Battle of the Bands: I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home) by Grand Funk Railroad

I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home)” is a 1970 song written by American musician Mark Farner and recorded by Grand Funk Railroad as the closing track to their album Closer to Home. Ten minutes in duration, it is the band’s longest studio recording. One of the group’s best-known songs, it is composed as two distinct but closely related movements. Its title has been rendered in various ways across many different Grand Funk albums, including “I’m Your Captain”, “I’m Your Captain/Closer to Home”, “Closer to Home/I’m Your Captain”, “Closer to Home (I’m Your Captain)”, and “Closer to Home”.

The song conveys the pleas of a captain on a troubled sea voyage and facing a mutiny from his crew. Its use of an orchestra during the long repeated refrains of the closing movement served to differentiate it from much of Grand Funk’s work. Several interpretations of the song have been given; most revolve around the Vietnam War, and “I’m Your Captain” is popular among veterans of that conflict.

A truncated version of the song was a modest hit single when first released, but the track achieved greater airplay on progressive rock radio stations. Decades later, “I’m Your Captain” remains a staple of many classic rock radio stations. It is considered to be the standout track on the Closer to Home album, and considered by both Farner and others to be his best work as a songwriter. And with its melodic strengths and dramatic feel it is often considered one of the best rock songs of all time.

THEMES & INTERPRETATIONS: Over the years many interpretations have been posed by listeners of “I’m Your Captain”, including the literal one of mutiny on a voyage, but also ones involving drug addiction and ones by those who see resonance in Homer’s Odyssey and themes of returning home, such as college students returning from a long semester. Authors have seen the song as an “epic of paranoia and disease” and as a tale of a man who had lost control of his life in a fashion strong enough to invoke childhood nightmares. It has been used as the subtitle for a chapter of a novel dealing with war and addictions. Comparisons have been made to Walt Whitman’s poem “O Captain! My Captain!” in its use of the rank to mean Abraham Lincoln.

Farner himself does not explicitly state what the song is about, and indeed prefers that listeners be able to use their own imaginations when listening to songs in general. Nor did the other band members have any real idea of what Farner was getting at; Brewer has said, “I think it can mean a lot of different things to a lot of people.”

But the most common interpretations and resonances of “I’m Your Captain” revolve around the Vietnam War. The VH1 program Behind the Music said the song “became a subtle anti-war anthem.” Lee Andresen, author of Battle Notes: Music of the Vietnam War, sees it as portraying President Richard Nixon as “captain” of the United States, losing popular support for continuing the war.  Fellow Flint native Michael Moore remembers hearing it on the radio the day he went to his draft board (where he would file as a conscientious objector), and hoping the I’m getting closer to my home refrains would never end, as he felt America was his home and not Vietnam.

The song also found a following among American personnel in Vietnam, in part because the band’s working-class Flint origins were similar to those of many Americans serving in the war. It resonated with them as they tried to stay alive while waiting for the time when they could get closer to home, and then when they were finally returning from the war. It remains quite popular among Vietnam veterans and Farner has played it at several veterans’ benefits. Farner visited and performed at The Wall in November 2007, on the 25th anniversary of the memorial’s dedication. He later said, “The gig was a great spiritual and emotional experience. The ‘Nam vets I had the privilege to speak to were so gracious and personal with me, as if we were relatives getting back together after a long time apart. As you could imagine, it was really hard for me to sing ‘I’m Your Captain’ because there was a softball stuck in my throat and I couldn’t swallow it!” In 2010, Farner sang the song accompanying himself on acoustic guitar at the Vietnam Veterans of America’s National Leadership Conference, where he received the organization’s President’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.

This song one of my favorites of all time. Here is the Grand Funk version. However, don’t vote on this one; it’s here for your reference and enjoyment only. Be sure to put on your headphones and turn it up! Then take a listen to the two contenders below and let me know which cover version you prefer.

 

Contender #1:  HELLOWEEN – Helloween is a German power metal band founded in 1984 in Hamburg, Northern Germany. The band is a pioneering force in the power metal genre. Since its inception, Helloween has released fifteen studio albums, three live albums, three EPs, and twenty-seven singles, and has sold more than eight million records worldwide.

This cover is from their sixth studio album Master of the Rings, released in 1994:

 

Contender #2:  TOM LUM FOREST – Tom Forest, a computer programmer/software engineer living in Portland, Oregon is also a musician who has been making music since 1969 when he was a sixth-grader playing trombone in the school band. Some years later, in 1977, he bought a Pan guitar and taught himself to play. That started him on the path of a lifetime spent honing his craft, defining his style, networking with other musicians and creating music.

Regarding his music, Tom said, “I recorded my first album, “Rough but Pleasing,” in 2009. It and my second album, “Pretty as you Please,” were all covers. My third album, 2011’s “Roots of Happiness,” had a couple of originals. Subsequent albums have been mostly originals. My closest niche is probably folk-rock and/or singer-songwriter. I don’t have a band: I just hire musicians when I record an album. My leading influences are CSNY, Clapton, Santana, the Grateful Dead, Chicago, and the Allman Brothers.”

He recorded his version of “I’m Your Captain” in 2016. He arranged it as a duet with singer Sarah Billings, setting the arrangement apart from the original. As for the music, Tom said, “We lacked the strings, flute, and sea sounds of the original. But we added waves of guitars. I played the 12-string acoustic rhythm. Terry Robb is playing the six-string acoustic fills and early solo breaks. Both further set my version [apart] from the original, which has a six string acoustic rhythm and electric fills and leads. During the long instrumental break I add some 12-string leads and some more languid 6-string leads. Terry adds an acoustic slide part to the jam.”

I really like his version of the song. I’ve been listening to some of his music and it’s really quite good. You can find him here on SoundCloud or here on YouTube.

This cover of “I’m Your Captain” is from his album Pretty as You Please, released in June 2016:

 

 

TIME TO VOTE! Which version do you like better and why? 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 on the 26th to post the results. Until then, rock on…

 

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BATTLE RESULTS: The Stuck in the Middle with You CHAMPIONSHIP

Finally, I’m here to report the “Stuck in the Middle with You Championship” winner.

This was a battle that was especially hard for me when it came to casting a vote. Both contenders, Keith Urban, the Country winner from last month’s Playoff Battle, and Michael  Bublé, the Playoff Jazz winner, did incredible covers of this Stealers Wheel classic. I spent a lot of time listening to both versions, going back and forth, and I was so undecided that I even pushed the Results post a day later so I could sleep on my decision.

In the end, I truly couldn’t pick which one I liked better. They both are outstanding. And since it won’t matter to the overall battle results, I split my vote between these two great artists. It doesn’t happen often that I can’t make a decision but this battle proved to baffle me.

Battle participants were definitely more decided in their votes and it became clear early on who the Grand Champion was going to be. Keith Urban’s energetic rendition certainly won most hearts in this race. His gravelly voice and that twangy guitar hit a powerful beat and gave this version a really fun down-home sound.

Michael Bublé had a respectable showing though, as well he should have. His dynamic version had it all going on: a vibrant orchestral sound coupled with his spirited vocals produced an absolutely fantastic experience for the listener.

In the end, Keith Urban reigned supreme in this Championship battle.

Including my split votes, the results tallied like this:

Michael Bublé:   5-1/2 

Keith Urban:      9-1/2

Thanks to all who participated in my first two-part four-way battle. You all made it a really fun event! Stay tuned for next month’s battle. See you on September 15th.

 

 

Battle of the Bands – CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND of Stuck in the Middle with You!

Last month I did my first FOUR-WAY BATTLE using the Stealers Wheel song Stuck in the Middle with You. I featured two Jazz covers and two Country covers and folks cast two votes, voting for their favorite in each genre. The winners in that Playoff Round were Michael Bublé as the Jazz contender and Keith Urban as the Country contender. That battle has lead us up to this month’s battle:

The “Stuck in the Middle with You” Championship!

For today’s battle, voters will be choosing ONE WINNER who will walk away with the Championship title (and maybe even a SuperBattle Ring).

The contenders are last month’s winners: Michael Bublé vs Keith Urban. Give a listen and choose your favorite.

Jazz Contender:  Michael Bublé – Michael 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.

Here’s his jazzy take on Stuck in the Middle with You, the winning Jazz cover version in my battle last month:

 

Country Contender:  Keith Urban – As mentioned last month, 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.

His 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 and the winner in the Country genre in last month’s battle:

 

So, who is going to reign supreme in my first SuperBattle Championship? Please cast your vote in the Comment section and let me know why you are choosing that artist for this song.

And when you’re done voting, please visit these other BOTB participants and check out their cool battles:

I’ll be back on August 21st declaring the winner of this Stuck in the Middle with You Championship. It will probably take me that long to clean up the parking lot: the tailgate parties leading up to this championship got a little rowdy…

As always, thanks so much for participating.

Battle of the Bands RESULTS: A 4-way Battle for Stuck in the Middle with You

It’s RESULTS time for my July battle: This was definitely a fun battle! It was my first 4-way 2-genre battle: The song was Stealers Wheel‘s “Stuck in the Middle with You“. The first round in this 4-way is two artists battling it out for the Jazz title and two artists battling for the Country title.

Going for the Jazz title were multi-award-winning Canadian singer Michael Bublé vs. American jazz singer Nicole Henry.

Battling it out for the Country title were the ever-popular Keith Urban (with twenty-one #1 hits!) and award-winning country and pop singer Juice Newton.

The genre winners were decided early on in this Battle Playoff. Without a doubt the men racked up the votes in both genres. Before I reveal the tally breakdown, I’ll tell you who I voted for in this battle:

In the Jazz category I went with the majority and voted for Michael Bublé. His cover version was so rich and robust. I enjoyed Nicole Henry’s smokey vocals but her version just didn’t hold up against Bublé’s, in my opinion.

As for the Country category, I went against the majority and voted for Juice Newton. I listened to each country cover three times before deciding and I must say, it was a tough call. Keith Urban is, well, Keith Urban after all. His version was absolutely fantastic. But Juice Newton’s version captivated my attention more. With Keith Urban’s, his version kinda ended up in the background as I was working away on the computer. Juice Newton’s version, on the other hand, snapped me out of my mindless typing and made me pay attention. The music grabbed me right from the tickling piano at the onset and took on me on a joyful musical ride, accompanied by Newton’s powerful vocals. Comparatively, I just liked Juice Newton more and so she earned my vote.

Now, for the Results Tally:

JAZZ PLAYOFF

Michael Bublé  – 10 votes

Nicole Henry – 3 votes

COUNTRY PLAYOFF

Keith Urban – 9 votes

Juice Newton – 4 votes

The “Stuck in the Middle with You Playoffs” have concluded and the winners from each genre category will now advance to duke it out for the title win.  Come back next month on August 15th and vote for your favorite cover version of the Stealers Wheel hit and see who will win the ultimate “Stuck in the Middle with You Championship”:

Michael Bublé vs Keith Urban

 

 

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…