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Stealers Wheel
A&M 4377
Released: February 1973
Chart Peak: #50
Weeks Charted: 22

Gerry RaffertyYou've probably discovered by now that "Stuck In The Middle With You," the single you thought was the best Dylan record since 1966, is actually by an English group named Stealers Wheel. I found out a long time ago -- for over two months now I've been playing Stealers Wheel constantly, and I can tell you from that prolonged experience that it's a great little record, with songs, singing and production more inventive and better matched than practically anything else on the current shelves. The record marks the comeback of the Leiber-Stoller production team, and at the same time it introduces two potentially front-line writer-singers, Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty.

The group manages to sound as much like the Beatles through most of the album as they sound like Dylan on the single. Egan uses the Dylan-like bite he displays on the single on other songs, sometimes combining it with a Nilssonish falsetto, and Rafferty has cultivated a vocal style during his years as a member of the Humblebums and as a solo artist that often strongly resembles McCartney in its balance of husky sweetness and drive.

Stealers Wheel - Stealers Wheel
Original album advertising art.
Click image for larger view.
Stealers Wheel can certainly be accused of theft; they make no attempt to hide their influences. But then they've had the good sense to steal from some of the very best sources. Besides, imitation has always been basic to the pop process.

Stealers Wheel is a singers' album. Egan and Rafferty repeatedly demonstrate that they're at least as good as any vocal duo currently working. Egan's tough, tense, but always musical voice blends without apparent effort with Rafferty's calm, smokey-on-the-edges tenor. The timbres of the two voices are close enough that they can have the benefits of a single voice doubled plus the variety created by the differences in the attacks of the two singers. The pair do some close two-parters, but they seem to prefer a more spontaneous sounding style, and they're so attuned to each other that it comes out tight as it seems loose. I was disappointed to learn recently that Rafferty has left the band (his place has been taken by Luther Grosvener), since the interaction between Rafferty and Egan is central to the group's success on the album. But Egan shows enough skill at singing and writing here to make me confident thathe can easily lead the group himself.

Although the focus is on Egan and Rafferty, an equal share of credit must go to Leiber-Stoller for their brilliant production work. They manage to avoid the obvious at every turn without ever upstaging the band. The production is so attuned to the skills of Stealers Wheel that the ideas must have come from an extended and in-depth collaboration between Leiber-Stoller, their engineers and the musicians.

Stealers Wheel juxtaposes sonic elements as other pop albums juxtapose musical styles; call it aural eclecticism. The mixing and matching of sounds and effects is often startingly dramatic, but it never seems hokey or contrived. Because the vocals are so strong, for example, voices are used for many different effects, sometimes in the same song. In "Next To Me," Egan sings softly over an unhurried shuffle track, and his voice is recorded flat, without any studio-applied edge. The song continues on its moody, personal course until the final verse, when Egan's voice is suddenly and unexpectedly joined by a completely impersonal chorale resoundingly singing "dum-diggy dum-diggy" right beside him. But he doesn't modify his intimate delivery at all to combat the intrusion -- he ignores it. The effect seems at first as random as it is startling, but it gives the song an extra dose of tension, and the group a nice touch of audaciousness.

The production nuance isn't limited to the singing. On Egan's most energetic song, "I Get By," a clean, sharp-edged electric guitar line runs right alongside a muddy, distorted one and the resulting sound is so hot that the guitars seem to jump out of the speakers.

I've neglected some songs which range from enjoyably slight to completely absorbing. One obvious standout is the wonderful and durable "Stuck in the Middle," with its blend of humor, paranoia and intimacy. The track boasts not only the vocal inflection but also the emotional tone of middle-Dylan, with just a touch of Randy Newman's "Mama Told Me Not to Come" added. But then, every track is a potential favorite and each has its delights. Everything works with everything else.

Stealers Wheel is one of the first Seventies albums to try to do more than just display its Sixties inspirations. It succeeds in using its influences as the basis of a fresh kind of expression. The album may not sound very ambitious at first, but its ambitions are certainly there to find. This could be an important album.

- Bud Scoppa, Rolling Stone, 5/24/73.

Bonus Reviews!

This is an inventive, promising rock group with a knack for finding just the instrumental wrinkle that fits in some neat, unexpected way that makes you back the needle up a few grooves. There are also problems. The vocals by Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty (also the songwriters) are good, but, gosh, haven't we heard this before? Egan, if I have sorted him out properly, sounds like a combination of Jesse Colin Young and Paul McCartney. The differential in song quality is a bit unnerving, too; you could get the bends going from strong, simple "Late Again" down to "You Put Something Better Inside of Me," which is Klee-Shay City. Still, it all averages out pretty well, thanks to those open but never empty arrangements. And where did they get that name, anyway?

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 7/73.

The Leiber and Stoller-produced Stealers Wheel is one of the great debut albums of the 70s, with its hit single "Stuck in the Middle With You." * * * *

- Shane Faubert, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

 Reader's Comments

John Brinkman

I thought that Stealer Wheels was actually ONE solo artist and a one hit wonder with "stuck in the middle with you". Very happy to finally discover that this was not the case and the band had two albums!!!! I'm looking forward to hearing both records, as well as Joe Egan's Out of Nowhere and Gerry Rafferty'[s solo album. It seems the band suffered the fate of another influential and overlooked band, Big Star. Stealer Wheels deserved everything and more but got lost somehow in the rock world's chaos of that time. two problems with Stuck in the middle with you.....that it was used in a sickening scene for Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs......and the disgusting, creepy music video for the song.....but I can block it out because it's such a great f'n song!!!!! If you're reading this.....just by this album....on vinyl, not cd....on vinyl. it needs to be heard.

Further reading on
Super Seventies RockSite!:

Album Review:
Gerry Rafferty - City to City

Single Review:
Gerry Rafferty -
"Baker Street"

Stealers Wheel Lyrics

Stealers Wheel Videos

Toby Tobama

Hi John,

First up, it's "Stealers Wheel", not "Stealer Wheels". Second up, they have three albums, not two. All are good. Third up, Gerry Rafferty has a whole bunch of solo albums, including some major hits. City to City and Night Owl sold the most (and we're talking millions) but they're all good.

Joe Egan has three solo albums I'm aware of. I've got two of them. They're both fan, although I am a bigger fan of Gerry's.


Alison Burns Nagle

Peter Clarke (former session drummer for Apple Records) started this band and was the ORIGINAL drummer, a fact no one seems to remember.

Alison Burns Nagle

(From Peter Clarke) .... What my lovely Wife mean't to say was that, as the first person the morning of the auditions, I got the gig in about a minute. .... Gerry and Joe were fans of The Escorts, (from our gigs in Glasgow ) .... Bias Boshell (Trees & Kiki Dee) was with me and we had gone to the Audition as a unit. ..... Try as I might I couldn't convice them to give the Bass gig to Bias, and he told me that It was OK with him if I did it solo. ....It was now 11.30 am and it became evident that Gerry and Joe had not put a band together before. ....... I had. ...... I said we should get Paul Pilnic, cos' I'd been in 5 bands with him, .. the last being Jackie Lomax's band at Apple, which I also put together. ..... I called Paul and he was in. ..... Then I suggested Ian Campbell for Bass, ... they both said; "He's Drinking!"..... Which I thought was pretty funny coming from a pair of Scots. .... I said;"He won't do that if I ask him not to" .... and he didn't, not a drop. ..So that was the Band, and it was a Band ..... It knit instantly. ..... We out giging within a month, .....and then my Wife in Liverpool, had a breakdown and attacked two of our children, trying to kill them. ....A neighbour broke the front door in and saved them. ..... My sister reached me on the road and I left the Band overnight. ...... In retrospect, Paul was right when he said;"You didn't have to do that, you left me alone to face Gerry and Joe, we could have worked something out.".. ... It was yet another occurrance of "Fear of Success" which dogged me for 20 odd yrs before I woke up to it, but by then it was too late to have an effect on my career . ....... I didn't start Stealers Wheel, ..... but I sure as hell put it together and was a contributor to arrangements. .... Just a couple of years later at The Kiki Dee audition, they said;"This next tune has an extra half bar going into the chorus " then proceeded to call "You Put Something Better Inside of Me" ...... Which was MY arrangement.


Peter Clarke, you certainly did the right thing! Your kids come first. It must be so hard to swallow the pill after all of that, but reading your story, you are a true man and made a much bigger difference in this world then any song can do. Bless you.

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