Traffic were an English rock band, formed in Birmingham, in April 1967 by Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood and Dave Mason. They began as a psychedelic rock group and diversified their sound through the use of instruments such as keyboards like the Mellotron and harpsichord, sitar, and various reed instruments, and by incorporating jazz and improvisational techniques in their music. Their first three singles were “Paper Sun”, “Hole in My Shoe”, and “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”.
Traffic disbanded in 1969, during which time Winwood joined Blind Faith, then reunited in 1970 to release the critically acclaimed album John Barleycorn Must Die. The band’s line-up varied from this point until they disbanded again in 1974. A partial reunion, with Winwood and Capaldi, took place in 1994. Here are all of Traffic’s songs ranked.
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14. Pearly Queen (Traffic, 1968)
“Pearly Queen” is a very bluesy number but with some cool lyrics and vocals from Steve Winwood who also impresses on guitar on this track which goes on a bit of an acid jam towards the back end.”
13. John Barleycorn (Must Die) (John Barleycorn (Must Die), 1970)
“This recording by Traffic to this listener is so forward thinking and refreshing it was nothing like they did before but still along the lines of their basic mindset it was so hybrid in its nature Winwood and Capaldi were so adventurous yet so accessible and Yet Chris Wood might be the glue that held it together it all sounds even better today”
12. Light Up or Leave Me Alone (The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, 1971)
“”Light Up or Leave Me Alone”, a more literal stoner anthem which has one of my favorite song titles ever, and “Rock and Roll Stew”. Both are sung with verve by Capaldi, one of rock’s more underrated singers (being in the same group with Steve Winwood will do that to you).”
11. Rainmaker (The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, 1971)
“Rainmaker,” uses the same types of imagery and light flute playing that the opening track, “Hidden Treasures” used. Throughout the album Steve Winwood is earnest and impassioned in his vocals and makes a great contribution to the album.”
See more: Traffic Albums Ranked
10. Roll Right Stones (Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory, 1973)
“Roll Right Stones is a similar attempt at a long song with regular repeated refrains as the title song from Low Spark, but there’s diminishing returns at play here; the instrumental Tragic Magic has some fun contributions from Chris Wood which help things a little, but the obvious joke about the title of closing number “
9. The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys (The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys, 1971)
“A really fine album! The title track is a wonderful piece of work. All six tracks are very good songs. Winwood was one of the most soulful white singers of his era.”
8. Tragic Magic (Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory 1973)
“The instrumental Tragic Magic has some fun contributions from Chris Wood which help things a little, but the obvious joke about the title of closing number”
7. Heaven is in Your Mind (Mr. Fantasy, 1967)
“Steve Winwood’s signature vocal strain adds an element of humanity, even when it’s swimming in audio raindrops. The improvised instrumentation of “Dear Mr. Fantasy” acts symbiotically with the subtle experimentation of “Heaven Is In Your Mind.”
6. Freedom Rider (John Barleycorn Must Die, 1970)
“Freedom Rider” kicks off on hats with this very jazzy keyboard-sax mix as a catchy starting theme. Then, a soulful rhythm tumbles from the cabinets without warning and the song starts really full of finds per kilometer with a Steve Winwood at the top vocally speaking and playing on different octaves. The breaks with the original jazzy theme become more and more soulful and the drums eventually get carried away without warning, somewhat reminiscent of the Charlie Watts strike of the Rolling Stones at the end of “Salt Of The Earth” on “Beggars Banquet”. A frenzied track full of feeling, it’s simple, we wouldn’t want it to stop and the musicians literally go wild, let go and make each other (and make us) happy. Huge.
5. Empty Pages (John Barleycorn Must Die, 1970)
“Empty Pages” is another slightly soulful track, less catchy, slower and more “picked up” than the first tracks, but it’s another vocal tour de force from the great Steve, and the chorus while weightless (by a static and throbbing bass over complex organ chord changes) delivers nice surprises and gives the listener a thrill.”
4. Glad (John Barleycorn Must Die, 1970)
“Glad” is a perfect opening statement for the album as the tinkly piano lines and sax interludes dominate. I only gets better with soulful piano lines, whimsical woodwind parts, meaningful Hammond organ, and Steve Winwood’s voice which needs no explanation. “
3. Paper Sun (Mr. Fantasy, 1967)
“This song relies heavily on the Stevie Winwood vocal and an interesting use of the sitar (Thank you George Harrison, no doubt). Taking with him the Spencer Davis Group fans, Stevie’s voice is as interesting an instrument as anything else in the musical arsenal. The track is reminiscent of the later Spencer Davis hits that made us notice Stevie in the first place. In general the new psychedelic sound are what made Traffic sound different. Great single.”
2. Hole in My Shoe (Mr. Fantasy, 1967)
“Who cares if Steve Winwood hated it, this is still a classic slice of UK psychedelic pop which got Traffic to number 2 in our charts. It sounds exactly what it was meant to sound like, a dream recalled, although Dave Mason must have overdosed on cheese the night before to fuel this doozy!”
1. Dear Mr. Fantasy (Mr. Fantasy, 1967)
“Dear Mr. Fantasy,” arguably the strongest track on either record, is placed at the end here (as opposed to in the middle of the British version), allowing the album to build momentum toward a grand finale.”