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Steely Dan - Pretzel Logic CD (album) cover

PRETZEL LOGIC

Steely Dan

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.64 | 107 ratings

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micky
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars *Steely Dan Act III: An artist enters the cocoon and begins to morph*

'soon you'll realize that Walter Becker and Donald Fagen are pretty much the sharpest wits in music. Plus, they're total dicks-and they got away with selling millions of records filled with songs that openly mock everyone listening to them. Brilliant.'

a random fan

To say that ABC was not pleased at the lackluster sales of Countdown to Ecstasy would be an understatement so they put pressure on the group again to produce more hit singles, shorter and more radio friendly. The band and ABC came to a bit of compromise between the crisp pop lyricism of the debut and the progressive instrumental interplay of the second album. The result.. a classic album that is often said to be unlike ANYTHING that was on the radio in 1974. However within the band.. much is changing. The incredible drummer Jeff Porcaro was brought in and was the highest paid member of the group from the start. During the recording of this album, the core members of Jim Hodder, Dennis Dias, and Skunk Baxter found themselves increasing replaced by studio aces during the recording of the album. In fact Hodder never played a note on the album yet was paid as if he had. This is the album where Steely Dan became more a conceptual artist than a rock band. Finding musicians to fit the music that Becker and Fagen were composing, as opposed to the standard methods of composition used by nearly every group known to man. Some groups, as SD had before, had used 'ringers' on a song or two to bring out something special, that special 'place' that the other band members themselves might not be able to reach. There were names that were mentioned in hushed reverent terms within the cadre of working musicians, names such as: Paul Griffin, Chuck Rainey, Hugh McCracken, Bernard 'Pretty' Purdie, and Jim Gordon. These were the types of musicians that Becker and Fagen envisioned playing the music that they saw was beyond the scope and abilities of the existing group. Pretzel Logic became in fact the dividing line between the band Steely Dan.. and the artist Steely Dan. On the tour supporting this album, it all fell apart and Steely Dan the band was dissolved.. and the artist Steely Dan was born. But that is for the next review

The album itself is a short one, a bone thrown to the record company most certainly. The music itself? Much like I think the group intended. The shine and gloss of a perfectly arranged and produced album which was a Steely Dan trademark is on full display here. The musicians were used as pieces of a grand puzzle that only Becker and Fagen had in their minds. Having access to a 24 track studio for the first time gives the music a depth that the first two albums lack. The album could be considered could be considered their most overtly jazz influenced to this point, in no small part to the players on the album for sure which gave Becker and Fagen a canvas to explore their deep love of jazz. Yet being the ultimate songwriters that Becker and Fagen were, in addition to being social satirists and musical revolutionaries, they were able to give ABC what they wanted a hit single. The album became, in spite of little musical similarity to the first album, a monster success. Going gold on the charts, reaching a peak of #8 on the charts. Making many end of year best of lists and also, like the first album, making the Rolling Stone list of greatest albums ever made, some 30 years after it's release. A note on the cover.. after a bit of research.. it doesn't appear there is no particular meaning to it. After the title of Pretzel Logic was decided. Gary Katz decided it would be amusing to have a picture of a pretzel vendor on the cover. hahahha. So much for over-analyzing things huh hahhah.

The album kicks off their most successful chart song. The beautiful Rikki Don't Lose that Number. I have heard this song a 1000 times... so have you most likely if you are reading this... and still could hear it another 1000 times and still be taken by Fagen's piano playing ... especially his lovely leads into the chorus sections. The main riff of the song was inspired by jazz musician Horace Silver from his 1964 recording Song For My Father. The lyrics of this have been the subject of discussion for some time, Rick Derringer often claiming he was the Rikki, but apparently we have a definitive answer as it were hahaha. In the March 24, 2006 issue of Entertainment Weekly, in an article titled Back to Annandale, it was revealed that Rikki Ducornet was the apparent inspiration for the song due to a friendship Fagen had with Ducornet while he attended Bard College. Ducornet was pregnant and married at the time, but recalls Fagen did give her his phone number at a college party while attending Bard. Although Fagen himself would not confirm the story, Ducornet was quoted that she believed she was indeed the subject of the song. The next song Night by Night is the polar opposite from the opening song. Where Rikki is drenched in a beauty that is something to behold... Night by Night is tough, ballsy and drips pure dark hard jazz-funk. It is simply a bad ass tune with killer horns and the first appearance of the mighty Jeff Porcaro on the drum-kit. The song was recorded in a barn of all places. The barn had a rope and a noose hanging from a beam and the young, only 19 years old at the time, Porcaro remarked that 'he knew the group had a tough reputation on musicians, but this is ridiculous'. A fan favorite of many from the album. The lyrics are typically cryptic. My take.. a tale of addiction. Night by Night is lingo for alcoholics for planning your night so you don't end up in a situation where you might be tempted to relapse. Next it is.. and I hate to say it.. sappy Any Major Dude will Tell You. An emotional 3 odd minute pop song. Nice song. Great pop and if you want to score with the Dan. Put this on ahhahaha. Let's get the next song though. Barrytown is next. Featuring Michael Omartian on the piano. A lyrically vicious condemnation of small time life using a town near Bard College as the backdrop. The venom of Fagen's lyrics is carried off over a bouncy ...joyous piano melody hahha.. God I love this group. Side one closes with an cover of one of my absolute favorite jazz standards. The East St. Louis Toodle-Oo by Duke Ellington. A majestic 'cover' not ruined by trying to rock through it.. where this just swwwiiiinnnnggggsss. A stand up jazz cover you think.... ooohhhh not so fast. When the decision to put this on the album was made, Fagen went out of bought all available versions of the song. Each slightly different in detail and arrangement and COMBINED them for their own version. Hahaha. Yep... not prog my ass. Probably the definitive cover version of the tune. Not bad for a band formed in an abandoned office.

Side two kicks off with another heavily influenced jazz tune. Parker's Band. A tribute to Charlie Parker featuring the double drums of Gordon and Porcaro. Featuring references all over the song from Parker's work over a brisk mid-tempo rhythm. Another true jazz-rock gem from the guys. Next up is a real disappointment for me on this album, Through with Buzz. Disappointment not with the song.. but the fact is only only a minute and a half long and stops abruptly at the end. It's length has often been lent it to being called filler.. maybe so.. but what an enchanting piece of filler it is with a lovely string section and piano melody. Not sure about you all.. but this filler.. I wanted to hear 3 or 4 more minutes of it.. to hear where they might have taken it. Oh well.... They are forgiven because next up.. oh lordy.. the epic title track Pretzel Logic. A rarity of to this point in the Dan catalog.. a funky blues shuffle with Jim Gordon leading the band through the changes. Walter Becker takes the guitar solo here and is a gem among guitar solos. A song of time travel which became a live fan favorite on the tour to support the album. Next up is With a Gun. A country western flavored number of all things hahha. A tale of settling the debts you owe to a creditor with a gun rather than money hahha. Pretty much a throw away number. Charlie Freak comes up next.. a dark tale of death of guilt. Of note here is the cello which is not a cello but is Skunk Baxter running his steel pedal guitar through a fuzztone. The album closes with Monkey in your Soul. A funky sax driven number that sounds like something you'd hear down in the French Quarter or Beale Street. The song represents the main problem I have with large.. large parts of the album. Ideas here while FANTASTIC are short.. and god knows what this album might have been with a bit more exploration. So where this album was a compromise of sorts between the first two. It ultimately loses to both in that while a fine album...with some parts are are simply... perfect.. other parts are either to short or are merely interesting ideas that could have scrapped for exploring the better ones a bit more.

Rating the album. A very uneven album for the prog fan. Some moments of pure genius for all prog fans.. music fans. Yet there are then moments only for those who eat up anything and everything Becker and Fagen put down like it was caviar. The good news is.. this was a transition album.. for this point. the morphing of Steely Dan from a projected hit maker to a genuine progressive rock icon in my eyes has started in earnest. With the next album.. Steely Dan hits the road in 5th gear and doesn't let off the creative gas for the rest of the 70's. For the site. 3 stars. For me 3 stars. For woman in pants skirts ....

Michael (aka the big Mick)

micky | 3/5 |

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