FEATURE image: “Supertramp – Crime of the Century” by vinylmeister is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0. Crime of the Century was Supertramp’s third album released in September 1974. The album went Gold in the U.S., Diamond in Canada, and Platinum in France.
Supertramp’s debut album, Supertramp in 1970
For an enterprising American traveler in the 1970’s, the acquisition of an album released only in Europe or the UK could add special purpose to an overseas trip. This proved true for me during various trips to England in the mid-to-late 1970’s. In addition to seeing plays, touring art museums, and visiting historic pubs, there was the hunt for releases and formats not yet available in the United States by the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks, the Ramones, and many more. There were several such vinyl records I bought in London and elsewhere which I carefully packed into the carry-on bag for the flight home.
This was also true for the debut album of Supertramp. Though released in the UK in 1970, it did not appear in the U.S. until 1977 following the English progressive rock band’s ascent on the charts here.
Music for the album Supertramp was composed by Supertramp co-founders Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson. The lyrics were written by guitarist Richard Palmer-James. This was because no one else in the band wanted to write lyrics.
Indelibly Stamped, Supertramp’s second album in 1971
The debut album received positive reviews. Supertramp’s musical innovations were moving ahead so quickly that the first album’s ten songs were dropped from their promotional live mega-tours almost as soon as they were recorded and released.
Indelibly Stamped, Supertramp’s second album in 1971, was a major change for the band to the rock sound. This was followed by 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 hit songs such as Dreamer in 1974 and Give A Little Bit in 1977 were written in this early period around 1970. Their high level of creativity adds to the debut album’s appeal. Supertramp’s other first songs also make for worthwhile listening.
Music critics react to Supertramp’s first songs – in 1970 and in 2020
Even after Supertramp was world famous, critics still had somewhat harsh words for Supertramp, their debut album.
Critics, both in 1970 and today, acknowledge that the 1970 album Supertramp offers almost 50 minutes of enjoyable melodies. They especially cite Surely, its lead track, and Words Unspoken, Nothing to Show and Try Again, a 12-minute track. Yet original and later critics continue to dismiss the album’s first songs overall.
Their main criticism is that Supertramp‘s musical and lyrical effort was too loosely conceived and, according to a review in AllMusic, wanders “pretentiously.” Critics generally agree that Supertramp’s progressive pop music on their 1970 debut album is melodious and poetic yet, lacking this compositional rigor, rambles.
Instrumentally meandering among pretty patches of subtle melody is not all bad. Appreciating the music from the viewpoint of a new group who seem to savor the pleasure of making music together for its own sake rather than attempting to make a powerfully cohesive statement, makes Supertramp’s first songs more enjoyable on its own terms.
Rare film soundtrack in 1971
Along with Arc, Crucible, and other bands, Aubade/I Am Not Like Other Birds of Prey was featured as part of a rare soundtrack for a 1971 UK docufilm called Extremes. The film was directed by 19-year-old Tony Klinger and 21-year-old Mike Lytton and displayed the adventures and pursuits of young people of that era (it can be rediscovered in a 2017 DVD release).
Supertramp’s first two albums are commercial flops
Despite this creativity and critical success, the album Supertramp was a commercial flop. Its follow-up album Indelibly Stamped in 1971 and new rock sound was also a commercial flop.
Crisis? What Crisis?
Turning point for rock stardom: Crime of the Century in September 1974. Supertramp’s third album is no.1 in the UK
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.
Breakthrough U.S. single in 1975: Bloody Well Right
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 charted only in Canada.
Crime of the Century went Gold in the U.S., Diamond in Canada and Platinum in France, and Bloody Well Right on side-B of Dreamer climbed to no. 35 on the U.S. charts in 1975. A Supertramp classic, Bloody Well Right remains a staple in the band’s live shows and over the airwaves and internet. During 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.
Supertramp’s fourth album, Crisis? What Crisis? flops.
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 so to capitalize quickly on the third album’s success, Rolling Stone magazine panned the album and though the album contains some pleasant melodies, Supertramp was also underwhelmed by the project and came to see it as a low point of their career.
Major Comeback: Even in the Quietest Moments… is the fifth studio album released by Supertramp in April 1977.
Recorded between November 1976 and January 1977, it was released on April 10, 1977 and featured another song that Hodgson wrote at 19 years old.
Even in the Quietest Moments… repeated Crime of the Century‘s certification achievements and became their second Gold record in the U.S. During this period, Supertramp relocated permanently to Los Angeles. The single Give A Little Bit became a Top 20 hit in the U.S. and Canada and reached no. 29 in the UK.
Rock-star success for Supertramp is achieved in 1979 with their sixth album, Breakfast in America.
Recorded from May to December 1978, Supertramp’s sixth album was released on March 29, 1979.
Breakfast in America became the no.1 LP around the world and went 4x Platinum in the U.S., selling over 4 million copies.
The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Third Edition, edited by Holly George Warren and Patricia Romanowski, New York: A Rolling Stone Press Book, 2001.