Until now the most implausible monster from Scotland was the one in Loch Ness. But not even Nessie can rival this summer’s logic-defying creation of Gerry Rafferty. His first solo album since 1971, City to City—released without a tour or promo campaign and with a distribution foul-up—figured to be the industry’s first ever to ship not gold or platinum but concrete. Instead, propelled by a sizzling single, Baker Street, the LP by the widely unknown Rafferty is the sleeper of the year. Where heavies like Paul McCartney, Jackson Browne and Eric Clapton failed, City to City earlier this month shot to No. 1, ending Saturday Night Fever’s five-month disco dynasty atop the charts.
The feat still leaves the shy and resolutely unflamboyant Rafferty, 31, feeling as misty as a Scottish highland. “Me up there with all the Bee Gees,” he mutters, shaking his head. “It has all been a bit strange. The album is really just a bunch of songs. But,” he notes, “it is gratifying to write a hit without selling out.” City to City is, in fact, an utterly original, uncompromised and exquisitely crafted fusion of English folk, church hymns and progressive rock. Rafferty backs his feathery, five-part harmonies with esoteric orchestrations that include Moog, concertina, fiddle, guitar and an eerily evocative saxophone solo “hook” on Baker Street (which commemorates not Sherlock Holmes’ address but that of Rafferty’s lawyer).
Rafferty grew up around Glasgow, the son of a working-class father, and attended parochial classes until the age of 15. Though admitting that the Latin Mass still exerts a musical influence on him, he says, “I couldn’t wait to quit school. I never entertained the thought of doing anything in my life but music.” Devoted to the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly, he left home to sing and play guitar in local folk clubs. In the early 1970s Gerry and Joe Egan formed a group, Stealers Wheel, and had a 1973 hit, Stuck in the Middle with You. It splintered with everyone suing each other in 1975.
Ever since, Rafferty has retreated into rural seclusion with his wife, Carla, and their daughter, Martha, 7, along the Scottish coast, 36 miles from Glasgow. “We’re in a good spot,” he reports. “We can see both the mountains and the sea.” Rafferty prefers walking the dog and reading Russian-born mystic Georges Gurdjieff to the usual star trips of limos, private jets, security guards and hotel suites. “That’s my operating definition of hell,” he says in his Scottish burr. “It’s got nothin’ whatsoever to do with any reality. Only my music does.”