Steely Dan

Steely Dan was very popular when I was in high school and college. They were popular despite a very eclectic sound that is hard to classify. Much of the popular music of the mid- to late-1970s tended towards really “nice” songs, or disco type dance music. They were certainly influenced by the fusion jazz scene centered around New York City, as many of the studio musicians they used were from the crowd.

The Wikipedia entry is detailed and excellent.

Wikipedia Entry to Steely Dan

What a band. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker surrounding themselves with great musicians to achieve their unique sound. Complex chord structures, with great melodies and really obscure lyrics. Not exactly non-sensical, but dark and strange and cryptic lyrics and who knows what the hell Fagen was thinking. It doesn’t matter because they sound good, they’re memorable and they move the great musicians along just fine.

Beatniks on the loose. Here they are with the original touring band performing “Reelin’ In The Years”. Proof that the guitar parts can actually be performed. The guitarist on the left is Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, who later joined The Doobie Brothers:

I owned two Steely Dan albums in college, Aja and Gaucho. Those are my two favorites. Add Steely Dan’s Greatest Hits and you’re almost there. You need to have Chain Lightning and Don’t Take Me Alive, plus Cousin Dupree from a recent album. Here’s how I see the ratings for songs in the collection:

Reelin’ In The Years, Steely Dan ✭✭✭✭
Do It Again, Steely Dan ✭✭✭✭
Pretzel Logic, Steely Dan ✭✭✭✭
Kid Charlemagne, Steely Dan ✭✭✭✭

Aja, Steely Dan ✭✭✭
Deacon Blues, Steely Dan ✭✭✭
Peg, Steely Dan ✭✭✭
Chain Lightning, Steely Dan ✭✭✭
Time Out Of Mind, Steely Dan ✭✭✭
Third World Man, Steely Dan ✭✭✭
Bodhisattva, Steely Dan ✭✭✭
Black Friday, Steely Dan ✭✭✭
Cousin Dupree, Steely Dan ✭✭✭

Don’t Take Me Alive, Steely Dan ✭✭
The Fez, Steely Dan ✭✭
Doctor Wu, Steely Dan ✭✭
Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, Steely Dan ✭✭
My Old School, Steely Dan ✭✭
Glamour Profession, Steely Dan ✭✭
Hey Nineteen, Steely Dan ✭✭
Babylon Sisters, Steely Dan ✭✭
Josie, Steely Dan ✭✭
I Got The News, Steely Dan ✭✭
Black Cow, Steely Dan ✭✭
FM, Steely Dan ✭✭

Home At Last, Steely Dan
Haitian Divorce, Steely Dan

Larry Carlton’s solo at the end of Kid Charlemagne is special. Third World Man and Deacon Blues are among Donald Fagen’s best ballads. Bodhisattva gets three stars alost purely on musicianship. Peg is a personal favorite. Aja is famed for Steve Gadd’s powerful drum break in mid-song.

Enough words. Steely Dan rocks. Here’s a more recent performance of Kid Charlemagne:

I first heard Black Friday on FM radio in 1973 or 1974. I have the proof, on a cassette tape back in the days when I recorded songs off the radio. Black Friday comes alive in this sublime performance:


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