Once Upon a Time in the Top Spot: Average White Band, “Pick Up the Pieces”
43 years ago today, the Average White Band landed atop the Billboard Hot 100 for the first and only time of their career, but if they were always destined to only have the one hit, then at least they made it one that stands the test of time.
Credited somewhat uniquely to saxophonist Roger Ball and guitarist Hamish Stuart individually as well as to the band as a whole, “Pick Up the Pieces” is one of the easier #1 hits when it comes to memorizing the lyrics, as the effectively consist of the four-word title of the track, which the band members can be heard to holler at various points during the course of its run time.
That “Pick Up the Pieces” made it to #1 in America is a shocker, to be sure, but by the time it happened, the Average White Band had already had suffered through arguably the biggest shock of the career, when the band’s drummer (and arguably its bandleader), Robbie McIntosh, died of as a result of a drug overdose after accidentally taking heroin which he’d believed to be cocaine.
“What killed him was a heart attack, induced by the fatigue of an amazing week playing long sets, partying, and drinking, and – ultimately – ‘The Other,’” Stuart said in a piece on WaxPoetic.com. “I feel that ‘found dead of a heroin OD’ sounds so, kind of, ‘Here he is, lying in a corner with a needle out of his arm,’ when it wasn’t really like that at all.”
Although McIntosh may not have lived to see the success of “Pick Up the Pieces,” the song continues to live on and, in a very real way, continues to keep his memory alive.
“I’m never aware of anything but being ‘in the moment’ with that tune,” said guitarist Alan Gorrie in a 2009 interview with DearScotland.com. “It grooves so hard – and we’re all conscious of trying to inject a little something new into it every night, and the audience takes it from there and changes the vibe accordingly. It never tires, really. It kind of plays itself, to a degree.”