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Weekend Songs: Supertramp, ‘Take the Long Way Home’

Supertramp, 'Take the Long Way Home'
A&M Records

Classic rock is about heavy hooks, power chords, and tight harmonies, but it’s also about letting loose and enjoying the good times — and there’s no better time than Friday evening, when we pick up our paycheck, punch out of work, and enjoy a couple days of much-needed rest and relaxation.

This week, we’re paying tribute to a hit song from one of the definitive records of the late ’70s, and a track whose bouncy melody belies its rather grim lyrical viewpoint: ‘Take the Long Way Home,’ the fourth single spun from Supertramp‘s multiplatinum ‘Breakfast in America’ album. Co-credited to bandleaders Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies, but written solely by Hodgson (as he put it later in an interview, “It became very much a kind of Lennon/McCartney relationship”), ‘Long Way’ uses its protagonist’s commute as a metaphor for the universal journey of self-discovery, as well as a vehicle for reflection on the many ways in which the often disappointing realities of our adult lives can reflect poorly on the hopeful idealism of our youth.

“It says a lot,” mused Hodgson in the previously referenced interview. “To me, the home can be translated in a number of ways — you can literally take the long way home driving, or to our true home, ourselves. Where we’re all heading in this journey called life. It was again another angle on a question that ran deep inside me, which is: Where is my home? Where is peace? It feels like I’m taking a long way to find it.”

He expounded further in a different interview, adding, “It’s a fun lyric, because it’s a real multi-level lyric. For me, ‘Take the Long Way Home’ means take the long way home to who we truly are. Take the long way home to our heart, to finding our selves again. But it’s intermingled with all kinds of other stuff; your wife thinking you’re part of the furniture — life’s crazy, but take the long way home. We do get caught up in so many trips in life, but ultimately, I believe why we’re here is to try and find our true home, which is our true self, and getting back in touch with our heart and our soul. That is a song that really talks about the journey of life.”

Fortunately for the band, ‘Take the Long Way Home’ had a much easier journey at radio, where it peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard charts; the album itself, which would go on to become Supertramp’s crowning commercial achievement, went all the way to No. 1. And while Hodgson and Davies would split not long after ‘Breakfast’ turned their group into superstars, with the former pursuing a solo career and the latter intermittently leading a reconstituted Supertramp, the album has aged far better than some of its contemporaries — partly due to the timeless themes explored in Hodgson’s lyrics, and partly due to the songs’ pristine production.

Somewhat surprisingly, according to ‘Breakfast’ co-producer Peter Henderson, the album — which took a rather incredible nine months to record — rested on good old-fashioned live performances underneath all those overdubs. “The whole idea was to get a really good band performance, and I think the backing tracks we got were terrific. Everything was fresh, and that’s what I liked about the album — even though it ended up taking about nine months to complete, there’s still a really, really vibrant, fresh feel to the tracks,” he explained to Sound on Sound. “Across the whole record we did get to keep a lot of stuff that never needed to be redone. It was just five people playing in a room. There were no click tracks and there was no splicing of the backing tracks.”

And as for those gloomy lyrics, about a guy taking the long way home because he’d rather not face the many ways in which his life fails to match up to his dreams? They may not be the most cheerful rhymes Hodgson ever set to paper, but they do point a way forward, insisting that if your life feels like a catastrophe, those feelings might be there to give you something to push up against — a reason to grow. So if you’re feeling less than satisfied with your lot in life this Friday, take Hodgson’s advice (and the long way home). But there’s no reason to wait until closing time, because we’ve helpfully embedded a live version of the song below; just hit play, turn up the volume, and let your weekend start now.

On the Peking Ferry, We Were Feeling Merry

Roger Hodgson, ‘Take the Long Way Home (live)’

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