living a little, laughing a little 1974-1985


1996, june 4, raven

CD. 50

Sure as i'm sittin' here

(from hanging around the observatory)

3:19 30 seconds preview

Whistles in my ears

(from hanging around the observatory)

3:26 30 seconds preview

Hangin around the observatory

(from hanging around the observatory)

3:04 30 seconds preview

One more time

(from overcoats)

3:38 30 seconds preview

I want your love inside of me

(from overcoats)

3:15 30 seconds preview

Down Home

(from overcoats)

3:10 30 seconds preview

Spy boy

(from "Cruising" soundtrack)

3:16 30 seconds preview

Washable ink

(from slug line)

3:17 30 seconds preview

Slug line

(from slug line)

3:01 30 seconds preview

Pink bedroom

(from two bit monsters)

2:56 30 seconds preview

It hasn't happened yet

(from two bit monsters)

3:24 30 seconds preview

My edge of the razor

(from all of a sudden)

4:24 30 seconds preview

The love that harms

(from riding with the king)

2:52 30 seconds preview

She loves the jerk

(from riding with the king)

3:40 30 seconds preview

She said the same things to me

(from warming up to the ice age)

4:02 30 seconds preview

When we ran

(from warming up to the ice age)

4:45 30 seconds preview

Living a little, laughing a little

(from warming up to the ice age)

4:01 30 seconds preview


(By Billy Pinnell, 1985, Melbourne Australia)

11:50 30 seconds preview

Total running time:



Conceived and compiled:

Glenn A Baker

Kevin Mueller

Peter Shillito

With assistance: John Dowler
Lynda Morrison
John Tobler
Craig Frischkom
Mastered: Warren Barnett
artwork: alan duffy & greg klein at ADCO advertising, sydney
photographs: from the glenn a. baker archives
special thanks:

stuart coupe

billy pinnell



  • All songs written by John Hiatt Except "Living a little, laughing a little" written by Thom Bell and Linda Creed.

liner notes

The Capitol Records biography from October 1995 said it perfectly: “John Hiatt has long occupied a singular place among American singer-songwriters. He’s an artist who twists rock and soul and blues and R&B into rhythmic shapes that echo the deep and surprising way he sees things.”

As Hiatt himself says: “I’m a songwriter but I’m also a guy who has to perform his won material. I write my own stuff, but it’s ultimately all about music, melody, my technique. I’m always interested in sound. You’ve got to inhabit the right sonic space for the song to resonate with any meaning.”

Hiatt’s songs have resonated with meaning for more than two decades and whilst it’s fair to say that it was late ‘80’s albums like Bring The Family (1987), Slow Turning (1988) and Stolen Moments (1989) that really bought him to a substantial world-wide audience those and subsequent albums only tell part of the story. Living A Little, Laughing A Little collects much lesser known material from 1974 to 1985 that are a sublime example of the evolution, development and increasing maturity of a truly inspired writer and performer.

Born and raised in Indiana, Hiatt started writing songs at the age of 11. He estimates his total output over the years at well of 600 songs. Intent on making a career of it, Hiatt left high school to work as an in-house writer for Tree Publishing in Nashville.

Aside from a 1972 recording, In Season by White Duck – about which Hiatt train-spotters will doubtless know more than I – Hiatt’s first recording under his own name was Hangin’ Around The Conservatory which was released by Epic Records in 1974.

As Hiatt commented at the time: “One night, we went up to this observatory where once a month people are allowed to come in and view the stars. It was way up on top of a hill out in the country. On the way up, I got the feeling I was going to visit a mad scientist’s house…I feel like I’m an observer. I’m not really here; I’m watching.”

On the sleeve notes for Observatory Bruce Harris observed: “Without ever losing its central distinctiveness, John Hiatt’s music can be heavy or it can be lyrical. It can be metal or it can be magical. Always, it is music filled with spirit, energy, humour, and excitement. And of course, John’s strangely compelling voice is the perfect match for the curious music and more curious lyrics. Hiatt’s not just strange – these days, it’s easy to be weird. Hiatt takes it one step beyond; like the truth, he is stranger than fiction.”

In the Village Voice Robert Christgau decided the album was worth a ‘B’ which given his legendary toughness and bizarre idea of rating every album with a letter, wasn’t too bad. And certainly Christgau was one of the earliest critics to recognize that Hiatt had a lot to offer: “Hiatt is a Mid-western boy who wrings off center rock’n’roll out of a voice with lots of range, none of it homey. Reassuring to hear the heartland Americana of the Band actually inspire a heartlander. Reassuring too that one of the resulting songs can be released as a single by Three Dog Night.”

Observatory didn’t, however, make too much of an impression and it was followed a year later by Overcoats an altogether more impressive outing – although not everyone agreed. These days it’s easy to think of Hiatt as a critic’s favorite as his albums are consistently lauded but that’s certainly not always been the case. None other than Dave Marsh has written (in the first Rolling Stone Record Guide, 1979) of Overcoats: “Hiatt is about as ill at ease and forced as an R&B-based white singer/songwriter can get, which is awfully ill at ease and horribly forced. One suspects that Overcoats, released in 1975, will soon go the way of Hiatt’s out-of-print debut LP.”

Again Robert Christgau was far more complimentary – but still rated the album a ‘B’: “I admit to a weakness for loony lyrical surrealist protest rockers. And I admit that this one tends to go soft when he tries to go poetic. I even admit that he has a voice many would consider worse than no voice at all (although that’s one of the charms of the type). But I insist that an7yone who can declaim about killing an ant with his guitar ‘underneath romantic Indiana stars’ deserves a shot at leading-man status in Fort Wayne.”

During this period Hiatt hit the road, touring fold venues and festivals across North America, and building a loyal club following in the process. By 1979 he had moved to Los Angeles and was signed to MCA after becoming a notable part of the New Wave scene.

By the time Hiatt had released three more albums – Slug Line (1979), Two-Bit Monsters (1980) and All Of A Sudden (1982) Marsh was coming around to realizing that maybe there was something going on here – but he sure as hell wasn’t certain what it was: “Hiatt’s strained soulfullness always overcomes his wise-guy charm, at least in these quarters. Indeed, if one weren’t so certain of Ry Cooder’s taste (and if Hiatt weren’t a member of Cooder’s recent bands), the temptation would be to dismiss this pompous posturing as a fairly vile example of post-Springsteen bombast. However, faith assures us something must be there. Possibly by the next edition it will be located in more than association.”

With Slug Line Christgau decided that Hiatt was actually worth a ‘B+’. Things were definitely looking up: “This hard-working young pro may yet turn into an all-American Elvis C. He’s focused his changeable voice up around the hegh end and straightened out his always impressive melodies, but he has a weakness ofr the shallow (if sincere) putdown, e.g.: ‘You’re too dumb to have a choice.’ Or else he;d get chosen, do you think he means?”

A far more supportive early champion of Hiatt’s was Trouser Press editor Ira A. Robbins but even he described the first two Epic albums as “unextraordinary, mild singer/songwriter records.” For Robbins Slug Line was the album where Hiatt first displayed what he was potentially capable of. He considered that Hiatt was “a fiercely original, soul-inflected rock character, likened to Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson, but wholly his own man.”

In between making his own albums Hiatt had always found time for other projects. In 1976 ther was Don’t It Make You Want To Dance? with Rusty Weir, and in 1980 the acclaimed Borderline soundtrack with Ry Cooder. The same year saw the release of a promotion only live album, unimaginatively titled Border Live. During 1980 Hiatt also contributed the song Spy Boy to the soundtrack of the film Cruising.

The year 1982 was a new album in the Tony Visconti-produced All Of A Sudden, a performance with Ry Cooder on Slide Area (Geffen), and a substantial contribution to The Border soundtrack.

Riding With The King, produced a side each by the Durocs team of Ron Nagle and Scott Matthews, and by Nick Lowe, was released in 1983, the same year that saw him singing backing vocals on Richard Thompson’s Hand Of Kindness album.

It wasn’t until 1985 that Hiatt released any new material – first a powerful and well-realized new album Warming Up To The Ice Age, which would be his last for Geffen before signing with A&M and releasing Bring The Family. During 1985 Hiatt also released a single, Living A Little, Laughing A Little, backed with two rare live tracks – When We Ran and Everybody’s Girl. There was also a promotional-only live album, Riot With Hiatt, backing vocals with Los Lobos on Will The Wolf Survive and more contributions to film soundtracks.

Since the mid ‘80’s Hiatt has appeared on record with Peter Case, Rodney Crowell, Loudon Wainwright III, Nick Lowe and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

And it hasn’t stopped – Hiatt makes his own superb albums but is no slouch when it comes to keeping busy in between and lending a hand to recordings by the most disparate of artists. In 1990 he sang and played whistle on a track from Ben Vaughan’s Dressed In Black album, and provided backing vocals on Something Wild from Iggy Pop’s Brick By Brick album.

Then there’s Hiatt’s other career as a songwriter. There is an extraordinarily diverse array of artists who have recorded his songs, with no more than 60 different individuals considering their records would be just that little better with the inclusion of at least one Hiatt song. Among those acts are Bob Dylan, the Neville Brothers, David Crosby, Joe Cocker, the Jeff Healey Band, Steve Earle, Dave Edmunds and Paula Abdul.

More than two decades after he started his songwriting and recording career John Hiatt stands as one of the most distinctive and passionate reformers in contemporary music. He’s undergone a transformation from angry ‘70’s new waver to tasteful, spirited roots rocker with class and a whole lot of heart’n’style. On a recent American TV show, The Hot List, Hiatt talked of and listed his personal ‘desert island’ favorite albums, which gives a fine insight into the music that has shaped his own. In descending order from one to five Hiatt’s selections were Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell’s Greatest Hits (Hiatt mentioned how much he loves the Ashford & Simpson songwriting team), Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde, Sly & The Family Stone’s Fresh, The Band’s self-titled album, and Jimi Hendrix’s Axis: Bold As Love.

Contained on this album are classic recordings from Hiatt’s formative periods. Rarely less than enthralling they are a vital part of Hiatt’s story – one of great songs, distinctive vocals and a real rock’n’roll heart that’s worn proudly on the sleeve.

Moreover this sleeve notes suggest that at least one companion volume colleting many of Hiatt’s other sideline projects, collaborations and soundtrack work would be, well, a damn fine idea. Coming soon to a record store that cares.

Stuart Cope, 1995

Living a Little, Laughing a Little does a good job as an early-career summary, drawing material from each of his albums released from 1974 to 1985 — Hangin' Around the Observatory, Overcoats, Slug Line, Two Bit Monster, All of a Sudden, Riding With the King, and Warming Up to the Ice Ages. For those who are only familiar with his critically acclaimed work from the late '80s on, this provides a introduction to the formative years and a facinating look at an man finding his voice — from an average '70s-style singer-songwriter to a rocker a la Elvis Costello to the first hints of his better known, later rootsy incarnation. A 1985 interview and a track Hiatt contributed to the Cruisin' soundtrack have been added as bonus to those who already have the albums.