[Review] Steve Miller Band: Living in the U.S.A. (1995)

One of those CEMA supermarket releases to steal your money while you’re humming “The Joker” in your head.

Kronomyth 19.73: Your money-saving grace.

Steve Miller Band’s early psychedelic blues phase often gets short shrift these days. The Joker, conventional wisdom goes, marks the beginning of his best work, not the end of it. And while I wouldn’t argue the point, there are some great songs buried in their early catalog that deserve to see the light more often: “Living in the U.S.A.,” “Space Cowboy,” “Your Saving Grace,” “My Dark Hour,” “Your Cash Ain’t Nothin’ But Trash.”

A year after Capitol’s big box set treatment of Steve Miller’s work, the sneaky CEMA Special Markets division took the low road by repackaging ten of the band’s early classic cuts as cheaply made, shameless product. Surprisingly, it became the band’s first “new” album to go gold since Abracadabra (the earlier and superior Best of SMB 1968-1973 had just gone gold a year earlier, but that album was originally released in 1974).

Now, like any CEMA repackage, Living in the U.S.A. commits the usual sins: sins of omission (“My Dark Hour,” for example), sloth (a blank one-sided picture sleeve) and stinginess (33 minutes of music on a compact disc). It’s the sin of neglect, however, that troubles me the most. In the early 70s, Capitol repackaged Sailor as Living in the U.S.A. When the CEMA compilation was prepared in 1995, someone must have seen the earlier title in the archives and slapped a 1973 publishing date on this version, neglecting to note the fact that they’re very different records. Thus, for years I labored under the impression that Steve Miller Band had released two early compilations on the heels of The Joker, both of which improbably went gold nearly three decades later. (Okay, maybe “labored under the impression” is a bit strong, since I’m sure I slacked off under the impression too for some of those years.)

All that said, this compilation at least assembles thirty minutes of very good music, including informed choices like “Motherless Children,” “Mary Lou” and “Quicksilver Girl.” At nearly half the price of the earlier Anthology and the aforementioned 1968-1973 collection, it’s a pretty good Living if you can get it.

The Songs

A1. Living in the U.S.A.
A2. Space Cowboy
A3. Don’t Let Nobody Turn Your Around
A4. The Joker
A5. Gangster of Love
A6. Lovin’ Cup
A7. Quicksilver Girl
A8. Your Saving Grace
A9. Motherless Children
A10. Mary Lou

The Plastic

Released on compact disc on May 16, 1995 in the US (CEMA Special Markets, S21-57288).

  1. Re-issued on compact disc on July 29, 2008 in the US (Collectables) with different cover.

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