Rock Flashback: Traffic and “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys”
Many of our favorite song lyrics and titles sound great, but what do they mean? (How does one buy a stairway to heaven, and why might one do it?) It’s not necessary to know in order to enjoy them, but it’s OK to wonder what the writer was trying to say, or where the words came from.
In the case of [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Traffic[/lastfm]‘s 1971 album, The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys, the source is not one you’d guess.
The Low Spark, released 40 years ago this month, was Traffic’s seventh album, put out only a couple of months after Welcome to the Canteen, a live contractual obligation album. Perhaps the band was getting tired of record-company politics or the rock-star life on the road. Whatever the case, [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Jim Capaldi[/lastfm] put some strong feelings about fame into the album’s title song, including: “the man in the suit has just bought a new car/with the profit he’s made on your dreams.”
But that 12-minute title song, a hypnotic, jazz-inflected jam, isn’t the only track worth hearing. There’s “Rock and Roll Stew” and “Light Up or Leave Me Alone,” both sung by Capaldi rather than [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Steve Winwood[/lastfm], and “Rainmaker,” a favorite of mine. And since there are only six tracks on the album, if we mention “Hidden Treasure” and “Many a Mile to Freedom,” we’ll have covered ‘em all.
That interesting phrase of a title came from a friend of Capaldi’s, actor Michael J. Pollard. Pollard’s face will be familiar if you watch a lot of movies and TV from the 1960s and 1970s — he’s most famous for his role in the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde, where he played accomplice C. W. Moss. The story goes that Capaldi and Pollard were brainstorming movie plots one day when Pollard came up with the phrase. Capaldi considers the phrase descriptive of the rebel generation of the 1960s.
Here’s Traffic’s 1972 live performance of the song, which will give you the full, trippy, jam-band experience. The two tracks linked above come from the same show.