Top 10 Humble Pie Songs
One could make a good argument that Humble Pie have in some ways lived out the prophecy of their name. Now frequently overshadowed by the same peers they once blew off the stage, the British group have indeed been forced to eat humble pie in the grand scheme of classic rock history. But that in no way diminishes the scale of their influence or the lasting appeal of their discography – just ask many of those aforementioned peers, who still rave about Humble Pie’s awesome talents at every opportunity. In leader Steve Marriott, Humble Pie had perhaps the closest male reflection of Janis Joplin’s soulful blues howl; a voice that simultaneously made him one of the most envied and revered singers of his generation. Yet there was so much more to the band than that, as the following list of the Top 10 Humble Pie songs will show.
The title track of Humble Pie’s ninth album kicks off our list much like a gutter-dwelling rodent: tentatively poking its whiskers into the wind before diving headlong into yesterday’s lunch meat. The song's distinct lack of decent production values is no coincidence, as it was patched together with other semi-finished recordings against the band’s wishes, in order to satisfy Humble Pie’s remaining commitment to A&M Records. This shameful show of disrespect notwithstanding, ‘Street Rat’ does offer a totally unfiltered glimpse into the down-and-dirty blues rock cellar underneath Humble Pie’s proverbial musical house.
Peter Frampton's primary motivation for joining Humble Pie was to escape the teen idol status he’d been pegged with by his former band, the Herd, and indeed, his songs provided a welcome, milder foil for Steve Marriott’s wild-eyed, irrepressible energy. ‘Shine On’ remains perhaps the best case in point, and, as the chosen single and opening track on Pie’s fourth album, ‘Rock On,’ signaled Frampton’s readiness to step out from under Marriott’s shadow and embark on his own (wildly successful) solo career.
For his part, Marriott clearly took Frampton’s exit in stride, because Humble Pie’s first outing without the latter – 1972’s aptly-named ‘Smokin’’ – went on to become the band’s biggest-selling album up to that point in time. Sure, ‘Smokin’’ clearly benefited from the buzz surrounding the previous year’s jaw-dropping ‘Rockin’ the Fillmore’ set, but a slew of imaginatively reinvented new cover tunes and sizzling Marriott originals like the ultra-funky R&B of ‘Hot ‘n’ Nasty’ also ensured that Frampton’s departure was no threat to Humble Pie’s snowballing momentum.
Just two years earlier, Humble Pie had effectively hit their stride with an eponymous third album that officially announced their shift towards hard rock and heavier vibes in general – a far cry from 1969’s all-time mellow-fest ‘Town and Country.’ Our next choice for this list of the Top 10 Humble Pie songs is the positively epic, organ-drenched ‘Live With Me,’ which may not deliver the same brisk kick as the album’s remaining material, but certainly outclassed it with a deliberate crescendo that duly delivered a soulful and cathartic climax.
Speaking of class, leave it to Marriott and company to reassert their blue-collar ethos by naming their eighth album after a seventeenth century slang term for toilet. That’s right, we’re talking about ‘Thunderbox’ -- or did you think the lady glimpsed through the album cover’s keyhole was sitting naked in a phone booth? Anyway, you’d be hard pressed to find a more glaring example of –ahem! – potty humor in the annals of classic rock, and the Motown-like backing vocals provided by the Blackberries are just sweet icing on the cake.
We’ve pretty much established by now that Steve Marriott’s voice could peel paint at 50 paces, but his guitar playing was nothing to scoff at, either. And when matched with Frampton’s capable replacement, Clem Clempson, it could melt through amplifiers as quickly as Humble Pie’s roadies could stack them. See 1973’s pulverizing fan favorite, ‘Up Our Sleeve,’ for proof. Simply put, Humble Pie’s devastating power in concert never had a better showcase than this take-no-prisoners hard rocker.
Humble Pie’s first single already offered a tantalizing taste of things to come, immediately showing the potential of this supergroup assembled from former members of the Small Faces (Marriott), the Herd (Frampton) and Spooky Tooth (Greg Ridley) – each of whom took a verse on this song. With teenage drummer Jerry Shirley in tow, Humble Pie announced their intentions to counter their prevailing star power with down-to-earth rock and boogie via this timeless little nugget, which the musicians built on grooves as big as the Titanic.
Rock history isn’t exactly littered with cover versions that became more definitive than the originals (though Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help From My Friends” comes to mind), but Humble Pie delivered scores of them. None more definitive, we believe, than ‘Rockin’ the Fillmore’s’ positively scorching reinvention of the classic R&B side ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’ as a heavy rock powerhouse. From this point forward, arguably more artists have covered Humble Pie’s arrangement of the song than the Ashford/Simpson/Armstead original.
In a catalog filled to bursting with killer rough-and-tumble guitar riffs, ‘Stone Cold Fever’ may just boast the greatest six-string kick in the teeth Humble Pie ever landed. Yet the song’s unconventional mid-section hooked a sharp left into a surprisingly refined and subtle vamp topped by a very jazzy solo, before swerving back into hard rock land. As such, it displays a notable vantage point into Humble Pie’s musical versatility, had they wished to diverge more frequently from their typically straightforward rock and roll approach.
Speaking of frequently covered songs, ’30 Days in the Hole’ ranks with Humble Pie’s most oft-revisited tracks since it was first unveiled as the second-side opener on 1972’s ‘Smokin’’ LP. Not only does the song absolutely cook with a funky vengeance, but its virtual catalog of chemical bad habits makes it an irresistible fix for bad boy rockers of all ages. Indeed, Humble Pie never sounded more addictive, and we therefore had no choice but to tap out ‘30 Days in the Hole’ to cap our List of Top 10 Humble Pie songs. Remember, kids, just say “no” to drugs…but “yes” to Humble Pie!