30-Day Song Challenge, Day 21: A Song You Like with a Person’s Name in the Title
Steve Winwood first released the song “Valerie” in 1982, in a fairly simple form that he himself would later call “under-produced,” whereupon it failed to attract much attention at all. At the time, Winwood was 34 years old and had been a musician since he was just 14, when he and his older brother had joined The Spencer Davis Group. He’d subsequently been part of Traffic and Blind Faith (the Eric Clapton-led “supergroup” that released only a single, immensely successful album), as well as a session musician through most of the ’70s. He had a big solo hit in 1980 with “While You See a Chance,” but the relative flop of “Valerie” and the album it came from, as well as his reluctance to tour, left him thinking that maybe it was time to find something else to do with the rest of his life. Instead, he got himself a new manager, moved to New York, and found a coproducer (he’d done everything himself on his earlier solo work), resulting in the 1986 album Back in the High Life, five hit singles, three Grammy Awards, and a reinvigorated career.
The following year, he helped compile Chronicles, a greatest-hits collection that included a remix of “Valerie.” The polished, synth-heavy version shot to #9, validating Winwood’s faith in the song and paving the way to his next hit album, Roll With It. Not bad, considering he’d been on the verge of cashing in his chips only a short time before.
I don’t have any particular memories involving “Valerie,” but I do tend to associate it with my freshman year of college (the song was peaking on the charts in December of 1987, right between fall and winter quarters). My good friend Cheryl once remarked that Winwood’s music in general is “so damned optimistic.” So naturally it was a perfect complement for a time of my life when every single day seemed to offer some novel experience, and I thought I had infinite possibilities ahead of me. God, how I miss that feeling…