the 1985 album Brother Where You Bound, noted for the dance-crossover hit “Cannonball” and the doomsday epic title track, released with an accompanying mini-film.
Supertramp disbanded after 1987’s Free as a Bird but reunited for the discs Some Things Never Change (1997) and Slow Motion (2002).
Members: Rick Davies (vocals, keyboards, harmonica, melodica), Roger Hodgson (vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar, flageolet, violoncello, 1970-83), Richard Palmer-James (guitar, balalaika, vocals, 1970-71), Robert Millar (drums, percussion, harmonica, 1970-71), Dave Winthrop (saxophone, flute, vocals, 1970-73), Kevin Currie (drums, percussion, 1971-73), Frank Farrell (bass, piano, accordion, vocals, 1971-72), Dougie Thomson (bass, 1972-88), Bob Siebenberg [aka Bob C. Benberg] (drums, percussion, 1973-88, 1996-2002, 2010-present), John A. Helliwell (saxophone, clarinet, keyboards, melodica, vocals, 1973-88, 1996-2002, 2010-present), Mark Hart (vocals, keyboards, guitar, 1985-88, 1996-2002), Carl Verheyen (guitar, 1985-86)
Supertramp was assembled in late 1969 by Swindon-born keyboardist–singer Rick Davies. The venture was undertaken at the behest of benefactor Stanley “Sam” August Miesegaes, a Dutch millionaire who funded Davies’ prior band, psych-rockers The Joint. Through a classified in Melody Maker, Davies found bassist–singer Roger Hodgson, guitarist Richard Palmer, and percussionist Keith Baker. Hodgson had just cut a single as Argosy with a then little-known Elton John.
The new band initially called itself Daddy. After a few months, Baker was replaced by drummer Robert Millar. (Baker briefly joined Uriah Heep for their 1971 second album Salisbury.) Several months of band rehearsals preceded a live stint at Munich’s P. N. Club, where they were filmed performing a 10-minute version of “All Along the Watchtower.”
To avoid confusion with rustic-rockers Daddy Longlegs, the band changed its name to Supertramp, inspired by The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp by Welsh poet W. H. Davies. In the spring of 1970, they signed to the newly opened UK branch of A&M Records.
On June 5, 1970, Supertramp made their London premier at the Lyceum Theatre supporting Procol Harum, Argent, and Hard Meat. On the 30th, they did their first of six sessions for BBC Radio One DJ John Peel, playing variations of three titles (“It’s a Long Road,” “I Try Again,” “Birds of Prey”) from their upcoming album.
Supertramp released their self-titled debut album on July 14, 1970, on A&M. It features ten numbers with music by Davies–Hodgson and lyrics by Palmer. “Surely” serves as a prelude to side one and returns later as a proper song, complete with a grand coda that closes out the album. The remaining tracks are mostly in the 4–6-minute range, including “Words Unspoken” and “Aubade and I Am Not Like Other Birds of Prey,” both folksy, tender numbers (with Hodgson on cello) that contrast the intense melodrama of “Nothing to Show” and the 12-minute “Try Again.”
Hodgson sings everything apart from two co-leads apiece with Davies (“Nothing to Show,” “Shadow Song”) and Palmer (“Maybe I’m a Beggar,” “Try Again”). He plays flageolet on the last three and bass on the whole album. Palmer plays the balalaika, a triangular Russian stringed instrument, on “Words Unspoken.”
Supertramp was self-produced at Morgan Sound Studios in North London during June 1970 with engineer Robert Black, who also worked on albums that year by Edwards Hand, Jethro Tull, Keef Hartley Band, Red Dirt, Stone the Crows, and T2.
On the initial UK pressing of Supertramp, the LP labels bear the title And I’m Not Like Other. A&M issued the album concurrently in Italy, Oceania, and Canada. After their global breakthrough, Supertramp appeared in Germany (1976), Spain, Portugal, and the US (1977).
Artist Bob Hook designed the cover, which shows a flower with human facial features. Two years later, Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel adopted a similar visual (a flower mask) for live performances of the song “Willow Farm,” the fifth part of their 22-minute suite “Supper’s Ready” on Foxtrot.
“Nothing to Show” appears on the 1971 German Ariola comp Think – Pop Progress ’71, a two-record set with tracks by Gary Wright, Humble Pie, Jimi Hendrix, Man, The Move, Paul Brett’s Sage, Procol Harum, Status Quo, Strawbs, and Titus Groan. “Words Unspoken” and “I Am Not Like Other Birds of Prey” are heard in the 1971 UK documentary film Extremes with music by Arc and Roy Budd.
Live Dates, Festivals
After the completion of Supertramp, reedist Dave Winthrop joined on flute, saxophone, and backing vocals. He came from The Mooche, which covered the Bubble Puppy psych-rock anthem “Hot Smoke and Sasafrass” on a 1969 Pye single, backed with the original “Seen Through a Light” by organist Brian Tatum (later of glitter-popsters Mud).
During July–August 1970, Supertramp promoted their album throughout Greater London on bills with Black Widow (7/5/70: Farx, Southhall), Keef Hartley Band (7/14/70: Marquee), Groundhogs (7/24/70: Marquee), Derek & The Dominoes (8/1/70: Roundhouse), and Yes (8/2/70: Greyhound, Croydon). A larger bill took place at the Roundhouse on August 16 with Heads Hands and Feet, Trader Horn, Writing On the Wall, Wishbone Ash, and Frankie Miller‘s band Howl.
After a northern stop with Mott the Hoople and Quintessence (8/21/70/: Mayfair Ballroom, Newcastle), Supertramp played the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, a five-day event with sets by Cactus, Chicago, The Doors, Donovan, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Fairfield Parlour, Family, Free, Hawkwind, Heaven, Joni Mitchell, Lighthouse, Mighty Baby, Miles Davis, Moody Blues, Pentangle, Pink Fairies, Shawn Phillips, Sly & the Family Stone, Taste, Voices of East Harlem, and The Who. Supertramp played on the second day (Thursday the 27th) along with Gary Farr, Gracious, and Terry Reid.
During the final third of 1970, Supertramp played notable gigs with The Pretty Things and Trapeze (9/13/70: Lyceum), Blodwyn Pig (10/9/70: Darwin College, Canterbury), Cochise (11/27/70: Westfield College, London), Barclay James Harvest and Faces (12/23/70: Tooting Castle), plus a BBC In Concert set supporting Caravan (10/11/70).
In October, Supertramp played the Drittes Essener Pop & Blues Festival at Grugahalle in Essen, Germany. The four-day event featured Brinsley Schwarz, Chicken Shack, East of Eden, Fotheringay, Ginger Baker’s Air Force, Gun, Jack Bruce, John McLaughlin, Larry Young, May Blitz, Tony Williams Lifetime, and the German acts Embryo, Guru Guru, Witthuser & Westrup, Wolfgang Dauner Group, and Xhol. Supertramp played on day three (the 24th) along with Savoy Brown and headliners the Moody Blues.
1971: New Lineup
Palmer quit Supertramp in mid-December 1970. (One of Palmer’s newer co-writes with Davies, “Goldrush,” became the opening number of Supertramp’s 1971–72 setlist but remained unrecorded until 2002.) In 1973, Palmer surfaced as the guitarist and lyricist for German brass-rockers Emergency. He also replaced Pete Sinfield as the lyricist for King Crimson on their 1973/74 albums Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, and Red.
Supertramp initially replaced Palmer with guitarist Davy O’List, last heard on The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack, the 1968 debut album by The Nice. He lasted only one gig but later surfaced in Jet, a 1975 one-off formed by backing players of Ron and Russell Mael, aka Sparks.
In January 1971, Supertramp embarked on an ill-fated tour of Norway, after which Millar suffered a nervous breakdown and left the band. Davies and Hodgson employed a new rhythm section: bassist Frank Farrell — who also played piano and accordion — and drummer Kevin Currie.
Farrell hailed from Brummie psych-rockers Breakthru’, which recorded an album’s worth of material yet only managed one release, the 1968 Mercury single “Ice-Cream Tree” (b/w “Julius Caesar”). Currie came from psychsters Orange Bicycle, which issued multiple 1967–70 singles, including the French No. 1 “Hyacinth Threads.”
Notable winter–spring 1971 shows include dates with Stray (1/22/71: North London Polytechnic), Colosseum (1/29/71: CF Mott College, Liverpool), Genesis (2/28/71: Roxburgh Hall, Stowe), and Gentle Giant (3/18/71: Manchester University). Supertramp recorded their second album during May–June 1971 at Olympic Studios, London.
Supertramp’s second album, Indelibly Stamped, appeared on June 25, 1971, on A&M (UK, Italy, North America, South America). The album features eight Davies–Hodgson originals, including “Travelled,” “Friend in Need,” “Forever,” and “Remember.”
In contrast to Supertramp, most of the vocals are sung by Davies, who imparts his rock and blues roots on numbers like “Your Poppa Don’t Mind.” Hodgson sings lead on three cuts, including the ballad “Rosie Had Everything Planned,” a Farrell co-write. Winthrop sings lead on the side two opener “Potter.”
Supertramp self-produced Indelibly Stamped with engineer Bob Hall, a tech hand on 1970–72 recordings by Brinsley Schwarz, Eddie Hardin, Rod McKuen, and Roger Ruskin Spear. Select cuts feature Davies on the Wurlitzer electric piano, Supertramp’s signature instrument on later albums. One example, “Forever,” presages the sound of their next five albums.
Hodgson plays bass for the last time on “Rosie,” which features Farrell on piano and accordion. It’s the only track in Supertramp’s catalogue with no Davies writing involvement.
Hook designed the gatefold cover, which features a topless torso closeup of a heavily tattooed female, later identified as ink-art model Marion Hollier. The back cover shows a zoomed-in shot of a tattoo depicting twin tigers. A b&w lineup shot of the hirsute quintet appears on the inner-gates.
A&M lifted “Forever” as Supertramp’s first single in the US (b/w “Your Poppa Don’t Mind”). In Argentina, Indelibly Stamped appeared under the Spanish title Estampado Indeleble with translated song names.
Summer 1971–1972: Live Events, Peel Sessions
Supertramp supported Indelibly Stamped with summer 1971 double-bills with Bram Stoker (7/2/71: Temple Club, London), T. Rex (7/3/71: Starlight Rooms, Boston, England), Stackridge (8/18/71: De Valance Pavilion, Tenby, Wales), and Tír na nÓg (8/21/71: Starlight Rooms).
That September, Supertramp embarked on a 10-date UK tour with Ten Years After and folkster Keith Christmas. It commenced at Bristol’s Colston Hall (9/14/71) and wrapped at Birmingham’s Town Hall (10/4/71). On October 9, they played Borough Road College in Isleworth with Gentle Giant, who were then plugging their second album Acquiring the Taste.
Late ’71 dates included shows with Gong (11/11/71: Hammersmith Town Hall, London) and Graphite (12/3/71: Salford University, Manchester). On December 18, Supertramp played Leys Club, Letchworth, with two newcomers: Belgian jazz-rockers Banzai and Irish symphonic-rockers Fruupp.
During the first three months of 1972, Supertramp played six dates with Ten Years After, including Continental stops in Bern (Festhalle), Brussels (Forest National), and Rotterdam (Ahoy). On March 4, 1972, they played Bradford University with rising stars Slade. With no new album in the pipeline, Supertramp played mid-year shows with Aubrey Small and the Edgar Broughton Band (7/2/72: South Parade Pier, Southsea) and UFO (7/7/72: Hastings Pier Ballroom).
Farrell departed for Fields, a Rare Bird spinoff that issued the 1971 album Fields on CBS. He played on their intended second album, which remained vaulted for 43 years. Its contents finally appeared in 2015 on the Esoteric Recordings disc Contrasts Urban Roar to Country Peace. Farrell then partnered with Leo Sayer on the singer’s 1975 third album Another Year, co-writing all the songs including “Only Dreaming,” “Another Year,” and the hit “Moonlighting.”
On August 22, 1972, Supertramp performed their second Peel Session (broadcast 9/12/72), which featured four new numbers: “Pony Express,” “School,” “Everyone Is Listening,” and “I Can See.” A number of fall shows followed, including dates with Wild Turkey (10/14/72: University of London Union) and Roxy Music (11/8/72: Liverpool Stadium).
Miesegaes withdrew his financial support in October 1972. Undaunted, Supertramp taped their third Peel Session (broadcast 11/23/72), performing “Pony” and three new numbers: “Summer Romance,” “Rudy,” and “Dreamer.” With their expanding repertoire of new songs, they dropped all the Supertramp numbers from their setlist apart from “Home Again” and “Surely.”
1973: Classic Lineup Forms
On March 22, 1973, Supertramp was back at the BBC for their fourth Peel Session, performing “Dreamer,” “Black Cat,” “Hey Laura,” and “Bloody Well Right.”
By mid-1973, Currie and Winthrop cleared from the lineup. Currie drummed on John Cale‘s 1977 EP Animal Justice and joined comedy sax-rockers Burlesque in time for their eponymous second album of ’77.
Winthrop joined Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack for the 1978 albums The Creeper and That’s the Way We Are. He then joined mod revivalists Secret Affair and played sax on their 1979 album Glory Boys. During 1981/82, Winthrop played on albums by Ruts DC, Lili Drop, and ex-Doctors of Madness frontman Richard Strange.
Meanwhile, Davies and Hodgson formed the rhythm section behind four songs (“You and Me,” “Reality In Arrears,” “Ode To an Angel,” “You’re Not Listening”) on the 1973 Chrysalis release You & Me, the singular solo album by Ten Years After keyboardist Chick Churchill. The four songs feature Davies on drums, his childhood instrument that he abandoned as a teenager.
In June 1973, Supertramp hired Scottish bassist Dougie Thomson, a late-period member of the Alan Bown Set. That month, they recorded a fifth Peel Session, performing “Chicken Man,” “Down In Mexico,” “Just a Normal Day,” and “Land Ho.”
In August, Supertramp welcomed American drummer Bob Siebenberg, a native of Glendale, Calif. He first recorded with garage rockers The Ilford Subway, which issued the 1967 single “The 3rd Prophecy” (b/w “A New Song”) on small-press Equinox. That band also featured his brother-in-law, guitarist Scott Gorham, a future member of Thin Lizzy. After arriving in the UK, Siebenberg joined pub-rockers Bees Make Honey, which made the 1973 EMI album Music Every Night. He also played on Private Parts, the 1972 debut album by Jamaican-born singer–actor Peter Straker.
Supertramp completed its classic five-piece lineup with reedist John Anthony Helliwell, Thomson’s erstwhile Bown colleague. Helliwell played with the Alan Bown Set from its early days, appearing on the 1968/69 albums Outward Bown (with singer Jess Roden) and The Alan Bown! (with Robert Palmer).
The Supertramp lineup of Davies, Hodgson, Helliwell, Siebenberg, and Thomson would hold for ten years and make five studio albums.
1974: Crime of the Century
By early 1974, Supertramp amassed 42 demos of new originals, of which they selected eight for their upcoming third album and several more for the followup. Despite the Davies–Hodgson credit on all numbers, the two mostly wrote separately by this point.
Sessions for Supertramp’s third album — the first of the classic five-piece — took place between February and June 1974 at three London studios: Trident, Ramport, and Scorpio Sound. They titled the album Crime of the Century after the closing track, which the band felt was the album’s strongest piece. Supertramp co-produced their new material with studio veteran Ken Scott.
A preview from these sessions, not part of the upcoming album, was the March 1974 single “Land Ho” (b/w “Summer Romance”). The back-sleeve promo blurb describes the a-side as a “rousing, stomping number” with “shades of the Beach Boys here, with some polished, precision harmonies.” It was issued on A&M in the UK and Portugal, where it soon became a rarity. (Hodgson would rerecord “Land Ho” for his 1987 second solo album Hai Hai.)
On May 23, Supertramp did their sixth and final Peel Session (broadcast 6/6/74), performing “If Everyone Was Listening,” “School,” and “Bloody Well Right.”
Crime of the Century was released on September 24, 1974, on A&M. It features three songs written and sung by Davies (“Asylum,” “Rudy,” “Bloody Well Right”) and three composed and sung by Hodgson (“Dreamer,” “If Everyone Was Listening,” “Hide in Your Shell”), plus the co-writes “School” and “Crime of the Century,” respectively sung by Hodgson and Davies.
Hodgson plays guitar, piano and the Wurlitzer and Fender Rhodes electric pianos. He used the Wurlitzer years beforehand at age 19 (Argosy era) when he composed “Dreamer,” a song he waited three years to introduce to Supertramp’s live set. Davies also plays piano and Wurlitzer, plus harmonica and all remaining keyboards. This and the next album feature string arrangements by Richard Hewson (Clifford T. Ward, Jigsaw, Lesley Duncan, Renaissance).
Scott worked on Crime of the Century after producing Esperanto, Jonathan Kelly, and the 1971/72 David Bowie albums Hunky Dory and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. His prior credits as an engineer include albums by America, The Beatles (The Beatles), Dada, Elton John, Lindisfarne (Fog On the Tyne), Mahavishnu Orchestra (Birds of Fire), Third Ear Band, and Van Der Graaf Generator (Pawn Hearts). Also in 1974, he produced jazz-rock albums by Billy Cobham, Stanley Clarke, and the Jerry Goodman—Jan Hammer release Like Children. The assistant engineer, John Jansen, worked on a string of posthumous Hendrix titles.
Photographer and sleeve designer Paul Wakefield earned his first credit on Crime of the Century. The cover shows disembodied hands clutching at prison bars, adrift in outer space. The back shows the five members disrobed, standing under a constellation holding top hats and trench coats. On the inner-sleeve, their discarded wardrobes are seen clustered and afloat. Wakefield conceived the imagery by combining the album’s title with a line from the song “Asylum”: “when they haunt me and taunt me in my cage.”
Crime of the Century charted in multiple territories, including top 10 placements in the UK (No. 4), Germany (No. 5), and Canada (No. 4). “School” and “Bloody Well Right” became staples of FM radio in the US, where the album reached No. 38 and eventually went Gold. “Dreamer” reached No. 13 on the UK Singles Chart. Supertramp dedicate the album “To Sam” (aka Stanley August Miesegaes). On this and the subsequent five albums, Siebenberg is credited as “Bob C. Benberg.”
Supertramp promoted Crime of the Century with a string of October–November shows throughout England, Scotland, and Wales, including a 10/26/74 date at Manchester University with Soft Machine. They rounded out their 1974 live engagements with three December shows in Bournemouth, Bristol, and the Victoria Palace, London, with support from Irish singer–songwriter Chris De Burgh.
1975: US Debut, Reading Festival
Supertramp commenced six weeks of UK live dates on January 23, 1975, at Sheffield’s City Hall with De Burgh and the Scottish folk-pop duo Gallagher & Lyle (ex-McGuinness Flint). On April 4, Supertramp made their US live debut at Milwaukee’s Uptown Theatre. Thirty North American dates followed, including an April 20 show with De Burgh at Chicago’s Riviera Ballroom. On June 20, they performed “Bloody Well Right” and “Hide In Your Shell” at NBC Studios, Burbank, for a segment on The Midnight Special.
During the summer of 1975, Supertramp recorded their fourth album with sessions split between London (Ramport, Scorpio) and Los Angeles (A&M Studios).
In August, Supertramp played the 15th National Jazz, Blues & Rock Festival at Little John’s Farm in Reading, England. The three-day event featured sets by Babe Ruth, Climax Blues Band, Dr. Feelgood, Heavy Metal Kids, Joan Armatrading, Judas Priest, Kokomo, and Robin Trower. Supertramp appeared on day two (Saturday the 23rd) along with the Kursaal Flyers, Snafu, String Driven Thing, and Zzebra.
On September 4, Supertramp appeared as the second-billed act (under Status Quo) at the Big Rock Show at the Circus Krone in Munich.
On November 13, Supertramp commenced a winter UK tour in support of their upcoming album. The 30-date tour commenced at Colston Hall and wrapped on December 20 at the Kursaal, Southend-on-Sea. Armatrading performed as the opening act with her backing band The Movies, a spinoff of symphonic-rockers Public Foot the Roman.
Crisis? What Crisis?
Supertramp released their fourth album, Crisis? What Crisis?, on November 29, 1975, on A&M. It features five songs per side with several track-to-track segues.
Hodgson contributed six songs, including the sitar-paced warmup “Easy Does It” and the acoustic strumalong “Sister Moonshine.” He plays Wurlitzer and marimba on “Lady,” the side two opener that builds from a staccato, arpeggiated verse to a flamboyant bridge and swelling, exuberant “ooh-la-la-la-la” refrain. Concerns arise in “The Meaning,” where Hodgson insists that “you’d better get light in your head” and “you’d better get peace in your bed,” meaning peace and clarity of mind and conscience.
Davies submitted four songs, including the retro ’30s music hall number “Poor Boy,” the mournful ballad “Just a Normal Day,” and the intense, accusatory melodrama “Another Man’s Woman.” He plays harpsichord on “A Soapbox Opera,” “Lady,” and “Two of Us.”
Supertramp co-produced Crisis? with Scott, who also worked on 1975 albums by Stanley Clarke (Journey to Love) and the Mahavishnu Orchestra (Visions of the Emerald Beyond). Jansen engineered the album with Ed Thacker (Gino Vannelli, Happy the Man, Hummingbird, The Tubes) and Will Reid-Dick (Bandit, Curved Air, Pavlov’s Dog, Roger Daltrey).
Wakefield arranged the Crisis? cover photography based on a sketch by Davies, who lifted the album’s title from a line in the 1973 political thriller The Day of the Jackal. The grey, industrial imagery was photographed at a Welsh mining valley.
A&M issued “Lady” as a single, backed with the non-album “You Started Laughing When I Held You In My Arms.” Crisis? What Crisis? reached the top 20 in multiple markets, hitting its highest peak in New Zealand (No. 6).
1976: Crisis? World Tour
On January 3, 1976, Supertramp kicked off an 18-date European tour at the Sporthalle in Basel, Switzerland. During the soundcheck before their January 27 show at Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, Hodgson conceived a new song, “Even in the Quietest Moments.”
On February 20, they launched a 45-date North American tour at the Allentown Fairgrounds Agricultural Hall in Allentown, Penn. The tour included two-night stands at the Oriental Theatre in Milwaukee (3/13–14), the Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica (3/31–4/1), Warnors Theatre in Fresno (4/2–3), and repeat appearances at the Paramount Theatre in Portland, Oregon (3/20, 4/10).
Supertramp made their sole appearance on Japanese soil with May 28–29 shows in Tokyo. During June, they did an eight-date tour of Australia, followed by a 6/22/76 show at Western Springs Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand.
Supertramp took a four-month break to compose new material. Work on their fifth album commenced in November 1976 with sessions held in two locations: Record Plant Studios in Los Angeles (their new base of operation) and the Caribou Ranch, a Nederland, Colorado, facility owned by music mogul James William Guercio, producer and manager of the band Chicago.
1977: Even in the Quietest Moments…
Supertramp released their fifth album, Even in the Quietest Moments…, on April 3, 1977, on A&M. Hodgson wrote the acoustic singalong “Give a Little Bit” at age 19 (Argosy era) but waited six years to submit it to the band. The album features seven numbers, all credited to Davies–Hodgson but written separately.
Davies wrote “Lover Boy,” inspired by ads in men’s magazines about pickup artistry. It shifts through cabaret-piano verses and swelling bridges to a lengthy, chanted middle and outro, which gradually shifts rhythmic gears to a grand fadeout.
Side one also features the Hodgson-penned title track: a slow, frosty acoustic number that recalls Led Zeppelin in their folksier moments. Davies recorded the side-closing ballad “Downstream” unaccompanied in one take with just his voice and piano.
Hodgson’s “Babaji” opens side two with quiet, plaintive verses that break to a stately, cabaret-tinged chorus. Davies’ “From Now On” evolves from an endless set of verses — framed by a circular piano motif — to a harmonized, layering, stratospheric chorus. This and “Lover Boy” recall the “Hey Jude” pattern of the elongated number that grows from piano–voice simplicity to full-scale lavishness.
The album’s closing epic, “Fool’s Overture” (10:52), starts with a sound collage of Churchill excerpts, Big Ben bells, and a flageolet quotation of “Venus” from The Planets suite by English modernist composer Gustav Holst. The verses consist of two metaphor-steeped stanzas of piano and voice, followed by a bridge that ushers a swelling pipe organ theme, approximated in lines like “So you found your solution, what will be your last contribution?” Hodgson pieced the song together over a five-year period.
Supertramp self-produced Even in the Quietest Moments… and handled the orchestral arrangements in coordination with Michel Colombier. The engineer, Peter Henderson, had prior credits on albums by Baker Gurvitz Army, Bijelo Dugme, Camel (Mirage), Jeff Beck (Wired), Nektar (Recycled), and Triumvirat (Spartacus).
Concurrently, Henderson worked with mixing engineer and veteran Beatles soundman Geoff Emerick on Dizrythmia, the 1977 third album by Kiwi art-rockers Split Enz. That album shares sonic traits with Quietest Moments, particularly during the instrumental passages on “Without a Doubt” and “Charlie.”
Photographer Bob Seidemann captured the album’s cover image: a snow-covered grand piano situated on the Eldora Mountain Resort near the Caribou Ranch. Seidemann, infamous for the 1969 UK cover to Blind Faith, also captured visuals for 1977 albums by Sparks, Heart, and the Dixie Dregs (Free Fall).
A&M lifted “Give a Little Bit” as a single (b/w “Downstream”). It reached No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. Months later, “Babaji” (b/w “From Now On”) followed as a second single. “Fool’s Overture” and “Even in the Quietest Moments” became popular deep cuts on US FM radio.
Even in the Quietest Moments… reached the top five in multiple territories (No. 1 in Canada and the Netherlands) and became Supertramp’s first top 20 entry on the Billboard 200 (No. 16) and the CashBox Top 100 (No. 19).
Quietest Moments Tour
Supertramp promoted Even in the Quietest Moments… with a North American tour, launched on April 6, 1977, at Exhibition Center in Regina, Saskatchewan. The tour spanned four months and more than 70 shows, including six West Coast dates with Procol Harum, who disbanded after the tour.
On June 1–2, Supertramp did a two-night stand at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, where Helliwell entered Sound Studios to contribute saxophone and clarinet to Bad Reputation, the 1977 eighth studio album by Thin Lizzy. On August 28, Supertramp launched a 30-date European tour with support from French-Canadian symphonic folksters Harmonium.
Supertramp rounded out their 1977 activities with seventeen October–November dates throughout England and Scotland. Their 11/10/77 show at Queen Mary College would be their final live event for sixteen months.
In light of their increased profile and commercial success, Supertramp sensed major breakthrough potential in their next release. They worked painstakingly on their sixth album, which started with two sets of demos and materialized during seven months of recording sessions, which spanned May–December 1978 in Studio B of the Village Recorder in Los Angeles.
1979: Breakfast in America
Supertramp released their sixth album, Breakfast in America, on March 29, 1979, on A&M. It opens with Davies’ “Gone Hollywood,” an epic tale about a young acting hopeful’s struggles, despondency, and ultimate rise to fame. Davies and Hodgson split vocals on this track and the anthemic album-closer “Child of Vision,” which features vibes by writer Hodgson, plus Helliwell as a third vocalist.
Hodgson contributed four other songs, including the album’s title track, a music hall impression of American foibles from the eyes of a British lad: a culture shock animated in verses like the following:
Could we have kippers for breakfast
Mummy dear, Mummy dear
They got to have ’em in Texas
‘Cos everyone’s a millionaire
Hodgson’s ballad “Lord Is It Mine” evolves from plaintive piano and tender voice to a crisp, acoustic, flaring chorus.
“The Logical Song” rolls through half-rhyming quatrains about a UK lad’s boarding school odyssey. With its staccato Wurlitzer and clipped phrasing — delivered in Roger’s trademark high-pitched voice — the song reached No. 1 in Canada, No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, No. 4 on the Cashbox Top 100, and No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart. The song’s jerky rhythmic outro is a showcase for Helliwell’s fluttering woodwinds.
Hodgson’s “Take the Long Way Home” opens side two with sunrise harmonica over a tight, cabaret piano pattern. Its verses of self-reflection swell to an open-cadence bridge as the narrator veers between regret and content. It reached No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. This song, like “Breakfast in America” and “The Logical Song,” is rooted in C minor, an unusual key center for charting pop songs.
Davies’ “Goodbye Stranger” follows a freewheeling drifter as he bids ado to a recent fling. He explores his vocal range on this number, starting in characteristic baritone and rising to an animated falsetto in the double-tracked, call-and-response chorus. The song’s revved-up lengthy outro features wailing guitar leads by Hodgson. It reached No. 6 on the Canada Top Singles chart and No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Davies also wrote “Oh Darling,” the climax of side one, plus two numbers on side two: “Casual Conversations,” an after-hours lament bedded in milky Wurlitzer; and “Just Another Nervous Wreck,” a confessional ballad with a rising power chorus.
Supertramp co-produced Breakfast in America with the album’s engineer, Henderson, who also worked on 1978–80 titles by Lion, Wings, and Frank Zappa. The assistant engineer, Lenise Bent, counted Steely Dan‘s 1977 album Aja among his prior credits. He also worked on 1979/80 albums by Jean Luc-Ponty (A Taste for Passion), Shandi, and Blondie. Co-assistant Jeff Harris later worked with Kittyhawk and Animotion.
Breakfast in America features cover imagery conceived by A&M art director Mike Doud with photography by Aaron Rapoport. It depicts an airplane-window view of the Manhattan skyline with Lady Liberty (foreground) represented by a waitress, portrayed by American comedic actress Kate Murtagh. In keeping with the “breakfast” theme, the NYC skyscrapers are recreated with food packaging materials. Rapoport‘s cover photography is also seen on 1979 albums by Gamma, Sea Level, Styx, and Walter Egan.
Breakfast in America reached No. 1 in ten nations, including the US, Canada, Australia, and multiple European territories. It held the top spot for six weeks in the US, where the album went quadruple Platinum, signifying sales of four million copies. It peaked at No. 2 in Japan and No. 3 on the UK Albums Chart. As of 2020, its global sales figures exceed 20 million copies.
Breakfast Tour, Paris
Supertramp launched the Breakfast in America tour at the 7,000-seat Balch Fieldhouse arena in Boulder, Colorado. The US leg covered 54 cities, including two-night stands at the Checkerdome in St. Louis (3/18–19/79), the MECCA Arena in Milwaukee (3/22–23/79), the Selland Arena in Fresno (4/12–13/79), Jai-Alai Fronton in Miami (5/11–12/79), the Music Hall in Boston (5/23–24/79), and three nights at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin (6/16–18/79).
On July 9, Supertramp launched an 11-date Canadian leg of the Breakfast tour, which started with a three-night stand at the Convention Centre in Winnipeg and wrapped on August 11 at the Empire Stadium in Vancouver.
During their three-night engagement at the CNE Exhibition Stadium in Toronto (7/19–21/79), Helliwell popped in to nearby Manta Sound Studios, where he played saxophone on “Rebound,” the opening track on Rendezvous, the fourth album by French–Canadian folk-rockers CANO. He, Siebenberg, and Thomson also play on two tracks (“On the Game,” “When You Come Back to England”) on the French Polydor release The Old Pals Act by musician–composer Peter Bennett. That album features seven tracks indebted to Supertramp, including the 10-minute epic “Evermore.”
In late September, Supertramp embarked on a European tour with nine stops in Germany and eight in France, including four straight nights at the Pavillon de Paris (11/29–12/2/79). Their sole UK appearance was spread across four nights at London’s Wembley Arena (10/30–11/2/79). They concluded the tour with a December 9 show at the Hallenstadion in Zurich. This would be Supertramp’s last concert for three and a half years.
Multiple dates on their 1979 tour were taped with their Mobile 1 Remote Studio, including the Nov. 29 Pavillon show, which Supertramp deemed the best-recorded concert of the tour. Its contents comprise Paris, a 94-minute live double-album released in September 1980 on A&M.
Paris contains sixteen numbers: two from Even in the Quietest Moments (“From Now On,” “Fool’s Overture”), three apiece from Crisis? What Crisis? (“Ain’t Nobody But Me,” “A Soapbox Opera,” “Two of Us”) and Breakfast in America (“The Logical Song,” “Breakfast in America,” “Take the Long Way Home”), nearly all of Crime of the Century (except “If Everyone Was Listening”), and the “Lady” b-side “You Started Laughing.” Another song performed that night, “Give a Little Bit,” was omitted due to technical issues.
The live version of “Dreamer” reached No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Supertramp went on a two-year hiatus between their 1979 tour and sessions for their next studio album, which commenced in November 1981. Meanwhile, Dougie’s younger brother Ali Thomson (b. 1959) signed to A&M as a solo artist and made the 1980/81 albums Take a Little Rhythm and Deception Is an Art. Ali’s “Take a Little Rhythm” reached No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1980.
1982: …Famous Last Words…
Supertramp released their seventh studio album, …Famous Last Words…, in October 1982 on A&M. It features four songs by Davies and five by Hodgson, including the lead-off hit “It’s Raining Again,” a melancholy yet upbeat song with the inspirational “Come on, you little fighter” bridge. Its video dramatization — where band members are seen playing randomly amid the pratfalls of the song’s lovelorn subject — marked Supertramp’s entry into the MTV era.
Hodgson’s other numbers range from the urgent, rattling opener “Crazy” to the smooth sailing “C’est le Bon,” a crisp, quiet stumalong with airy harmonies. He closes side one with “Know Who You Are,” a desolate, minor key ballad comprised of voice and picked acoustic guitar (double-tracked) with mild strings arranged by Hewson.
The unaccompanied nature of “Know Who You Are” reveals a creative gulf with Davies, who created the album’s other hit, “My Kind of Lady,” a ’50s-style piano boogie ballad in the vein of Fats Domino. Davies explores his full vocal range in the song, from his normal baritone to the high-pitched falsetto heard earlier on “Poor Boy” and “Goodbye Stranger.” Hodgson is absent from the recording and the doo-wop segments in the video, where the remaining band croon in vintage fashion behind a clean-shaven Davies. His penchant for classic R&B is further exemplified with “Put On Your Old Brown Shoes.”
Davies also composed “Bonnie,” a sequence of earnest minor-key passages that resolve with a grandiose instrumental finale in heavenly C major. The album’s last two songs, “Waiting So Long” (Davies) and “Don’t Leave Me Now” (Hodgson), recall the slow piano-buildup epics of the Quietest Moments era.
Supertramp co-produced …Famous Last Words… with Henderson, who engineered the album with one Norman Hall. Davies recorded most of his parts at Backyard Studios, his home facility in Encino, Calif. Group sessions largely took place at Unicorn Studios, Hodgson’s home facility in Nevada City, Calif. Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart sing backing vocals on “Old Brown Shoes” and “C’est le Bon.”
Davies intended to use a 10-minute epic, “Brother Where You Bound,” as the album’s centerpiece. This was vetoed by Hodgson, whose differences with Davies came to a head during sessions for the album, which ran through the summer of 1982. The title …Famous Last Words… is a reference to Roger’s growing desire to part ways with the band.
The title inspired the album’s cover, conceived by Doud and designer Norman Moore with photography by Tom Gibson and Jules Bates. It shows a tightrope walker balanced over endless depths, alarmed as a hand reaches out with pair of scissors, seconds away from cutting the rope. The inner-sleeve shows multiples of each member doing imitation balancing acts on neon beams. Moore’s numerous visual credits include albums by Boxer (Absolutely), Cafe Jacques (Round the Back), Sherbet (Highway 1), and The Police (Synchronicity).
1983: Famous Last Tour, Hodgson Quits
Eight months after …Famous Last Words… hit shelves, Supertramp launched a transatlantic tour with two auxiliary players: musicians and backing vocalists Fred Mandel (keyboards, guitar) and Scott Page (saxophones, flute, guitar). Mandel was a longtime backing player of Alice Cooper with additional credits on albums by Domenic Troiano, Lisa Dal Bello, and (most recently) Queen guitarist Brian May. Page — son of jazz bandleader Bill Page — had sideman credits dating back to the 1972 UNI Records release by the Mothers of Invention spinoff Geronimo Black.
The 23-stop European leg commenced with June 1–2 shows at the Johanneshov Isstadion in Stockholm and included a four-night stand (6/29–7/2/83) at London’s Earls Court. They launched the 31-stop North American leg on August 5 at Philadelphia’s 19.4k-capacity Spectrum arena. Their date at Vancouver’s BC Place Stadium (9/3/83) featured Canadian rockers Bryan Adams and The Payola$ as opening acts.
The tour wrapped in California on September 25 at Irving Meadows. This would be Hodgson’s final show with Supertramp, who left the band to focus on family life and record independently. He’d already recorded material for his debut solo album, tentatively titled Sleeping With the Enemy.
Upon his exit from Supertramp, Hodgson recut some of the existing tracks for In the Eye of the Storm, released in September 1984 on A&M. As with the two closing numbers on Last Words, the music draws stylistic elements from the Quietest Moments era (grand, spacious, piano-driven epics). An edit of the opening number, “Had a Dream (Sleeping with the Enemy),” became an FM rock hit with a medium-rotation MTV clip.
Meanwhile, Davies expanded his unused epic from the Last Words sessions into a 16-minute opus for the next Supertramp album.
1985: Brother Where You Bound
Supertramp released their eighth studio album, Brother Where You Bound, in May 1985 on A&M. Davies composed the album’s six songs, including the lengthy opener “Cannonball” (7:38), an R&B–dance number with biting lyrics and flexing brass over a persistent piano figure in G minor. The video intersperses neanderthal vignettes with sound-stage clips of the band. As the lead-off single, it peaked inside the Billboard Top 30 and crossed over to the dance chart (No. 9).
“Still In Love” further mines the R&B territory of Davies’ Last Words numbers. It sports a boogie shuffle similar to “My Kind of Lady” and a swelling sax break reminiscent of the Stax school. “No Between” is a slow, spacious piano–vocal ballad in the classic mid-’70s Supertramp mold.
The epic side-closer, “Better Days” (6:15), lampoons the empty campaign promises of politicians. The song-proper — shaped by an urgent, staccato piano figure with tight verses and swelling bridges — gives way to an instrumental second half: a collage of sampled soundbites, electronic rhythms, percussive sundries, and soaring sax over a synth-bass pattern. The video shows a vintage boy walking through endless hallways, flanked by jesters amid green screen archival clips of WWII atrocities.
Side two is largely consumed by the titular “Brother Where You Bound” (16:30), rehearsed but withheld during the Last Words sessions. During the intervening three years, it grew from an initial 10-minute piece to its final multi-movement form. It opens with 100 seconds of news soundbites and excerpts from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, followed by a double-tracked 3/4 piano pattern. Terse lines about impending warfare precede the full-band onslaught at 3:30. A guttural Davies warns the listener that they must flee their encroached-upon land.
After the random, free-form middle (sounds of a sparse, ravaged landscape), a syncopated, staccato guitar figure sets in motions (10:26), played by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. Further tradeoffs ensue between glory strings, canon fire and random noise before the song-proper resumes at 13:30 for a reiteration of the warning lines “You better move, you better hide. They’re gettin’ in, they’re gettin’ inside.” The song swells to a fadeout with tight sax amid Gilmour’s wailing leads.
Dutch director Rene Daalder made a short film for “Brother Where You Bound” starring actor Chris Mulkey as the soldier of fortune who spearheads the evacuation. The plot invokes Cold War themes reminiscent of the 1984 action–drama Red Dawn, which follows a group of survivors in their flight from an advancing red menace.
The album ends on “Ever Open Door,” a slow, earnest declaration performed by Davies alone with piano, voice, and mild synth strings.
Brother Where You Bound was co-produced by Supertramp and David Kershenbaum, who worked previously with Graham Parker, the Tarney/Spencer Band, and produced multiple albums by Joe Jackson, including the 1982–84 releases Night and Day and Body and Soul. Siebenberg’s brother-in-law, guitarist Scott Gorham, plays the smoldering rhythm lines on the title track. Moore designed the cover art: a minimalist silhouette of the Darwinian ape-to-man concept.
- Supertramp (1970)
- Indelibly Stamped (1971)
- Crime of the Century (1974)
- Crisis? What Crisis? (1975)
- Even in the Quietest Moments… (1977)
- Breakfast in America (1979)
- Paris (2LP live, 1980)
- …Famous Last Words… (1982)
- Brother Where You Bound (1985)
- Free as a Bird (1987)
- Some Things Never Change (1997)
- Slow Motion (2002)
- Discogs: Supertramp
- English Albums: S (page 9)
- 45worlds: Supertramp
- Concert Wiki: Supertramp
- John Peel Wiki: Supertramp
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