Wednesday, July 23, 2008

An Epic Track That Took Off For Miles

The 1970s featured a lot of epic rock/pop tracks, you know your ‘Stairway To Heaven’s and ‘Hotel California’s. With the emergence of the FM format during that period, radio was a lot more accommodating to songs that went beyond the standard three or four minute duration. The 1976 hit ‘Music’ by John Miles was one such song, clocking in at just under six minutes.

John Miles was born John Errington in Jarrow, England in 1949. Like many kids that grew up in the 50s and 60s he was lured by the appeal of rock and roll and popular music. A talented pianist at school, Miles took to the guitar as a teenager and by his late teens had formed his first group The Influence. Miles started to develop his song writing craft whilst heading up his own group The John Miles Set. By 1971 he’d secured a recording deal with the Decca label, who issues Miles’ first single ‘Jose’ in 1971, credited to The John Miles Set.

Miles released several more singles over the next couple of years, none of which took off in commercial terms, but all the while he was building up a strong live following. The breakthrough song would be ‘Highfly’. Miles was soon after introduced to established producer/writer/engineer Alan Parsons (he of the Project), and in late 1975 ‘Highfly’ was released on single, eventually peaking at #17 on the British charts (US#68). Miles and Parsons then got down to work recording Miles’ debut album ‘Rebel’. The album was an instant critical and commercial hit, surging to #9 in Britain, and in time reaching the top 40 in Australia.

The song that propelled the ‘Rebel’ album, and John Miles’ career, to new heights was the grandiose track ‘Music’. It reached #3 on the British charts in the first half of 1976, going on to chart in Australia (#38) and the U.S. (#88). One reason it may have missed the upper reaches of the American charts was because a severely edited down version was released there. But ‘Music’ also became one of those tracks that was an FM playlist favourite giving it a longevity beyond its chart run. The epic rock opus would also in time, rightly or wrongly, define the career of John Miles. The multi-talented Miles soon found himself opening for the likes of Jethro Tull, the Rolling Stones and Elton John at stadium gigs.

Rupert Holmes (see future post) took over as producer on Miles’ second album ‘Stranger In The City’ (UK#37). The advance single ‘Remember Yesterday’ was released in late ‘76 but only reached #43 in Britain. The follow up single ‘Slow Down’ was a departure from the scale of ‘Music’, and the rock-funk style track was well received in both the U.K. (#10) and U.S. (#34) in during 1977. But it would be the final appearance of Miles in the mainstream singles charts. His next album 1978’s ‘Zaragon’ (UK#43) featured a stripped down sound, sans orchestration, and pretty much placed itself in no man’s land, alienating his earlier fans and failing to capture many new ones. Miles didn’t help matters much by appearing to be a man in a constant state of stylistic flux, further estranging him from fans.

His fourth album ‘More Miles Per Hour’ (UK#46 - I think the late 70s was the highpoint for lame album title puns) found Miles once again under the production auspices of Alan Parsons, and marked a return to his earlier sound. The album cover was also indicative of the rock opulence of that time, featuring Miles posing in front of a specially commissioned Concorde (the plane not the bird). By 1979 though punk, new wave and disco had so saturated the market that there simply wasn’t any room, either on the airwaves or the charts for many epic rock tracks, so the album didn’t yield any (even minor) hits.

Legal wrangles complicated matters for Miles over the next couple of years, though he eventually signed to a new label EMI in 1981 and released the album ‘Miles High’ (UK#96) soon after. Featuring a funk-groove sound it defied its title and flew so far under the radar as to go virtually unnoticed. It would be his last album to officially make the British charts. The next two albums ‘Play On’ (1983) and ‘Transition’ (1985) were consigned to the record collections of Miles’ most ardent fans, though both received some favourable critical reviews.

Though not releasing any solo albums, over the next eight years Miles was busier than ever, becoming a regular headline act for the popular ‘Night Of The Proms’ shows across Europe, joining Tina Turner’s touring band in 1987, recording more vocal tracks for the Alan Parsons Project (1985’s ‘Stereotomy’ and 1987’s ‘Gaudi’), recording with Joe Cocker, and being a key player on Jimmy Page’s ‘Outsider’ project in 1988.

In 1993 Miles released his first solo album in eight years with ‘Up Front’, with the album ‘Tom And Catherine’ (1999) accompanying the musical of the same name. Other live concert albums and an anthology have delivered his fans a steady output over of work over the last decade.

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