In 1967, Steve Miller formed the Steve Miller Band in San Francisco. After making their name with mind-expanding jams and spacey blues in the late ’60s and early ’70s, they hit pay dirt in 1973 with the feel-good pop of The Joker. Since then, they’ve flirted back and forth between blues, space rock, and radio-friendly pop…even dabbling with the occasional bit of jazz for good measure. Not all of their experiments have paid off, but when they have, the results have been spectacular. Here, we take a look back at the highs and lows of their career as we rank all 18 Steve Miller Band albums from worst to best.
18. Rock Love
After a string of hugely impressive albums, the Steve Miller Band hit a bum note with 1971’s Rock Love. A lifeless, lackluster, half studio, half live album that’s been described in certain quarters as “generic white-boy blueisms,” it became the band’s first commercial failure, stalling at number 82 on the Billboard 200.
17. Born 2 B Blue
Despite the somewhat misleading title, Born 2 B Blue finds Miller trading his band’s classic blues-inspired rock for jazz. Unfortunately, even cameos from legends like Milt Jackson couldn’t stop the album floundering. Released in 1988, it reached number 108 on the Billboard 200 before sinking into oblivion.
16. Italian X-Rays
Two years after storming the charts with 1982’s Abracadabra, the Steve Miller Band returned with its decidedly lackluster follow-up, Italian X-Rays. Several of the songs were co-written by Miller and Tim Davis (one of the co-founders of the Steve Miller Band who’d contributed to the band’s first five albums), while the rest of the band chipped in on the remainder. A disjointed, immemorable affair, it was a commercial failure, stalling at number 106 on the Billboard 200.
15. Living in the 20th Century
After the group approach to songwriting failed to show dividends on Italian X-Rays, Miller took sole control of the original material on 1986’s Living in the 20th Century, resulting in a very decent, if often overlooked album, with enough scorching blues-rockers to make it a worthy addition to any music collection.
14. Wide River
Choosing to abandon the jazz sounds of Born 2 B Blue for a return to their classic sound proved a wise move for the Steve Miller Band on 1993’s Wide River, an album that as Rolling Stone notes, is rich with reliable pleasures. Key tracks to take for a spin include the Conversation and Cry Cry Cry, neither of which would sound out of place on an album from the band’s heyday.
After the commercial failure of Circle of Life, the Steve Miller Band came back fighting with its follow-up, the platinum-selling Abracadabra. The poppiest album in the band’s canon also proved to be one of their biggest successes, charting highly in nine countries (including at number one in Germany and number 3 in the US) and spawning a string of hits, including the number 1 title track. It may not rank highly among fans of Miller’s rootsy, space cowboy material, but if you’ve got an appetite for catchy melodies and hooky choruses, it’s a must-listen.
12. Circle of Love
After the 3x platinum success of Book of Dreams, Circle of Love came as something of a commercial disappointment, stalling at number 24 on the Billboard 200 and shifting only enough copies to certify gold. But while it might not have the memorable hits of its predecessors, it’s packed with enough well-crafted songs to make it essential listening for fans…. although even the devoted might want to skip the 18 minute, space rock monstrosity of Macho City.
11. Your Saving Grace
After kicking off 1969 with the excellent Brave New World, Miller ended the year with Your Saving Grace. Although decidedly less consistent than its predecessor, it’s not without its merits, with a funky, free-flowing energy, crisp production, and plenty of wicked side guitar licks from Miller. Standouts include the deliciously funky Little Girl, the elegant Babby House, and the irresistible title cut.
10. Let Your Hair Down
Just 10 months after bringing their almost 20-year hiatus to an end with 2010’s Bingo, the Steve Miller Band were back with Let Your Hair Down. Although it lacks some of the fire of its predecessor, it’s still a very solid effort, with the band infusing enough passion into old favorites like Muddy Waters’ Can’t Be Satisfied, Willie Dixon’s Pretty Thing and Jimmy Reed’s Close Together to make them sound deliciously fresh.
After an almost 20 year absence from the recording studio, the Steve Miller Band returned with a bang in 2010 with the late-career highlight, Bingo. Although their return to recording was prompted by the death of harp player Norton Buffalo, who’d performed with the band on the Fly Like an Eagle Tour and the album Book of Dreams, the result is anything but a downer, with a joyously raucous vibe that transforms its tracklist of covers from the likes of B.B. King, Lowell Fulson, and Jimmy Reed into the ultimate party record. Speaking to Billboard about the album, Miller explained, “It’s about getting up and getting ready to dance. It’s like the fraternity party gigs I used to play in college. I went through and picked all my favorite tunes.”
8. Recall the Beginning…A Journey from Eden
If the Steve Miller Band’s sixth album, Rock with Love, was a commercial disappointment, their seventh, Recall the Beginning…A Journey from Eden, was an even bigger one, scraping in at number 109 on the Billboard 200. But while the lackluster Rock with Love deserved to flop, Recall the Beginning…A Journey from Eden didn’t. Side one has its share of gems, including the upbeat The Sun Is Going Down and the rocking Somebody Somewhere Help Me, but it’s on side two that the band really stretches their legs, with the gorgeous title track and atmospheric Love’s Riddle easily ranking among the best songs from their early career.
7. The Joker
After 1972’s Recall the Beginning…A Journey from Eden limped to number 109 on the Billboard 200, the last thing anyone was expecting from the Steve Miller Band was a hit. But that’s exactly what they delivered the following year with The Joker. Without a doubt the biggest turning point for the band, The Joker abandoned the winding jams and mind-expanding experiments of their earlier albums and replaced them with a bright infusion of easy-going pop. Not everyone wanted party music from them, with the result that a lot of the band’s earliest fans drifted away in their droves. But for every fan that left the club, another 10 joined in their place. The album went to number 2, its singles dominated the airwaves, and suddenly, the Steve Miller Band were doing business.
6. Number 5
The Steve Miller Band released five albums between 1968 and 1970, so it’s probably not too surprising that the consistency of some of those albums is occasionally off. But while Number 5 might have its weaker moments, it’s still a very solid effort, with more than enough delights to give fans something to chew on. As robertchristgau.com notes, the songs about going to the country, going to Mexico, and eating chili on side one are more substantial than those about Vietnam, Jackson-Kent, and the military-industrial complex on side two, with Going to the Country, Good Morning, and I Love You all standing out as winners. Released in November 1970, the album reached number 23 on the Billboard 200.
Sailor, the Steve Miller Band’s excellent sophomore outing, shows no hint of the difficult second album syndrome. Released just four months after their debut, it’s a remarkably strong effort, building on what the band had started on Children of the Future while dropping plenty of juicy hints about their future direction. A freewheeling, dizzying exertion into psych-blues, it skips from one standout track to the next, with the shimmering Dear Mary, electrifying Song for Our Ancestors, and epic Gangster of Love all standing out for particular attention. Released in October 1968, it became the band’s first entry on the top 40, peaking at number 24 on the Billboard 200.
4. Children of the Future
It may be a world away from the hooky, radio-friendly fare they made their name with in the 1970s, but the psychedelic blues of the band’s debut is irresistible stuff. Boz Scaggs can lay claim to a few of the tracks (with the easy-going pop of Baby’s Callin’ Me Home and the raucous Steppin’ Stone being two of the most memorable), but most of the material was written by Miller while he was still working as a janitor at a Texas music studio. The first side, which Rolling Stone describes as playing out like Sgt. Pepper, “a coherent whole of individual pieces, with a dominant verbal theme (philosophical without pretentiousness) and recurring musical themes,” is where the bulk of the gems can be found, with the title track, Pushed Me Through It, In My First Mind and the epic The Beauty of Time Is That It’s Snowing all deserving as many revisits as you can give them. Although the album is very much a product of its time, the crisp production, eclectic influences, intelligent instrumentation, and tasty vocals all add up to an astonishingly accomplished debut.
3. Book of Dreams
If a greatest hits album (Greatest Hits 1974–78) contains seven tracks from the same album, you can be pretty sure that album is something special. Book of Dreams is certainly that. Described by All Music as a “highlight of the ’70s classic rock era and one of Miller’s finest releases,” it’s a wonderfully constructed album that should be considered essential listening for both casual listeners and Miller fanatics alike. There’s a couple of clunkers (Babes in the Wood and Wish Upon a Star can both be skipped) but too many perfect nuggets of rock and boogie for it to matter. Key tracks to revisit include Swingtown, True Fine Love, Jet Airliner, Jungle Love, Winter Time, and Threshold. Released in May 1977, it took the band to number 2 on the Billboard 200 and certified gold within just a couple of weeks of its release.
2. Brave New World
As Ultimate Classic Rock notes, the departure of Boz Scaggs was a good move for both artists, with Scaggs going on to enjoy a massive solo career and Miller himself turning a new focus on songs, guitar, and singing. Brave New World, the first Steve Miller Band album made without Scaggs and Jim Peterman, rocked harder and more consistently than anything the band had delivered so far. From the scorching opening of the title track to the closing sizzle of My Dark Hour (which features a cameo from Paul McCartney under the alias Paul Ramon), there’s not a misstep to be found. Released on June 16, 1969, it climbed to number 19 on the Billboard 200, remaining their highest selling album until Fly Like an Eagle came along and trumped the lot.
1. Fly Like an Eagle
Nine albums into their career, and the Steve Miller Band hit gold – or rather, quadruple platinum, the only album in their back catalog to achieve the feat apart from their 1978 greatest hits compilation. Buoyed by a string of successful singles (the title track and the irresistibly hooky Take the Money and Run and Rock’n Me), Fly Like an Eagle became a huge hit on both sides of the pond, soaring to number 3 on the US Billboard 200 and number 11 on the UK Albums Chart. The songs, which consist of a combination of covers and originals, are uniformly strong, with Wild Mountain Honey and Mercury Blues both standing out in particular. Infused with an easy-breezy charm, it’s a classic of the era, and, in most people’s eyes, the crowing glory of the band’s achievements.