The Incredible Story of How Supertramp Recorded the Classic Breakfast in America

With more than 18 million copies sold worldwide, Breakfast In America is Supertramp’s biggest selling album and one of the best prog albums of all time after Dark Side Of The Moon. The album was released many years after prog’s first golden age and wasn’t a particularly quintessential prog package.

Rock and roll group
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

It only had a single disc and contained ten tracks. The sleeve featured a waitress posing as the Statue of Liberty against a backdrop of crockery posing as the New York skyline. Here’s the fascinating story of how Supertramp made the classic album, Breakfast in America.

No One Expected The Success

The total running time was just 46 minutes, with two songs under three minutes. Only one piece was more than seven minutes. Given that this was Supertramp’s sixth album and it was released at the height of the new wave and disco, it was remarkable that it sold so well.

Supertramp's Breakfast In America album cover.
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Everyone involved was surprised by its dominance of the single and album charts. Well, everyone, except the band’s label boss, Jerry Moss. According to co-producer Pete Henderson, the A&M co-founder said they were “likely to repeat his success” and “going to be next.”

Russel Pope – The Underappreciated and Unofficial Sixth Member

Supertramp was never the stadium fillers of chart-topping acts. However, after Breakfast In America, the band achieved tremendous success commercially than anything else they had ever done. They spent much of 1973–1974 together in the wilds of Somerset, in a house called Southcombe with unofficial sixth member Russel Pope.

Rick Davies, Dougie Thomson, John A. Helliwell, Roger Hodgson, and Bob C. Benberg
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Pope is regarded by Helliwell as “underappreciated nowadays” because “he helped Roger and Rick with lyrics, and he was good in the studio, too.” Their enforced cohabitation was a “creative and supportive atmosphere,” according to MOJO’s Phil Alexander. It was so good that they replicated the circumstances in the US.

They Moved to Burbank and Named the House Southcombe

The band felt the Colorado studio was too sterile, so they moved to a home-from-home in Burbank, which they renamed Southcombe. Throughout 1978, they rehearsed and prepared materials and demos for the Village Recorder studio in LA. Then, reports emerged that Hodgson and Davies were at loggerheads for many reasons, including the album name.

A group photo of Supertramp.
Photo by Richard E. Aaron/Redferns/Getty Images

Although Helliwell admits there was friction, the band was too focused on creating the most incredible collection of material. They even played football matches with local hero Rod Stewart. While Supertramp had always been meticulous, Helliwell remembers the sessions for Breakfast In America to be “long and tedious.”

All the Work Paid Off

They knew this would be something special. According to Helliwell, “We spent hours and hours in the studio; it would take a week getting the right drum sounds.” Hodgson had an ionizer for producing the optimum air quality, which gave Helliwell headaches, but it all led to spectacular results.

Bob Siebenberg, John Helliwell, Dougie Thomson, Roger Hodgson, and Rick Davies pose in the park.
Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images

During tours, BIA was an instant hit, peaking at Number One in the US, Canada, Australia, and Norway with pandemonium. Supertramp harnessed “sophisto-rock” to make a detached, melancholy social critique. “I guess our songs are enigmatic and can be taken in many ways,” Helliwell said. “…people like them.” Yup. Twenty million people.