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.
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 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…