Even as much was musically unfolding in 1976, Steve Miller still managed to score three hit singles in the dying days of AM radio—and enjoy FM airplay. For me, Fly Like an Eagle evokes the summer of 1976, when I was between my sophomore and junior years in college and relatively free of responsibility.
“Take the Money and Run” could form the basis for a comedy about a couple on a crime spree. “Space Intro” places the music firmly in the 70s. A stoner film set during that time would benefit from the song’s atmosphere. “Dance, Dance, Dance” would do nicely in a romantic comedy set in the Southwest.
The Joker, Steve Miller’s 1973 release, proved he could write and record a hit. The title track drove sales of the album, which reached the second-highest position on the Billboard charts. Three years later, Miller returned with Fly Like an Eagle, a set that yielded three hits: the title track, “Rock’n Me,” and “Take the Money and Run.” The big-selling record’s radio-friendly combination of accessible blues and rock ensured its continued presence on classic-rock stations to this day.
For this and other vinyl reissues, Miller and Kent Hertz used the 24-bit/96kHz files they mastered for the digital releases of the musician’s first nine LPs. “Space Intro” pulls me back into the mid-70s every time I hear it, and on this new pressing, the low notes are more forceful and cleanly etched. The high notes are also smoother—giving the piece an enjoyable, floating-in-space feel. When Miller enters on guitar to segue into the title track, his instrument possesses more Stratocaster brightness and his vocals appear more sharply focused than on the still terrific-sounding original LP.
The new master tones down the highs on the synths on “Wild Mountain Honey,” which makes them sound less dated all the while allowing the percussion and autoharp to hang in the air longer. The additional space around instruments on “Serenade” grants the rhythm guitars more complexity and enriches the vocal harmonies. Gary Malabar’s drums on “Mercury Blues” come across more forcefully on the earlier pressing, but they’re more tonally varied and better integrated with the other instruments here. Miller’s guitar sounds grittier and more driving, his voice more centered. Lonnie Turner’s bass throughout feels more defined and snappier, and keeps the music moving.
On the original LP, James Cotton’s harmonica “Sweet Marie” has a fuller, brighter sound. But on the reissue, it becomes easier to hear the subtlety of his technique and emotional force of his playing. Miller’s acoustic guitar on the former cut and “Dance, Dance, Dance” sounds more natural and wooden, with finer articulation and sparkle. John McFee’s dobro on “Dance, Dance, Dance” sings out with more resolution and crispness, with the reverb surrounding it much more audible.
Miller and Hertz also bring more balance to this master of Fly Like an Eagle, toning down the upper end and tightening the bass. Resultingly, other elements in the recording come into play with added clarity. Multi-tracked vocals now sound layered and rich, and the increased instrumental detail reveals an album that remains commercially savvy and intelligently constructed. The new pressing is cut at a lower volume than the original, yet increasing the volume on my system evokes the rock ‘n roll excitement of the original while revealing a more subtle recording than I’d ever realized.
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