“Crime of the Century” is the name of the album, but in
hindsight “Surprise of the Century” would have been a more apt title.
Supertramp was formed in 1969 around Richard Davies, with the financial backing
of Stanley August Miesegaes (known to his friends as Sam).
In the first auditions Richard met Roger Hodgson, who were
to become the nucleus of the band we now know from legend as Supertramp. After
various name changes the band decided to be called Supertramp after Sam
suggested it from the W. H. Davies book published in 1910, ‘History of a
The first self titled Super-
tramp album was released in 1970, to no public or critical acclaim. The rest of
the band are either fired, have a nervous breakdown, or jump ship. A second
album is recorded, ‘Indelibly Stamped’ (1971), which if anything fared even
worse than its predecessor. (Both of these albums feature rather aimless songs
featuring meandering solos and indifferent lyrics instantly forgettable.) After
the tour to promote Indelibly Stamped, the three new recruits to the band are
all fired, leaving just the duo of Davies and Hodg-
son again. At this point Sam separates from the band, paying off the 60,000
pound debts already incurred, wishing them all the best for the future, but
severing any further ties.
Davies and Hodgson bravely keep going, recruiting new
musicians in the shape of magical saxophonist John Anthony Helliwell (ex
‘Alan Bown Sound’) and the rock solid jazzy drumming of Bob. C. Benberg (ex
‘Bees Make Honey’ and ‘Ilford Subway’ with American Scott Gorman before
he became famous with ‘Thin Lizzy’). Perhaps most importantly of all,
Dougie Thomson came in on bass guitar and took over the business management of
At this point the band were gigging day to day to survive
whilst writing new material for the proposed new album. But A&M Records had
no future plans for the band; in fact they thought Supertramp had imploded.
Roger Hodgson and Richard Davies, under the watchful eye of new partner Dougie
Thomson, went back to A&M Records to plead their case for another bite at
the cherry. For once somebody at the record company got it right.
In November 1973 the band are moved lock, stock, and if you
want, smokin’ barrel, to a farm in Somerset, England to work on the new
material for the next album. From there in February 1974 they are moved on to
Trident Recording Studios in London with the excellent Ken Scott holding down
production duties. In June the band finish off recordings in the famous Ram-
port Studios. The third album under the Supertramp banner is released in
September 1973, and with the full weight of the A&M publicity machine
behind them, coupled with some ground breaking and prestigious live concerts,
the band becomes overnight sensations.
The first single off the album, “Dreamer” (which was to
be the template for the Supertramp sound from here on, hammering piano, searing
guitar licks, beautifully contrasting harmonised vocals, with catchy amusing
lyrics, combustible saxophone and clarinets, and a jazz influenced rhythm
section) was to peak at Number 13 in the British charts, followed by the album
itself which was in the Top Five by Christmas of that year.
All the songs on the album have a conceptual theme to them:
in this case insanity. All sorts of insanity, whether it be brought on by
education (School), dreaming (the first single), love (Rudy), shyness (Hide In
Your Shell) or authority (the title track). Every track is instantly
recognisable as Supertramp, and the album as a whole runs together perfectly,
starting with the haunting harmonica opening of School to the final rousing
crescendo of the title track.
In-between there are some splendid melodies ranging from
many of the band’s influences, folk, progressive/rock, pop, jazz and the
classics, combining the vocal talents of both Hodgson and Davies in their
contrasting manner, giving Supertramp that essential variety. This is used in
quite devastating effect on the album’s centrepiece song Asylum, where they
both sound as if they are completely going off the planet. Quite a blend you
may think, but it all gels to stirring effect.
Supertramp was to go on to conquer the adult oriented world
of rock music, even the advent of punk rock did not dent their mercurial rise
to stardom. Three more smash hit albums were to follow, “Crisis What
Crisis?” (1975), “Even In The Quietest Moments” (1977) and culminating in
the Worldwide Number One album “Breakfast in America” (1979) which was to
spawn four hit singles on its own (in those days hit singles used to mean
something). The band toured internationally on the strength of these records
and would fill stadiums wherever they went.
As in many marriages, something that started out as
blissfully perfect ruptured into bitterness and in family fighting. After one
more not so successful album and world tour, Roger Hodgson left the family,
taking with him John Anthony Helliwell, leaving Richard Davies to carry on with
the name Supertramp. Of course by this time none of them needed to work for the
money, and really did not care, nor to be quite honest did the public, enough
Both carried on their careers in a very lacklustre manner,
but were never to find that original spark again. All good things must come to
an end. The Tramp was super for a long time and made enough to retire to its
mansion. I do like a story with a happy (if not perfect) ending. I wonder if
Stanley August Miesegaes “Sam” ever got repaid for his original funding of