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Steely Dan - Katy Lied CD (album) cover

KATY LIED

Steely Dan

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.65 | 150 ratings

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cfergmusic1
4 stars After Steely Dan released Pretzel Logic in 1974, they embarked on what would be their last tour for a while, in the US and UK. The touring band was Donald Fagen on keyboards and lead vocals; Walter Becker on bass; Denny Dias and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter on guitars; Jim Hodder and Jeff Porcaro on drums; Michael McDonald on keyboards and backing vocals; and Royce Jones on percussion and backing vocals. This tour has been documented on various bootleg recordings, although one official track (a live version of "Bodhisattva") has been released and will be covered in a future review. Anyway, after that tour, to cement their dislike of touring in general, Becker and Fagen effectively broke up the live band as well as firing their manager. Baxter took his steel guitar with him (although not to his next band, the Doobie Brothers), Hodder and Jones pretty much vanished off the face of the earth, but Dias, Porcaro and McDonald were retained to work on the next Steely Dan album, Katy Lied, the following year.

One thing that has always struck me about this album is the overall positive vibe of the music. Even though the Dan's first album as a studio band (and yes I do consider this a band, given that it was the same basic rhythm section throughout) had some technical problems in the end, owing to a malfunctioning noise reduction system that affected the quality of the final record, the music is crisp and punchy (helped out by studio pianist Michael Omartian on Bosendorfer), Porcaro lays down some great rhythms, Chuck Rainey shines on bass and Fagen's voice is as strong as it's ever been. In short, the new-for-1975 Steely Dan sounds like this was what they wanted to do all along.

"Black Friday" was, amazingly, a top 40 hit upon release (amazing because, again, there was no touring going on). Porcaro foreshadows his future as the shuffle king on this track (remember that this was the man behind the "Rosanna" groove some years later) and fellow Toto member David Paich plays electric piano as well. In spite of Becker's drug problems around this time (or perhaps because of them), he turns in one of his best solos. This may also be the only song I know of that references the town of Muswellbrook, Australia (which is located in New South Wales).

"Bad Sneakers" is, simply, a song about loneliness and isolation in Los Angeles. By this time, Becker and Fagen were very homesick for their hometown of New York and basically admitted that they only stayed in LA because of convenience. In hindsight, it's amazing that they could create such bright, positive-sounding music out of those feelings. Becker, in particular, has a very impassioned guitar solo (his last of the record). I also like the sitar-led refrain just before the verses.

"Rose Darling" shows Becker and Fagen trying some new things musically; the chorus utilizes counterpoint in the vocal lines and the guitar solo, unusually, was written out note-for-note (and played here by Dean Parks). Hard to tell exactly what this song is about; deception, murder or self-gratification? It rocks in its own way though.

"Daddy Don't Live in That New York City No More" (longest Dan title ever?) is notable for being the first appearance on guitar for Larry Carlton, who would come to define much of the sound of the next two albums, The Royal Scam and Aja. (The track, I believe, also features Jazz Crusaders saxophonist Wilton Felder on bass guitar.) This song about a mob hit is bolstered by a phasing effect on Fagen's voice and a low E note on organ (synth?) that rides the fade-out, almost subliminally.

"Doctor Wu" is one of the most famous Dan tracks and the one that has inspired the most lyrical interpretations. The sharp-eared listener will hear noise from the aforementioned DBX noise reduction system at the beginning of the track, proof of Steely Dan's technical gremlins around this time. Nevertheless, it has gone on to become a staple of the band's history thanks in part to Porcaro's solid groove, Omartian's piano backing and alto sax solos from jazz great Phil Woods.

"Everyone's Gone to the Movies" has a Latin-rock flavor to it thanks to Victor Feldman's percussion and vibraphone backing. The lyrics are about a peodphile who likes to videotape young children for his own personal benefit--not the most savory of lyrical matters, but the hooks are hard to get out of your head after listening to it. The Wurlitzer solo in the middle may be by Fagen; not sure. (There is a 1971 demo of this tune with the original band that I will review as part of the Citizen Steely Dan box set later.)

"Your Gold Teeth II" is the sequel to the track on Countdown to Ecstasy, in jazz waltz time (Becker has said that this version is more like the original, un-recorded version of the song). It opens, however, as a fast, 16th-note based tune with synthesizer lead and strange metallic noises in the background (which I assume is the "dorophone" credited to Porcaro). Dias has the perfect solo for this tune, although his contributions would continue to be sparse for a good while (starting with Pretzel Logic, he would only do one solo per album, up to Aja).

"Chain Lightning" can be considered the sequel to "Pretzel Logic," at least in terms of groove (this is basically the same shuffle played by Jim Gordon on the earlier tune). The lyrics, believe it or not, describe a Fascist rally (1st verse) and the return to the site of the rally some years later (2nd verse). Veteran guitarist Rick Derringer plays the solo, making his second and last appearance on a Steely Dan record (he previously played slide guitar on "Show Biz Kids" from Countdown).

"Any World (That I'm Welcome To)" is the only appearance of veteran studio drummer Hal Blaine (presumably Porcaro was busy that day). The lyrics continue the theme of longing expressed earlier in "Bad Sneakers," again with a great transitional hook and killer harmonies by Michael McDonald. (I haven't really mentioned him too much, but he is all over this album, although his best Dan moments would be still to come.) Dig the key change just before the outro vamp.

"Throw Back the Little Ones" is without a doubt Steely Dan's most compact/complex track, packing a lot of key changes, transitions and lyrical ideas into just 3 minutes. Amazingly, the song never feels rushed through or badly thought-out. (This aspect of the tune may remind some listeners of Gentle Giant, believe it or not.) Elliot Randall, he of "Reelin' in the Years" fame, has a sparkling solo that is typical of his sporadic work with the band and elsewhere. The piano outro is by Michael Omartian (dig those polychords at the end!).

As we know, Steely Dan essentially became the Beatles of the 70s (not that they weren't already) by operating exclusively out of the recording studio from here until Gaucho. I posit that their body of work underwent a subtle but tangible improvement because of this change, and for the most part, Becker and Fagen themselves would probably agree. I would also say that this album pretty much defined LA rock in the 70s (perhaps more so than the Eagles) and if you like a positive but not contrived sound in 70s rock music, you could do a lot worse than this. Recommended highly. 4.5 stars out of 5.

cfergmusic1 | 4/5 |

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