Ultimate Hits (Deluxe Edition)

Steve Miller Band

Capitol, 2017

http://www.stevemillerband.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/12/2017

The title is a bit misleading, and the intended audience for this collection is puzzling, but Ultimate Hits still delivers pretty much everything a Steve Miller fan wants, regardless of devotion.

Working mostly chronologically, the two-disc deluxe edition (which is recommended over the single-disc version) offers up a disc’s worth of hits and a disc’s worth of rarities and live versions, all intermixed to create a listening experience. Better yet, the songs are all the full-length versions and not the radio-hit single versions, always a pet peeve of mine.

The problem is redundancy. The Young Hearts single-disc collection covered this ground very well, working from “Living in the USA” through the ‘70s and ending with the choice ‘80s songs. It supplanted the ever-popular Greatest Hits 1974-78 and remains the best place to get all the Steve Miller you really need. Elsewhere, the three-disc Box Set not only rehashed the same hits but added rarities, album tracks and live versions, satiating the faithful but covering the necessary.

So for a third time on a major release, we yet again have “The Joker,” “Fly Like An Eagle,” “Take The Money And Run,” “Rock ‘n’ Me,” “Jet Airliner,” “Swingtown” and “Jungle Love.” You also have the lesser hits – which have not stood the test of time – like “True Fine Love,” “Serenade,” “The Stake,” “Wild Mountain Honey” and the cringe-inducing “Dance Dance Dance.” All of these songs can be heard on your local The Boulder 104.3 Classic Rock (Mark and The Wolf mornings, weather on the 2’s) every day, or on your old vinyl nbtc__dv_250 Greatest Hits, or by pulling up Steve Miller on the Alexa in your garage. You don’t need to buy them again.

Knowing this, Miller (who selected the tracks) cannily adds several bonus cuts that come as nice surprises. The best by far is a live version of “Living in the USA,” which pushes the drums to the forefront, includes a fiery harmonica intro and chugs with an intensity not heard in the studio version. Same goes for a live take of “Space Cowboy,” which enhances the blues underpinnings of the original and adds a longer guitar solo. “Journey From Eden,” a live “The Lovin’ Cup” and a cover of “In The Midnight Hour” are worthy additions to the catalog as well.

In fact, the disc is most interesting during these moments and less so toward the middle section, which covers both the early hits (like the awful “Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma” and the overrated, clunky “My Dark Hour”) and the aforementioned radio warhorses. The second half of Disc 2 is actually stronger than one would expect; Miller proves himself an adept judge of his best ‘80s and ‘90s work, and songs like “Stranger Blues,” “Cry Cry Cry” and “Heart Like A Wheel” can stand alongside the better-known songs (only “Wide River” is missing, but “Behind the Barn” is here, so it’s about equal.

Interesting for collectors as well are the opening snippet of conversation between 5-year-old Miller and his godfather Les Paul and a version of “Gangster Of Love” that includes a two-minute story about how Miller, Boz Scaggs and the band got their start. Miller has been somewhat defensive as of late about his legacy; in this story and in the press release for this collection, he emphasizes that Paul and T-Bone Walker played formative roles in his musical development. I wonder if it’s due to the Black Keys introducing him into the Hall of Fame (as opposed to a true blues band or artist) or just artistic insecurity, but dude, we know where you came from and what you’ve done.

Anyway, sorry. The truth is that this is a fine collection, but it’s a bit too much unknown for the casual fan and too much redundancy for the devoted. That said, if you’re only going to own one Miller disc and you want the whole story, beginning to end, with an emphasis on the bluesier side of his discography, this one does the job just fine.

Rating: B+

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