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Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys

by

Traffic



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

Jim Capaldi started writing this in Morocco, where he was getting ready to make a movie called Nevertheless with actor Michael J. Pollard. The film project fell through, but did lead to one of Traffic's best-known songs. Said Capaldi: "Pollard and I would sit around writing lyrics all day, talking about Bob Dylan and the Band, thinking up ridiculous plots for the movie. Before I left Morocco, Pollard wrote in my book 'The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.' For me, it summed him up. He had this tremendous rebel attitude. He walked around in his cowboy boots, his leather jacket. At the time he was a heavy little dude. It seemed to sum up all the people of that generation who were just rebels. The 'Low Spark,' for me, was the spirit, high-spirited. You know, standing on a street corner. The low rider. The 'Low Spark' meaning that strong undercurrent at the street level." (thanks, Adam - Lake Forest, IL)
Never released as a single, this did very well on AOR stations in America, which didn't mind playing all 12 minutes and 10 seconds of the song (it provided a nice cigarette break for the DJs). The album sold over a million copies in the US, but didn't fare nearly as well in their native UK.
Jim Capaldi and Steve Winwood are the credited writers on this song. Dave Mason had left the band at that point, but Traffic added some new members for the Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys album, including former Derek & the Dominoes drummer Jim Gordon, which allowed Capaldi to focus more on vocals. Original member Chris Wood played the prominent saxophone parts on this track.
When Traffic toured in 1972, this was a highlight of their live shows. For that tour, they brought along two of America's finest session musicians: bassist David Hood and drummer Roger Hawkins from Muscle Shoals Sound Studios (Traffic would record their next album with these guys).

The colorful percussionist was Rebop Kwaku Baah, a Ghana native who played on the studio version as well. According to Steve Winwood, Baah was later fired for being "too outrageous." Said Winwood: "He insisted on going onstage and singing – and he can't sing!"
Traffic
More Traffic songs
More songs with a saxophone part

Comments (63):

Little known fact (for good reason). The intro was used for background sound to an adult film in the seventies called "Summer School'. I doubt the producers ever paid a dime of royalty for its use. If you get a chance pick up the Vinyl LP of this, it is a great recording (sound quality).
- Don , Prescott Valley , AZ
Yeah, well, this song refers to the early Beatles (boys), when they wore the high-heeled boots, which were called Cubano-heel boots in the early sixties. The guy who buys a new suit with the profit he made off The Beatles was probably Dick James, the publisher who personally made multi-millions publishing the Lennon/McCartney Northern Songs because of a stupid, unbreakable business contract inexperienced Brian Epstein got into with James and couldn't get out of when John and Paul realized they were getting screwed on publishing royalties. For some reason that is still a mystery, the original Paul was assassinated, shot with a gun that had a mafia type silencer on it, possibly a revolver (hence the album title Revolver). Paul was replaced in the studio by a voice impersonator who could do an almost perfect Paul sounding voice. Later, they came up with one or more substitutes (this is what Substitute, The Who song, was about) that could appear in public, play left-handed bass, and go on stage mimicking and passing for the real Paul, who was previously killed. Stevie Winwood found out the whole story and wrote The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys about the whole, dark thing. The early Beatles didn't have much amplification at all, hence the "low spark." In the early sixties, there weren't any high spark or high voltage amps. Others who know the truth about Paul being dead are Mick & Keith and Roger Waters.
- Lewis, Dallas, TX
The story behind Low Sparks Of High Heeled Boys is real simple and this is the truth..I promise. Just before the release of this album Steve was in some bitter nasty negotiation with his music label. The high heeled, long hair, screaming guitar, bands had come on the scene and Steve's label want him to conform to this for his last album that he was under contract to do. Well Steve would not compromise himself or his music so a few music executives could get rich. There was a long and bloody legal battle, not sure, but I was told Steve gave up a lot to not do the album they wanted him to do ...I mean paid dearly, and not just in money, but that part I'm not sure of, but it sounds right. Steve left that label and recorded Low Sparks Of High Heeled Boys on this album as a testament to what he had gone through. The lyrics really say just that to me, so funny how we see and read into things just what we want to. Looks like a star..shooting out of ground...loud guitar..children playing with toys...Steve felt a lot of the bands coming up at this time were not as serious or concerned about making good music and lyrics, like they were putting on a stage play, and not that good at it, it was all about the fame not the craft,...low sparks...percentage paying too high priced, Steve saw these bands giving up everything to theses music executives in order to succeed, their music, values,families, passions, and more...profit he's made on your dreams...living beyond your means..wasn't the bullet that laid him to rest (Steve) how Steve described what the label did to him or try do...kill him (his music) by trying to silence him since he wouldn't do what they wanted, sort of like since you feel this way, you wont do any music, any more, any place,tried to kill his career, and didn't use a gun or bullets...they used the low sparks...meaning mediocre or average , of the high heeled boys. ...the next few verses explain how the music business can be..sorrows..joy...give everything owned...nothing in return...do the same..take me for ride..strip me..but the spirit is something that no one destroys!! Steve has kept true to himself, his music, and his fans, and I'm glad he did. And to top it off he was right on the money with that one. True artist to me, it isn't all about the fame and fortune for him...it's the musoc.
- Denise, Las Vegas, NE
Have this song come on the radio while you are driving down a long dark empty stretch of hiway as 3:00AM. I won't tell you how it will make you feel, but you will feel it right away
- Jim, North Billerica, MA
I didn't read thru all the comments, but I believe my interpretation might hold up to some scrutiny... It is, or it could be, about their agents. Low Spark refers to the low creativity of their High Heeled Boys who Profit from the songwriter's and musician's Dreams, their muse, while the artists live way too high and Beyond All Their Means - on credit.
The Star Shooting up out of the Ground - Children Playing with musical Toys in obscurity to eventually Shoot Up Out of the Ground to become guitar wielding superstars, they all get caught in the business net and Don't WorryToo Much, don't doubt it, if you get to this level It'll Happen To You as well... The Gun is the financial bullet that many mid-range earning artists get shot by, even though they may appear to be quite large and successful. Even the Stones had to go into Exile to escape
financial death. I agree with Kim, it'd be a desert island pick for me too. This is one of my favorite all time songs by one of the most musically advanced groups ever in rock and roll, that last note still renders me immobile for a few minutes after it screams through my mind....
- Gino, San Fran, CA
Once a song is written and performed the meaning belongs to the listener. The late comic Brother Dave Gardner in one of his comedy albums talked about a guy with the half-mood shaped taps walking by the pool hall on Saturday night making sparks fly and the little kids look at him and marvel. Shortly after the song came out, I was listening to the 8 track in a car parked on the street in downtown Kansas City (just waiting for a friend) with my eyes closed and earphones on at full volume. When the song ended and I opened my eyes there was a parking ticket on my windshield (a silent shot from some meter person who wasn't on my cloud). And that's what the song means to me. Still great music.
- chris, Dubuque IA, IA
I never thought it was specifically about gay culture...more about the excessive culture of the music industry at the time, the drugs, the money, and the toll it was beginning to take on everyone. Death, overdoses, suicides...by the mid 70s already quite a few had gone. My guess is the gun that didn't make any noise was probably drugs, a reference to suicide or overdose or just the self destruction of someone by his own excess.
- Marlene, Montreal, QC
My guess as to the instrument is the "ondioline", a very early, tube-powered synth
- Bob, Williamsburg, VA
The solo in the middle of the song and in the fade... Are we sure that it's not a saxophone recorded per haps at an alternate speed? Perhaps at double speed and then playback at "normal speed " It seems to sound like that to me. Some of the long holds and expressions are reminscent of that of a saxophone ... and since we know there already is a sax in the mix... more sax is better ... so how about good "slow" sax... Just a thought.
- steve, gurnee, IL
I've always liked this song for its spiritual message. 'Spirit is something that no one destroys.'
'Low Spark...' has haunted me all my adult life because I carry a lot of credit card debt and the interest I pay really limits my freedom. It is too high a price to pay in life! It also carries an anti-corporate message admonishing the listener to not fall into the trap of consumer debt as I have. The idea of coming to the end of my life, being granted one final wish, and asking for a second chance is my idea of hell. As a recovered addict I am learning to not spend my time in fantasy, regretting my past, and dreaming about reliving it and making different choices. Winwood has, throughout his career, embraced spiritual themes and anti addiction themes as many musicians do; Blind Faith, 'Come down off your throne and leave your body alone', "Low spark", and later on his solo album, 'Take Me To A Higher Love'.
I've never thought the song had a gay meaning, IMHO the low spark of high heeled boys is just a metaphor for rock music in general. Like the old saying 'When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake' it is not violence that will lay to rest our capitalist system, but the revolutionary content in the message of modern rock. May the walls crumble!
Robert Blume
- Robert, Santa Cruz, CA
Louise from Blaine WA. is so one the money about this song...Low Spark of High Heel Boys..he is speaking of the gay men that came out in the 70s, in London that dressed up in drag/suits and wore boots that when waking would actually spark on the bottom from the heel that had metal on it.Ffrom the streets and walking, the song all comes together re: that era and time and what was going on. Love it always will. I am so proud to be born in that generation.
- June ORTMANN STRONG, Southern ca., CA
Please settle a bet. A friend of mine says that "Low Spark..." had the same songs on both sides, i.e., 2 copies of each song, on the vinyl release. True?
- Charles, Troutdale, OR
It's my opinion that he is talking about dope (heroin) "the man was shot dead, by a gun that didn't make any noise" (needle) "but it wasn't the bullet that laid him to rest, was the low spark of high heeled boy's" It wasn't the dope that killed him, it was the peer pressure to do it. (to be a high heeled boy). The "keeping up with the Jones" as someone else mentioned.
- dan, ann arbor, mi, MI
The Low Spark. One of the greatest ever. This always reminds me of great times, riding around in Stevie's hearse and getting loaded. We listened to this album constantly. I often thought it meant, in some way, keeping up with the Jones'. "The man in the suit has just bought a new car from the profits he made on your dreams." Whatever, it is a fabulous album that will never go away. Chris Wood..ahhh we miss you.
- Jillian, Pittsburghhhhhhh, PA
In answer to - Carlos, Chicago, IL: the instrument on the closing of 'Low Spark'is a Farfisa organ. From Wikipedia: "Farfisa is a manufacturer of electronics based in Italy. The Farfisa brand name is commonly associated with a series of compact electronic organ, and later, a series of multi-timbral synthesizer."

The sound is not the easiest on the ears; it can be an acquired taste for some. That distinctive sound was heard on a lot of albums at the time. Probably like the mellotron- an instrument of it's time. I haven't heard it on anything in recent years.
- Pete, Independence, MO
I saw Traffis play Te low shc play this song and many others LIVE !!!!! And let me tell you, it was an outstanding experience to witness GREAT Rock Bands, unlike in today's world of a lot of crap...ME, I'm a HIGH -HEELED BOY of the era, a rebel WITH a cause...cool, collected and in the flow of the "system".....Still doin' my thing no matter how much gray hair...y'see, it was all about understanding the establishmen, not selling out, but STILL being yourself..The low spark is the spirit that you have, high-heeled boys are the group of guys that think like you...how's that??!!!
- ERIC, Los Angeles, NV
My uncle came back from the Vietnam War in 1973 and this disc is what he played for me. I was 9 and mezmerised...
- Jim, Long Beach, CA
it could be about drugs as well.

the first verse could refer to the halucanations (star coming out of the ground), as well as the great sound the guitar makes to take you away?

the second verse, could refer to the high risk by taking such drugs "percentage you're paying is too high-priced". the man buying the new car could be the drug dealer proffiting off your dreams or chances of achieving them becoming less in doin harder drugs

third verse: could be talking about if you were able to start anew, with no addictions to these such drugs, would you take it.

fourth verse: you could look at it like him talkin to his choice of drug, asking him would it help him if he needed it? or just keep abusing him and take him for "the ride" and his body may suffer but hell still have his spirit?

makes sense or no?
- zach, new york city, NY
The music is universal; the lyrics are personal.
- penny, DC, DC
love love love the piano part. so good!
- Nick, Seattle, Albania
The song was about the sudden emergence of many "high-heeled" glam rock bands. He felt these groups wearing the suddenly popular platform boots and were just a flash in the can...here today, gone tomorrow...and would leave only a spark (and nothing else)in their 15 minutes of fame.
Some suggest he meant bands such as "T-Rex" and "Sparks". One such group the band did hold in high esteem was Mott the Hoople, who were wrongly categorized as a glam band because they did one tour wearing the thigh high boots. Traffic knew better, beacuse the guys in Mott the Hoople were just everyday blokes, no different than you or me...with the exception they wrote great music with intelligent and witty lyrics. (Just listen to their "Mott" album. Pure genius!!!

Bill
- Bill, Richmond, AZ
Wow....incredible how many folks this song means a lot to....My first impressions....laying in bed waiting to go to sleep. Next to bed is FM radio. When this song came on...it was so different...something about it...if you let it...let your mind wander...somewhere new. OK....Years later....Even though I wish I were still in the "mind wandering" place....now I have formulated the best (the best that I can come up with....by no means....right or whatever)....thing to say about the song. It's old dudes....(like the car salesman) who....are being silently killed (passed over, if you will) by the new upcoming generation(s)). It's sort of like the high heeled boys (new generation) kills and inherits all that the old generation had. Ok?
- mike, houston, TX
I listen and I hear. They can say that that it meant nothing or leak small bits of info here and there that one could try to infuse great meaning from, if they felt relaxed enough to provide it when they could no longer care because of their profits and castle protection; but, listen, give me a minute. Steve. Give me a minute. In North Iraq with a cigar and another story, the Marines heard what I was listening to and knew it. You were baked then. They knew it. Time to discuss....
- Archibold, Spamcan, WV
I saw Steve Winwood Monday night, 19 January 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland. The weather was pretty bad and as we were leaving the venue, we saw the band's bus. My date asked me if we could get a pic in front of it. As we were taking it, two of the roadies were having a problem with getting a cabinet up the ramp because of how slick it was. I asked if they needed a hand. They readily agreed. Afterwards, one of them said Steve would be coming out in a few minutes and we could wait if we wanted.

So, if I gave you one last chance to ask Steve a question, what would you ask?

Of course, we asked what "Low Spark" was about. He said, "Basically, Vietnam." They used metaphors.
- Bryan, Benton , KS
I remember when this song first came out, although there were alot of Bands that sang songs about "Freedom of choice,anti government", Traffic was not Bob Dylan! Someone here has suggested that Traffic sang songs in regards to Viet Nam, Corporate greed,Protest,rebellion,
Freedom of choice, and Anti government. This couldn't be farther from the target, they were one of many Steve Windwood creations. If you follow him through time you will find that the music his bands produced were all about getting high and freedom of the mind.
First lets get the lyrics correct:

"The percentage you're paying is too high-priced,
While you're living beyond all your means.
And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
From the profit he's made on your dreams".

This could be interpeted that the junkie is paying for his death. The man in the suit is living off the dreams he supplies the junkie, kind of like a "Superfly" if anyone remembers.

But today you just READ (not "Swear") that the man was shot dead
By a gun that didn't make any noise.
But it wasn't the bullet that laid him to rest,
Was the low spark of high-heeled boys.

Ask any recovering addict about the relation between a needle and a gun, they both can hurt and kill.
When you use the correct lyric "READ" instead of "SWEAR" it takes away the implication that the word "SWEAR" implies that it is a rumor or a hope!

But it wasn't the bullet that laid him to rest,
Was the low spark of high-heeled boys.

There are lots of slang words in the drug world, lets just cover what we have so far.

Needle = Spike, Works(with the spoon, etc..),Nail, and "High Heel"

Heroin = Junk, Horse, China Doll,and "BOY"

With this being said, I stand very confident that Traffic was doing what they always have done, just like "Dear Mr. Fantasy"and Rock and Roll Stew, Back in the HIGH LIFE.

Oh by the way, Eric Clapton didnt write "COCAINE", J.J. Cale wrote and sang it. He also wrote and sang "Call Me The Breeze" , then Lynard Skynard produced it.

The good thing is that music allows us to interpet and relate too, How ever our frame of mind or passion.
- Shorty, Mpls, MN
This song is an all time favorite for just kicking back and relaxing (wink). The meaning of the song is known only by the writer(s) and/or performers. Just enjoy some great music. Traffic was an awesome group. I recently bought their greatest hits and I play it often. Slowly but surely I am replenishing my old album collection with CD`s.
- Gregg, Peoria, IL
Whatever the meaning back then (and I think the government during that time is a likely target,ie war, drugs,etc.)

I think it currently describes John McCain and the entire Bush empire. The gun didn't make any noise and many of us are suffering from the 'low sparks' (underground sabbotage) of the 'high-heeled' (rich) boys. Am I paranoid? It's possible, but I'm wondering why some people are SO rich and getting richer and others of us are -well - I haven't screwed people and I haven't make that million - and probably won't.
- Jeri, Springfield, IL
O.K.....Well .....I don't know this for a fact , but was always convinced that this was a drug song . Like so many of traffics great songs of the period . Mr Fantasy , 40,000 headmen , Medicated Goo.etc . the star shape shooting out of the ground is the leaf of the marijuana plant . the gun that did'nt make any noise is the shotgun ,blowing smoke backward into the smokers mouth .I've seen it knock a few people dead . at least for a minute or two . no where does the lyric about the man in the suit making profit on your dreams hold more meaning than in the drug world . Just my opinion , but give it some thought .
- christopher, northampton, MA
Carlos, That is Chris wood on sax...
I saw them in 72 preforming this song in Santa Barbra ca or Santa Monica I cant remember..

I was always haunted by that closing melody
- slim, Chicago, IL
Carlos, I'm pretty sure the solo instrument you're referring to is an electric guitar played through a rotating Leslie speaker. Leslies were the standard speaker for the classic Hammond B3 Organ sound, but many guitar player used them too, for just such a special effect. Now people make digital "rotating speaker" simulators, but they're really not the same, but I've heard a lot of people speak highly of the now discontinued "Little David"
- Tom, Lincoln, NE
great, puzzling, provocative lyrics. great rhythm. winwood's singing is brilliant. chris woods' playing also top notch.
- richard, pittsburgh, WY
Almost 80% of the songs we remember from the rockin' 60's and 70's were written about drugs. In a white room with black curtains at the station .. even the shadows run from themselves. White always represented white powder (The White Album was all about smack) and the scared shadows were those coming down from speed. The station represented the needle marks on one's arm often called tracks.

Cream was the white creamy color of smack in a spoon being prepared for a hit. Didn't Clapton write a song about coke? Need I gone own?

Yes, it is all a matter of interpretation but compare the lyrics to the writer ... often a dope addict.
- Frank, Toronto, ON
I saw an episode of "Behind The Music", I think it was, and they asked the then living Jim Capaldi, and Stevie Winwood what the lyrics to this song meant, they replied, it was about the record industry at the time, money was being made by everyone. Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys", are what they refered to as the changing type of groups, with more and more groups playing up to theatric, and synthesised (or fake musicians, playing fake instruments)acts. During this period we just started seeing some of what would be called the "Glam Rock" era, as Capaldi put it, a "bunch of non-musical drag boy's in high heels". The record companies execs, started seeing this as a cash cow, cared not one iota about the musicians at the time, or how they felt about their craft. You look at how music was developing or morphing, the reference to "the man in the suit has just bought a new toy from the profits he made on your dreams" are the record company execs, pushing the music towards what it has become, what it is today, compartmentalized, branded, packaged to distinct groups, and to squeeze those groups pocket books of disposable income. Never once in this interview did Capaldi or Winwood say the song had any other meanings about ICBM's or the way of the world at that time, but they did say if thats what people think the message was, so be it. They both said if you like the song, that was enough for them, and they were semi-tongue in cheek, lashing out at the Record execs, as well as the new style music emerging at the time.
- Steve, Boston, United States
Ahhhh. This was one of the best songs when you were looking for something to quell your internal conflicts. LOL
- Rich, Milwaukee/Palmer Alaska, United States
I'm still trying to figure out exactly what was the solo instrument about 5 minutes before the song ends. The same instrument solos in the last 50 seconds. Is it a(n uncredited) lyricon or an electric saxophone? It has the timbre of an organ, a weirdly distorted clarinet, a monophonic harmonium, or an electrified oboe and sounds like it has a limited range compared to a standard sax. In any case, I've always loved the solo and I fall in love with it more each time I hear the song. It's so rhapsodic and inspired.
- Carlos, Chicago, IL
I love all the different theories; I've always wondered what this song meant. This is one of my favorite songs; its subtlety, the lyrics, the amazing jam. I don't think I'll ever understand this song or what it means because I was born in 1984, but I have a good imagination. Today's music is so empty!
- Cady, Madison, WI
I bought this album because of the cover art and the shape of the jacket. Does anybody remember it? I wore out the vinyl then bought the cassette and wore that out too. Now I have the CD. It's still kicks ass and stands the test of time. I listen to LSOHHB while doing my taxes. Hell, the lyrics make about as much sense as the US tax code.
- Lalah, Wasilla, AK
I dig this tune cuz it sums up perfectly what it's like to be a rock star. The adulation, the temptations, the need to create and the fear of what form your creation will take and how people will respond to it. No truer words on what life is like on the stage and in the times in between, in my opinion. This song shines in the bright lights and reverberates from the amps. It describes the dark corners of the soul of rock and roll.
- Bubba Zanetti, Austin, TX
When one examines song lyrics, you really need to do it in the context of the time it was written. Hindsight can give great insight but this song was not speaking to a future that the writer didn't yet know.
Another thing to remember is that they were all stoners and alot of profound lyrics are just an opportunity to find a rhyme and maybe sound profound or just creat confusion.
Think T-Rex- glam rock as opposed to the Woodstock era. It was all a very self-centered time but at least we were advocating social change. Can they same be said for todays youth? They are self-centered without any community virtue. They are materialistic. The man may not be wearing a suit but he's making more profit now that he ever did.
Great song anyway.
- Dave, Scottsdale, AZ
I love this song. It means nothing,as does most poetry from rich young guys, including Dylan. They are always MUCH more disappointed that we don't BUY it than that we don't UNDERSTAND it.
- Mtich, Willits, CA
The lyrics have to be looked at both in context and in their entirety. This like many other cryptic works by Traffic, Steely Dan, and Cream (some of the same songwriters were active on several different 60's super-bands)capture the attention despite the fact that it drives people nuts that they do not know what they mean. However it is simpler than it looks.

The gun that didn't make any noise: assassinations are often done with silenced weapons, so the person who said the gun that didn't make any noise was a gun with a silencer, is correct. So the man in the suit is (or was) assassinated.

But a better question is: "Who is the man in the suit?" and why did he buy a new car and why do we care? It is someone important enough to assassinate, but to understand who he is we need to understand the theme, the epigraph that was left by Pollard, who penned it: "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys."

A high heeled boy is quite simply, one of two things: a woman, or a man dressed as one. Men don't wear high heels generally unless they are in drag. What is meant by it varies from one stanza to the next - in allegory the simplest explanation works the best in the context of the tale being told. So - the man in the suit (he's wearing a suit NOW!) is assassinated by a silenced gun, but what killed him was not the bullet, because he was already singled out...

by the women, or by the men in drag, or by both. In this case, it is both. There is one public figure whom we all know now, had been assassinated, very publicly, and the reason for his death was explored in great depth by the Warren Commission and deemed to be the work of one man: that man in the suit would be John F. Kennedy, Jr. Since then the conspiracy theories have mounted up and up and this song gives a key to what actually happened, as does "Crossfire" by Jim Garrison - J.F.K. was set up for assassination by the transvestite and closeted homosexual J. Edgar Hoover, and he was carrying on an affair with Marilyn Monroe who herself died under mysterious circumstances not long afterward.

Both definitions of "high heeled boys" come into play here assassination. The conspiracy investigation yielded information about silenced weapons rather than the rifle used by Oswald. The spark is an ignition, just as the ignition in the opening of the song:

If you see something that looks like a star

The launching of a nuclear device, which was the Cuban Missile Crisis for which the Kennedies had to make a decision whether or not to bomb Cuba and go to (nuclear) war with the Soviet Union.

And it's shooting up out of the ground: land based ICBM

And your head is spinning from a loud guitar:

There is only one loud guitar that makes your head spin and everyone who lived through this era knows whose guitar it is: Jimi Hendrix's.

The song is about the events that shaped the entire era of the 1960's, the women's rights movement, the formation of public homosexual identity which had not existed before, the assassination of JFK, giving the root cause of the assassination, etc. Not so hard when you have enough context.
- Louise, Blaine, WA
I love putting this song on when I just want to kick back.
- Duane, Wheatfield, IN
I had the pleasure of supplying sound services to Traffic on this and other tours. Every time I heard the band play it, and that was many times, I heard it differently, but I always heard the poetry in Low Spark. Winwood is simply a genius with a quite loyal following. He is also a very special person; quite rare in rock performers.
- Richard, Philadelphia, PA
Ive listened to this song for the past 35 years, since it was new and I remember the feeling back then. Viet Nam. Corporate greed. Protest and rebellion. Freedom of choice. Anti government. Someone here suggested that the gun that didnt make any noise was a heroin needle, and this is absurb. The song clearly states, it wasnt the bullet that killed him dead, it was the gun that didnt make any noise. Dont you know what was new to us back then? Silencers. Dont you know how many people were shot dead, especially in the mid to late 60's? Assasinations. If you listen or read the lyrics carefully, you will see that the lyrics dont say the man was in fact shot dead, it says " But today you just swear that the man was shot dead ". The word swear implies that it is a rumor or a hope, that activists would stand up and act in some capacity to kill the evil corporate blood suckers. And, in addition, it would not be the bullet that killed him dead, it would be the Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, or those of us who stood up for all that we protested against back then. The song indirectly calls for unity of action and decent human values. Unfortunately, it is a big dream that never came to life and the world we live in today is a direct result of the failure of the 60's and 70's revolution, that never came to frutition.
~ Veronica, Islamorada, FL
- Veronica, Islamorada, FL
This song is one of the longest Traffic songs I don't really care for this thought I am quite a fan of Winwood and Capaldi's work .
- nathan, l-burg, KY
Regarding "John Barleycorn Must Die", it describes the planting, growing, and reaping of barley as if the plant were a person. This
analogy (plant=person) was actually carried out in ritual all over pagan Europe and western Asia
for centuries or more. The myth is that the goddess's lover or son (the earth's gift of
plants as food) must be sacrificed (cut down)
and ritually eaten. The person/plant will return in the spring reincarnated (grown from seed) to be sacrificed yet again. Many experts theorize that a human representative actually was ritually killed and dismembered, as the barley grew to its adult form and then was cut down in the field and processed to become food.
- Keith, Cincinnati, OH
I heard the Keyboardist Steve Winwood was only 17 when he played on this.
- Marlon, Brooklyn, NY
I just wrote a statement about Low Spark...the last sentence should read..."when one should just work together". thanks
- Christopher, Caro, MI
The song is about how the music industry and how it wants to control the musicians at a point when they are young in the music scene. The almighty dollar. Its like a catch 22...when you have a song that has the potential to be big...you need a big company to help promote it. It's too bad some some music companys use bands and musicians as puppets or pawns...when one just work together.
- Christopher, Caro, MI
actually max, you're only partially right about john barleycorn. john barleycorn must die, or something along those lines, is a poem by Robert Burns, and the traffic song is based on that. Robert Burns (who's scottish) based his poem on an english folk tune which probably originally came from celtic pagan tradition. though john barleycorn is associated with alchohol, and beer specifically, he's actually more a personification of barley, or some grain like that. so, if you listen to the lyrics, the song is actually about the process of growing barley: that's why the three men have "plowed and sown" and whatnot, and that's why "when the rains from heaven did fall," john barleycorn "sprung up his head" and he's grown a beard, and i'm sure you know the rest of the lyrics just as well as i do. personally i think the song is much cooler if you look at it as this sort of pagan rite.
- dave, baltimore, MA
Your thoghts are always in the air what you dream and belive areup for grabs so make them yours make your ultimate sacrifice only your own What A wonderful day The Guy
- Guy, Detroit, MI
I would sure like to know how they made that solo guitar sound unique, almost airy. Give it a listen as it replaces the solo sax at about the 5:40 mark, and goes on for quite awhile thereafter.
- James, Westchester, England
Well...the first comment about Capaldi and Pollard sounds like a good explanation if it's factual. I see on the "music blurb" on win media that it's about disillusionment with the music business. Which would fit in with "the man in the suit.." I used to hear this on my FM radio as I was falling asleep. Brings back memories of strong feelings. Life was so cool then compared to now. Like a whole 'nother movie. Which one is real? Maybe I'm disillusioned. Ha ha. All I'm sure of is I had never heard anything like it. Especially the sort of build up crescendo thing at the end. Plus the importance of the simple little piano thing that kind of identifies the song.
- mike, houston, TX
I think this whole song is about the resistance of authority and a shift in cultural power in the 60's-70's. The man in the suit was shot dead by a gun that didn't make any noise--authority and convention were unexpectedly and quickly overthrown by a group of punks(high heeled boys) with previously underestimated influence on culture(a low spark).
- Sam, Waverly, IA
This song is about drug adiction, adicts and pushers. The "High Heeled Boys" are the pushers. The "Gun that did not make any noise" is a needle.
- Susan, Savannah, GA
Hollywood and the film industry being just an extension of the marketing merchandising weaponry. These young role model rebels who exuded the street undercurrent were usually unwittingly the players for the media moguls selling the dream to hook the life long consumer. "And you just can't escape from the sound, don't worry too much, it'll happen to you." hooked
- Keith, Canberra, Australia
My opinion has always been that it is about advertising and the "people shapers" theme that was common in the 60s and 70s. "And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
from the profit he's made on your dreams." The theme persists today in Media-jolt free day and "No buy day" and the slogans they have like "Your living is the factory, the product being manufactured is you the consumer." The extreme of this is the likes of the Matrix film but instead of providing electricity, people are farmed for targeted consumerism. This is how I have always seen "...the man was shot dead
by a gun that didn't make any noise.
But it wasn't the bullet that laid him to rest
was the low spark of high-heeled boys." like in a Matrix but to grow consumers. The high heeled boys are the advertising execs. The RON (Reality or nothing) is another expression of the same theme.

http://au.geocities.com/newbie_m50/human_cultural_framework.html
- Keith, Canberra, Australia
i've been looking for this song for years! i've heard it on the radio many a time, but never known what it was called. i've tried calling radio stations to inquire about it, and never been able to get through. i finally know now ...
- Stephanie, Ellicott City, MD
I heard "somewhere" in the '70s that the song was about Nuclear Weapons..the the High Heeled Boy was a type of ICBM. The "gun that didn't make any noise" is a reference to "getting nuked" i.e you're not going to hear anything before it happens.
This ties in with reference to "shooting up out of the ground".
Basically, this may have been the first "anti-nuclear" rock song. I've seen a lot of Steve Winwood in Austin in the last year, both live and on Austin CIty Limits, but haven't heard Low Spark preformed. I think it's just as seminal as Mr. Fantasy and hope to hear a current rendition someday. Comments welcome, has anyone else hears the nuclear angle? -Dave Bowman
- Dave, Austin, TX
Well Jim Capaldi passed away recently (RIP). Jim Gordon was the drummer, he was a major 60's-70's session drummer. He played on almost all the major radio hits in the day. He co-wrote Layla, and then wents nuts and took a hammer to his mother, blamed her for the deaths of Karen Carpenter, and Paul Lynn.
Back to Traffic, Steve Winwood is multi talented as well, his voice has a Ray Charles quality to it. Dave Mason was also in an early verson of Traffic as well
- PHIL, San Jose, CA
This whole album rocks. If I was on a desert island I could hang if I had this and one or two other albums.
- kim, santa fe springs, CA
This song is one of my favorite songs by them. It is just a very easy listening song that has a lot of very interesting melodies. Infact, one of the chords used throughout the song may sound familiar. If you played Grand Theft Auto 3, it should. A chord from the song was used as the basis for the background music while the game is loading. Anyway, another song by them that is very good is John Barleycorn Must Die, and since this website doesnt have that song, i will write about it here. During the 1920's, prohibition, or the ban of alcohol was established. Activists for the movement gave a name to symblize the evils of alcohol. Can u guess what it was? right, John Barleycorn, i think the rest of the song is self explanatory after hearing the background behind it.
- Max, Manalapan, NJ
What was the gun that did not make any noise?
- Monty, union city, TN
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