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Caravan Better by Far album cover
2.91 | 194 ratings | 17 reviews | 7% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

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Studio Album, released in 1977

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Feelin' Alright (3:30)
2. Behind You (5:08)
3. Better by Far (3:30)
4. Silver Strings (4:05)
5. The Last Unicorn (5:50)
6. Give Me More (4:42)
7. Man in a Car (6:12)
8. Let It Shine (4:30)
9. Nightmare (6:26)

Total Time 43:53

Line-up / Musicians

- Pye Hastings / guitars, vocals
- Jan Schelhaas / keyboards, backing vocals
- Geoff Richardson / viola, guitars, flute, sitar, mandolin, vocals
- Dek Messecar / bass, backing vocals
- Richard Coughlan / drums, percussion

- Vicki Brown / vocals (6)
- Fiona Hibbert / harp (7)
- Tony Visconti / recorders (5), electric double bass (7), producer

Releases information

Artwork: Bob Searles with Brian Hennessey (photo)

LP Arista Records - SPARTY 1008 (1977, UK)

CD Eclectic Discs ‎- ECLCD 1018 (2004, UK) Remastered by Paschal Byrne

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
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CARAVAN Better by Far ratings distribution

(194 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(7%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(16%)
Good, but non-essential (43%)
Collectors/fans only (27%)
Poor. Only for completionists (7%)

CARAVAN Better by Far reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
2 stars After Cunning Stunts, If I Could, I think they made another one of their jokes with the album title here as this is certainly not so . Avoid. Even a die-hard fan such as me has no interest in this - I believe this has never been released on CD, until very recently, so don't waste time hunting it down although it is not very rare and should not be expensive. Last Unicorn and Nightmare would have been fillers on Blind Dog and unfortunately are the highlights on this album. This should give you a good idea of how this album is.

While re-touching some other reviews, late 2004 saw the release of this album onto CD format on the Eclectic Label with a few bonus tracks. Still does not make it wortwhile, though.

Review by Proghead
2 stars I thought this was CARAVANn's worst album up to that point. After what I felt was the overproduced and over-orchestrated "Cunning Stunts", I felt the band was moving back on track with Blind Dog at St. Dunstans. But they didn't stay on track for long, as this 1977 followup, "Better By Far" clearly demonstrates. At this point, the band consisted of Pye Hastings and Richard Coughlin (of course), with Geoff Richardson and keyboardist Jan Schelhaas. Mike Wedgewood was now out of the picture, replaced by Dek Messecar. Unfortunately, with the exception of the excellent "Man in a Car", written by Schelhaas, most of the album simply consists of sappy ballads, of the kind I don't find particularly engaging. At least the orchestra, for the most part, was thrown in the trash, just like their previous offering, but this album just proves that CARAVAN's best days were behind them. Listen to "Better By Far", and listen to their acknowledged classic, "In the Land of Grey & Pink", there's just no comparing, it's quite obvious what one is the vastly superior album.
Review by Chris S
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Well I have to disagree. This was a very good album released in 1977 and the majority of the songs are fine. What is equally enjoyable is the return to the smutty lyrics and inane humour on some of the tracks which always reminded you that for a lot of the time Caravan were just having a good few sessions!

As I said most of the songs are great but the highlights on this album are the title track, Give me More, The Last Unicorn and the icing on the cake is the incredibly serene ' Nightmare'. it sound like something off their debut from 1969!

Three and a half stars.

Review by fuxi
4 stars I perfectly understand why diehard Caravan fans find this album painful to listen to. 'Classic Caravan' this is not; just as DRAMA isn't 'Classic Yes', and yet I find both of these albums excellent in their own right.

Having just listened to BETTER BY FAR for the first time in more than twenty years (a CD version was released only recently), I just can't believe how refreshing Pye Hastings' vocals and Jan Schelhaas' minimoog (among other things) still sound on such bright, simple but by no means negliglible pop songs as FEELIN' ALRIGHT and LET IT SHINE.

I have always found the title tune a very seductive love song, probably because I was deeply in love when I first heard it! SILVER STRINGS is amusing (sort of Caravan- meet-10CC-meet-Johann Strauss) and MAN IN A CAR contains some ravishing harp interludes. But best of all: THE LAST UNICORN is one of the most succesful instrumentals in Caravan's career (wonderful viola playing from Geoff Richardson, followed by an inspired uptempo jam) and NIGHTMARE is one of their most ravishing songs altogether. (Thank you, Pye Hastings, for your lovely singing and for that climactic, yet restrained, guitar solo.)

An additional fascination is the fact that this album was produced by Tony Visconti, who introduced some of the same experiments with phasers (whatever they are!) that he had perpetrated on David Bowie's LOW and 'HEROES'. I was a big Bowie fan when BETTER BY FAR came out, but only now, so many years later, did I notice how much this Caravan album has in common with LOW: virtually the same prominent drum sound, with a clearer bass guitar sound than on any other Caravan record. If you know LOW but haven't heard BETTER BY FAR, imagine, if you like, a warm, cosy, non-alienated twin brother to Bowie's famous album. Now who would have thought a band like Caravan could pull this off?

Review by Prog-jester
3 stars Better than the previous one.

I have always felt deep appreciation to CARAVAN – who can hate albums like “In the Land of Grey and Pink” after all? They’ve led me to Canterbury Scene and related bands, and this is still kinda matter to explore for me. Unfortunately, “Cunning Stunts” was probably their (CARAVAN I mean) last good album. “Better by Far” deserves these 3 stars only because of “The Last Unicorn” alone – one of the best instrumentals I ever heard, very CAMELesque and catchy. Other songs fall into “easy listening pop-rock” category (even with a touch of soul) and even have some self-plagiarism moments (“Give me more” sounds very much like “No backstage pass”). Nice album, but not for a CARAVAN/Canterbury newbie.

Review by Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Try not to stare at the parts that are bare!

"Better by far" falls outwith the classic Caravan Deram label years of "Land of grey and pink", "For girls who grow.." etc., which were indeed better by far than this album. That said, the music here is enjoyable if relatively unchallenging.

Recorded in Spring 1977, the line up is essentially that which recorded the previous "Blind dog at St. Dunstans", with Dek Messecar replacing Mike Wedgwood on bass. The band moved labels once again for the album, this time to BTM/Arista, with the legendary Tony Visconti taking on the roll of producer. Pye Hastings is once again the dominant force throughout, writing all but three of the tracks.

The album sets out in reassuringly traditional fashion with the upbeat "Feelin' alright" (no relation to other songs of the same name), which has the sound of the lighter Caravan songs of old. The song sets the mood for much of the album. The following "Behind you" tells a raunchy tale in the best traditions of "Golf girl":

"There could be no way I was going to stay with a man like that on my heel. He was six foot four and could eat a door and his fists were like great blocks of steel. But his wife was rude and it seemed so good to have fun while he was away. While he lived in hope of the sale of soap, like the cat and the mouse we would play."

The title track is a slower ballad type song which finds Hastings in particularly melodic tone vocally.

The dedication to the talents of the violinist ("Silver strings") is understandably a Geoff Richardson composition. It is not a great song either lyrically or melodically, the clever arrangement enhancing what is actually a pretty ordinary number. Richardson remains in the song writer's chair for "The last unicorn", a fine instrumental dedicated to Peter S Beagle, the author of a book by that name. The early part of the track (which features strings) is reminiscent of Stackridge, before a more familiar synth solo lifts the tempo. This track has distinct echoes of the great Caravan days, and shows the band still willing to work out instrumentally, at least on occasions.

"Give me more" features some more of Caravan's wonderfully smutty lyrics. Who can resist smirking to lines such as "She's got ill repute, and an over-size foot, bad breath and drives a Mercedes" and "Though I tried not to stare at the parts that were bare, she said: "Would you like to touch?" (complete with female vocal), I said, "Very much"". The naive innocence of Hastings voice countered by the erotic screams of guest vocalist Vicki Brown only add to the fun.

Keyboard player Jan Schelhaas sole compositional contribution to the album is "Man in a car", which he also appears to sing. The vocal sections are rather prosaic, but his bursts of synth are positively striking. The songs marks a change of lyrical style for this track and the remainder of the album, the nudge-nudge innuendoes being replaced by more obscure fantasy based poetry.

"Let it shine" starts of with a slight country twinge before settling into a pretty orthodox Caravan pop song of the type the band would utilise more and more on subsequent albums. Guitar and keyboards duet effectively for the track's play-out. The album closes with "Nightmare", the longest track at around 6― minutes. The lyrics here are particularly troubled and un-Caravan like, but at least have a positive ending. Richardson's swan-song on viola is superb, the track making a good case for its inclusion in any list of Caravan greats.

In all, a surprisingly good offering from a less familiar Caravan line up. While some of the tracks point towards the pop direction the band would later pursue, those pop undercurrents were there even on their best albums; they are essentially one of the band's characteristics. There are enough reminders of the band's great albums here to make this a worthwhile acquisition for those who appreciate those releases.

Despite a reasonable promotion effort by the band's new label, the album failed to find significant success. Geoff Richardson would leave within a year of its release to pursue a career in session work, and the band was once again in turmoil.

Review by ZowieZiggy
2 stars Caravan confirms their very good sense of humour, not only with the title of this album but with some other ones as well.

"Feelin' Alright" is not really my state of mind when listening to this weak opening number and the poor and upbeat "Behind You" is not any better. Just a rock song with some funky rhythms. Not my cup of tea.

The "Caravan" sound is back for the title track even if this song is more on the commercial side. Still the melody is fine and vocals are pleasant. One of the best numbers from this album (but there aren't that many).

None of the tracks are dramatically bad but they are seriously lacking the freshness, the spontaneity of their earlier counterparts. I pretty much liked "Blind Dogs" so, it is not a question of era. More a problem of song writing IMO. I can't get thrilled with such a song as "Silver Strings".

Things get better with "Unicorn", a dynamic instrumental track which starts sweetly and evolves into an upbeat jazzy part. The first half of this number is obviously the one I prefer.

Most of the remaining songs won't be remembered for their creativity nor their brilliance. Average songs, no more. Some being really poor ("Let It Shine").

The highlight of this album IMO is "Nightmare". A lovely ballad with superb vocals, perfect harmony and a great violin section. "Caravan" as I like.

But this won't avoid this album to be the weakest "Caravan" album so far. Two stars.

Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Better By Far is the eigth studio album from Caravan. Mike Wedgwood has left the band and in comes new bassist Dek Messecar. Both Cunning Stunts from 1975 and Blind Dog at St. Dunstans from 1976 where albums with good moments, but unfortunately also with some really bad ones. I rated both albums 3 stars. Better By Far is unmistakably a Caravan album, but sadly it has more boring moments than good ones.

The music is more or less soft rockīnīroll by now and all hints of progressive rock are gone except for the only good song here which is the instrumental The last unicorn. Allthough I said this is unmistakably a Caravan album itīs a really uninspired one.

The musicianship is good, itīs just too bad the great musicians donīt use their abilities playing good music.

The production is allright. Itīs in the same soft rock vein as the two previous albums.

The cover artwork displays the typical Caravan humour but itīs not that pretty.

Better By Far has been a great disappointment for me and itīs not an album I will return to in the near future. This is only for fans of soft rock. Donīt expect anything progressive on this album ( except for The Last Unicorn). Consider yourself warned. Iīll rate this 2 stars which is only because the musicanship is good and the compositions are as such well done even though I donīt enjoy them.

Review by octopus-4
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR RIO/Avant/Zeuhl,Neo & Post/Math Teams
2 stars Bitter by Bar...

It's clear that Caravan were trying to enter into the mainstream area, but it was not their pot so the result is just another brit-pop album with songs who could have been performed by the Abba.

Effectively the lineup contains just half of the original one and the composing skills at this point seem to be decreasing at each new release.

This album is good for a ride by bus with all thess easy things in the background covered by the motor's noise. Nothing to pay attention to.

The songs are not so bad to be disturbing, but they are totally empty. Before listening to anything barely interesting we have to wait for the intro of "The Last Unicorn". However its only merit consists in not having the brit-pop flavour of the previous songs, but it's not so good to save the whole album from its mediocrity. Another song that sounds good enough is "Man In A Car", and in general the B side is really better than the A side as it happened with Cunning Stunts, but it's not enough and even in side B things like "Let It Shine" keep the level low.

This album is no more than a collector's item.

Review by Aussie-Byrd-Brother
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Something about even this perceived poorer album `Better By Far' from Caravan still brings a smile to my face. I love the cheeky lyrics, wonderfully upbeat sound and energetic playing. There's a real infectious quality to this album that makes me proudly place it alongside their classic discs.

Although some listeners may be a little dismissive of the fact that a lot of the music on this album is full of pop arrangements, this has really been a classic Caravan trait from even their first album. Think about it - `Place Of My Own', `Hello, Hello', `Golf Girl', `Love To Love You', and so on are all very much pop songs, filled with great ideas and wonderful playing, and there's still a lot of that same vibe present on this album. The band also seem very happy and re-energized throughout.

Pye Hastings vocals have never sounded so confident, distinctive and full of character, and he seemed to be really pushing his guitar playing on this one. Drummer Richard Coughlin is all over this album, constantly dropping in busy drum fills and really driving the energy of the record. Jan Schelhaas performs endless `crowd pleasing' keyboard/synth and minimoog runs, and large parts of the album feature his wonderfully subtle electric piano playing. Geoffrey Richardson on violin steals all the dramatic and serious moments, and Dek Messecar's bass is always loose and upfront.

The album kicks off Richard's pummeling drumming, a minmoog intro and pumping bass before properly launching into a punchy and up-tempo poppy number, similar to `Memory Lain' and `Headlong' off `Plump'. Very upbeat and hand-clapping chorus. Listen to Coughlin really bash away on this one! The energy present on this track pretty much maintains throughout the whole album. Abrupt ending though!

`Behind You' is a very perky and naughty track, with some morally suspect (but quite comical!) lyrics, great catchy chorus too, and it's full of the band's usual humour and positivity. Killer solo in the middle, pure Caravan. Keyboards solos all over this track!

"Better to have tried than never...than never to have tried at all." How cheerfully naïve and innocent! Sweet vocals from Pye and heartfelt lyrics on the title track, which wouldn't have sounded out of place on `Cunning Stunts' alongside pieces like `Lover'. Lovely synths and electric piano all the way through, far more understated and effective than drowning it in orchestral strings. Has a nice melodic and low-key guitar solo in the middle too. OK, so the `wanna make love tonight' bit is a little cringe worthy, but you'd have to be made of stone not to smile at the loved-up sentiment of a line like "I got a love, and I just wanna let it grow, a gift from above, telling me to let it show!" If anyone could sell that kind of sweet romantic ideal, it's Caravan! OK, so perhaps I'm just a wimp...

Nice upfront bass on `Silver Strings' and some pleasant group harmonies, even if the song itself is a little schmaltzy and tacky. Even if it's trying to be more of a pop song, it's really kind of loopy and a little bent! Pye's "do-bee-do!" bits are amusing, but the middle chant out call bit of "yay!" is just hideous. Effective violin from Geoff Richardson in the middle, and it ends with a very quirky synth solo that gives it that very typical Caravan identity.

Of course the absolute highlight of the album is the wonderfully atmospheric and stirring instrumental `The Last Unicorn'. It's a vivid title that conjures up all sorts of wondrous imagery, and all the band gets to shine on this. Geoff Richardson's grand violin playing sets a reflective and thoughtful mood during the first half, and then out out nowhere, the bass kicks in and it really takes off! Richard Coughlin's drumming is absolutely furious on this, and Pye lets rip with a wailing guitar solo. Proof that Caravan still had what it takes at this point in their career, and it's one of their greatest moments ever committed to vinyl. Bit of a classic.

Despite wonderfully absurd lyrics ("I tried not to stare at the parts that were bare"!) and trademark Caravan naughtiness, `Give Me More' is a little sickly-sweet and let down by a hideous wailing female vocal in the chorus. There was similar problem with this on the previous `Blind Dog' album, shame to hear it again. Disappointing, because Pye's singing is actually really rather good, and the lyrics are frequently highly amusing.

`Man In A Car' has a very slight country feel with smooth harmonies. A number of really quick minimoog solos throughout, with two very brief dreamy and atmospheric sections that make for a very pleasant track.

The slight country sound remains for the start of `Let It shine', which has yet another catchy and well sung chorus, is well played and still recognizable as Caravan, but it's probably one of the most commercial and straight-forward tracks on the album. Perfectly lovely and forgettable at the same time.

`Nightmare' is a little bit darker for Caravan, and probably the most serious moment of the album. Very restrained vocals from Pye through the whole track, and his guitar solo at the end is a real example of subtlety and precision without show-boating. There's a very moving violin solo about two minutes in with some nice upfront bass really heightens the drama. Despite the lazy fade out at the end, and the fact that the track still feels too short, it's finishes off the album in a grand way.

So it's not going to ever be considered a classic along the lines of their first few albums, but I think it's still got more than enough interesting ideas, great playing and classic Caravan charm to justify grabbing a copy. It's the sort of album that makes me smile if I'm a little down or had a bad day at work, and Caravan is a band that has provided my friends and I with so many wonderful musical moments.

Three and a half stars really!

Review by Warthur
3 stars Caravan's Better By Far is easily the least loved of their 1970s studio releases - Cunning Stunts and Blind Dog At St. Dunstan's both, to my eyes, seem to have more enthusiastic defenders than this one.

For my part, I think it's fine - but not more than fine. Here, Caravan's evolution from being a keystone of the Canterbury prog scene to a slickly produced progressive pop unit is complete - Tony Visconti's even here behind the production desk, and for my part I think he manages to handle the material deftly and invest it with a bit more warmth than was evident on Blind Dog.

This is useful, because the material here is not quite as interesting. It's hard to deny that a lot of Caravan's distinctive musical personality has drained away by this point - though twinklings of their whimsical sense of humour are still in evidence in the lyrics - and what's left behind is melodic soft rock with progressive leanings.

For my part, I actually quite like Better By Far - particularly closing track Nightmare, a highlight of the album highlight of the album and one of the few numbers from it which would pop up on Caravan live setlists in later years. The material here feels like it sits well alongside the sort of thing Camel were doing at around this time - Pye's closing guitar solo on Nightmare in particular feels like something Andy Latimer would have whipped out. These parallels are especially apt because this would have been when Caravan co-founder Richard Sinclair was with Camel. Indeed, Jan Schelhaas would go on from here to join Camel in 1978, during the time when Caravan took a little rest.

Perhaps Better By Far is evidence that the hiatus was well-timed. Though ultimately quite pleasant, there's also not much on here beyond Nightmare which truly stands out from the pack. And if the poppier direction of the album was a bid for commercial success, it was truly horrendously timed, because the hot new thing on the market - punk - broke right just as the album was coming out.

Sure, if you're in the mood for sophisticated progressive pop you're not going to spurn Better By Far for a spin of the Damned's debut album - but audiences were spoiled for choice when it came for sophisticated, smooth, well- produced pop-rock at around this time, whilst punk was something fresh and new. The terrible commercial performance of the album is all too easy to explain. But its crummy critical reception is a little less justified.

Granted, if you only care about Caravan's most progressive and ground-breaking work, there's nothing for you here - but you had pretty damn slim pickings on Cunning Stunts or Blind Dog, for that matter. And if their soothing pop side, something present in their sound since their debut, has some appeal to you, then Better By Far is a reasonable outing of that, though I'd still say of the 1970s prog-pop triptych of Cunning Stunts, Blind Dog At St. Dunstans, and Better By Far, I'd call Blind Dog the mutts' nuts.

Latest members reviews

3 stars Caravans best days are behind them so they can just smooth sail on all those fans they made with a run of bland albums. There's no real attempt at anything like the earlier Caravan, the album is generic easy listening stadium rock. That being said I think better by far is better then the albums that ... (read more)

Report this review (#2537292) | Posted by Beautiful Scarlet | Thursday, April 22, 2021 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Better By Far is not a bad album. Maybe it's not progressive like the early albums (wich were basically more psychedelic). This album is more a melodic pop/rock album in the category John Miles/Al Stewart. A stand-out track on this album is The Last Unicorn, wich is a great instrumental, where ... (read more)

Report this review (#1596922) | Posted by Kingsnake | Friday, August 12, 2016 | Review Permanlink

4 stars I have had hard to find this record. All songs don't exist on internet, neither on Spotify or Youtube. Yesterday, though I found the vinyl at a record store on Sankt Eriksgatan and I was of course happy. Another Caravan freak had expressed his love for this record and now I have also heard Car ... (read more)

Report this review (#1054197) | Posted by DrömmarenAdrian | Saturday, October 5, 2013 | Review Permanlink

4 stars I guess that Canterbury musicians charting the well-worn waters of pop music could be a turn-off for "fans" of Caravan's earlier work, but pop when it's more than pop is great. This is one of my all time favorite Caravan releases and I believe that the first side of this album is smart pop par ex ... (read more)

Report this review (#293322) | Posted by LionRocker | Tuesday, August 3, 2010 | Review Permanlink

5 stars I like this album very much. I have a weak spot for it. And it doesn't matter how many times I listen to it, it stays fantastic. Maybe it is a bit less canterbury style than a few years before this one, and a bit softer, but it sounds o so sweet to my ears. There are many highlights, like the ... (read more)

Report this review (#253748) | Posted by Sander | Monday, November 30, 2009 | Review Permanlink

5 stars This album really rocks your socks off. It has great music, lyrics, and humor to boot like "Behind You" and "Give Me More." The classic sound of "The Last Unicorn" and "Nightmare" take you away with Geoff Richardson's violin. Pye's singing is unique but very strong in capturing the mood set by ... (read more)

Report this review (#72998) | Posted by | Friday, March 24, 2006 | Review Permanlink

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