The Steve Miller Band celebrated the 50th anniversary of their hit album “The Joker” by releasing “J50: The Evolution Of The Joker” Sept. 15. The album was curated by Steve Miller himself, and it expresses brilliant craftsmanship in music.
The first few seconds of the album are an introduction by Miller. The listener is then transported back in time to the ‘70s, a pivotal era for music, when sounds were more refined than the decades prior. This was a time when the band was still young but accomplished by the release of a few albums.
Miller provides commentary throughout the album, guiding the listener through the evolution of songs from “The Joker.”
The album masterfully crafts the process of how songs from “The Joker” came to be by including live performances from 1972 to 1973, which allows listeners to hear the progression of the band’s sound. During this period, the band began to sound more experimental and bolder in the way that they performed. This was also a time when Miller wrote songs while on the road, then recorded during live performances.
The first live performance the listener hears on the album took place May 20, 1972 in Los Angeles.
The listener hears the sound of the crowd cheering. The sound authentically grasps the essence of what the environment must have been like in the venue. The sounds paint a clear image of excitement on people’s faces, as the emcee grabs the mic to invite Miller and his band on stage. The band then starts to play the song “Children Of The Future.”
The album has early versions of Miller’s songs – they are uncharacteristically soft, but still have that distinct twangy sound he is known for.
A notable performance on the album is an earlier version of the song “Come On In My Kitchen,” which Miller performed live in Dallas, Oct. 19, 1973. His voice, smooth while still maintaining a bit of edge, sounds almost as if the listener is being serenaded: it’s cinematic. The life he infuses into the song sounds straight out of a Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriquez film – not surprising since both directors curate soundtracks for their movies that include artists similar to Miller.
The listener begins to hear the album come together smoothly after listening to “Commentary 4.”
Throughout the album, Miller is searching for a chorus for the song “The Joker.” This can be heard in the song “Travelin,” a recorded, yet unreleased demo. The guitar for this song is also twangy. Then, he begins singing the lyrics that everyone knows today:
“I’m a picker
I’m a grinner
I’m a lover
And I’m a sinner
I play my music in the sun
I’m a joker
I’m a smoker
I’m a midnight toker
I get my lovin’ on the run”
After listeners hear the process of finding the chorus, the next song that plays is “The Joker.” The listener can easily hear the trial and error Miller underwent to create one of his most iconic songs, which would also become the title for his most well-known album.
“J50: The Evolution Of The Joker” is a two-hour-long album, but it’s a body of work that every Steve Miller fan can appreciate. Listening to how one of rock’s most important albums in history came together is a memorable experience and one worth putting on your headphones for and rocking out to.