Album Reviews

Gerry Rafferty: Can I Have My Money Back? (Esoteric Recordings)

Gerry Rafferty
Can I Have My Money Back?
Esoteric Recordings/Cherry Red

Scottish singer Gerry Rafferty may best be known for two hits—Stealers Wheel’s 1972 single “Stuck In The Middle With You” and Rafferty’s 1978 solo single “Baker Street”—but those were no flukes; Rafferty had a knack for writing perfect pop confections, and his solo debut, 1971’s Can I Have My Money Back? would serve as the foundation for the rest of his career. This reissue cleans up the sound and presents the album in a delightful new light.

Shortly after the breakup of his duo The Humblebums, Rafferty began working on his solo debut, a record he envisioned blending traditional folk stylings with a bit more of a contemporary twist. It was a rewarding experiment; the songs found here are upbeat, catchy as hell, and nothing less than delightful. The Beatles’ influence is quite obvious; Rafferty has McCartney’s knack for melody and Lennon’s sneering cynicism; “Mr. Universe” almost feels like an outtake from 1965; its la-la-la’s accentuate a killer harmony. The roots-rock of the title track sounds like something from another era, what with its penny-whistle, violin, and jug band rhythm section, His ballads are equally enjoyable; “To Each And Everyone” is a heartfelt, melancholy song about a man’s leaving behind his family, while “Half A Chance” and “Where I Belong” are meta-songs, written as encouragement to himself.

One song is worth noting, though. “Sign On The Dotted Line” is an autobiographical recollection of his getting a record deal, and the deal not working out; it’s a song that is simultaneously hopeful and doubtful, and is one of the great music industry tales. It starts off tentative and quiet, until it builds up to a soulful Southern-rock boogie-woogie, as if to illustrate the rise from doubt to self-confidence. It’s a potent number, and at the time, life could have gone either way for Rafferty.

In spite of its excellent music, Can I Have My Money Back? was a commercial disappointment. It’s not hard to imagine Rafferty taking it on the chin, disappointed. But all was not lost; a friend he made during the sessions named Joe Egan suggested that his music would be better received if it was presented as a band. Rafferty agreed, so they did; Stealers Wheel appeared in 1972, and though the band didn’t immediately, its third single, “Stuck In The Middle With You,” would become one of the decade’s signature tune, and would have a second life courtesy of Quentin Tarantino’s film Reservoir Dogs.  Can I Have My Money Back? was an auspicious debut, and even though it wasn’t a commercial success, it’s a helluva debut album.    

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