Billboard #1 Hits: #314: “The Joker”- Steve Miller Band. January 14, 1974. #1 for 1 week in Billboard Hot 100.
- Single: “The Joker”- Steve Miller Band
- Record Company- Capitol
- Genre: Rock
- Written by Eddie Curtis, Steve Miller and Ahmet Ertegun
- Time: 3:35
- B-side: “Something To Believe In”
- Album- The Joker
- Grade: C
- Peaked at #1 1 week in Billboard Hot 100.
Maybe at one point over forty years ago I at least liked this song- but to me it is one of the most overplayed songs on ‘classic rock’ radio- and I’ve grown to have a strong dislike for it. Anytime it comes on I change the station-quickly. An odd thing happened in the UK with this song- in 1990 it appeared in a Levi’s commercial and was re-issued as a single and went to #1 in the UK Singles chart- and in Ireland, New Zealand and The Netherlands.
Miller drew associations to some of his other songs in the lyrics to this one. The line, “Some people call me The Space Cowboy” is a reference to Miller’s 1969 song “Space Cowboy.” The line, “Some call me a gangster of love” is a reference to his song “Gangster of Love.” The line, “Some people call me Maurice” is a reference to Miller’s 1972 song “Enter Maurice.” In that song Miller also sings about “The pompatus of love.
The line in this song, “I speak of the pompatus of love,” has baffled listeners for some time. Greil Marcus provided the best explanation we’ve seen in a 2002 article for Los Angeles Magazine titled “In The Secret Country.” The word “Pompatus” does exist in the Oxford English Dictionary, and it means “to act with pomp and splendor.” Miller most likely heard the word on a song called “The Letter,” which was recorded by the Los Angeles doo-wop group The Medallions in 1954. It was written by their lead singer Vernon Green, who was 16 at the time and crippled with polio. The song contains these lyrics:
Let me whisper sweet words of dismortality
and discuss the pompatus of love
Put it together and what do you have?