The Steve Miller Band circa 1968, with Miller in the center Credit: Courtesy of the artist

A few weeks ago I went to an afternoon party at Experimental Sound Studio to celebrate the weekly Option series organized by Ken Vandermark, Tim Daisy, and Andrew Clinkman. The series focuses on improvised music, but the entertainment for this event consisted of Vandermark, Daisy, and occasional Reader contributor John Corbett lined up behind a row of laptops, a CD player, and a turntable in ESS’s outdoor garden, spinning just about anything but improvised music. Corbett played one song that immediately stopped me, a common experience when I hear him DJ—it sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place it.

It turns out that I’d most certainly heard the tune before. It was used in the 1983 film The Big Chill, which I saw when I was just a whippersnapper, and eccentric singer Nellie McKay recorded a version for her 2015 covers album My Weekly Reader (429). Gillian Welch also referenced it in her lyrics for “My First Lover.” But I was still surprised to learn that “Quicksilver Girl” was by the Steve Miller Band. Its minimalism and chill vibe had me convinced it was a postpunk obscurity from the late 70s, but it’s on Miller’s second album, 1968’s Sailor. Naturally, I tracked down a copy of the album—it’s a mixed bag, as Corbett warned me, but delightful in the various ways it’s derivative. The album’s most famous track is the blues-spiked rocker “Living in the U.S.A.,” but it also tangles with jazz modes, psychedelia, tame musique concrète, airy pop, ragtime guitar, blue-eyed soul, and more.

By now I’ve heard “Quicksilver Girl” enough times to pick up on the influence of the Beach Boys as well as a bit of the Beatles, but I don’t adore the song any less because it feels more familiar.

Today’s playlist:

Tommy Meier Root Down, The Master and the Rain (Intakt)
Jim O’Rourke, Old News #8 (Old News)
Mat Maneri, Evan Parker, and Lucian Ban, Sounding Tears (Clean Feed)
Gene Shaw, Debut in Blues (Chess)
Anatol Ugorski, Olivier Messiaen: Catalog D’oiseaux (Deutsche Grammophon)