"…I've Been Stealin' Time…But Now I Know…It's Time To Cross That Line…”
In truth - I've probably not touched a needle on this vinyl album since I played it to death for the whole of 1978. And re-listening to it now some 33 years after the event on this fabulous new CD, I'm properly taken aback at just how good "City To City" really is. Musically accomplished and lyrically deep – it's a genuine Seventies melodic masterpiece. But let's get to the details of this 'Collectors Edition' first…
UK Released Monday 5 September 2011 as a 2CD set, EMI 5099908726728 breaks down as follows:
CD1 (59:09 minutes):
1. The Ark
2. Baker Street
3. Right Down The Line
4. City To City
5. Stealin' Time
6. Mattie's Rag
7. Whatever's Written In Your Heart
8. Home And Dry
10. Waiting For The Day
11. Big Change In The Weather
Tracks 1 to 10 are the album "City To City" – released in the UK in January 1978 on United Artists UAS 30104 and April 1978 in the USA on United Artists UA-LA840-G. It reached Number 6 on the album charts in the UK and Number 1 in the USA.
Track 11 is "Big Change In The Weather" – an album outtake that was put on the B-side of the 7" single "Baker Street"
CD2 (28:57 minutes):
Tracks 1 to 8 are all PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED – 4 'Original Demo' versions of album tracks - "Baker Street" (3), "Mattie's Rag" (4), "Stealin' Time" (6) and "City To City" (7), an 'Original Demo' version of the B-side "Big Change In The Weather" (2), an 'Early Studio Version' of "Take The Money And Run" (5) and two new short inclusions – "Instrumental Intro" (1) and "Instrumental Outro" (8).
Housed in a 3-way foldout card pack, the 12-page CD booklet is graced (if you could call it that) by JOHN PATRICK BYRNE’S ‘original’ album artwork – a gruesome cartoon of some biker with bad teeth and a Gerry Rafferty badge on his leather jacket. It was wisely ditched as 'too' much - thereby leaving United Artists to use Byrne’s stunning 'guitar in his lap' painting instead. There are hugely personal liner notes by friend and fellow musician RAB NOAKES with the text peppered by photos of the terminally unhip Rafferty with his trademark tinted glasses and straight hair. In truth, the booklet is massively underwhelming, but its shortcomings are quickly forgotten when you hear the opening 30 seconds of "The Ark" - when you’re hit by the SUPERB NEW SOUND QUALITY…
Remastered by DENIS BLACKHAM at Skye Mastering in Scotland – the audio quality is truly spectacular – warm, present and full of details you haven’t heard before. And when there's hiss present like on the epic slow builders "Stealin' Time" and "Whatever's Written In Your Heart" – it hasn’t been engineered out of existence – it’s been allowed to breath. After the squashed grooves of the overcrowded 50-minute-plus vinyl album and the dullard EMI CD that’s been on the marketplace for decades - every track suddenly feels like a revelation now. I’ve raved about Denis Blackham’s tape work before – he has over 900+ mastering credits to his name across decades of music - Sandy Denny's "The North Star Grassman And The Ravens", Talk Talk's "The Colour Of Spring", the award-winning 2009 7CD Topic Records Box Set - "Three Score & Ten" - this is up there with those much-praised reissues…
Highlights include the jaunty and sweetly musical “Right Down The Line” and the fantastic train-song “City To City”. Every instrument on the iconic “Baker Street” is suddenly in your face and has real power. And I’d forgotten just how beautiful “Stealin’ Time” is – and with words that now seem sadly prophetic (lyrics above). His love of Irish music comes out in “Mattie’s Rag” and the album finishes on the cool and upbeat "Waiting For The Day". The non-album B-side "Big Change In The Weather" makes its first appearance on CD here – and it's a cracker – a great track.
As you can see from the total playing time above, the 'outtakes' on Disc 2 may be short, but they’re shockingly good. Mastered by ANDY PATTERSON in 2007, they are book-ended by two new 30-second instrumentals that would have worked beautifully on the finished album, but time restraints probably meant their exclusion.
The fully-instrumented demo of "Baker Street" now shows that Rafferty came up with the famous Sax solo note-for-note while "Mattie's Rag" loses the slightly cod-Irish feel of the finished album cut – and is better for it. The 'Early Studio Version' of "Take The Money And Run" is fantastic – the finished song would turn up on his next album "Night Owl" in 1979, but here it's fully formed and 'so' good – a reminder of how 'hooky' his melodies were. Gem-award goes to "Stealin' Time" - the first to be acoustic only and its gorgeous – pared-back and still as powerful as the church-huge finished item on Side 2 of the original album. And when he sings "…so goodnight…yeah goodnight…" on "City To City" you genuinely wish there was more of this. What an impressive songwriter he was.
Niggles – when "Baker Street" was released as a 7” single on 3 Feb 1978 in the UK - it caused an absolute radio sensation. Economically paired down for single release, it packed a HUGE PUNCH. The result - it was played daily – and I mean globally. In the USA alone it clocked up over 1 million radio plays in its first year and has been a Rock Radio staple ever since. The point? Track 2 is the full 'album version' running to 6:11 minutes, but the 7” single is an edit at 4:10 minutes and is by far the most commonly known cut – to the point where the full album version may even seem odd to some people. And yet this much-loved single version isn’t on a ‘Collectors Edition’ – a really dumb and sloppy omission. Again the other 2 tracks issued as 7”s off the album were "Whatever’s Written In Your Heart" and "Right Down The Line" - also 7” edits at 5:15 and 3:42 minutes respectively - but again a no-show on either. There's ample room for all 3 edits on Disc 1 and they should be on here.
The reproduced John Byrne artwork on the inside of the tri-gatefold card pack is from his 1971 debut solo album "Can I Have My Money Back Please" and is nicely done – but the booklet in thin and mediocre. There are US picture sleeves to the singles – not here. The original vinyl album never included the lyrics in the UK - and the new booklet was a perfect opportunity to expand on that – especially as his words were so good and so intelligent. None of the musicians are interviewed – especially HUGH BURNS and RAPHAEL RAVENSCROFT who respectively did the stunning guitar and sax work on "Baker Street". There are no interviews with Billy Connolly his old sparring-partner in The Humblebums or Joe Egan his song-writing collaborator in Stealer’s Wheel. On the upside - at least we can now read the track-by-track musician credits on Page 11 of the inlay, which were almost indecipherable on the rear of the original LP sleeve. But the packaging smacks way too much of what EMI could get away with – when you could imagine that if Edsel, Ace or Raven had handled this, it would have 24-page minimum affair – and properly annotated to give the great man the respect he is so clearly due. They may be small pedantic points I know, but they’re worth making when EMI is charging you full whack on this. Still – there is at least the superb new sound quality to savour…
To sum up – despite the ok-only packaging, there’s a superb new remaster of the album - and outakes on Disc 2 that actually warrant the word bonus.
Born in Paisley, Scotland in 1947, Gerry Rafferty had indeed been "…stealin' time…" and lost his lifelong battle with alcoholism in January 2011. I wish he could be around today to hear the heaps of praise this superb new sonic overhaul will undoubtedly garnish among fans and musicians alike. And I think I now know why Denis Blackham so 'lovingly' remastered this album – both the music and Gerry Rafferty himself engendered huge affection.
Rest In Peace you wonderful songwriter and I hope the "…goodnight train carried you home…"