On January 20, 1978 Scotsman Gerry Rafferty released City to City, an album that would eventually knock the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack from the top of the U.S. charts. Most people bought it for "Baker Street", a US #2/UK#3 hit most famous for its saxophone solo by session player Raphael Ravenscroft. One Saturday I rode my bike off my boarding school campus, illegally crossing the state line into Millerton, New York four miles away to pick up a copy at Oblong Books and Music.
City to City kept me company for many many days, becoming one of the soundtracks of my teenage years. Its wistfulness and melancholy an apt mood setter.
Rafferty made a fortune from the album but he wasn't interested in stardom. He would spend most of his life in hiding, eventually drinking himself to death.
Even in his mother's womb, Gerry Rafferty must have expected the worst. This Scotsman entitled his melancholy 1971 solo album Can I Have My Money Back? (the answer was "No!"). And when Stealers Wheel, the group he subsequently formed with Joe Egan, became an overnight success with the hit single "Stuck in the Middle with You," only to lapse into morning-after obscurity, he probably said, "I told you so." On City to City, his first LP in three years, Rafferty sticks grimly to his guns. Not only does he use the same producer (Hugh Murphy) and several of the same musicians, but a similar un-self-pitying fatalism pervades the record.
However, there is a slight but significant change for the better that makes City to City as eloquently consoling as the spirituals Rafferty echoes in "Whatever's Written in Your Heart." Indeed, there's a prayerful quality to the entire LP, a quality reminiscent of the dim dawn after a dark night of the soul. "The Ark" begins as a Highland death march, complete with doleful bagpipes, but swells into a stirring hymn to love. And, after etching a relationship stalemated by the inability of two lovers to express their feelings, the somber "Whatever's Written in Your Heart" (whose only instruments are a piano and a hushed sythesizer) concludes with a coda of vocal harmonies that sing of sublime forgiveness. Hope, in almost all these songs, lurks on the horizon. And when it springs fully into view -- as on "City to City," with its rollicking train tempo, and on the jaunty "Mattie's Rag" -- the music almost burbles with anticipation.
A miraculously homogeneous album -- except for the breakthrough sax refrain on "Baker Street," neither voice nor instrument ruffles the flow of hard-won axioms and sensible hooks. Very nice, I mean it -- if yin and yang is your meat, this beats Percy Faith a mile. But Fleetwood Mac it ain't.