Desert Island Discs: “Silk Degrees” by Boz Scaggs (1976)

Image from bozscaggs.org

A confession: I hated this album when it first came out in the summer of 1976. Hated it. I was a snotty, arrogant, nineteen-year-old jaded hipster poser. I referred to this as “Slick Debris.” I said that Boz Scaggs sang like Kermit The Frog. I had a default-setting, reflexive, knee-jerk dislike for anything that sold a million copies or more: I reasoned that it was mass-produced simply to appeal to the unenlightened public.

Thirty-eight years later, I still think Boz Scaggs sings like Kermit The Frog. But I have grown to love this album. Even back then, when no one else was in the car, I would sing along to “Lido Shuffle.”

The pop music of every era risks being locked in time. That is the bargain of pop music: to be of the moment, it risks being only of the moment… Boz Scaggs’s “Silk Degrees” would seem to be a case in point. Signature ‘70s stuff: part sophisticated pre-punk pop, part disco, part singer-songwriter quirk. Like so many “rock” hits of the latter part of this decade, the album is precise and clean: played by fantastic musicians who would be equally at home in a Broadway orchestra or a bar band. There are hip saxophone solos, slick jazz-cat chord changes, complex arrangements, soul background singers. Tasteful strings swell behind the thumping bass lines. A horn section sounding an awful lot like the band Chicago punches up the proceedings. You might hate the sound of it all, but – in 1976, anyway – people loved it. – Will Layman

Scaggs’ songs brimmed with optimism, fitting perfectly into an America that was still re-awakening from the debacles of Vietnam and Richard Nixon, and readying itself for a bicentennial celebration… The album sparkles with the band’s intense studio craft, but still feels effortless and organic. Scaggs’ tenor fits both the mid-tempo numbers and the soaring ballads with memorable perfection. If you were an American student in 1976, you no doubt have fond memories of slow-dancing to the six-minute “Harbor Lights.” – Hyperbolium

Someone described “Silk Degrees” as a cross between Van Morrison and Elton John. “Blue-eyed soul” seems to fit.

Produced by Joe Wissert who helmed “Happy Together” by The Turtles, “If You Could Read My Mind” by Gordon Lightfoot, and “One Last Kiss” by The J. Geils Band among others. His talent, I think, is to let the musicians do what they do, and just buff and polish and sharpen the sound. It sure shows on this album. Clean, full-bodied, rich production; notably different in sound quality than the other over-produced music coming out that summer. The simplicity of the production allows the songs to stand on their own two feet. Session musicians shone, like the trio of drummer Jeff Porcaro, bassist David Hungate, and keyboardist/co-songwriter David Paich who all went on to found the band Toto.

And there isn’t a bit of filler. Not a bad song on this album. Rita Coolidge had a hit with “We’re All Alone” and Bonnie Raitt with “What Do You Want The Girl To Do,” and many hip-hop artists have sampled the riff from “Lowdown.” There are great little fills like the barrelhouse piano and slide guitar on “Jump Street,” and the double-time cha-cha bit at the end of “Harbor Lights.” But the song that knocked me out, even back in the cynical hipster days, was “It’s Over.” It’s got a great Carolina beach music sound to it.

Best of friends never part
Best of fools has love forever
From the bottom of his heart

So why pretend
This is the end
You’ll have to find out for yourself
Go on, ask somebody else

Why can’t you just get it through your head
It’s over, it’s over now
Yes, you heard me clearly now, I said
It’s over, it’s over now

I’m not really over you
You might say that
I can’t take it, I can’t take it
Lord, I swear I just can’t take it no more

“Lido Shuffle” is the singalong song. A freewheeling song about a freewheeling dude.

Lido, he be runnin’
Havin’ great big fun
Until he got the note
Sayin’, tow the line or blow it
And that was all he wrote

He’ll be makin’ like a bee line
Headin’ for the border line
Goin’ for broke
Sayin’, one more hit ought to do it
This joint ain’t nothin’ to it
One more for the road

Lido.. whoah oh oh oh
He’s for the money
He’s for the show
Lido’s waiting for the go

Lido.. woah oh oh oh oh oh oh
One more job ought to get it
One last shot then we quit it
One more for the road

“We’re All Alone” became a mellow FM radio standard.

Once a story’s told
It can’t help but grow old
Roses do, lovers too
So cast your seasons to the wind
And hold me dear
Oh, hold me dear

Close the window
Calm the light
And it will be all right
No need to bother now
Let it out, let it all begin
All’s forgotten now
We’re all alone
All alone

If you’ve never heard “Silk Degrees,” do yourself a favor and give it a spin. Or even if you have. Don’t let your inner jaded hipster poser get the better of you.

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One Comment on “Desert Island Discs: “Silk Degrees” by Boz Scaggs (1976)”

  1. […] “Silk Degrees” by Boz Scaggs (1976) 4/7/14: “New Miserable Experience” by Gin Blossoms (1992) 8/24/13: “Making […]


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