This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #144: The Joker by Steve Miller Band.
I was in high school during the 1970s and, as such, the music of The Steve Miller Band formed a lot of the soundtrack of those years. He and his bandmates had a string of incredible success during the 70s with hit song after hit song such as, “Take the Money and Run”, “Fly Like An Eagle”, “Jet Airliner”, “Abracadabra”, “Rock n’ Me”, “Jungle Love” and the song the started it all off for them, “The Joker”. Overall, the band has had multiple #1 hits, their albums from the 70s have been certified Gold or Platinum many times over and they have managed to sell in excess of thirty million albums worldwide. Any greatest hits album of theirs is, essentially, a greatest hits of an entire decade and acts like a time capsule of when radio was still King and The Steve Miller Band could be heard coming out of car stereos everywhere.
Initially, Steve Miller was more of a Blues player in his early days but, it wasn’t until he switched to a more straight-ahead, arena-rock guitar sound that he started having much commercial success. The first album of his to gain mainstream recognition was one called, “The Joker”. From that album, his first single was a song of the same name that has gone on to become one of the most recognized and respected songs of the era. The funny thing about this song is that it really isn’t about anything at all. Most songs tell a story of sorts or else, they recreate a mood of longing, romance, sadness or sexual heat. “The Joker” does none of those things. It is a patchwork quilt of musical references that, for the most part, shine a light on his earlier career. In a way, “The Joker” is almost like a job resume; where Steve Miller lists several albums he has released and makes reference to several other songs that he viewed as important, as if to present his credentials to the new, arena-rock world in which he was attempting to enter. So, for the next little bit, let me take you through the song and show you why it is unusual, when compared to most songs in this countdown list. Here goes:
– “Some people call me the space cowboy…” refers to a song called, “Space Cowboy”, from a previous album called, “Brave New World”.
– “Some call me the gangster of love…” refers to a song called, “Gangster of love” from a previous album called, “Sailor”.
-“Some people call me, Maurice…” refers to a song called, “Enter Maurice” from an album of his called, “Recall the Beginning…A Return to Eden”.
– The phrase, “the pompatus of love” is called a “nounce word”, which is a technical term for a nonsense word that is used for a specific, one-time effect but, in reality, is not a real word. Miller came up with the word, “pompatus” from a song called, “The Letter” by a band called The Medallions, who used the word, “puppetutes” in that song.
– “Lovey-dovey, lovey-dovey, lovey-dovey all the time…” refers to a song called, “Lovey-dovey” by a band called The Clovers. This song is from 1954.
-“I’m a joker, “I’m a smoker”, I’m a midnight toker, sure don’t want to hurt no one…” was created one night after a party. The story is that Miller left the party after midnight and was humming a tune that he had been working on (which was the tune to this song). Before getting into his car, he noted how starry the night sky was and laid across his hood to gaze upwards. He was relaxed and feeling good and, according to Miller, the chorus just fell into his mind and the rest of the song, he says, just fell into place and was “just him being goofy”. As it turned out, his phrase about being “a midnight toker”, struck a chord with those who enjoyed a joint or two and, as a result, “The Joker” has become the #1 favourite song of marijuana users and that Steve Miller, himself, is viewed with God-like veneration at Cannabis festivals, in the same way that some of the Star Trek actors are at Trekkie Conventions.
So, as you can see, “The Joker” is a song that, essentially says, “Here is my musical resume and, oh yes, smoking marijuana makes me feel peaceful and mellow.” That’s really all there is to it. However, having said that, I think that we can all agree that “The Joker” is a catchy little tune and one that, definitely, speaks to the musical vibe that helped characterize the 1970s sound. For what it is worth, hearing a Steve Miller Band song always brings back happy feelings of nostalgia for me and, as such, there is always room for “the Joker” on any playlist of mine.
So, without further delay, here is “The Joker” by The Steve Miller Band. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “The Joker” by Steve Miller Band, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Steven Miller Band, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.