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As all of that was happening, the group's management persuaded Rafferty to come back, whereupon Grosvenor, Coombes, and Pilnick left. Having been through a dizzying series of changes in the previous year, Stealers Wheel essentially ended up following a strategy -- employed for very different reasons -- that paralleled Walter Becker and Donald Fagen in the American band Steely Dan. Egan and Rafferty became Stealers Wheel, officially a duo, with backing musicians employed as needed in the studio and on tour.
There was pressure for more hits. "Everyone Agreed That Everything Will Turn Out Fine" was a modest chart success, the mid-tempo, leisurely paced "Star" was somewhat more widely heard, cracking into the Top 30 on both sides of the Atlantic. A second album, Ferguslie Park (named for a district in Paisley), completed with session players as per the duo's plan, barely cracked the Top 200 LPs in America (although it was somewhat more popular than that number would indicate, among college students), and that would lead to a poisonous internal situation for the duo, as the pressure on them became even greater. In fact, the record was first-rate, made up of lively, melodic, inventive pop/rock songs.
The commercial failure of the second album created a level of tension that all but destroyed the partnership between Egan and Rafferty. Coupled with the departure of Leiber & Stoller, who were having business problems of their own, and the inability of the duo to agree on a complement of studio musicians to help with the next album, Stealers Wheel disappeared for 18 months. Ironically, the contractually mandated final album, Right or Wrong, which emerged at that time, came out a good deal more right than anyone could have predicted, given the circumstances of its recording. The group had ceased to exist by the time it was in stores.
The break-up of Stealers Wheel blighted Rafferty's and Egan's careers for the next three years, as legal disputes with their respective managements prevented either man from recording. After these problems were settled, Egan made a pair of albums for the European-based Ariola label. Rafferty, in the meantime, emerged as a recording star with a mega-hit in 1978 in the form of "Baker Street" and the album City to City.
Stealers Wheel disappeared after 1975, its name and identity retired forever by its two owners (although, ironically, Rafferty did an album in the mid-'90s, Over My Head, on which he reinvented several Stealers Wheel-era song that he'd co-written with Egan). He and Egan have both made records that refer in lyrics to the troubled history of Stealers Wheel, immortalizing their acrimonious history even as at least three best-of European collections of Stealers Wheel material immortalize their music, and "Stuck in the Middle with You" remains a popular '70s oldie, revived on the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino's movie Reservoir Dogs, and was recut by the Jeff Healey Band. ~ Bruce Eder