Sunday, May 15, 2016

Steve Miller Band – "Living in the U.S.A." (1968)

Where are you goin' to?
What are you gonna do? 

(Good questions!)

Richard Linklater’s delightful new movie, Everybody Wants Some!! – it’s title is taken from the name of a Van Halen song – has a wonderful soundtrack that includes disco, country, punk, funk, and classic rock songs.  (You can click here to read what I said about that movie in a previous 2 or 3 lines.)

The spiritual predecessor to Everybody Wants Some!! is Linklater's 1993 movie, Dazed and Confused, which was named after the last track on side one of Led Zeppelin’s eponymous debut album – perhaps the greatest rock album from start to finish ever recorded.

The music on the Dazed and Confused soundtrack isn’t as varied.  In that movie, Linklater stuck mostly to artists whose music was popular on album-oriented rock stations in the seventies – Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Alice Cooper, Foghat, ZZ Top, Kiss, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Steve Miller.

Steve Miller was born in Milwaukee in 1943.  His parents were the best man and maid of honor at Les Paul and Mary Ford’s wedding.  Paul encouraged the very young Miller to continue practicing the guitar.

Steve Miller and Les Paul in 2000
When the family moved to Dallas in 1950, Miller attended the fancy-schmancy St. Mark’s School with Boz Scaggs.  The two attended the University of Wisconsin together and formed a band that played at a few clubs in Madison.

Miller left college without earning a degree and moved to Chicago, where he played with Muddy Waters, Howling’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, and other blues greats.  After stops in New York City and Austin, he loaded up his VW bus and drove to San Francisco, where he hooked up again with Boz Scaggs and formed the Steve Miller Band in 1966.  

I bought Steve Miller’s Anthology album – which included today’s featured song, “Living in the U.S.A.” – in 1973, when I was a junior in college.  It’s a two-record compilation with tracks from five of Miller’s first seven albums.

After releasing Anthology, Steve Miller took a sharp turn in the direction of Schlockville.  Over the next five years, he cranked out big radio hits like “The Joker,” “Take the Money and Run,” “Rock’n Me,” “Fly Like an Eagle,” “Jet Airliner,” and “Swingtown.”  Those songs weren’t exactly bad, and they weren’t exactly good.  

What they were exactly were hits.  Everyone of them made it into the top twenty, and two made it all the way to number one.

I’ll stick with “Living in the U.S.A.,” thank you very much.  It’s loose and chaotic and sounds like everyone involved in recording it had a great time.  It opens with a recording of a drag racer’s engine and closes with one of the great random lines of all time: “Somebody give me a cheeseburger!”

Here’s “Living in the U.S.A.”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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