| Every legendary classic rock band has put out an album that the majority of their fans agree is that group's best. AC/DC's Back in Black, The Who's Who's Next, The Car's self-titled album (like it or not, The Cars are considered legendary by many). Then there are bands who have fans constantly arguing between an album or two for the title of "best compilation o' songs on vinyl". For instance, Jethro Tull's Aqualung and Thick as a Brick albums are equally excellent. If I had to wager which was best I would put my money on Brick, although several people have told me that Aqualung is supreme.
And then there are fans who are just wrong. This is the case with The Steve Miller Band's Sailor album. I'll be the first to agree it's a good album, and many is the day where I have written a term paper or two with this baby playing in the background. But it has become my short-lived purpose in life to persuade all Steve Miller's fans that Book of Dreams is, in fact, a far better album.
Any time I debate this with a fellow Steve Miller fan, they simply shove my opinion in the corner with the argument that I only like Book of Dreams more because it put out more hits and it was a more "commercial" album. I've never been entirely sure what people mean by something being "commercial", but apparently Santana's Supernatural album is very commercial, and much of anything by Rush is not. Since I have a sizeable collection of Rush and don't currently own Supernatural, I'll lay that matter to rest.
The hits off of Book of Dreams made it to the radio because they kick ass. I have yet to hear my local classic rock station playing anything off of the Sailor album, which is their loss, but they like to play the top-forty hits from twenty to thirty years ago. Finally, this is an album that sounds a thousand times better on vinyl then on CD, which is a quality that I look for.
It's not just the hits that make this album such a must-have, but the LP flows like nobody's business and the songs that didn't make the Billboard list are just as good as anything else to be found on the radio. Plus, there are no commercials.
You still get the spacey, synthesized songs that Steve Miller got a little recognition for, the best singing from a man with an uninspiring voice and the same "better-then-Knopfler-but-not-as-good-as-Page" guitar work (I already know some Dire Straits fan is going to kick my ass for saying Steve Miller is a better guitarist, but I stand by my assessment. Bring it).
The album opens with "Threshold", a one-minute synthesizer song that serves only as an intro to "Jet Airliner". This is my all-time favorite Steve Miller song, with one of the best combinations of acoustic and electric guitar work to be heard in the last century. While the lyrics may not rival the poetry of Keats or Shakespeare, they're good enough for rock music and far better then any poetry I could write. I can't put an exact finger on why I love this song so damn much, but I challenge anyone to avoid singing along with it once it hits the radio waves.
"Jet Airliner" is followed by "Winter Time", a soft, swinging song that you could slow dance to, should the DJ have the wisdom to play this at your wedding. The song seems sad, but I find it more thoughtful and contemplative. It doesn't make me depressed, it relaxes me. And if I can ever reach a state resembling thoughtfulness, this song would get me there. A brief guitar solo (which sounds more like a synthesizer then a guitar) completes the song, making this number a dash more upbeat for a moment.
Next, I come to the only drawback of the album: "Swingtown". I have no clue why this made it to the radio over anything from Sailor and I usually skip the song. It fit's the course of the album well enough, but it just doesn't leave me enthralled.
After that last singular negativity, we come to "True Fine Love". Upon first hearing this song I wasn't terribly impressed, but it's grown on me over the years. It's rock music at it's simplest (and there's nothing wrong with that), but the beat can bring the worst of days up a few notches. I wouldn't listen to this song as a single, but as part of an album it works wonders.
Okay, time to flip the record over. The B-side starts with "Jungle Love". I'm going to be brutally honest here: the lyrics suck. Seriously. And if you disagree with me, see if solid lyricists like Ian Anderson ever used something remotely close to "I bought you a crate of papaya / And waited all night by your door". But truth be told, I love the damn song anyway. The guitar rhythm is great, and lousy words or not, it's another song that's hard to resist singing. I once tried to serenade a woman with this song, and I don't know if it was the lyrics or my lousy singing, but the next thing I knew, the police were crawling all over the place. I probably would have gotten off with a warning, but I gave one of the cops my Steve Miller / Mark Knopfler comparison and earned myself a night in the hospital.
"Sacrifice" is some of the best singing Steve Miller has ever done, and as I said before, he really doesn't have a great singing voice. He's well above Mick Jagger (worst singer in rock history) but a few steps below the guy from Styx (who can carry a tune, but he's no Freddie Mercury, who is the best singer in rock history). Mr. Miller's singing here really makes the song, because his voice fits, and that's important. Many lousy singers can still whip up songs that fit their voices (Tom Petty, for example), but Steve outdid himself here. The lyrics are pretty nice, too.
Next in line is "The Stake". When I first heard this song play on the radio, I thought it was the beginning of a Joe Walsh song, so I got ready to throw those lyrics down. Much to my surprise, Steve Miller started singing instead. After being momentarily boggled, I realized that Steve had apparently plagiarized a guitar riff. But it turns out that Joe's riff works pretty well here too. The song is a mellow rock tune with pretty decent lyrics, everything a rock song requires while not trying to overachieve.
After that plagiarized classic comes "My Own Space", another slow song that fits Miller's voice perfectly. To highlight just how important it is for a bad singer to write to fit their voice, I would like to state that if Bob Dylan could do a song that suited his voice, I might actually listen to it. "My Own Space" should have made the top 40 charts right behind Jet Airliner, but since I never hear it on my local classic rock station, I assume that it didn't.
The album ends with an instrumental piece, "Babes in the Wood". This is the perfect way to end an album, with a smooth piece of music that you can relax to. Record execs across the nation should stand up and take notice, telling their clients "the hell with your rap song, you need to end with something like this!"
Book of Dreams is Steve Miller's best compilation, with the songs he wrote that belonged on the radio (I'll never know why "Abracadabra" became a hit). My exhaustive description of 95% of the album should demonstrate this perfectly, as I originally intended to cover only the best tunes. Any self-respecting classic rock fan should be proud to have this album in their collection (unlike that Meatloaf album we all have that we never admit is actually ours). And even if you still think that Sailor is the better album, you're wrong, but Book of Dreams makes a fine companion piece.