Posts Tagged ‘Steely Dan’

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In album news, Steely Dan’s “Northeast Corridor: Steely Dan Live” and a live version of the acclaimed solo album by Donald Fagen“The Nightfly Live” – will both be released on CD & Digital on September 24th, 2021. Both albums will be available on 180g-vinyl on October 1st, 2021. The first live Steely Dan album in more than 25 years, Northeast Corridor: Steely Dan Live! was recorded across tour dates at New York City’s Beacon Theatre, The Met Philadelphia, & more, and showcases selections from Steely Dan’s extraordinary catalogue of slinky grooves, sleek subversive lyrics, and infectious hits.

Donald Fagen’s “The Nightfly Live” was performed live by The Steely Dan Band. Both albums are available for pre-order today.

Fans who pre-order Northeast Corridor: Steely Dan Live! will instantly receive a digital download of “Reeling In The Years” and those who pre-order The Nightfly Live will instantly receive a digital download of “I.G.Y.”

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The first live Steely Dan album in over 25 years. Featuring “Hey Nineteen”, “Aja”, “Reelin’ in the Years”, and more on 2LP 180g black vinyl.

The band announced additional details for their stop at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester N.Y. on November. 9th and 10th. On Nov. 9 they will be playing Northeast Corridor: Steely Dan Live! along with additional hits, and on November. 10th they’ll play their beloved fifth studio album The Royal Scam in its entirety.

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Donald Fagen’s acclaimed solo album performed live by The Steely Dan Band. Featuring “I.G.Y.”, “New Frontier” & more on 180g black vinyl. 

A Universal Music Enterprises release; ℗ 2021 Nightfly Productions, Inc., under exclusive license to UMG Recordings, Inc.

Released on: 2021-07-26 , Vocalist, Rhodes, Melodica: Donald Fagen Drums: Keith Carlock , Bass: Freddie Washington , Guitar, Rhythm Arranger: Jon Herington Guitar: Connor Kennedy , Piano, Keyboards: Jim Beard Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Percussion, Horn Arranger: Michael Leonhart , Trombone: Jim Pugh , Tenor Saxophone, Alto Saxophone: Walt Weiskopf , Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinet: Roger Rosenberg , Vocals, Percussion: Carolyn Leonhart , Vocals, Percussion: Catherine Russell , Vocals, Percussion: La Tanya R. Hall , Vocals, Percussion: Jamie Leonhart

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Steely Dan’s records were pristine to the point where you could eat off their glistening surfaces. They were never as sharp or as focused as they are on ‘Aja,’ their 1977 hit that balances cool jazz with timeless pop appeal. Band leaders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker have been criticized for their coldness. But on ‘Aja,’ they reveal a warm, beating heart beneath that steely exterior.

One of the many signature qualities of this album is that it is impeccably produced, a fact that has garnered both praise and condemnation. Admittedly, I’ve always found it silly to criticize a band for being too proficient at their job. Becker, Fagen and crew ease you into Aja with “Black Cow,” a song about a man who grows fed up with his lover’s pill addiction and continuous infidelity. You have to appreciate that the beauty of Steely Dan’s music is found in  its sonic flawlessness enveloping sharp and intelligent lyrics.

Ian Dury once said of this album, “Well, Aja’s got a sound that lifts your heart up… and it’s the most consistent up-full, heart-warming…even though, it is a classic L.A. kinda sound. You wouldn’t think it was recorded anywhere else in the world.

The title track is the antithesis of what should be on a rock album. Then again, is this a rock album? The nearly eight-minute opus has been described by Donald Fagen as being about “tranquility that can come of a quiet relationship with a beautiful woman.”

These people are too fancy, they’re too sophisticated,” William S. Burroughs said of Steely Dan in 1977. “They’re doing too many things at once in a song.” Burroughs, who had no personal connection to the band, had been asked to comment on Aja, Steely Dan’s new record, because co-founder Walter Becker and Donald Fagen had named themselves after “Steely Dan III from Yokohama,” the surreal dildo featured in Burroughs’ most notorious novel Naked Lunch. His comment embodied a common-man criticism made about Steely Dan by their detractors: The unit, who stated their claim in the pop sphere with clean, blues-steeped singles like 1972’s “Reelin’ in the Years” and “Do It Again,” had gradually but consistently ceased to resemble a meat-and-potatoes rock band, instead spiraling off into groovier, jazz-inspired pop experimentalism.

‘Aja’ (1977): “Aja”

The eight-minute title song to Steely Dan’s best-selling album brilliantly combines jazz and rock. But even the fiery interplay between drummer Steve Gadd and saxophonist Wayne Shorter was more the product of studio wizardry than in-studio camaraderie. Gadd recorded his titanic drum fills live — and, he’s said, in one surprising take no less — with the rest of the legendarily picky members of Steely Dan. Shorter was brought in later and taped his answering solo over their already completed parts. At this point, that had become the norm, rather than the exception. Aja ended up taking a year and half to record, with studio expenses piling up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. “We overdubbed a lot of the overdubs over,” Becker joked with Cameron Crowe in 1977, and he wasn’t really kidding. Still, the extended sessions allowed Fagen and Becker to explore entirely new corners of the their self-taught musical minds. The result is a moment like “I run to you” on “Aja,” where the song seems to come totally unmoored.

The effect heightened as Fagen and Becker systematically fired all of their band’s other members, and replaced them with industry-standard jazz, soul, and blues musicians. They stopped touring; the songs’ narratives and jokes became more acidic and obscure. Rolling Stone’s review of 1976’s sprawling, sinister The Royal Scam summarized the feelings of the band’s skeptics and newfound admirers alike, that they would “eventually produce the Finnegan’s Wake of rock.” On the day Aja came out, Walter Becker told Cameron Crowe that he was empathetic toward the concerns, but also uninterested in compromise: “These days most pop critics, you know, are mainly interested in the amount of energy that is…obvious on the record. People who are mainly Rolling Stones fans and people who like punk rock, stuff like that… a lot of them aren’t interested at all in what we have to do.”

Instead of the Rolling Stones or punk rock, Aja was deliberately intellectualist pop music that appealed easily to music-school types and jazz fans–chops-y rock music that helped “legitimize” the genre. Becker and Fagen’s songs, charted out across six or seven sheets normally, prized and necessitated technical musicianship. They used horns as expressive, exalted instruments in rock songs, not just padding or blunt, skronking deus ex machinas. But the record’s appeal extended well beyond the ranks of any subgenre of snobs. Standard-issue rock listeners, after all, indulged in elaborate, preciously-conceived, and strange things in the 1970s, a decade which yielded four Top 10 albums for Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.

Years later, Aja is still Steely Dan’s commercial triumph. It was their only record to sell over a million copies, spawned three Top 40 singles—”Peg” hit No. 11—and stayed on the charts for well over a year, peaking at No. 3. In 1977, the music industry was at the apex of LP sales and mammoth recording budgets. In the year-and-a-half Fagen and Becker spent making Aja, the Dan would push their studio expenses into the hundreds of thousands, all while not playing live. On its 20th anniversary, Becker would chalk Aja’s success over past Steely Dan ventures up to the right-place-right-time factor: “That was a particular time when people were just selling lots of records.” They assumed, he said, that “‘we’re gonna sell three times as many records as we would have two years before.’”

To just chalk it up to a general market uptick, though, would be to sell the unique, subversive appeal of the re-minted Dan of Aja way short. Today, Aja still stands as the crucial microcosm of Becker and Fagen’s artistry, and as one of the most inventive blockbuster rock albums of its decade.

‘Peg’

“Peg,” which is the most well-known track on the album, is in a class by itself. It’s also the song that took forever to complete. The band went through seven studio guitarists to find the right sound on the guitar solo before settling on Jay Graydon’s version. Detractors will point to this fact as not letting a moment happen organically, but I would argue that it made a good song great. Having Fagen’s lead vocal mix with Michael McDonald singing background made it even better. “Peg” is the middle point of Aja and ensures that the album has already exceeded expectations before you even listen to the latter half. The interesting thing about this song is that Becker did not play bass on it. Those duties were handed to veteran session player Chuck Rainey.

‘Home at Last’

From: ‘Aja’ (1977)Donald Fagen once called this Steely Dan drinking song a “blues for Odysseus.” As such, it’s only appropriate that the hero in ‘Home at Last’ would be served “smooth retsina,” a Greek resinated wine, during his stay in paradise. Contrary to the track’s title, he can’t stay – “it’s just the calm before the storm.” Maybe he can take a bottle to go.

‘Black Cow’

From: ‘Aja’ (1977)Could it be that there’s a drink referenced in a Steely Dan song that doesn’t contain alcohol? Nothing’s for certain, but ‘Black Cow’’s titular beverage could be a simple coke float or a more adult version of the beverage. I guess it depends on what one finds most comforting during a break-up: “It’s over now / drink your big black cow / and get out of here.”

‘Deacon Blues’

This ‘Aja’ classic romances the idea of being a jazz musician toiling in obscurity – something that might have seemed appealing as Becker and Fagen became more famous throughout the ’70s. ‘Deacon Blues’ concocts the appropriate cocktail for this: get a cool name, learn to play an instrument, refuse to compromise, “Drink Scotch whisky all night long and die behind the wheel.” Wow. Sounds great, doesn’t it? (Kids, really, don’t try this at home.)“They got a name for the winners in the world / I want a name when I lose / They call Alabama the Crimson Tide / Call me Deacon Blues.” There are song lyrics that make you scream, “Damn, I wish I wrote that.” A prime example are the lyrics to “Deacon Blues,” one of those songs that’s easily quotable and just stays with you forever. The name “Deacon” was influenced by Hall of Fame football player Deacon Jones. Fagen and Becker’s ode to underdogs clocks in at 7:36, but feels like a four-minute song that you wished lasted longer. Fagen’s inspiration came from his thought that “if a college football team like the University of Alabama could have a grandiose name like the ‘Crimson Tide,’ the nerds and losers should be entitled to a grandiose name as well.” It may the coolest nod to geeks that I know of.

During the making of Aja, the Dan were well-settled into retirement from live performance. Fans had gotten used to the band’s new, faceless new image. Over the months they spent fashioning the album, a suite of 7 songs about lust, wanderlust, delusions, and the destructive effects of American Dream, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker methodically reimagined the sound of their studio-assembled ensemble. It was not a dramatic repositioning. Steely Dan had been mostly made up of session musicians since 1974’s Katy Lied, and their songs had already featured plenty of weird chords and prodigious horn solos. But there was nothing like a big, rollicking rock’n’roll single on Ajano “Kid Charlemagne,” no “My Old School,” and certainly no fucking “Reelin’ in the Years.” Guitars provided auxiliary punctuation and effects-less solos rather than the brunt of the song; a stew of acoustic piano and electric keyboards, reminiscent of Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way, were at the warm center of the mix. Aja’s sound was a direct offshoot from jazz and fusion, steeped in its harmonic language, as well as that of turn-of-the-century modernist classical music (Debussy and Stravinsky, especially).

The particular musical syntax on Aja was in many ways uniquely Dan’s, however, the misbegotten result of Becker and Fagen’s own self-taught musical education. Their chordal sense was central to the issue: The complex changes left the average rock listeners’ ear out in the cold, pointing toward whole new keys for choruses and away from easy resolution. Moments like “I run to you” on Aja’s title track leave one totally adrift for clues as to where the song will move; elsewhere, there are deceptive instrumental flourishes, like the mystical Rhodes-and-guitar fanfare that introduces “Deacon Blues.” Fagen and Becker voiced chords so unusually that theory-heads refer to a specific “Steely Dan chord” (or “mu major chord”): a substitution for the typical primary (or tonic) chord featuring an added 9th rubbing up against the major 3rd. Harmonies like these pop up everywhere on Aja, imbuing its songs with sophisticated, decidedly un-rock’n’roll atmosphere.

Steely Dan’s <i>Aja</i>: Remembering the Band’s Trailblazing Moment 40 Years Later

But Becker and Fagen also borrowed plenty from contemporary pop music, despite their general dismissiveness of it. Plenty of why Aja was so successful–and spawned actual hit singles–came from its emulation of the backbone of American R&B and soul of the time. They hired players that had defined the sound of records by James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Quincy Jones, as well as virtuoso jazz soloists (Larry Carlton, Victor Feldman, saxophone luminary and Miles/Weather Report alum Wayne Shorter). The most time-consuming sessions would be devoted to the lock-groove-based tunes, the ones that wouldn’t be too out-of-place next to disco on a playlist: “Peg,” the warped blues of “Josie,” the lascivious “I Got the News.” Fagen and Becker’s obsession with precision backbeats would become a more empirically insane compulsion during the more troubled sessions for 1980’s Gaucho, with some interference from a custom-designed drum machine called “Wendel.”

Decades later, Becker admitted just how much of this had to do with disco. “They had all these records that were just whack-whack, so perfect, the beat never fluctuated, and we didn’t see why we couldn’t have that too, except playing this incredibly complicated music, and the drummer would go and play a great fill or something and come exactly back at the perfect beat at the same tempo, you know?” he told GQ UK in 2014. “It seemed like a good idea.”

Much gets made of how obsessively Fagen and Becker would plot parts for musicians, but many of Aja’s best and most famous were defined by their players’ independent innovations. As bass player Chuck Rainey recalled in the Steely Dan biography Reelin’ in the Years, Fagen and Becker had specifically told him not to slap his bass during the sessions for “Peg.” Rainey responded by turning his back to the control room and slapping away. Fagen and Becker liked the sound, despite their prejudices, and Rainey went on to slap again on “Josie.”

Then there was Bernard Purdie, one of soul music’s most inimitable drum stylists, whotold the story of taking control of the direction of the recording of “Home at Last” himself in the Classic Albums episode on Aja. “They already told me that they didn’t want a shuffle. They didn’t want the Motown, they didn’t want the Chicago,” Purdie explained. “But they weren’t sure how and what they wanted, but they did want halftime. And I said ‘Fine, let me do the Purdie Shuffle.’” It was precisely what Fagen and Becker hadn’t asked for, until they heard it. Purdie would go on to use the same beat on one of the Dan’s greatest singles, Gaucho’s “Babylon Sisters.”

Meanwhile, drum prodigy Steve Gadd foiled the duo’s plans for the day by running down the intricate title track of Aja in just one take. For the most muso-focused listener, his epic, virtuosic solo in the instrumental middle of the song is the beating heart of the album, layered over with chunky horn charts from arranger Tom Scott and alien synthesizer atmosphere (an anomaly for a Becker/Fagen recording at the time.)

Like their hero Duke Ellington, Fagen and Becker needed the identity of individual soloists to create their finished canvas, but within quite specific and refined structural limits. The duo was not as good with people as Ellington, but they didn’t have to be. From the safety of the studio booth, they could just say “try it again” as much as they needed, and scrap the solos they didn’t like after the fact. According to Reelin’ in the Years, the band’s career-long producer Gary Katz would break the disappointment to the players by talking to them about baseball, before dropping the news that their solo—which the person had spent hours trying to hammer out—would not make the record. When it came to the prospect planning a live tour behind Aja, they got as far as rehearsals, but ultimately backed down.

“We had 4,000 dollars worth of musicians in the room, guys who wouldn’t go out on the road for Miles Davis, literally, and they were committed to doing this,” Fagen explained. “And we both left the room together and said, ‘What do you say, you wanna can it?’ And we both said ‘Yeah’ without thinking twice.”

Once you get to “Home at Last” and “Josie,” you realize that something truly special happened during the recording of Aja. A rock band named Steely Dan made a jazz album that masqueraded as a rock album, and the results are glorious. A smartly crafted, well-produced album does not equate to selling out or being soft. Their sound may not be for everybody, but it works for me.

Aja, despite its detractors, is one hell of an album that demands not just one play, but multiple spins. Aja makes you think. It compels you to listen again and again, as you continually uncover new elements and flourishes you hadn’t heard before. Great albums make you want to come back for more. And Aja is a great album.

Aja was one of the only records Becker and Fagen ever made that they would speak about with real pride. (Less than a year after Gaucho’s release, they would characterize it as a “sideways” move; Fagen admitted, “It’s possible that we took a few steps backward with this album.”) Today, Aja remains the extreme of their modernistic progress, a place they could not effectively move forward from or visit again, except when running down its songs on reunion tours two decades later.

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As far as debut albums are concerned, Steely Dan’s “Can’t Buy a Thrill” is top-notch. Say what you will about this musically obsessive compulsive double act, they certainly knew how to write a stylish and sophisticated composition, and who seemed to approach the art of song writing in a similar way to a couple of high cuisine chefs or makers of fine wine .

“Can’t Buy a Thrill” is a perfect album. Though Donald Fagen and Walter Becker had been playing together since their days at Bard including a stint as the touring band for Jay and the Americans, it wasn’t until this 1972 recording that they formally had their own band together, even if that band included David Palmer, whose voice, while more “commercial,” lacks the smokey, ne’er-do-well quality of Fagen’s nasally croak.

This album is very much a band effort, a concept which would soon became a thing of the past with each subsequent release, as Becker and Fagen began to indulge their natural instinct for instrumental perfectionism. Strange really, considering that so much of the music they admired, i.e. jazz, blues, rock and roll etc, was basically performed off the cuff, and often under rather austere conditions.

First song “Do It Again” is a Latin-infused, Santana-esque six-minute exercise about a gambling addict, that was a popular hit on US radio. And little wonder. The electric sitar, played by Denny Dias, is a throwback to the late ‘60s, and an instrument which was largely forgotten by 1972 (even George Harrison seemed to have turned his back on it, or at least publicly). Donald Fagen sings the lead vocals and plays ‘plastic organ’, whatever the hell that is. But regardless, it all works. Cool, catchy, and a great driving number. If this tune doesn’t get your toe tapping, then you must be either deaf or deceased . Right from the top kick of “Do It Again,” listeners are introduced to the lowlifes, hustlers and punks that populate the Daniverse. And this album has them all–the hapless fuckboy of “Dirty Work,” the aging hipsters of “Midnight Cruiser” the rambling bums that populate Brooklyn. But alongside bleak tracks like “Fire in the Hole,” there is also lovely hope on tracks like “Change of the Guard.” It’s an album that spans the gamut of the human emotional spectrum.

The country roots-rock of “Dirty Work” is a throwback to The Band, with swirling organ (a la Garth Hudson), and an arrangement reminiscent of “The Weight”. Until the chorus comes in, which in itself is pure Steely Dan. And when you’ve finished planting your crop, and tilling the land, the next track “Kings” takes you out of the country and into the modern city, with a semi-funky beat, and some jazzy guitar courtesy of Elliot Randall, while the harmony vocals have an aspect of CSN about them.

“Midnite Cruiser” was obviously a clear attempt at making a dent in the ever competitive Billboard Top 20, but ultimately sounds a little too desperate in the process, especially when it comes to the chorus ). “Only a Fool Would Say That” is impeccably recorded, though lacks the sort of emotional quotient necessary to make it truly work. Although I have to say, that Jeff Baxter’s guitar flourishes are enjoyable.

More than the best moment on Steely Dan’s embryonic debut album, “Reelin’ In the Years” is their best-loved song. Not that Walter Becker or Donald Fagen ever agreed. “It’s dumb but effective,” Fagen once told Rolling Stone. Becker added: “It’s no fun.” Still, good luck resisting that soaring riff. In a sign of things to come, however, it wasn’t produced by any of the three very talented guitarists then on Steely Dan’s roster – Becker, Denny Dias and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. Instead, they brought in Elliott Randall, a ringer who’d originally turned down an offer to join the band. He nailed it, almost instantly. “My second pass was what you hear on the record,” Randall told Guitarist in 2012. “It was completely unedited. It was just from top-to-bottom, all the way through. And it worked. We all just laughed afterwards.”

Side two starts off with the effervescent and upbeat “Reelin’ In the Years”, where Elliot Randall’s guitar playing pretty much dominates this pleasurable yet innocent number. “Fire In the Hole” is a hint at what would appear in the future, arrangement-wise, while “Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)” is pretty much your standard country-pop replete with obligatory pedal steel and other plaintive arrangements which somehow fail to move the needle of my emotional register. Likewise “Change of the Guard”, a song overflowing with immaculate musicianship, but little in the way of poignant feeling, much less a handful of human emotion. Because if you’re going to express something meaningful, at least try not to be too mathematical about it.

Similarly the album’s last track, “Turn That Heartbeat Over Again”, a song which fails to resonate due once again, to the one flaw which seems to serve as the Achilles heel of Fagen and Becker, and that is craft over Art, where perfection always comes first before sentiment.

“Sometime in November” of 1972 is the official date Steely Dan’s debut LP “Can’t Buy A Thrill” was released on ABC Records. The original band line-up included founder Denny Dias – lead guitar and electric sitar; David Palmer – who sang the lead vocals on “Dirty Work”; Donald Fagan – keyboards and lead vocals; Walter Becker – bass, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter – lead and pedal steel guitar, and spoken word; and Jim Hodder – drums, percussion, and lead vocals on “Midnight Cruiser”. The album was produced by Gary Katz, who produced all of Steely Dan’s albums from the debut here up through 1980’s “Gaucho”. The band got its name from a William S Burroughs novel. The tracks are, side one “Do It Again”, “Dirty Work”, “Kings”, “Midnight Cruiser”, “Only a Fool Would Say That”, “Reelin’ in the Years”, “Fire in the Hole”, “Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)”, “Change of the Guard”, and “Turn That Heartbeat Over Again”. Elliot Randall handled the lead guitar on “Reelin in the Years” and “Kings”. The album peeled at number 17 on the pop charts in 1973. The sexy and colourful cover design by Robert Lockart is signed by Donald Fagan and Walter Becker… “Why, you wouldn’t even know a diamond if you held it in your hand.”

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Its introduction is unlike any other. Silence. Waiting. Turning up the volume to see if anything is coming out, waiting some more. Then those gurgling low notes, followed finally by a catchy piano figure, pristinely captured, perfectly balanced. Just like that, Steely Dan has invited—no, wrangled—you into their world of freaks, creeps, lost love and suspended time.

Steely Dan was three years into their professional career when “Pretzel Logic” hit shelves on February 20th, 1974. They’d made a name for themselves with “Can’t Buy a Thrill”, gone from studio band to touring outfit with Countdown to Ecstasy, and found chart success along the way. For their next move, the band retreated into Village Recorder in L.A. with Gary Katz again presiding over the sessions. There they tracked what might be the most concise album of their career.

Call this a time-travel blues. (How Steely Dan is that?) Becker makes his debut as a guitar soloist, weaving in guttural answer lines to Fagen’s vocals on the second verse. But what’s he talking about? “When it says, ‘I stepped upon the platform, the man gave me the news,’ we conceived the platform as a teleportation device,” Fagen said in Steely Dan: Reelin’ in the Years. “And there are other key lines like, ‘I have never met Napoleon, but I plan to find the time.’ What we’re actually saying is that I plan to find the time that he lived in.” The solo is classic Steely Dan, too: Becker painstakingly pieced it together from a number of earlier takes, searching for the perfect combination of sounds. An engineer later estimated that this process took as long as “one hour per bar” to complete. (They got so far out into the weeds that at one point Becker reportedly asked: “Did I play that?”) Of course, this being Steely Dan, the chorus on “Pretzel Logic” isn’t really bluesy at all. Still, this song provided a signature early showcase for Becker, who’d principally worked before this as a bassist. He was always at his best when Steely Dan took rootsier sideroads.

On Pretzel Logic, Steely Dan honed their wryly humorous lyrics; perfected their luscious arrangements that straddle rock, pop, jazz, blues, carnival music and everything in between; and they’d set aside the lengthy jams. The classic line up was still intact and with backing from L.A.’s best session musicians, there was no way it wouldn’t be sonic perfection. The core duo of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen had progressed as writers, too. They introduce us to even more beguiling characters—Charlie Freak, Buzz and many that went unnamed. But the world of Pretzel Logic begins with Rikki. 

“We hear you’re leaving, that’s okay,” Fagen sings, a certain resignation in his delivery. Our narrator speaks of a romance cut short, but is it really OK? It seems as if he’s faking it. He wryly lists off activities the pair could do in an effort to win her back, followed by a flippant, protective “I don’t know.” But by the middle he lets his true intent show: “You tell yourself you’re not my kind/but you don’t even know your mind/and you could have a change of heart.” Will she? He knows she’s leaving, and it’s not OK, but what can he do, really?. It’s unexpected to see this role reversal in pop storytelling. It wasn’t often that a ’70s pop record would centre around a man’s fight to retrieve lost love, especially with such a “whatever” attitude. It’s a dejected, resigned cousin of those old “how do I make him love me?” pop successes of the previous decade. Here, the solution isn’t in a kiss, in telling him you’re never gonna leave him or in wishing and hoping. Rikki is moving on, though their little wild time had only just begun, and all our narrator can do is leave behind his number and hope she’ll come back around.

“Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” which became Steely Dan’s highest-charting single was more than the opening salvo of the album, it’s a tightly packed, four-minute hit single that demonstrates the band’s shift into bite-sized yet filling song-craft. It also introduces another theme—loneliness and social isolation.  The bulk of Pretzel Logic, which itself peaked at #8 on the Billboard LP chart,  deals with outcasts. Whether in the rube town in “Night By Night,” or the other side of the tracks in “Barrytown,” we’re dealing with people who know they’re trapped in a certain social or economic status within a disorderly world, wishing to “cash in their 10-cent life for another one.”

Underpinning the story on “Night By Night” is a tight and funky arrangement featuring a young Jeff Porcaro on drums. He’d go on to fame with Toto in the decade to follow, but here he was covering for Jim Gordon, the Wrecking Crew member and one-time Domino who features on the rest of the album. Add to it the syncopated chop of the rhythm guitar courtesy of Denny Dias, the alternately swirling and stabbing horns and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter’s note-perfect shredding solo, and you get all the ingredients that make Steely Dan great band they are.

But while the Dan prove they can rock on “Night By Night,” “Any Major Dude Will Tell You” (released as the B-side to “Rikki”) shows a gentler, more comforting side, supported by a fluid electric guitar riff and bridged with a memorable country-inspired guitar solo. A similar breeziness makes its way to “Barrytown,” with its jangling pedal steel, guitar and tambourine combo.

This commentary on class and social differences is a clear Dylan pastiche, from the “Times They Are A-Changin’” reference to Fagen’s nasally drawl. Yet it’s also a careful meditation on belonging, prejudice and the challenge of adjusting to surroundings. The narrator concedes in the beginning, “I’m not one to look behind, I know that times must change.” Yet, the folks over in Barrytown represent a shifting tide—their hair and their clothes just aren’t proper. For all the acceptance he claims to have at the start, the narrator “likes things like they used to be.” His love interest? More progressive and clearly from Barrytown. She’s got that “special lack of grace,” he says, and she won’t be treated kindly in the world outside of the Barrytown bubble. Whether she represents a societal change he can’t handle or simply a threat to his street cred, he has to break off their relationship.

Sides one and two are bridged by convincing odes to jazz. “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” revamps the old Duke Ellington/Bubber Miley composition. Skunk Baxter’s pedal steel takes the place of the original trombone, Becker’s wah-wah guitar emulates the muted trumpet line and Fagen not only shows off his stride piano chops, but also contributes saxophone.

The jazz nods continue with “Parker’s Band,” a tribute to legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker. The angular backing, weaving chordal movement and the jabbing horns take a page from bebop, while Fagen sings of “Groovin’ High,” a song Parker performed, and “Relaxing at Camarillo,” Parker’s jazz-blues standard inspired by his stay at a Ventura mental hospital.

The time-hopping continues on the title track. With a snarling vocal once again by Fagen, horn jabs galore, a ferocious guitar solo and some of the most abstract lyrics on the album, “Pretzel Logic” remains a fan favourite and a staple of live shows over the decades. While the original recording smokes, recent live performances with Steve Winwood on vocals bring the song to another level.

“Charlie Freak” and “Through With Buzz” see Becker and Fagen returning to character studies, delivering observations on unsavory people.  Buzz seems to have no redeeming qualities: “He takes all my money, he’s not very funny,” Fagen declares before switching tenses once again and revealing what’s really bugging him: “I remember when he stole my girl/Drug her all around the world/You know I’m cool, yes I feel alright/’Cept when I’m in my room and it’s late at night.”  That sense of paranoia lingers on through the murder ballad “With a Gun” and “Charlie Freak,” a tale about a desolate man with instrumentation so sinister you can almost see him walking alone on a winter’s night.

The album wraps with another highlight, “Monkey in Your Soul” propelled by a slinky horn line and a brief tale of leaving love behind. It might just be the funkiest song on the album.

After Pretzel Logic, Steely Dan would effectively escape the fishbowl of concert touring (at least until 1993) and retire into their playground, the recording studio. They went on to create more examples of slick, jazzy pop that would bring them even more acclaim. But here on Pretzel Logic, the band managed to synthesize all the things that made them great—observant storytelling, humour, inventive instrumental breaks and sleek production—all in a digestible, radio-friendly package that no doubt helped make their later experiments possible.

‘Pretzel Logic’ Released (1974)

Katy Lied

Katy Lied is the fourth album by Steely Dan, released in 1975 by ABC Records, Building from the jazz fusion foundation of Pretzel Logic Steely Dan created an alluringly sophisticated album of jazzy pop with Katy Lied. With this record,Walter Becker and Donald Fagen began relying solely on studio musicians, which is evident from the immaculate sound of the album. Usually, such a studied recording method would drain the life out of each song, but that’s not the case with Katy Lied, which actually benefits from the duo’s perfectionist tendencies.

Sandwiched between Pretzel Logic and The Royal Scam, Steely Dan’s 1975 release Katy Lied wasn’t about breaking new ground. It was about holding on to the territory they had staked out for themselves over the past few years as one of rock’s brightest, smartest and smart-assiest bands. Recorded over a three-month period in late 1974 and early 1975 in Los Angeles, the album can’t help but to absorb the sounds of the city where it was birthed. It’s cool, it’s laid back, it’s impeccably played and it’s kinda smarter than you, even though it may not come out and say it. Fagen and Becker played it that way from the start and were increasing these moods and feelings with each passing album.

Each song is given a glossy sheen, one that accentuates not only the stronger pop hooks, but also the precise technical skill of the professional musicians drafted to play the solos. Essentially,Katy Lied is a smoother version of Pretzel Logic, featuring the same cross-section of jazz-pop and blues-rock. The lack of innovations doesn’t hurt the record, since the songs are uniformly brilliant. Less overtly cynical than previous Dan albums, the album still has its share of lyrical stingers, but what’s really notable are the melodies, from the seductive jazzy soul of “Doctor Wu” and the lazy blues of “Chain Lightning” to the terse “Black Friday” and mock calypso of “Everyone’s Gone to the Movies.” It’s another excellent record in one of the most distinguished rock & roll catalogs of the ’70s.

Steely Dan were making their usual strides up the American album chart on 24th May 1975, as they paid another of their visits to the singles scene. As their fourth LP “Katy Lied” moved towards a No. 13 peak and eventual platinum certification in the US, the single  “Black Friday” jumped onto the Hot 100. The phrase that the Walter Becker/Donald Fagen song was named after has come in recent years to denote a date on the retail calendar. It had traditionally denoted a day of collective crisis, particularly of a financial nature, as with Steely Dan’s fictitious tale — which, with typical inventiveness, was set in Australia.

Their story of a crooked speculator who makes off with his ill-gotten gains had him absconding to Muswellbrook, a town in New South Wales that lies some 150 miles north of Sydney. “Gonna wear no socks and shoes,” sings Fagen, “with nothing to do but feed all the kangaroos…when Black Friday comes I’ll be on that hill, you know I will.”

‘Black Friday’ entered the US chart, as the highest newcomer of the week, at No. 76, and garnered enough top 40 radio support to peak at No. 37. As Brian Sweet’s biography of the band, Reelin’ In The Years, recounts, that was “not bad for an act that wasn’t touring, wasn’t about to tour and wasn’t making any secret of it either.”

As for locating the song in Australia? “It was the place most far away from L.A. we could think of,” said Fagen

Best Song on ‘Katy Lied’ (1975): “Any World (That I’m Welcome To)”

One of Steely Dan’s most brilliant casting moments is also one of their best-written songs. “Any World (That I’m Welcome To)” immediately signals its intention to explore the depths of alienation, as Fagen sighs: “If I had my way, I would move to another lifetime.” Hal Blaine’s old-pro cadence draws us ever further in, as Becker and Fagen continued the practice of asking musical heroes over for guest appearances. (Jazz bassist Ray Brown appeared on the earlier “Razor Boy”; saxist Wayne Shorter later sat in on “Aja.”) Blaine, who played on a stunning 40 chart-topping songs, makes a wonderfully complex contribution – moving with ease from the low-key verses to more uptempo choruses and then into eruptive fills, and back again. That’s why Steely Dan asked the brilliant Jeff Porcaro, one of Blaine’s clearest heirs, to step aside.

Black Friday Dawns For Steely Dan

Steely Dan – 1975 outtakes and demos from Katy Lied sessions Soundboard recordings, excellent quality Here’s some of their session outtakes, which is only appropriate because for most of their existence, they were exclusively a product of the painstaking studio sessions conducted by Fagen & Becker & a host of session musicians. Fagen, in particular was a perfectionist and spent hour after hour making sure that every sound on the record was just right. Here then are some of the earlier versions, Fagen’s piano demos, alternate versions, and outtakes from the Katy Lied sessions, which also includes a couple of very early versions of 2 songs that would eventually end up on Aja, ‘Black Cow’ and ‘I Got the News’. So, here, in particular, we can hear the precision and detail that went into the backing and rhythm track, before adding the finishing touches. So, enjoy some behind the scenes looks at Steely Dan in the Studio. (by BBKron)

00:00 Black Friday 03:28 Bad Sneakers 06:36 Rose Darling 09:36 Daddy Don’t Live In That New York City No More 12:30 Dr. Wu 15:59 Everyone’s Gone To The Movies 19:24 Your Gold Teeth II 23:10 Chain Lightning 25:46 Throw Back The Little Ones 28:49 Mr. Sam (unreleased song) 32:14 Gullywater (unreleased instrumental) 34:35 Black Cow [Take 1] (piano demo) 39:08 Black Cow [Take 2] 43:09 I Got The News (early version) 45:52 Black Friday 49:03 Rose Darling 52:11 Daddy Don’t Live In That New York City No More 55:17 Dr. Wu 59:18 Your Gold Teeth II 1:03:32 Chain Lightning 1:06:29 Throw Back The Little Ones

It’s been almost 40 years since Rolling Stone magazine dubbed Steely Dan “the perfect musical antiheroes of the Seventies” in assessing the band’s sixth album Aja. But while the Walter Becker and Donald Fagen-led band named after a dildo in William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch may seem more establishment than anti-establishment these days, it’s amazing how fresh the music remains, even after decades of repeated plays on classic-rock and adult-contemporary radio stations. Even now, their albums still have plenty of riches left to uncover in their inventive mix of jazz and rock, complex chord progressions, intricate arrangements, and endlessly enigmatic, bitingly cynical lyrics.

Steely Dan announced that the band will return to The Beacon Theatre, New York stage for a nine-night residency of themed performances starting October 17th, 2018. Included among the highlights of this year’s extraordinary concerts are: performances of Steely Dan’s Countdown to Ecstasy (1973), The Royal Scam (1976), Aja (1977), Gaucho (1980), plus Donald Fagen’s solo album The Nightfly (1982), plus “By Popular Demand” and “Greatest Hits” nights. Each and every night, Steely Dan will also treat audiences with selections from The Dan’s extraordinary catalog, packed with infectious tunes, bodacious harmonies, irresistible grooves, blazing solo work, rich ensembles and sleek, subversive lyrics.

Becker died from complications of esophageal cancer on September 3rd, 2017. In a note released to the media, Fagen remembered his longtime friend and bandmate, and promised to “keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band

Fagen group is mostly a touring band these days, and their latest tour, which they dub “The Dan Who Knew Too Much” on their website, has now brought them to New York’s Beacon Theatre for a series of concerts, some of them devoted to live performances of particular albums. With this in mind, it’s as good a time as any to revisit and reassess their nine-album discography. Steely Dan has explored so many different musical styles and moods over the course of their more-than-four-decade-long. Whether you gravitate more toward Pretzel Logic or Aja or even Two Against Nature may all depend on how you’re feeling at a given moment.

Everything Must Go

This is Steely Dan’s last album to date, released in 2003. It feels like a final statement and a world-weary one at that. Its opening cut, “The Last Mall,” sets the tone: the music set in an ironically innocuous C major even as Fagen sings of an apocalyptic “cancellation sale” at seemingly the only mall left in the world. Much of the album progresses in a similar deceptively laid-back fashion until the concluding minute of the final title track ruefully fades out with what else? a wailing saxophone solo. In Everything Must Go, it’s as if Steely Dan, discovering they have nothing much left to say, decided to make that sense of resignation the subject of the album. The result lacks the lyrical and musical complexity of their best work, but there’s something strangely affecting about it nevertheless. Plus, it’s the only album that features Walter Becker singing lead (on “Slang of Ages”).

Gaucho

Speaking of world-weary, a similar air of ennui blows throughout this, their last album of Steely Dan’s ’70s heyday. “She thinks I’m crazy / but I’m just growing old,” Fagen sings in the album’s biggest hit, “Hey Nineteen.” That sense of being out of time extends to the record as a whole, with Fagen and Becker doubling down on the coolly relaxed vibe of their preceding Aja, while dispensing with anything resembling seductive emotional warmth. Instead, a kind of slick disillusionment peeks through Gaucho, most evident in the album’s longest track, “Glamour Profession,” which chronicles a day in the life of a drug dealer in Los Angeles with electronic keyboard lines that chill to the touch and brass lines that blare with ironic joie de vivre.

Naturally, the near-funereal “Third World Man” sees Steely Dan riding off to the distance in a fatigued daze. It may be a difficult album to warm to, but it’s nothing if not committed to its dispirited languor.

Two Against Nature

For millennials, this much-belated Becker/Fagen reunion album may well be known more as the album that beat out, among other nominees, Radiohead’s more progressive-sounding Kid A for the Album of the Year Grammy in 2000. As much of a confirmation as that may be as to the Recording Academy’s backward-leaning taste, that shouldn’t detract from the genuine pleasures of Two Against Nature, which allies the easy-listening jazz of Aja with some of the hard-rocking spirit of their earlier albums. Their dark-humored perversity remains intact here, too; among the album’s nine songs are various tales of, well, aging men basically trying to get some. But unlike in Gaucho’s “Hey Nineteen,” at least they approach this potentially unsavory subject matter with more youthful vitality this time.

Katy Lied

If 1974’s Pretzel Logic laid the groundwork for a jazzier sound than Can’t Buy a Thrill and Countdown to Ecstasy did, its follow-up, Katy Lied, ran with it while still keeping to its predecessor’s concision. To some degree, that makes this very fine album feel a bit like more of the same after Pretzel Logic. That, however, is not to deny the gleaming brilliance of the many of the songs here, especially the mid-album one-two punch of the strangely dreamy “Doctor Wu” (which the 1980s punk band Minutemen covered in their masterpiece Double Nickels on the Dime) and the calypso-infused “Everyone’s Gone to the Movies” (a song about a child molester, in case you weren’t paying attention to the lyrics). This is also the first album to feature Michael McDonald  who Steely Dan’s former co-lead guitarist Jeff Baxter would later tap to front the Doobie Brothers as a backing singer.

The Royal Scam

Whatever warmth there was in the jazz-rock fusion of Pretzel Logic and Katy Lied was basically obliterated by 1976’s The Royal Scam, in which bitterness and sarcasm run rampant through blasting horn lines and driving rhythms. From the struggles of a drug dealer in “Kid Charlemagne” to the sneaky plea for abstinence in “The Fez” to Dean Parks’ brutal voice-box-amplified guitar solo of “Haitian Divorce,”

it all culminates in the epic title track, with its repetitive, near-Sisyphean structure and cynical chronicle of folks “[wandering] in from the city of St. John” into a glittery wasteland. Perhaps, in hindsight, the sophistication of Aja and subsequent Steely Dan albums was simply natural after this atom bomb of cynicism, with Fagen’s snarl sounding more potent than ever.

Can’t Buy a Thrill

In some ways, Steely Dan’s debut LP is an anomaly in its discography, featuring an expanded line-up that included the more conventionally pretty-sounding David Palmer singing lead vocals on two of the songs (“Dirty Work” and “Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)”) and drummer Jim Hodder singing on another (“Midnite Cruiser”). But even if the more overtly soft-rock style of Can’t Buy a Thrill is different from what the band’s more concentrated line-up in subsequent albums would explore, it’s remarkable to hear how much of the band’s sound was already fully formed here.

Right off the bat, “Do It Again” features a Latin beat that marked as it strikingly different from just about anything else at the time, and assorted jazz flourishes pop up here and there in later cuts. Becker and Fagen would refine their style further in their subsequent albums, but Can’t Buy a Thrill is still a striking beginning for the band.

Aja

This, still the band’s most commercially successful record, represented Steely Dan’s first full-on venture into the kind of sophisticated jazz-rock that would characterize their music from then on. In many ways, it remains Steely Dan’s finest in that realm. Like its sophomore album, Countdown to Ecstasy,

Aja is rife with songs that have lengthy instrumental solos, akin to a jazz jam session. But while the Steely Dan of Countdown was mostly still rooted in a rock idiom, there’s no rock at all to be found in Aja, just some of the lushest textures and most relaxed music of their career. The album has some of the most openly empathetic lyrics, most notably in “Deacon Blues,” which is still one of the most touching songs about the yearning that arises out of a midlife crisis.

Pretzel Logic

After the extended jams of Countdown to Ecstasy, Steely Dan’s follow-up, Pretzel Logic, saw the band reverting back to the mainstream concision of Can’t Buy a Thrill. The longest songs on this album (“Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” and the title track) are roughly four-and-a-half minutes. But there’s nothing conventional at all about these tunes, which pushed the jazz flourishes in their first two albums further both musically and even lyrically. After all, how many rock albums would feature, of all things, a note-for-note cover of Duke Ellington’s “East St. Louis Toodle-oo?” Or a joyous tune about basking in the music of “Mister Parker’s band,” with “Mister Parker” no doubt referring to the legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker? Ranging from bluesy vamps (the title track) to lyrical ballads (“Any Major Dude Will Tell You”) to hard rockers (“Night by Night”), Pretzel Logic supersedes Steely Dan’s most commercial album with this fascinatingly unpredictable 33 minutes of music.

Countdown to Ecstasy

Countdown to Ecstasy is, in its deliberate sprawl, arguably the exhilarating Steely Dan experience. Becker and Fagen may have hemmed in their jazzy tendencies for the sake of wider accessibility in Can’t Buy a Thrill, but they let it all go for their sophomore effort. No major hits on the level of “Do It Again” and “Reelin’ in the Years” emerged from Countdown to Ecstasy, but there’s a stylistic variety to this set of eight songs—from the “Rock Around the Clock”-like beat of the opening cut “Bodhisattva” and the ragtime of “The Boston Rag” to the balladry of “Pearl of the Quarter” and the apocalypse of “King of the World”—that remains unparalleled among the band’s studio albums. At the very least, this album has the ever-irresistible “My Old School,” in which its raucous horn arrangements and up-tempo beat mask a deep cynicism toward college life. In other words, it’s quintessential Steely Dan.

thanks to Paste Magazine for the words

Music File Photos - The 1970s - by Chris Walter

Walter Becker, guitarist, vocalist, and co-founder of the band Steely Dan, passed away on Sunday at age 67. The announcement comes from Becker’s official website, with no cause of death or other details provided from the site.

Last month, Becker missed two of the band’s performances due to an unspecified procedure. In a brief interview with, his longtime band mate and songwriting partner Donald Fagen shared that Becker was “recovering from a procedure and hopefully he’ll be fine very soon,” but gave no details about his surgery or prognosis.

Becker and Fagen got their start as students at Bard College in New York, where the two began working as commercial songwriters and backing musicians before moving to California in the early Seventies to form what would become Steely Dan. Though the band’s lineup would frequently change with an evolving cast of session musicians, Fagen and Becker represented the songwriting core of Steely Dan. After going on hiatus in 1981, the band returned in 1993 with two albums, the first of which, Two Against Nature, won a Grammy Award for Album of the Year. In March 2001, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and have been frequently cited some of rock’s greatest musicians.

Absolutely the very best Steely Dan song ever. Well, except maybe for “Time Out of Mind.” Or possibly “Bodhisattva.” Oh, and definitely can’t forget “Royal Scam.” Or “Kid Charlemagne,” “With a Gun,” “Hey Nineteen,” “Barrytown,” “My Old School,” or “The Fez.” And, of course, “Do It Again.” Really, whatever’s he’s playing now.

Steely Dan Las Vegas

STEELY DAN in LAS VEGAS
Steely Dan’s nine-night exclusive in Las Vegas with a residency during April 12th -29th at the Opaline Theatre at The Venetian® Las Vegas, titled “Reelin’ in the Chips,” the band will entertain audiences with a “greatest hits” set of diverse selections from the band’s extraordinary catalog.
Steely Dan has sold more than 40 million albums and helped define the soundtrack of the ’70s with hits such as “Reelin’ in the Years,” “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” “F.M.,” “Peg,” “Hey Nineteen,” “Deacon Blues,” and “Babylon Sisters.”

Co-founded by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker in 1972, STEELY DAN has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide and helped define the soundtrack of the ’70s with hits such as Reelin’ in the Years, Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, F.M., Peg, Hey Nineteen, Deacon Blues, and Babylon Sisters, culled from their seven platinum albums issued between 1972 and 1980 (including 1977’s ground breaking “Aja“). Critical esteem and popular demand continued to grow through the 80’s and into the 90s, when Donald and Walter reunited in the early ’90s, launching a string of sold-out tours that continue through today. In 2000 they released multi-Grammy winner (including Album Of The Year) “Two Against Nature”, and released its acclaimed follow-up “Everything Must Go” in 2003. They were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

Writing was hard, recording was hard, everything about it was like pulling teeth…” So said Donald Fagen of Gaucho, finally released in November 1980 after a litany of problems that included label spats, endless re-takes and a $150,000 bespoke-built drum machine called Wendel. There was tragedy, too: Walter Becker’s girlfriend died of an overdose in January 1980; Becker broke his leg in a hit-and-run three months later and phoned in contributions from a hospital bed. Becker and Fagen ditched numerous songs for good during these protracted sessions – all collected on this excellent boot – including “Kind Spirit”, “The Bear”, “Talkin’ About My Home” and “Kulee Baba”, each perfect examples of the Steely Dan’s distinctive brand of decadent jazz-rock.

But the jewel here is the re-recorded “The Second Arrangement” – a jaded come-down epic once earmarked by the duo as Gaucho’s centrepiece, but abandoned after an assistant engineer accidentally wiped the track during playback. And because the Dan never made back-up copies – the sound quality suffered, apparently – all the cuts on The Last Gaucho sound great, and are appended with numerous outtakes and alternate versions.
Sound quality: Very good, if rougher and looser than the final Gaucho. And Wendel can be a little erratic…
See also: Live At The Record Plant, 3/20/1974 – an astonishing show from just before they quit touring