Song Of The Week: “Driver’s Seat” by Sniff’n’ the Tears

sniff-n-the-tears-drivers-seat-bigSometimes it’s what you leave out that counts.

It’s the silence between the notes. The … between the words. The suggestion stronger than the showing.

In the early 70s, a nascent version of Sniff’n’ the Tears formed in London and worked diligently to build up a following on the small-time club circuit. But no real breakthrough seemed imminent.

Late one night, lead singer & songwriter Paul Roberts found himself unable to sleep in his small flat due to the twin disturbances of a bold mouse and an old, humming refrigerator. Before the noises drove him crazy, he decided to take a walk in the cool, crisp air, and it wasn’t long before a killer riff popped into his head. He knew this riff was gold and hied himself back to the mouse, the fridge, and his guitar.

Roberts titled the song that emerged, “Driver’s Seat.”

Unfortunately, Roberts soon realized he had lifted the riff from a track by the O’Jays. So, out with the riff. Luckily, his song still sounded pretty good even without the foundation upon which it was built. But “Driver’s Seat” would have to wait (and wait some more), as Sniff’n’ the Tears disbanded when Roberts moved to Paris for a couple of years. Upon returning to London in 1975, he gave the music biz one more chance before growing disillusioned and turning to painting instead.

Sniff n The TearsIn 1977, his former drummer convinced him to get the band back together and they went into the studio to record an album with an eye towards making “Driver’s Seat” the lead single. When listening to the finished take, however, something still didn’t sound right. It felt cluttered. So they stripped it back further by taking out some of the electric guitar and focusing on the acoustic rhythm. Suddenly, the song came alive with a sense of space and propulsion. Now it sounded sleek and modern and ready for after-dark action.

Due to the usual vagaries of record labels, the release of “Driver’s Seat” was delayed by a year and then barely dented the UK charts. However, it slowly gained traction in the US and finally entered the Hot 100 in the summer of 1979, peaking at #15 two years after its recording and six years after its inception.

Here’s the sound of New Wave, stylishly shifting gears and cruising towards the 80s.

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