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No. 58: ‘The Joker,’ Steve Miller Band – Top 100 Classic Rock Songs

No in-depth discussion of the Steve Miller Band‘s entry on our Top 100 Classic Rock Songs list, ‘The Joker,’ can avoid the tune’s central question: What, exactly, is “the pompatus of love”?

A web search reveals that pompatus is a “neologism,” or “a newly coined term, word, or phrase, that may be in the process of entering common use, but has not yet been accepted into mainstream language.”

If you’re waiting for pompatus to be accepted into mainstream language, don’t hold your breath, although it apparently does exist in the Oxford English Dictionary, and is defined as “to act with pomp and splendor.”

So it’s hard to say if Miller really invented the word — one story has him misinterpreting the lyrics from a 1954 song by the Medallions — or if it somehow drifted down to his ears from some long-lost snippet of obscure conversation by someone with the world’s weirdest vocabulary.

Kind of a lot of work to put into understanding a song about weed and chicks, but hey, that’s rock ‘n’ roll. Plus, “the splendor of love” sounds downright boring.

After a string of blues-influenced albums, 1973’s ‘The Joker’ took the band’s music and Miller’s songwriting in a more pop and rock direction, resulting in the biggest hits of his career. That rise to superstardom began with ‘The Joker,’ and it’s hard not to see why. With a guitar riff that’s as catchy as it is simple and the kind of lyrics that are instantly quotable, ‘The Joker’ is almost so stupid it’s brilliant, or maybe so brilliant it’s dumb.

Today the song is a cornerstone of classic rock radio and part of the pop culture landscape. Topping Billboard’s Hot 100 in early 1974, the song hit the top of the UK singles chart sixteen years later after being featured in an ad campaign for Levi’s. It’s even partially inspired an entire feature film, ‘The Pompatus of Love,’ released in 1996 and starring Jon Cryer.

Maybe what’s most compelling about ‘The Joker’ is the fact that even though the lyrics seem to make absolutely no sense, if you just listen hard a few more times, you’ll somehow unlock the secrets of Maurice, the space cowboy, and the pompetus of love.

Next Song: We Head for the Mountains

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Watch the Steve Miller Band Perform ‘The Joker’

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