On the Menu: Supertramp’s ‘Breakfast in America’

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Supertramp’s official 1979 A&M Records press picture (Photo: Greg Brodsky archives)

They had released five studio albums in seven years with solid results and when work began in April 1978, Supertramp devoted more time to their next album than any other. They were nurtured by Jerry Moss, co-founder (and the “M”) of A&M Records. The day after getting married, engineer Peter Henderson flew to Los Angeles to join band members Roger Hodgson, Rick Davies, John Helliwell, Bob Siebenberg and Dougie Thomson to begin working on what was to become Breakfast in America.

Its 1977 predecessor, Even in the Quietest Moments… had gone Gold thanks, in part, to a #15 hit, “Give a Little Bit,” and A&M was looking for further growth with its follow-up. Instead, they got a blockbuster.

Related: Read about Caribou studios where “Give a Little Bit” and many other rock classics were recorded

Rehearsals took place at Southcombe, their own demo studio in Burbank, CA, named after the cottage in the English countryside where 1974’s Crime of the Century was conceived. Recording for Breakfast in America was completed in December with Henderson, now producer with the band.

When it was delivered to A&M, one can only imagine the reaction that the label’s radio promotion and sales team had when they first heard it. It became a priority for all departments and deserved a great package.

The clever album design depicts actress Kate Murtagh dressed in a waitress outfit carrying a tray with a glass of orange juice on it. Holding it aloft, waitress “Libby” depicts the Statue of Liberty. The view is seen from an airplane window, and objects in the background–salt and pepper shakers, cereal boxes, and so on–are made to resemble the Manhattan skyline. (It would win the 1980 Grammy Award for Best Recording Package.)

Breakfast in America was released on March 29, 1979 and with its first single, the autobiographical “The Logical Song,” with Hodgson on lead vocals, the group had the biggest hit of their career.

The title track is a young English boy’s dream of what breakfast in America with the right girl in hand might be like. “Goodbye Stranger,” with Davies singing lead, was released in June and became Breakfast in America‘s second U.S. hit.

The album’s highlight is “Take the Long Way Home,” which Hodgson describes is “about a guy who thinks he’s a real dandy but he’s the only guy in the world who does.” The song sports a beautiful intro with piano and harmonica.

When you look through the years and see what you could have been
Oh, what you might have been, if you’d had more time

Watch a stripped-down version performed by Hodgson in 1979

Supertramp played a massive arena tour from March through December. When the band played New York’s Madison Square Garden, A&M threw a big party afterwards at a diner, even bringing in “Libby” for pictures. The huge radio support and concert attendance led to giant sales for Breakfast in America. The album reached #1 for six weeks and was the year’s #5 top-seller. Cumulative sales are a reported 20 million copies worldwide.

Fast forward many years. Craig Carlson, an American restauranteur had opened a restaurant in Paris named Breakfast in America in 2003. However, it wasn’t until 2016 that a press agent for Carlson’s best-selling memoir, Pancakes in Paris, reached out to Hodgson’s management to tell the musician about Carlson’s story, years earlier, to seek financial backers for an American-style diner in Paris.

Live Nation France set up a ticket promotion with the restaurant and arranged for Carlson to attend Hodgson’s May 27 sold-out concert at Paris’ Le Grand Rex. Right after performing “Breakfast in America,” Hodgson called out to the audience: “Craig Carlson, are you here, Craig?”

Then in French Hodgson said, “Trois restaurants!” (3 restaurants). “Je visite” (I’ll visit). “C’est un bon nom pour un restaurant.” (It’s a good name for a restaurant). And then the crowd cheered.

Backstage after the show, Carlson presented Hodgson with memorabilia from the restaurant and an invitation to visit the diner whenever he returned to Paris.

Hodgson has dates in Europe through August 14. He tours North America in October.

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Greg Brodsky

Greg Brodsky

Best Classic Bands Founder/CEO Greg Brodsky earned his first professional bylines as a reporter for the music trade weekly Record World. He still has all his vinyl albums and enjoys going to flea markets and garage sales to grow his collection.
Greg Brodsky
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  1. The Pancake Guy
    #1 The Pancake Guy 1 June, 2017, 18:45

    Great article, Greg! I learned a lot of interesting facts about Supertramp from it. And I especially love the video clips from way back when! 🙂

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  2. 2moulins
    #2 2moulins 2 June, 2017, 19:05

    C’est très fantastique! :o)
    Enjoyed reading this, thank you – I’d surely love to visit this restaurant, and may very well do so before I attend Roger Hodgson’s three upcoming summertime shows in France – in Istres (7 July), Mauquenchy (8 July) and Perpignan (18 July). Roger’s songs and concerts have such an uplifting and unifying element to them. I will always remember this magical concert in Paris!

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