'Breaking Ground': The Setlist

At the 1977 concert documented on “Live! Breaking Ground,” Steve Miller took the stage as a hit machine who also had a deep catalog of songs from which to draw, stretching back a decade. Here’s a look at his career-spanning set on Aug. 3, 1977, in Landover, Md.

“Living in the U.S.A.”:

The 1968 “Sailor” album established the Steve Miller Band as one of the mainstays of the San Francisco scene. Though obliquely political, the tightly arranged song contrasts with the more open-ended acid-rock of the Bay Area scene even as it suggests a wide open highway of possibility.

“Space Cowboy”:

Cosmic Steve references his previous underground hit, “Living in the U.S.A.,” in the first verse on this key track from his third studio album, “Brave New World” (1969). Miller’s wordless vocals over the drum break underline his gift for packing songs with hooks.

“Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma”:

Fast forward to “The Joker” (1973), another bluesy vamp built on cool-cat jive-talking vocals and a summery groove.

“Come on in My Kitchen”:

Miller shows off the chops he learned from T-Bone Walker on this Robert Johnson blues classic.

“Wild Mountain Honey”:

The blues floats off into space as Miller flexes one of the deep cuts from “Fly Like an Eagle.”

“The Window”:

Miller fuses the dreamiest, most atmospheric tracks from the “Fly Like an Eagle”-“Book of Dreams” bookends, starting with “The Window.”

Winter Time”:

Miller fuses the dreamiest, most atmospheric tracks from the “Fly Like an Eagle”-“Book of Dreams” bookends, capped by “Winter Time.”

“The Stake”:

Guitarist David Denny, a San Francisco rock veteran and a key member of Miller’s band during this era, wrote this track.

“Mercury Blues”:

The tune, originally titled “Mercury Boogie” by San Francisco blues singer K.C. Douglas in the 1940s, was adapted by Miller and became a regular part of his set for years before he recorded it for “Fly Like an Eagle.”


Miller’s fondness for lost-in-space imagery surfaces again on this galloping track, a fan favorite yet inexplicably never released as a single.

“Take the Money and Run”:

Teens on a road trip gone awry, and the tune was everywhere in the summer of 1976.

“Jet Airliner”:

In the early ‘70s, Ben Sidran, a former Steve Miller Band member, produced an album by Cape Verdean native Paul Pena that included this track but had not yet been released. Thanks to Sidran, Miller heard the song and his version shot into the Top 10 in 1977. Pena’s album, “New Train,” was finally released in 2000 and is well worth seeking out.

“Space Intro”:

We have liftoff. The intro to Miller’s breakthrough “Fly Like an Eagle” album.

Fly Like an Eagle”:

Space, images of flight, freedom — Miller themes distilled in the title track of his breakthrough album.

“Rock’n Me”:

Miller wrote the track in 1973 because he needed a big song to play at a rock festival opening for Pink Floyd. Three years later, the studio recording gave the singer his second No. 1 hit.

“The Joker”:

Miller’s sense of humor is perhaps his most underrated quality as a lyricist, never more so than in this beloved track, one of the trippiest No. 1 singles ever.


Dialing it back to 1969 and the “Brave New World” album for this ballad, complete with 12-string guitar.

“So Long Blues”:

Miller brings it full circle with a blues-drenched farewell. “But I’ll be back some sweet day, you just remember Stevie Guitar done told you so.”

Greg Kot is the editorial director of The Coda Collection. He is also the cohost of the nationally syndicated public-radio show and podcast “Sound Opinions” with Jim DeRogatis, and previously the music critic at the Chicago Tribune for 30 years. His books include acclaimed biographies of Mavis Staples (“I’ll Take You There”) and Wilco (“Learning How to Die”) and a history of the digital music revolution (“Ripped”). He also coauthored “The Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Rivalry” and has written extensively for Rolling Stone, BBC Culture and Encyclopedia Britannica. When he takes off the headphones, Kot coaches in his Chicago-based youth travel basketball program (OTEhoops.com). In addition, he has coauthored two best-selling editions of the book “Survival Guide to Coaching Youth Basketball.”

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