Top Steve Miller Band Songs of the '80s

Known and beloved mostly for a remarkably consistent string of classic rock favorites throughout the '70s, American rock group Steve Miller Band also enjoyed a solid, sometimes sensational output during the '80s. Beginning as a fervent fan of and young dabbler in traditional blues styles, Miller eventually started his own band during the mid '60s and continued in that direction. However, the artist eventually merged that traditionalism with an interest in psychedelia, folk rock and guitar pop that helped transform the band into classic rock legends by the end of the '70s. The hits weren't nearly as big from Miller & Co. during the '80s, but as bandleader he embraced developing styles and maintained a fierce eclecticism that ultimately led to dignified, continuous success. Here's a chronological look at the very best Steve Miller Band songs of the '80s, an era of accomplishment that helped cement this artist as an eventual inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,

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"Heart Like a Wheel"

An early-'90s lineup of the Steve Miller Band performs live in California.
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Miller and cohorts began their '80s output somewhat interestingly, with a 1981 LP (Circle of Love) that contained only five tracks, including a 16-minute closer ("Macho City") that comprised the album's entire side 2. However, the record's standout song (the rich and rewarding "Heart Like a Wheel") stands up extremely well more than 35 years later as a classic Miller celebration of guitar wizardry and compelling, eclectic pop/rock songwriting. Miller's recognizably passionate and distinct tenor vocals keep the proceedings light and breezy, but the artist's fine, galloping electric guitar work continues to pay endorphin-building sonic dividends, with frequent punctuations of tremolo goodness. This lead-off track and single has perhaps been lost in the shuffle over the years - partially because it stalled somewhat on the Billboard pop and rock charts as what often gets labeled a "modest hit." Nevertheless, it's a song Miller fans should revisit with glee and appreciation whenever a good-time rock and roll impulse surfaces.

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Definitely the Steve Miller Band's signature hit of the '80s, "Abracadabra" also became the group's only No. 1 pop single.
Single Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol

This number one single from 1982 probably belongs on just about any moderately short list of greatest songs of the '80s. Granted, it may not quite make the top 10 of the decade in this extremely exclusive category, but it's pretty damn close. Even more impressive is that the reasons why are myriad and consistently engaging. First, though it's true Miller began to embrace an increasingly electronic, dance-oriented sound during portions of his '80s output, this highly modern-sounding track also retains plenty of the artist's stunningly signature guitar work. Beyond that, the pop majesty of the song's lyrical attack and central melodic thrust quite simply has few peers throughout rock history. In simple terms, this stellar tune stands out more than three decades after its release as one of mainstream rock's most consistently delightful listens. Incidentally, music fans can derive even more joy out of this undeniable '80s classic by seeking out the extended version - which boasts a wonderfully evocative instrumental coda that only Miller could conjure.

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"Keeps Me Wondering Why"

1982's 'Abracadabra' featured an amazing array of quality rock songs, including lead-off track "Keeps Me Wondering Why."
Single Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol

This lead-off track from 1982's very solid Abracadabra has me wondering why - even as I write this - I don't have a full, high-quality copy of the aforementioned classic album either on my iPod or in my CD collection. After all, any subdued celebration of that record (and sparkling album tracks like "Keeps Me Wondering Why") gives short shrift to one of rock's longest-running, most consistent artists. Though lacking the obvious melodic flash of Miller's biggest hit of the '80s, this song delivers a surplus of both intricate musicianship and songwriting complexity. Even better, it spotlights the generally underrated tenor vocals of Miller himself - not to mention his ability to craft engaging harmonies on record. Unpredictably eclectic as usual, Miller and his consistent lineup of bandmates put together a galloping arrangement full of interesting surprises and sparkling artistic moments. This tune may not make an all-time list of the very best Steve Miller Band songs, but it's a great dark horse selection to prove Miller clearly belongs as one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's most recent entrants.

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"Something Special"

Though it never received enough credit back then as one of the finest rock albums of the '80s, 'Abracadabra' certainly deserves such a label.
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol

Interestingly enough, Miller lent a composing hand to only two tracks from Abracadabra (the title track and the decent if somewhat repetitive "Give It Up"). The other eight songs on the record feature songwriting from members of the Steve Miller Band - primarily drummer Gary Mallaber. This democratic decision turns out to be a perfectly acceptable one here, mostly because there's very little (if any) quality drop-off from Miller's compositions to those of Mallaber, John Massaro and Kenny Lee Lewis - to name but a few band members with songwriting credits on the album. This particular song brings out the funk and injects an element of dance music to the band's otherwise mainstream rock leanings. The result is actually quite good, as Miller mixes his guitar work quite well into an arrangement heavy on both rhythm section and harmony vocals. Most albums released circa 1982 lacked the consistent quality to recommend even up to half the tracks from a 10-track LP, but Miller and his accomplices truly created a consistently appealing record here that stands the brutal test of time with aplomb.

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"Never Say No"

The high quality continues with this deep album track, a fantastic throwback showcase for Miller's familiar rhythm guitar style and his playful tenor - applied here to characteristically light romantic lyrical concerns. This is just fine rock and roll whatever era in which it happens to reside, and that particular brand of timelessness remains one of the greatest hallmarks of the long music history of the Steve Miller Band. Mallaber, Massaro and Lewis turn out a solid rocker here, one that draws from all levels of rock history and its bevy of contributing styles. '80s music fans sometimes had to look pretty hard to find satisfactory contemporary classic rock during that highly changeable decade. But Miller and cohorts have been nothing if not reliable over the group's three decades-plus of continuous output. It's been easy looking back for many music fans to see Abracadabra as a phenomenon based on the single alone, but the reality is the album of the same name suffers from practically no dated shortcomings to keep it from being any less of a rewarding listen today as it was in 1982.

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"Things I Told You"

Discussion regarding the Steve Miller Band occasionally brought up the label new wave during the early '80s, but generally the artist managed to stay away from limiting genre associations. The rhythm guitar style of this particular track occasionally takes on the feel of power pop or guitar-oriented new wave of the period, but the strength of the melody and performance ultimately steals the show. Mallaber and Massaro once again forge an effective songwriting partnership, crafting a surprisingly pleasing mid-tempo guitar rock song. Listening to even just the top '80s highlights from Miller's career, it begins to seem ever more shocking that it took him until 2016 to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Tracks like this one (and so many others from Abracadabra) prove beyond argument that Miller is simply one of the finest rock guitarists, singers, songwriters and bandleaders of the past half-century. The mark of any hall of famer, after all, is the absence of duds on record or in performance. Advantage Miller.

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"While I'm Waiting"

Miller channels his inner soft rock crooner for this standout track from Abracadabra, following gentle, chiming arpeggiated guitars during the intro with a lead vocal performance that recalls (favorably) the soothing, clear tenor of America's Gerry Beckley. Even better, while the band indulges its leader's sincere change of pace, it also manages to keep the proceedings distinct, relaxed and recognizably Steve Miller. It's worth mentioning that Mallaber (who was a long-time Miller collaborator with a hand in many other music projects during the '70s and '80s) again takes the songwriting reins here (with Massaro). And really, that kind of democratic teamwork distinguishes the long career of the Steve Miller Band in a general sense - even if only Lewis from the group's classic lineup remains in the still-touring ensemble. I've certainly been among those rock music fans over the last couple of decades who really never need to hear "Rock'n Me" or "Jungle Love" again. But this song provides firm proof that the Steve Miller Band's catalogue goes far beyond the "greatest hits" set.

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"Golden Opportunity"

1984's Steve Miller Band LP 'Italian X Rays' was a step down from its predecessor, but the album still yielded some solid songs like "Golden Opportunity."
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol

While it's true the 1984 LP Italian X Rays represented a firm step down in quality for the Steve Miller Band, the record does contain a few fine moments. Bogged down at times by an attempt to introduce too much funk and new wave-inspired electronic music touches into the group's sound, this is still a record that features prime contributions from Miller, Mallaber, Lewis, and even Tim Davis, one of Miller's oldest musical friends and collaborators (who would sadly succumb to cancer not long after the release of this album). Miller's guitar work, as always, is interesting, compelling and signature on this track. This song also demonstrates without question that Miller possesses one of the finest tenor voices in rock and roll. From another perspective, it's hard to imagine that rock radio could have ignored Miller as much as it did during the '80s as an important contemporary album rock artist. I can't speak for all radio listeners of the era, but I certainly heard almost exclusively his '70s hits over and over on classic rock radio. It would have been nice to hear this one on pop radio in 1984, but I don't remember having such a pleasure at the time.

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"I Want to Make the World Turn Around"

Perhaps the final album from the golden age of the Steve Miller Band was 1986's 'Living in the 20th Century.'
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol

This lead-off single from the late-1986 LP release Living in the 20th Century represents perhaps Miller's best fusion of political consciousness with the space-age guitar rock sound he pioneered during the late '60s and early '70s. In fact, in many ways this big mainstream rock hit of early 1987 travels full circle in terms of Miller's already long-term career. Close to three full decades later, the song's lyrical wish for humanistic unity in the face of so much darkness holds probably even stronger today in the current political climate of strife and rising threats. Miller's guitar work here explores psychedelia but also combines loopy sonic atmospherics with genuinely prescient lyrics about how humans seem to keep finding a way to get it wrong while here on earth. Still, a listener certainly doesn't have to be a left-leaning peacenik to appreciate the majesty of this positive rock anthem, which may rely on simplistic lyrics but makes sure a few straightforward words get the point across: "Living in a world of justice / Living in a world of shame / Living in a world of freedom / Living in a world of pain." Not hard to identify with that, is it?

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"Nobody but You Baby"

Steve Miller Band's 1986 LP 'Living in the 20th Century' contained at least one throwback guitar rock classic in "Nobody but You Baby."
Single Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol

Perhaps it's fitting to end this list with a song that features one of Miller's tastiest guitar riffs of his long-riffing career. Or maybe the most notable aspects of this track instead revolve around the artist's blazing lead and slide guitar work. Personally, the joyful thrust of Miller's high tenor vocals may be my favorite part of this tune. But the point is that Miller and his skillful, consistent band continued to churn out rock classics long after his most fertile, classic rock-embraced era of the middle '70s had passed. Songs like this and their consistently high level of quality ultimately have a lot to do with why Miller finally found his way to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016. Let's face it - he probably belonged there 15-20 years previously. But ironically the solid if not groundbreaking nature of this track's success might explain (though that falls short of offering justification for) why Miller has been overlooked for so long in the upper pantheon of gilded rock history. If nothing else, this list proves that it's long past time for most of us to revisit the sparkling if subdued '80s catalogue of the Steve Miller Band.