By Jim Pace
Song: Driver's Seat
Artist: Sniff ‘n’ the Tears
Genre: Power Pop
In the car, some songs get you there quicker, but you still arrive late.
We've all felt it; you're driving along, oblivious to everything, when a certain song comes on the radio and suddenly, it all looks different. The day opens up, you drive faster and you're sure that things are going to change from that moment on.
In 1972, singer-songwriter Paul Roberts played the London pubs with an early incarnation of Sniff 'n' the Tears. They were unable to land a record deal, so in 1974 Paul left the band and moved to France to pursue his painting. Two years later, a French record company allowed him to cut some demos in London.
His former drummer, Luigi Salvoni, brought in some musicians from his band Moon, and they recorded some of what would become Fickle Heart, with Salvoni producing. The demos sat for a while, but Salvoni gave them another listen and thought they had potential. Roberts' painting career was heating up, but Salvoni smelled a hit and talked him into starting a new band.
Roberts (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Salvoni (drums) were joined by Loz Netto (guitars), Mick Dyche (guitars), Chris Birkin (bass), Alan Fealdman (Keyboards) and became Sniff 'n' the Tears. Keyboardist Keith Miller played the Moog synthesizer on "Driver's Seat."
They finished the album in 1978 and were signed by Chiswick Records. "Driver's Seat" was the obvious hit. The song moves along, driven by an acoustic guitar and accented by power pop guitars and those fantastic Moog riffs. The song caught fire and by August 1979, it was #15 on Billboard's Hot 100 in the U.S.
Sniff 'n' the Tears went from playing nightclubs to touring Spain and Germany, but some of the band members weren't prepared for that type of lifestyle. Birkin and Fealdman left the band. Then Salvoni quit right before a three month tour, opening for Kansas and Kenny Loggins in the States. He felt it wasn't the right kind of tour for Sniff 'n' the Tears.
A few albums followed with several different lineups, Roberts remaining the only constant. They were moderately successful, and Roberts painted each fantastic album cover himself, but "Driver's Seat" was a tough act to follow.
The song pops up every few years in a movie or TV show, and in 1991 was the #1 record in the Netherlands after it was featured in a commercial.
You probably won't hear it on the radio these days. So get it onto the Ipod, or better yet break out the old 8-track cassette, roll down the windows and get in the driver's seat.
Every once in awhile, for a couple of minutes, anything is possible.
Grab the keys. Let's go.
(Jim Pace is a musician and filmmaker living in NY.)