Supertramp – Breakfast in America

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Supertramp - breakfast in AmericaBreakfast in America is the sixth album by the band Supertramp, released in 1979. It was recorded the previous year at the Village Recorder in Los Angeles. It featured four U.S. Billboard hit singles:  “The Logical Song” (No. 6), “Goodbye Stranger” (No. 15), “Breakfast in America” (No. 62), and “Take  the Long Way Home” (No. 10). In the UK, “The Logical Song” and the title track were both top 10 hits, the only two the group had in their native country.[1] Breakfast in America won two Grammy Awards in 1980, and holds an RIAA certification of quadruple platinum.

In France, the album is the biggest-selling English language album of all time, and the third biggest seller overall.

As with Even in the Quietest Moments, Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson wrote most of their songs separately but conceived the theme for the album jointly. Their original concept was for an album of songs about the relationship and conflicting ideals between Davies and Hodgson themselves, to be  titled Hello Stranger. Hodgson explained “We realized that a few of the songs really lent themselves to two people talking to each other and at each other. I could be putting down his way of thinking and he could be challenging my way of seeing life […] Our ways of life are so different, but I love him. That contrast is what makes the world go ’round and what makes Supertramp go ’round. His beliefs are a challenge to mine and my beliefs are a challenge to his.”

This idea was eventually scrapped in favour of an album of “fun” songs, and though Davies initially wanted to keep the title Hello Stranger, he was convinced by Hodgson to change it to Breakfast in America. Hodgson commented later “We chose the title because it was a fun title. It suited the fun feeling of the album.” Due to the title and the explicit satirising of American culture in the cover and three of the songs (“Gone Hollywood”, “Breakfast in America”, and “Child of Vision”), many listeners interpreted the album as a satire of the U.S. Supertramp’s members have all insisted that the repeated references to U.S. culture are purely coincidental and that no such thematic satire was intended. Hodgson has described the misconception as a parallel to how Crime of the Century is often misinterpreted as being a concept album.

“Gone Hollywood” is the opening track of Breakfast in America. Written by Rick Davies, the song tells about a person who moves to Los Angeles in hopes of becoming a movie star, but finds it far more difficult than he imagined. The lyrics were originally more bleak, but under pressure from the other band members, Davies rewrote them to be more optimistic and commercial.[4]

“Child of Vision” is the closing track. Much like “The Logical Song”, it uses a Wurlitzer electric piano as the main instrument. After the lyrical part, the song goes into a long grand piano solo alongside the original Wurlitzer electric piano melody. The track fades out with a short saxophone solo by John Helliwell. Roger Hodgson has said that the song was written to be an equivalent to “Gone Hollywood”, looking at how Americans live, though he confessed that he had only a limited familiarity with USA culture at the time of writing. He also said there is a slight possibility that he subconsciously had Rick Davies in mind while writing the lyrics.

Since all of Supertramp’s songs are contractually credited to both Davies and Hodgson, it is difficult to determine who wrote what. Roger Hodgson’s management has described “The Logical Song”, “Breakfast in America”, “Take the Long Way Home”, “Lord is it Mine” and “Child of Vision” as “Roger’s songs”; however, this apparently does not mean he necessarily wrote them by himself, as Hodgson has credited Davies with writing the vocal harmony on “The Logical Song”. Davies has referred to “The five songs that I did on Breakfast”, but does not specify which ones, though presumably he means the five not described by Hodgson’s management as being “Roger’s”.

The album went through two rounds of demos. The first were home demos, each of which consisted of the chief songwriter (either Rick Davies or Roger Hodgson) playing either acoustic piano or Wurlitzer electric piano and singing.[4] The second were eight-track demos recorded at Southcombe Studios in Burbank, California during late April and early May 1978; it was in recording these demos that the band worked out the backing track arrangements for all the songs (with the exception of “Take the Long Way Home”) and determined the order in which they would appear on the album.

In order to avoid spending a lot of time on mixing, the band and their production team devoted a week to experimenting with different sound setups until they found the perfect arrangement. The effort proved to be wasted, as the engineering team would end up spending more than two extremely stressful months searching for the right mix, and were only finished after that length of time because the deadline had arrived, not because they felt at all satisfied with the results.

Tensions between Hodgson and Davies were reportedly almost non-existent on this album. Engineer Peter Henderson recalled “They got along fantastically well and everyone was really happy. There was a very, very good vibe and I think everyone was really buoyed up by the recordings and A&M’s response to them.” Hodgson contested this, saying that he and Davies had increasingly different lifestyles, and that he felt that Davies disliked many of his songs and only kept quiet about his displeasure because he sensed that he would be voted down. Melody Maker journalist Harry Doherty offered a third take on the duo’s interactions during the album sessions: “In three days with the band, I don’t think I saw Davies and Hodgson converse once, other than to exchange courteous greetings.”

Breakfast In America features a number of songs played on the Wurlitzer electric piano, displaying its most distinctive abilities. In particular, the different sounds made by the Wurlitzer depending on how hard it is played – songs such as “Child of Vision” or “The Logical Song” are built upon this sound. The peculiar sound of the Wurlitzer had already been put forth in older songs such as “Dreamer” or “Lady” but never so extensively into an entire album. Six of the ten tracks have the Wurlitzer on them.

Breakfast In America became Supertramp’s biggest-selling album with more than 6 million copies sold in the US alone and was No. 1 on Billboard’s Pop Albums Chart for six weeks in the spring and summer of 1979. The album also hit No. 1 in Norway, Austria, Canada and Australia. It was also their biggest album in the UK, reaching No. 3 (for five consecutive weeks) and remaining on the charts for exactly a year.

Artwork and packaging

The album’s front cover resembles an overlook of New York City through an aeroplane window. It was designed by Mike Doud and depicted Kate Murtagh, dressed as a waitress named “Libby” from a diner, as a Statue of Liberty figure holding up a glass of orange juice on a small plate in one hand (in place of the torch on the Statue), and a foldable restaurant menu in the other hand, on which “Breakfast In America” is written. The background featured a city made from a cornflake box, ashtray, cutlery (for the wharfs), eggboxes, vinegar, ketchup and mustard bottles, all spraypainted white. The twin World Trade Center towers appear as two stacks of boxes and the plate of breakfast represents Battery Park, the departure point for the Staten Island Ferry. The back cover photo, depicting the band members having breakfast while reading their respective hometown newspapers, was taken at a diner called Bert’s Mad House.

Breakfast In America won the 1980 Grammy Award for Best Recording Package, beating out albums by Talking Heads and Led Zeppelin, among others.

Breakfast in America was seen as a departure for the band, with its pop sound deviating from the progressive rock stylings that defined their earlier work. Rolling Stone were receptive to the band’s new direction, writing, “Breakfast in America is a textbook-perfect album of post-Beatles, keyboard-centered English art rock that strikes the shrewdest possible balance between quasi-symphonic classicism and rock & roll. Whereas Supertramp’s earlier LPs were bogged down by swatches of meandering, Genesis-like esoterica, the songs here are extraordinarily melodic and concisely structured, reflecting these musicians’ saturation in American pop since their move to Los Angeles in 1977.” “The Logical Song” won the 1979 Ivor Novello Award for “Best Song Musically and Lyrically”.Breakfast in America would become Supertramp’s most popular album. According to Allmusic, who awarded the album 4.5/5 stars, it had, by the 1990s, sold in excess of 18 million copies worldwide. Stephen Thomas Erlewine, in his review, praised the album’s “tightly written, catchy, well-constructed pop songs” and described it as the band’s “high-water mark”. John Doran of the BBC lauded the “unbeatable quality of the song writing” and opined that “any of the ten tracks could have been hit singles”. It has sold well over 20 million copies to date. In a less enthusiastic review, William Pinfold of Record Collector considers the album “a classic example of flawlessly-played and -produced late 70s transatlantic soft rock” and also “a perfect demonstration of why punk had to happen”, describing the music as “easily digestible”.

In the 1987 edition of the The World Critics List, music critic Joel Whitburn ranked Breakfast in America the fourth greatest album of all time. In the 1994 edition of The Guinness All Time Top 1000 Albums, Breakfast in America was voted No. 207 in the all-time greatest rock and pop albums, and it was voted the 69th greatest British rock album of all time in a 2006 Classic Rock industry poll. Triple M listeners voted the album No. 43 in the “100 Greatest Albums of All Time”. Recognising the band’s disfavour among music critics during their career, Q magazine ranked Breakfast in America second on its “Records it’s OK to Love” list in 2006.

The album was first re-released as a remaster on Gold CD from MFSL.

2002 A&M reissue

On 11 June 2002 A&M Records reissued Breakfast in America with full original album art plus the label art from side one recreated on the CD. It was mastered from the original master tapes by Greg Calbi and Jay Messina at Sterling Sound, New York, 2002. The reissue was supervised by Bill Levenson with art direction by Vartan and design by Mike Diehl, with production coordination by Beth Stempel. It makes limited use of dynamic range compression and peak limiting, rejecting the loudness war trends of modern CD releases.

2010 Deluxe Edition

A deluxe edition was released on 4 October 2010 including a second disc with songs recorded live in 1979, in particular songs not appearing on the live album Paris.

2010 Super Deluxe Edition

A super deluxe edition, which was released on 6 December 2010, includes the 2 disc Deluxe Edition CD, Vinyl LP, Poster, DVD, hardcover book, and other memorabilia.

Track listing

All songs written and composed by Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Gone Hollywood” 5:20
2. “The Logical Song” 4:11
3. “Goodbye Stranger” 5:50
4. “Breakfast in America” 2:38
5. “Oh Darling” 3:49
Side two
No. Title Length
6. “Take the Long Way Home” 5:08
7. “Lord Is It Mine” 4:09
8. “Just Another Nervous Wreck” 4:26
9. “Casual Conversations” 2:58
10. “Child of Vision” 7:25