Roger Hodgson, co-founder of Supertramp, in 1979.
Rick Davies, Supertramp cofounder, in 1979.
Supertramp’s July 1970 debut album simply dubbed Supertramp, wasn’t released in the U.S. until 1977. That sort of distribution shortfall was not unusual in that decade. For the enterprising young American traveler in the 1970’s, it could add another adventurous purpose to a trip to London where a Europe-only released record could be purchased and carefully carried home.
The music on the album Supertramp was composed by Supertramp co-founders Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson. As none of the band at the time wanted to, or would, write lyrics, the yeoman’s task was left to guitarist Richard Palmer-James who wrote them all.
Though the debut album received positive reviews, Supertramp’s swift and innovative musical production moved so determinedly ahead that the first album’s ten songs were soon dropped from their promotional live mega-tours. Indelibly Stamped, Supertramp’s second album in 1971, was a major change to the rock sound. This was followed by producing the group’s multi-platinum albums, Crime of the Century in 1974 and Breakfast in America in 1979. Supertramp never returned to its first days’ output as musician poets, yet Supertramp‘s contrasting ambience along with the fact that some of its later hit songs such as Dreamer and Give A Little Bit were written in this early period, make the debut album definitely worthwhile listening.
Bankrolled by a Dutch millionaire, Supertramp’s first music was recognized by critics at the time as an admixture of melodic poetry and progressive pop. This would apply to Aubade/I Am Not Like Other Birds of Prey, the debut album’s third track. The song was also featured as part of a rare soundtrack along with Arc, Crucible, and other bands for the 1971 UK docufilm Extremes. The film was directed by 19-year-old Tony Klinger and 21-year-old Mike Lytton and displayed the wild times of that era’s young people (it can be rediscovered in a 2017 DVD release).
Despite this creativity and critical success, the album Supertramp was a commercial flop. Its follow-up, new rock sound album Indelibly Stamped in 1971, was also a commercial flop. Crisis? What Crisis?
Supertramp, 1971. Roger Hodgson, Frank Farrell, Rick Davies, Kevin Currie, Dave Winthrop
Notwithstanding the discography of a full-fledged English prog-rock group in the rearview mirror, critics over the decades have not grown kinder towards Supertramp’s debut album. Though acknowledging its almost 50 minutes of enjoyable melodies—especially Surely, the lead track, as well as Words Unspoken, Nothing to Show and the 12-minute Try Again—today’s critics, potential upward revisionists, mostly dismiss these initial songs. The mainly constructive criticism observes that Supertramp‘s musical and lyrical effort remains too loosely conceived and, according to a review in AllMusic, wanders “pretentiously.” Meandering instrumentally among pretty patches of subtle melody is, of course, not all bad but, Supertramp’s first songs indulge themselves the pleasure of music making as a new group and forego the necessary compositional rigor to make a more powerful statement sooner.
Following these commercial disasters—and before fame—Supertramp broke up. Co-founders Davies and Hodgson recruited new band-mates. Bassist Frank Farrell and drummer Kevin Currie were replaced with pub rockers John Helliwell on saxophone, Dougie Thompson on bass, and drummer Bob “C.” Benberg. The third album, Crime of The Century, preceded by a massive millionaire-bankrolled promotional campaign, soared to no.1 in the UK —and sowed seeds of a following in the U.S.
Supertramp’s breakthrough hit single in the U.S. was Bloody Well Right in 1975. Written by Supertramp co-founders Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson and sung by Davies (who performs its opening keyboard bars), the song appeared on the newly reconstituted English prog-rock band’s third album, Crime of the Century, released in mid-September 1974. The song features impressive guitar work by Hodgson and by saxman and new recruit John Helliwell.
Bloody Well Right was not Supertramp’s odds-on, or even favored, hit song from the album. That would have been Hodgson’s Dreamer, written when he was 19 years old, on side A. But Dreamer only charted in Canada.
As Crime of the Century went Gold in the U.S. (Diamond in Canada and Platinum in France), listeners in the United States flipped Supertramp’s single and preferred side B.
Bloody Well Right, on side B, climbed to no. 35 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1975. A Supertramp classic, it remains a staple “on the radio” and in the band’s live shows. In 1975, with singles from Crime of The Century charting, the bank-rolled group toured the U.S. and filled arenas by giving away most of the tickets.
Crime of the Century was the third studio album by Supertramp and recorded between February and June 1974. Released on September 16, 1974, it was Supertramp’s first Gold record in the U.S. The album produced Supertramp’s breakthrough Top 40 hit single in the U.S., Bloody Well Right. Written by Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson, band members believed that with this album Supertramp had entered into one of its most creatively original periods.
Crisis? What Crisis? is the fourth album by the English progressive-rock band. Recorded in the summer of 1975 in London and Los Angeles, it was released on November 29, 1975. Hastily assembled from second-hand discards of Crime of the Century to capitalize quickly on that album’s recent success, Rolling Stone magazine panned the music on the album, and Supertramp came to believe the project was a low point in their career.
The following album, Even in the Quitest Moments…, released in April 1977, produced another song that Hodgson wrote at 19 years old. Give A Little Bit became a Top 20 hit in the U.S. and Canada and reached no. 29 in the UK. This fifth album repeated virtually Crime of the Century‘s certification achievements. In this period, the band permanently relocated to Los Angeles.
Even in the Quietest Moments… was the fifth studio album by Supertramp. Recorded between November 1976 and January 1977, it was released on April 10, 1977. It became the second Gold record for Supertramp in the U.S. The album produced Give A Little Bit, a Top 20 single in the U.S. and Canada. It was one of the hit songs written by Supertramp cofounder Roger Hodgson when he was 19 years old.
Rock-star success for Supertramp was achieved in 1979 with Breakfast in America. Recorded from May to December 1978, Supertramp’s sixth album was released on March 29, 1979. It became the no.1 LP around the world and, in the U.S., went 4x Platinum, selling over 4 million copies.
Supertramp’s Breakfast in America produced the Top 10 hit, The Logical Song. Written by Roger Hodgson, it became Supertramp’s biggest hit.
The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Third Edition, edited by Holly George Warren and Patricia Romanowski, New York: A Rolling Stone Press Book, 2001.
ticket stub–“Supertramp with Chris de Burgh – July 9, 1977 – Kitchener” by Ken Schafer is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Even in the Quietest Moments album cover (backside)—“Backside Supertramp – Even In The Quietest Moments…” by Piano Piano! is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Breakfast in America album cover–“Vintage Vinyl LP Record Album – Breakfast In America Vinyl LP By Supertramp, Catalog Number SP-3708, Rock, A&M Records, 1979” by France1978 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0