Previously Unreleased Steve Miller Song Reveals More Behind ‘The Joker’ 50 Years Later

When Steve Miller released The Joker 50 years ago, there were eight tracks he never released from the original sessions and dozens more from his archives that were never heard. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the album, Miller is releasing a reissue of The Joker, out September 15, along with a number of previously unreleased tracks, including “Mama Church (A Cappella).” 

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J50: The Evolution of The Joker will be available in multiple formats with the vinyl version featuring a limited-edition lithograph and a reproduction of a vintage The Joker iron-on.

Recorded in 17 days at Capitol Record’s Studio B in Los Angeles and produced by Miller, when released, The Joker went to No. 2 on the Billboard 200 with the title track hitting No. 1 in the U.S. and internationally.

Curated by Miller, J50 features the original album, along with 27 previously unreleased recordings from Miller’s personal archive, songwriting tapes recorded by Miller on at TEAC 4-track on the road in hotel rooms and from rehearsal, studio outtakes, and live performances. The album also features six commentary tracks by Miller and liner notes by the musician and journalist Anthony DeCurtis.

Each song captures a different frame in the making of The Joker, including the unreleased “Mama Church (A Cappella),” which was recorded on a 4-track in a hotel room on April 21, 1972.

The release of “Mama Church (A Cappella)” follows “The Joker Suite,” featuring the title track and the previously unreleased “Lidi” and “Travelin,'” which was followed by “Sugar Babe Suite,” three tracks exploring “The Joker,” including an early 4-track recording, a live version from 1973, and the album version.

“The most important rule that every kid out there who wants to make a record should remember is: When you go into the studio, be ready to do the whole performance the first time you do it because that’s going to be the best time you do it,” said Miller in a statement. “The whole thing is to capture the first performance. That’s a lot of what The Joker’s about. It was all first takes, and first takes are always better than perfect takes.”

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He continued, “To make a hit record, I thought it was best to have five hooks. Not one, not two, not three, not four, but five, if you really wanted to deliver a hit. Like if you take ‘The Joker.’ ‘Some people call me the Space Cowboy.’ What the hell was that? Then it continues and it gets your attention again: the slide guitar, the chorus, the harmony, the wolf whistle. It all adds up. All of these things are just elements of writing. You learn those elements, and you’re always playing with them.”

‘J50: The Evolution of The Joker’ Track List:

LP1 Side One

Steve Miller Commentary 1
“Children of the Future” (Live)
“Brave New World” (Live)
“Dear Mary” (Live)
“Space Cowboy” (Live)
“Ginger Man” (Live)
“Nothing Lasts” (Live)

LP1 Side Two

Steve Miller Commentary 2
“Sugar Babe” (Early Version)
“Sugar Babe” (Live)
“Sugar Babe” (Album Version)
“Mary Lou” (Early Version)
“Mary Lou” (Album Version)

LP2 Side One

Steve Miller Commentary 3
“Hat” (Live – Pre Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma)
“Say Hey Ray” (Pre Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma)
“White Elephant” (Pre Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma)
“Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma” (Early Version)
“Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma” (Album Version)

LP2 Side Two

Steve Miller Commentary 4
“Your Cash Ain’t Nothin’ But Trash” (Early Version)
“Your Cash Ain’t Nothin’ But Trash” (Album Version)
“Lidi” (Twang Guitar)
“Lidi” (Studio)
“Lidi/Travelin’” (Harmonics – Looking for a Chorus for The Joker)
“Travelin’” (Looking for a Chorus for The Joker)
“The Joker” (Album Version)

LP3 Side One

Steve Miller Commentary 5
“Lovin’ Cup” (Live)
“Lovin’ Cup” (Album Version)
“Come On In My Kitchen” (Live)
“Come On In My Kitchen” (Album Version)
“Evil” (Studio Demo)
“Evil” (Album Version)

LP3 Side Two

Steve Miller Commentary 6
“Coupe De Ville” (A Cappella)
“Something to Believe In” (Early Version)
“Something to Believe In” (Tough Crowd – Live)
“Something to Believe In” (Album Version)
“I Don’t Mind” (Hotel 4-Track)
“I Don’t Mind” (Studio)
“Mama Church” (A Cappella)

7” Side A

“The Joker” (Single Version)
“Lidi/Travelin’” (Harmonics – Looking for a Chorus for The Joker)

7” Side B

“I Don’t Mind” (Studio)
“Lidi” (Studio)

Photo: Gijsbert Hanekroot / Courtesy of Big Hassle Media

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