BATTLE OF THE BANDS: Stuck in the Middle with You by Stealers Wheel

It’s July 15th so not only are we halfway through summer but it’s also time for another Battle of the Bands. This month’s battle features a hit song by Stealers Wheel. Stealers Wheel was a Scottish folk rock/rock band formed in Paisley, Scotland, in 1972 by former school friends Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty. Their best-known hit is “Stuck in the Middle with You“, a Dylan-esque pop favorite recorded in April, 1974. The band broke up in 1975 and re-formed briefly in 2008.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about the song: “Stuck in the Middle with You” (sometimes known as “Stuck in the Middle”) was released on Stealers Wheel’s 1972 eponymous debut album. Gerry Rafferty provided the lead vocals, with Joe Egan singing harmony. Rafferty’s lyrics are a dismissive tale of a music industry cocktail party written and performed as a pastiche of Bob Dylan. (I didn’t know what a pastiche was and had to look it up. In case you’re wondering too, it’s an artistic work in a style that imitates that of another artist).

The band was surprised by the single’s chart success. The single sold over one million copies, eventually peaking at number 6 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, number 8 in the UK, and number 2 in Canada.

Any Tarrantino fans out there? The song is used in Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 debut film Reservoir Dogs, during the scene in which the character Mr. Blonde (played by Michael Madsen) taunts and tortures bound policeman Marvin Nash (Kirk Baltz) while singing and dancing to the song. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Tarantino recalled:

“That was one of those things where I thought [the song] would work really well, and [during] auditions, I told the actors that I wanted them to do the torture scene, and I’m gonna use ‘Stuck in the Middle With You,’ but they could pick anything they wanted, they didn’t have to use that song. And a couple people picked another one, but almost everyone came in with ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’ and they were saying that they tried to come up with something else, but that’s the one. The first time somebody actually did the torture scene to that song, the guy didn’t even have a great audition, but it was like watching the movie. I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is gonna be awesome!'”

The Reservoir Dogs: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was the first soundtrack for a Quentin Tarantino film and set the structure his later soundtracks would follow. This includes the extensive use of snippets of dialogue from the film. The soundtrack has selections of songs from the 1960s to ’80s. (Only the group Bedlam recorded original songs for the film). Reasoning that the film takes place over a weekend, Tarantino decided to set it to a fictional radio station ‘K-Billy’ (presumably KBLY)’s show “K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies Weekend”, a themed weekend show of broadcasts of songs from the seventies. The radio station played a prominent role in the film. The DJ for the radio was chosen to be Steven Wright, a comedian known for his deadpan delivery of jokes.

An unusual feature of the soundtrack was the choice of songs; Tarantino has said that he feels the music to be a counterpoint to the on-screen violence and action. He also stated that he wished for the film to have a 1950s feel while using ’70s music. A prominent instance of this is the torture scene to the tune of “Stuck in the Middle with You“. (Source: Wikipedia)

The Stealer’s Wheel music video is quite strange, in my opinion. Even the explanation of it didn’t make sense: “The video portrays the band performing in a corner of a large, empty building. Their performance is intercut with shots of Egan (who is miming to the by-then-departed Rafferty’s vocal track, although Gerry Rafferty did not die until January 2011) at a small banquet table with a number of garishly-dressed and made-up supper guests. These include an actual clown, a bespectacled bowler-hatted gent devouring spaghetti and a lavishly dressed woman eating cream cakes and grapes. The clown, who has difficulty eating a plastic chicken, continually squeezes Egan out whenever he tries to take food from the table. The guitar solo is played on a guitar played flat with an empty beer bottle used as a slide. Eventually, the other band members appear, driving off the strange characters so that Egan can sit down at last.”

HUH??? Whatever. It’s a good song. Enjoy! (and remember, this version is presented as the original source only; don’t vote for this one):

 

Now for my Battle: In searching for covers of this song I found four that I really liked and ironically two of them were by Jazz artists and the other two by Country artists. I couldn’t decide which two to pick, so with a little input from Stephen, I’m going to do my first FOUR-WAY BATTLE in which you’ll place TWO votes: one for your Jazz favorite and one for your Country favorite. Then next month I’ll have the two winners from each genre battle it out for a championship win in August. Hope you guys are okay with this.

Jazzy covers

Jazz Contender #1:  Michael Bublé – Micheal Bublé (born September 9, 1975) is a Canadian singer, songwriter, actor and record producer. He has won several awards, including four Grammy Awards and multiple Juno Awards. Bublé’s interest in jazz music began around age five when his family played Bing Crosby’s White Christmas album at Christmastime.

Here’s his jazzy take on Stuck in the Middle with You:

 

Jazz Contender #2:  Nicole Henry – Nicole Henry is an American jazz singer. She has performed in the world’s most acclaimed jazz venues, including clubs such as the Tokyo’s famed Cotton Club and Blue Note NYC. She has performed at numerous festivals including the Festival Miami and the San Jose Summer Jazz Fest (2014).

In 2013, she sang new renditions of hits from the 1970s for her album So Good, So Right: Nicole Henry Live recorded in front of sold-out crowds at Feinstein’s in New York. Stuck in the Middle with You is on that album:

 

Country covers

Country Contender #1:  Keith Urban – Keith Lionel Urban (born 26 October 1967) is a New Zealand born country musician (singer, songwriter, guitarist, TV show judge and record producer) with an impressive award-winning career.

This cover version of Stuck in the Middle with You is from the 2004 re-release of The Ranch’s self-titled album. The Ranch was a country music trio, which formed in 1997 by Peter Clarke on drums and percussion, Jerry Flowers on harmony vocals and bass guitar, and Keith Urban on lead vocals, guitar, ganjo, and keyboards. Most of the group’s material was co-written by Urban and Vernon Rust. Self-titled album The Ranch is the band’s only album. It was released by Capitol Nashville in 1997. After disbanding the group The Ranch, Urban resumed his solo career. Due to his solo success, The Ranch’s album was re-issued in February 2004 on Capitol/EMI as Keith Urban in The Ranch with two bonus tracks: “Billy” and “Stuck in the Middle with You“. Here is that bonus track:

 

Country Contender #2:  Juice Newton – Judy Kay “Juice” Newton (born February 18, 1952) is an American pop and country singer, songwriter, and musician. To date, Newton has received five Grammy Award nominations in the Pop and Country Best Female Vocalist categories (winning once in 1983), as well as an ACM Award for Top New Female Artist and two Billboard Female Album Artist of the Year awards (won consecutively).

Juice Newton did this cover of Stuck in the Middle with You in 1985 on her tenth studio album Old Flame (released in November 1985).

Old Flame was recorded after Newton signed a new recording contract with RCA. It peaked at number fifteen on the Billboard album chart. In his review of the album music critic Thom Owens notes that “out of all of Juice Newton’s albums, Old Flame has the strongest country roots and influences”. Featured on the album were cover versions of Del Shannon’s “Cheap Love”, Roy Hamilton’s “Hurt”, The Byrds’s “Feel a Whole Lot Better” and Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You”.

 

TIME TO VOTE! Which two versions do you like better and why? Please pick one from the Jazz group battle and one from the Country group battle. When you’re done voting, please visit these other BOTB participants and check out their cool battles:

Thanks for your participation and your votes! I’ll be back next month, on August 15th, for the Stuck in the Middle with You Championship, pitting the winners from today’s battle against each other. Until then, rock on…

 

 

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27 thoughts on “BATTLE OF THE BANDS: Stuck in the Middle with You by Stealers Wheel

  1. Hi, Michele!

    “Stuck In The Middle” reminds “Mama Told Me (Not to Come),” the Randy Newman song recorded successfully by Three Dog Night. To my ears, and to give you a preview of how my votes are going to go, “Stuck In The Middle” works best when performed by a male singer. I also believe the song is a better fit when given a country style arrangement. By a process of elimination in your four-way battle, therefore, I am giving my vote to Micheal Bublé in the jazz category and to Keith Urban and The Ranch in the country category. Nicole Henry sings with soulful passion, but I do not think that style fits this particular song. Juice Newton’s rendition came across sounding a bit like a karaoke performance, in my opinion. However, I admit that I almost always prefer studio recorded material to live performances and that automatically put Nicole and Juice at a disadvantage in this contest. If Keith Urban makes it to the finals he will get my vote as grand champion because I liked his version best. It stays close to the original and the original is sublime.

    Thanks for the early morning entertainment, dear friend Michele, and enjoy your weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good morning Tom. Thanks for stopping by so early with your votes. Why does Stuck in the Middle with You remind you of Mama Told Me Not to Come?
      I have to work the psychic fair this weekend so will be back later…
      Have a great Saturday!

      Like

  2. Listening to all these back to back really solidified my vote.

    Love Michael Buble; always have. His smooth vocals and musicianship deliver and most of the time, he would get my vote. However….

    Keith Urban….YAAASSSS! Take that song and own it, brother. He country-fied that tune in a very satisfying way. KEITH GETS THE VOTE.

    Don’t forget to visit the Flipside – I’m baaack.

    Ciao!
    Cherdo

    Like

    • Hey Cherdo! Welcome Back!! Good to see you here.
      Okay I just want to clarify: you were supposed to vote for one artist from each category, one jazz and one country. I got your vote for Keith Urban. And from your comment I’m assuming that your vote for the jazz group would be Michael Buble, right? Just wanted to double check.
      Thanks. I’ll stop over at your place later this weekend. I’m somewhere where I can’t listen to anything right now…

      Like

  3. I’m having trouble with the jazz versions. I don’t really like either but I agree with Tom that it sounds better sung by a man, so give my vote to Michael Buble. Keith Urban definitely for the country style. It sounds closest to the original. Good way to present your own difficult decision!

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  4. I love Reservoir Dogs and especially love the scene that uses Stuck In The Middle With You. It really is the perfect song for that sequence. For the jazz version, I vote for Nicole Henry. I like her smoky, bluesy voice. The country version is harder for me. I vote for Keith Urban, simply because I like his voice a little better.

    Love,
    Janie

    Like

    • Hi Janie. Happy Saturday! Thanks for voting for Nicole Henry… it’s her first vote. And I have you down for Keith Urban.
      Reservoir Dogs was a trip. I like how Tarrantino chooses the music he uses. I haven’t seen that movie in ages. I’ll have to see if it’s available on Netflix or Hulu…

      Like

  5. Howdy, MICHELE! ~
    I’ll begin by saying I have always loved this song, and I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve used that line about “Clowns” and “Jokers”.

    I’m a huge Bob Dylan fan but I had never thought of this song as being Dylanesque, however, now that you mention it, sure it is! That line about Clowns and Jokers is right out of the Dylan playbook.

    I thought every single recording here was good, but when you start with such a terrific song you’d almost have to consciously work at it to mess it up.

    I was planning to, and very nearly did, use a Michael Buble recording in this round of BOTB. But then a few days ago something happened which caused me to change songs and artists and switch to what I have used. But now I’m thinking I’ll go back to that Michael Buble recording for my next Battle in August.

    Speaking of MICHAEL BUBLE — Hokey-Smoke & Hoo-Wee! His recording of this song is incredible! Absolutely fantastic!! Like, as in, “Blew-Me-Away Fantastic!” Every single thing about it was perfect. And his voice — WOW! I think I may have to find out what album that recording is on and buy it. Thanks for turning me onto that. I like what little I’ve heard of Buble, but this — THIS! — …I just had no idea.

    Now the Country category was super tough on me. I’ve listened to both of them twice and I’m still not sure how to vote. I totally dig them both. And I generally prefer male vocalists to female singers, but this one is really close.

    Hold on. I’m going to listen to both of them a third time and then try to make up my mind…..

    Damn! Both of them are really, REALLY good! Now I understand why you were having such a difficult time in contemplating this Battle.

    I could vote for either one of them. And that being so, I’ll give my vote to JUICE NEWTON because she hasn’t received one yet and by no means does she deserve to be shutout here.

    Great Battle, Michele!

    ~ D-FensDogG
    [Link:) STMcC Presents ‘Battle Of The Bands’

    Like

    • Hiya Stephen! Thanks for taking so much time in contemplating your votes. And I’m so happy that at the very least Juice will have a vote. Thanks for that. Glad you liked my selections.
      I’ll look forward to checks ng out your Buble song next month!
      Gotta run now –working the psychic fair…but I’ll be back

      Like

  6. Whew! Brilliant idea for a battle, Michele! I’ve always liked this song.

    It’s been a long day (had to work today) so will keep this short and simple.

    For the Jazz version – I’m voting for Michael Buble
    For the Country version – My vote is for Juice Newton.

    There you have it! Looking forward to the outcome for next month’s battle!

    ~Mary

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  7. Hi Michele; Interesting concept you have going here! 🙂 Quentin Tarantino has the greatest soundtracks, doesn’t he? I’ve always liked this song and enjoyed all the cover versions. Keith Urban absolutely NAILED it! He gets the country vote. For the jazz vote, it’s Michael Bublé, without hesitation.

    Like

    • Thanks Debbie. Yeah, Tarantino really knows what he’s doing with film and pairing his movies with the music. He’s in a league of his own…
      Poor Nicole Henry hasn’t received one vote yet! But I understand, Michael Buble is hard to beat…
      Thanks for your votes!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Michele,

    Wow, a four-way battle! I liked both country versions better than the jazzy ones but I’m gonna play nice and pick one from each group. 🙂 My jazz pick is Michael Buble and my country pick goes to Keith Urban. It’ll be interesting to see which two go to the finals. Have a bandtastic week! 😉

    Like

    • I think you just picked the ones that will be advancing to the finals. The women just aren’t faring well in this battle. 😦
      Hope you have a great week! I’m starting mine on an hour-and-a-half of sleep…

      Like

  9. I’m voting for both women because in both cases I like the arrangement better.

    Michael Buble doesn’t seem to be able or willing to tone it down from full big-band “Vegas, baby!” and this isn’t the first time I’ve had that complaint about his arrangement. Nicole Henry’s arrangement is more appropriate for the song and for the venue (I think this was recorded live in a nightclub…?).

    I liked both Keith Urban’s and Juice Newton’s arrangement almost equally, but it was the piano at the beginning of Juice’s that sold me.

    Like

    • Hey John,
      I love that you are picking both women in this battle! The women just haven’t fared well here at all so it’s going to be a all-male championship next month. I’m voting Buble for the Jazz version and Juice Newton for the Country version. Juice is definitely racking up more votes than Nicole Henry who only has two at this point. Hope to see you at the Results post. I’m just about to do that in a few minutes as soon as I finish the tally…
      Thanks for your votes!

      Like

  10. Hi Michele, great song choice. I’m going to have to go for the two men, Buble for jazz and the gorgeous Keith Urban for the country version. If I could only choose one it would be Keith Urban every time.

    Like

    • Hey Pamela,
      Thanks for your votes. Gotcha down for Michael and Keith.
      The men are definitely winning this battle…
      Have a good weekend!

      Like

    • Thanks for your votes Mike. I’m working on the tally right now and will be posting my Results in a few minutes…

      Like

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