Album Review: Humble Pie — I Need a Star in My Life
Hard rocking Humble Pie enjoyed its well-deserved heyday in the very early 1970s; as fine as their studio albums could be it was on their live set Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore that the group shone brightest. The band would go on to some modest commercial success with its 1972 and ‘73 studio albums (Smokin’ and Eat It, respectively), but by 1974 the band’s music was finding less success on the popular music landscape. Neither 1974’s Thunderbox nor Street Rats from the following year yielded much in the way of chart success nor critical plaudits. Though the group – in various permutations – would surface again in the future, by 1975 the group members had gone their own ways.
Oddly, especially against that historical timeline, it’s the post-peak era of the group that seems to be receiving the most attention in terms of archival releases. A collection of tracks issued as Joint Effort documents some of what the group was up to in those days; my 2019 interview with Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley sheds some light upon that Peruvian marching powder-fueled era.
And now comes I Need a Star in My Life. A staggering 20 tracks – a mix of covers and originals – makes up this curious release. It’s positioned as a “collection of rarities,” but the veracity of that claim bumps up against what exactly rare means in this context. In 1994, an album was released, credited to Steve Marriott (but not to Humble Pie) under the title Scrubbers. It featured all of these tracks. In 1996 Archive Recordings released an album titled I Need a Star in My Life with the same track listing. The one-sheet for the new release mentions digital remastering and new liner notes.
Regardless of its provenance, it’s a decent enough collection of songs. The core band lineup – guitarist-singer Steve Marriott, drummer Shirley, guitarist Clem Clempson, bassist Greg Ridley – are all present to one degree or another. They’re joined by keyboardist-singer Tim Hinkley, plus a list of session players that includes three members of King Crimson(!): Boz Burrell, Ian Wallace and Mel Collins plus some top female backing vocalists. In terms of the Humble Pie timeline, these recordings seem to fall right before Street Rats.
There’s not much of a unifying character to the recordings. “The Shake” is a stripped-down, demo-like track, while “Mona” is a sweeping, Mad Dogs and Englishmen-type affair. Some tracks are throwaways, barely good enough for a bootleg (“She Moves Me Man,” “Captain Goatcabin’s Balancing Stallions”), and others are quite solid but suffering from the murky production (“Street Rat”).
The band was seemingly suffering an identity crisis; how else to explain “Bluegrass Interval” or the fine-but- by-the-numbers blooz of “Louisiana Blues”? A track called “Cocaine” has nothing to do with J.J. Cale, and it’s as dissolute as one might guess from the title. I Need a Star in My Life isn’t bad in any meaningful way; it’s merely more of what the group was doing in those declining years. Some of it is interesting, some not. But truth be told, it’s primarily for fans of the band, and they shouldn’t expect to discover any gems — rough or otherwise — within.