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Steely Dan

Jazz Rock/Fusion

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3 stars In 1974 Steely Dan released "Pretzel Logic," their third album. It raced straight up the charts like a fairground skyrocket to peak at #8 and it seemed like the whole music community stood back en masse to ooh and ahh over it. I, frankly, thought it was okay but less than overwhelming. Considering the avalanche of momentum they had generated with the raw energy captured on "Countdown to Ecstasy" I expected to be blown away. I most assuredly didn't expect a breezy, laidback stroll along the shoreline of Hermosa Beach. I now know that co-leaders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker detested playing concerts to the point where they'd rather go hungry than tour while the other band members didn't share their starving bohemian aspirations. I also know that the constant pressure from the label fat cats to deliver another hot, steaming bowl of revenue-cultivating Top 40 hit singles along the lines of "Reeling in the Years" must have been maddening but there's barely over half an hour of music to digest here! It's almost as if their motto for this album was "shorter songs, less progressive instrumentation." While there's not a sour or misplaced note to be found it was evident to my ears that something was amiss in Danland.

Fagen and Becker are perfectionists. Nothing wrong with that at all. It comes in pretty handy inside the recording studio and the pristine engineering/production on "Pretzel Logic" takes a giant, high- fidelity bullfrog leap over their first two offerings. No one says otherwise. But one of the bugaboos about perfectionism is that it often leaves too much of the human emotion out of the art being created and that's what I think occurred here. Though the tunes definitely have that undeniable Steely Dan charm swirling about them, there's just very little to get excited about.

I'll put it this way. If you're enamored by the graceful tones and leisurely pace of the opener, "Rikki Don't Lose That Number," then you're going to love this collection of eleven tight tracks. It climbed up to the #4 spot on the singles chart and it's hard to argue with that level of success. It has a smooth, jazzy groove for swaying back and forth to and an unforgettable hook line that veers about as close to being a love song as Donald & Walter ever got to writing so what's not to like? (May I suggest the less-than-spontaneous guitar solo?) Moving right along, the next cut is the slick, R&B-styled "Night by Night" featuring a full, robust horn section and a large slice of big-band funk. Good dance number and the hot guitar break has a spicy kick to it but where, oh where are those mysterious play-on-word lyrics I've come to expect from these brainiacs? Has the corrupting Hollywood lifestyle robbed them of their rapier wit and their gift for the runaround?

Not entirely, as evidenced on "Any Major Dude Will Tell You." Acoustic guitar and piano dominate this disarming and simply-constructed tune where Fagen's charismatic voice reassures with lines like "any major dude with half a heart/surely will tell you, my friend/any minor world that breaks apart/falls together again/when the demon is at your door/in the morning it won't be there no more..." For a weary generation that was witnessing the unfurling deception that was Nixon's Watergate while trying to comfort the walking wounded returning home from the pointless Vietnam debacle, this was a message we needed to hear. A rock beat trotting under Donald's sprightly piano draws you up into "Barrytown," a compelling piece of social satire where the singer explains how he's not really the bigot he appears to be, he's just coming clean on how things are in the real world. "I'm not one to look behind/I know that times must change/but over there in Barrytown/they do things very strange/and though you're not my enemy/I like things how they used to be/and though you'd like some company/I'm standing by myself/go play with someone else" he sings. Racial integration's fine, just not in my neighborhood.

Then from straight out of left field comes an unexpected instrumental detour into the land of Duke Ellington and Bubber Miley as the ensemble gives their old-time "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" the full Steely Dan treatment. We may never know the full answer to "why?" but it hardly matters as the whole thing is over before you know it. The slinky steel guitar ride and the lively piano solo are both grin-inducing, though. "Parker's Band" is perky pop but lacking balls and lyrically lame. Their quirky sense of humor resurfaces in "Through With Buzz," an incredibly brief, off-beat song about a guy being in an unspecified state of denial about his relationship with a male acquaintance. I really like the clever string quartet score that dances around the melody.

I'm not big on the blues but by the time the soulful pitch and roll of "Pretzel Logic" arrives I'm more than ready to rock the joint and this one packs more punch than the rest of the album put together. The interesting chorus chord structure, an intense guitar ride and abstract lyrics about time travel keep it from being just another 12-bar snorer as Donald snarls "I have never met Napoleon/but I plan to find the time/'cause he looks so fine/upon that hill/they tell me he was lonely/he's lonely still." Primo stuff. "With A Gun" takes you on another surprising tangent and this time they fly off into a sort of folkish polka thing that seems to be aimed at the NRA. Hey, I like variety as well as the next progger but these tunes are all over the place. It's almost as if they were picked blindly out of a hat.

But the best and most progressive song on the album saves the day. "Charlie Freak" is what brings me back to listen to this record time after time. Its simple but powerful instrumentation consisting mainly of rolling piano, bass, drums and another appearance by the string quartet coupled with an intriguing, humming, ambient guitar effect is awesome. The tune's dramatic story of a homeless drug addict who sells his last earthly possession, a golden ring, in order to score his final fix is sung with heartbreaking conviction by Fagen who portrays the buyer of said jewelry. He later goes to retrieve the body from the morgue and slips the ring back on the poor kid's finger singing "yes, Jack/I gave it back/the ring I could not own/now come, my friend/I'll take your hand/and lead you home." Its powerful imagery and slow build makes it one of my favorite Steely Dan cuts of all time. "Monkey in Your Soul" is the finale and yet another casual dip into the R&B pool for the boys. It's about the protagonist's dawning realization that his once-passionate infatuation with his significant other is waning and the time to say adios has arrived. Playful fun but it really never goes anywhere interesting.

If you think I don't like "Pretzel Logic" then you're wrong. When I'm in a contemporary, adult-oriented mood I put it on and happily sing right along from start to finish. Yet it's about as prog as a Randy Newman album and the prog content (or lack of) is what I'm addressing in this review. If you have a hankering for eclectic little songs with stick-in-your-head melodies and a lite rock attitude then this will fill that prescription. But the inventive jaunts into unexplored Jazz/Rock Fusion territory that these boys took us all into on "Countdown to Ecstasy" just don't happen here and proggers who are raring to go on those exciting journeys need to know that. It's very good, no doubt, but progressive just isn't one of the adjectives that apply to much of the music included here. 3.3 stars.

Report this review (#180880)
Posted Tuesday, August 26, 2008 | Review Permalink
Chris S
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This may seem odd, but growing up especially with vinyl, you almost have an aerial shot view of any album and the direction it took for both sides. Always different and with CD's as well to a lesser degree. The interesting thing about Pretzel Logic is I think of it like a twin brother or sister to Countdown To Ectasy so almost identical in the path it took but the weaker of the twins. Not by a longshot, this is still an excellently crafted piece of work, perfectionism rising above almost everything else as a priority, resulting in I am sure manic frustrations from the session players. Rikki Don't Lose That Number is the most commercial track off Pretzel Logic. Night By Night is another solid track with lush vocals from Fagen and some excellent guitar riffs. Any Major Dude is a typical Steely Dan number similar to their brand sound of the early to mid 70's. East St. Lois is basically the guys just havin some good old fun, a jazzy instrumental returning the 30's featuring Duke Ellington as guest. One of my personal favourites is Parker's Band which has a great groove throughout folowed closely by the title track. This is the highlight on the album with some fantastic playing from Walter Becker. Excellent drumming too from I think Jeff Porcaro. All in a great album, very short, close on 30 odd minutes long but a very necessary addition to your Steely Dan collective. Money well spent. Three and half stars.
Report this review (#181023)
Posted Friday, August 29, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars The fact that this is the Dan's popiest album does not take away from the fact that it is also their most complete and brilliant album. All of the tracks flow from one to another seemlessly in a way that only Aja can duplicate. The song writing is also the best that can be found on any Steely Dan album. The super catchy jazz pop sound of this album is really just a cover up for the fact that Steely Dan wrote some of their most brilliant melodies for this album.

BY this point Becker and Fagen had focused Steely Dan entirely on making brilliant studio albums and the result is clear on this album. Everything about the sound and production of this ablum is perfect. Most people would argue that Aja was even better at that, but the truth is that Aja is so worked over in the studio that it sounds almost sterile. Steely Dan peaked very early with their best albums, Pretzel Logic and Coundown to Ecstacy, and both are masterpieces that everyone should own. This album is by no means a hardcore prog masterpiece that with dazzle you with its complexity and grand scale, but Becker and Fagen were the masters of creating pop rock music that was way more than just pop or rock.

Report this review (#181129)
Posted Saturday, August 30, 2008 | Review Permalink
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)

Report this review (#181400)
Posted Monday, September 1, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars "you can try to run but you can't hide from what's inside of you."

"Once the neural floodgates had been opened upon the possibilities of recording with any and all of our favorite LA cats, there was no turning back." [Fagen/Becker]

And so it was that Steely Dan was changing from the road-weary band of mates to the beginnings of the slick jazz/rock duo the world would come to know. They were changing their recording process from using their bandmates to employing whatever studio musicians might tickle their fancy. "Pretzel Logic" is the first album where you begin to hear the sound that one associates with the Dan. Things are getting more lush and more radio friendly. On the down side we are beginning to feel the loss of the special "grit" that I love about the early work, the street cred mixed with a longing sentimentality about the past. The essence of the band that is so successfully captured in the cover of Pretzel Logic, a photo that contains many stories but is likely commentary on the rugged individualism and urban spirit. In the lame Disney-fied cities of today's America, the guy probably wouldn't even be allowed to have his cart near the park.wouldn't pass code. The classic urban character of our great cities have been replaced by a horribly unfortunate modern chain retailing mirage, where everything looks the same, safe, plastic, and without soul. Relevant mainly because in some ways similar things have happened in music, film, hell.even cars (that new Accord ain't exactly a '69 Challenger, is it?) Right out of the gate you hear the changes with the slick melodic pop of "Rikki" and it is an amazing track. Absolutely tight and perfectly crafted songwriting and delivery. As Micky said you could hear this one 1000 times and still admire the job they did here. The quality remains astounding on the next two, the funky and soulful "Night by Night" and the reflective "Any Major Dude Will Tell You." But with the exception of the fabulous title track, a Dan classic, the rest of the album does not live up to the same level of quality. Track for track this is probably the weakest of the first three albums. I find it pretty hard to recommend this one to anyone besides Steely Dan fans though for me personally it is still a good 3 star affair. "Charlie Freak" is one more that is pretty decent with a neat rolling piano and some interesting, almost neurotic sounding lead guitar. Like many of the tracks here it sounds underdeveloped because of the short run time. "Pretzel Logic" starts very strong but is one of the weaker Steely Dan albums.

Report this review (#185408)
Posted Sunday, October 12, 2008 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
2 stars 2.5 stars really!!!

After the fairly different CTE, which was considered a disappointment in many circles and in the charts, Dan returned to the studios with a Damocles' sword hanging over their heads: repeat the Thrill's success or face our wrath. So the duo wrote another Thrill album as if it was the easiest thing to do. Which in sorts, it was since the Fagen/Becker duo had written tons of songs for a wide-spectrummed brochettes of artistes. This is exactly where I can never forget that SD was one of those evil-front- office music business sharks as well as being studio rats. I mean that with CTE, it was clear that SD could write an album that stood mostly together as a unit and have a general direction, which was the opposite of their debut album. And they'd achieve this with minimum time always in a hurry between the road and the studios. Sooo instead of going onwards with the CTE direction in mind, SD throw whatever revolt they might have felt and obliged the company with another Thrill-type of album, an aimless bunch of songs with no unity. They also knew perfectly well they were doing crappier things than CTE, and at least in this album, they kept their sell-out rather short, just over the half-hour. First line-up change: Hodder left the drum stool to a real studio rat Jeff Porcaro (future Toto), although he still appears on some tracks. Derek & Dominoes' Jim Gordon also drums a bit on the album. The artwork is mostly reminiscent of their NY roots(or at least east coast), something that the album's title hints as well.

Starting on the Rikki Don't Loose That Number huge hit, there is no doubt that SD is playing between Do It Again and Reelin' and it can't be a miss chart-wise. Night by Night has the same horn section as Dirty work had, but the song works fine too and there is some sax work. But the album sinks into a comatose state with dumb and listless tracks like Any Major Dude Will Tell You, while the slightly stinky Barrytown is heavier in mood, but fails to convince it doesn't mean bigotry business. One has to wonder what tracks like St Louis Toodle-oo is doing on such an album, except breaking the album's canvas by being outside of the weft of the album. As brilliantly played as it is, it's ridiculous on this album. Further down the album we go through the average Parker's Band (and I mean really really average), the Country-Beatle-esque With a Gun (not this album's worse song either) and the useless finale Monkey In Your Soul

Out of the morosity and monotony of the album, come out three tracks, the short string-quartet driven Through With Buzz and the second hit from this album, the title track, which again plays on the electric piano and multiple Dan-esque harmony vocals, but here there is a nice groove induced by the vast horn section and a very tight . Another highlight is the interesting Charlie Freak, with its hypnotic piano and almost Hackettian guitars - too bad it's so short.

The "group" would come apart after this album, more out of distaste for the road for the brainchild than for the usual musical preferences/differences. Skunk Baxter left to infect the then-superb Doobie Brothers, only for him to induce that Country Rock and Dan-esque feel that started with their Stampede album and ended up in their disastrous Minute By Minute. With Pretzel Logic ends the "group's group phase", and they will simply refuse to tour from then-onwards, thus enforcing the studio rats image of the band. While the PL album is better than Thrill (I'd love to see/hear if they expanded a few songs of PL), it's certainly far away from Countdown and what the band had shown us what they could do. Hence in that regard, although I say there are four tracks I like on PL, it's still far from an essential album, not even clinching the good 3 stars level, since this is the kind of album they could write in a coma, without the slightest shred of effort.

Report this review (#185917)
Posted Thursday, October 16, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Pretzel Logic is the third full length studio album from US Pop/ Rock act Steely Dan. Their last album called Countdown to Ecstasy was a nice surprise for me with the addition of jazzy elements to their already cool and laidback Pop/ Rock style. Sadly Countdown to Ecstasy didn ´t sell enough, so Steely Dan was pushed in a more commercial direction by their record company and it´s very obvious when you listen to Pretzel Logic that their artistic ideals was pushed aside for a more commercial approach.

The opening song Rikki Don´t Lose That Number did become a hit and the album sold well. So did the operation go well allthough the patient died ? Well not quite. There are actually some enjoyable songs on Pretzel Logic and as always with Steely Dan they are executed to perfection. This is polished and cleverly arranged Pop/ rock with very little progressive ideas. So it might be a little hard to swallow for the hardcore proghead.

The musicianship is excellent and of course that saves the album a bit. Note that Jeff Porcaro who would later play in Toto plays drums on the album.

The production is wonderful. Detailed, warm and perfect.

This is not my favorite Steely Dan album and I would put it in the same catagory as the debut which I found enjoyable but nothing special. A small 3 star rating is deserved ( maybe only 2 stars, but I´m being nice).

Report this review (#188245)
Posted Friday, November 7, 2008 | Review Permalink
Matthew T
5 stars It was 1974 and the third Steely Dan album was upon us with jazz references all over it and even a Duke Ellington cover of his early classic East St Louis Toodle-Oo. Charlie Parker gets a mention with Parkers Band and a snip of a Horace Silver composition (Song For My Father) is used as the opening on Rikki Don't Lose That Number. Comprising eleven tracks and not a poor one with plenty of variety and an old time jazz influence which is predominate throughout the album.

The band has not changed from the previous album but there are no vibes as in the prevoius album Countdown to Ectasy but there are many extra session musicians on the album around 14 with the band, it was quite a big production. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are at the helm as usual with Gary Katz doing production. This would be the last album with the band in its entirety and after this they even stopped touring and became a studio band only.

The album commences with the big single Rikki Don't Lose That Number with that Horace Silver influence and would have been the first time the band started to gain regular airplay in Australia. Night by Night follows and is one little nice rocker with Any Major Dude to follow which is a bit down tempo to the prevoius number. There are two other tracks on side one of the record with the Ellington number being the last but over the years I really have grown to like the other side of the Album with the driving Parkers Band the quirky Through With Buzz to follow but the standout for me is the title track Pretzel Logic with that rolling melody underneath the tune. With a Gun the next track up is mainly accoustic driven but in a fairly quick time with a nice little story. It is not often that one says they like the 2nd last track on a record as usually they seem to be where the worst track is placed on many albums not so with poor unlucky in life Charlie Freak. Monkey in my Soul finishes off proceedings.

This would be there last great record for a while but the next two albums even though they are nothing to sneeze at things really hit the mark for the band with this release and it put them right on the map.

Absolutely essential for anyone who likes good music

Report this review (#262018)
Posted Friday, January 22, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Well, I'd love to give this album a 5/5, but again, I'm constrained by the "progressive" classification. This album is not essential to a prog collection, but if you want to branch out in any way, it is absolutely essential. And it doesn't hurt a prog collection, either, especially with songs like East St. Louis Toodle-Oo. To my mind, this song is the closest the Dan ever actually came to prog. Sure, it's short, and every note was pre-written by the Duke, but their arrangement is as progressive as it comes. And check out Don's piano solo! That song alone justifies the price of admission to this album.

Elsewhere, however, what you'll find are immaculate pop hooks. And you'll find them all over the place. "Any Major Dude" and "Barrytown" are both feel-good songs, which may not necessarily have feel-good subjects (the former seems to be positive, the latter is about some kind of cult which did actually exist but with which I am not familiar).

If anything aside from their arrangements qualifies the Dan to be "progressive", it is their lyrics, and this one contains some gems. "Charlie Freak" is probably the best, albeit the most straightforward - a tale of buying a piece of jewelry off a bum who uses the profits to buy, and overdose on, heroin.

I've heard "Monkey in Your Soul" called a Led Zeppelin send-up. In that context it falls flat horribly, and I don't think that's what the Dan really intended, but as a piece of heavy funk it more than holds its own. This one also contains the radio standard "Rikki Don't Lose That Number", which is not a bad song by any means and actually features some fine guitar playing.

So, on a general scale I'd give this one a 5 easily. It's probably the Dan's most consistent and intriguing album, and it has the most going on (my personal favorite is still the next one, Katy Lied). But since it's prog we are dealing with here, I can only award it four stars. Top-notch, all the way.

Report this review (#308852)
Posted Sunday, November 7, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars Not knowing much about the context of Steely Dan's allegedly poor relationship with the demands of the recording industry producers, I can just look at the track list of Pretzel Logic and know that there wasn't going to be much chance at radio success. I think the percentage of two-minute songs getting serious airtime is fairly low relative to other songs lengths, unless of course we're talking about the Beatles.

Out of eleven total songs, Pretzel Logic contains 6 tracks under the two-minute mark. Out of these, only one--Toodle-Oo--is very memorable. The other shorts nearly function as throw-aways, which is absolutely shocking for the Dan. Maybe they did this to stick it to the record companies, knowing they at least brought the goods, and by extension commercial potential, with Rikki and the title track. Throw in the punchy, funky Night After Night, and the catchy, heartfelt ditty Major Dude, and you've got plenty of ammo for a worthwhile purchase.

The shame is that we know what Steely Dan were capable of, and by nearly any measure, they did not live up to what most would have expected of them at the time--fans and producers alike. Pretzel Logic to me gave us some good additions to later greatest hits compilations, but not much regarding an album of any real lasting impact.

Report this review (#317960)
Posted Saturday, November 13, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars Let me openly state that this album, PRETZEL LOGIC, has settled in as my favorite STEELY DAN album period. It took a long time, and it had to fight off certain strong contenders like KATY LIED and AJA, but it eventually took. As a drummer, I am particularly fond of how this album brought us the inimitable talents of JEFF PORCARO, one of the most profoundly satisfying and tasteful drummers I have ever heard. He never lets it rip on this album, which is a shame in a certain way, to be sure, but all of his drum parts provide such a strong back bone to the songs on this album that it is hard to complain.

Outside of Porcaro's amazing drum work, the songs on this album are also fierce, strong, beautifully voiced and played, and of a piece. Despite being short, these songs feel like they belong together; I've always felt this album plays more like a suite than a collection of songs, given the way that each tune feels rather incomplete alone but flows perfectly mood-wise into whatever follows. You have a cool and relaxed opener in "Rikki" which leads into the fierce and dark "Night by Night", the lyrically melancholic "Any Major Dude", the deeply in-the-pocket and grim (if poppy) anti-racism tune "Barrytown" (even though it is sung from the perspective of a racist, the way the voice seethes with contempt evokes a certain something that makes it clear that the narrator was not meant to be entirely likeable). Then we get two tunes that are placed brilliant, those being a DUKE ELLINGTON song and an ode to CHARLIE PARKER, two wonderful black musicians. "Through With Buzz" and "Pretzel Logic" seem to be songs of reconciliation, or at least an attempt at such, with uneasy music and questioning lyrics that sound like a man trying to come to grips with the world he is in. And if they are attempted reconciliation, "With a Gun" is a collapse into madness, with the tempo being picked up a substantial amount and the music compensating with a somewhat manic feel. "Charlie Freak" and "Monkey in Your Soul" let the listener down gently, letting off the building cynical steam. This is the album, in my mind, that really built their legacy as cynics bar none.

The music sounds simple, but if you attempt to play along with it or follow the chord changes, you begin to notice that Steely Dan has really started to love rapid, bebop-inspired chord changes with large extensions and interesting uses of nondiatonic chords for color. "Barrytown" shifts sonically about halfway through due to the breadth of the chords from a jazzy piano-based number to a weeping kind of honky-tonk pop piece. This album and it's breadth of sounds brings to mind THE DEAR HUNTER, with the use of early jazz sonics, interesting and progressive arrangements, and the general assortment of sounds and genres touched on that normally are overlooked by most progressive groups.

A brilliant, near-perfect album (I would go out on a limb and say the closer, "Monkey in Your Soul", is perhaps a bit TOO mild for its own good). Five stars.

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Posted Sunday, March 13, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Pretzel Logic ? 1974 (3.6/5) 12 ? Best Song: Hard to say, it's very consistent, but maybe Charlie Freak

If you refused to look beyond the surface, you'd think Steely Dan had gone into a jazzy adult contemporary relaxation group. They're on the fast train to making money! 'Rikki Don't Lose That Number' aside from the snide, sarcastic lyrics (I'm assuming they're snide and sarcastic because that's one of the band's big shticks, but I could be totally wrong ? I don't much pay attention to lyrics anymore unless they're absolutely riveting.), could be a major hit. In fact, this album trims away the subtle excesses of either of the first two albums, and has the making eleven prime pop hits ? all done over with a casual sheen, marketable and easy on the ears. Skunk and Dias are still in tow, melding together for the 'core four'. 'Night By Night' has a really snapping melody to it, predictably accompanied by a professional solo track laid down with intense care. With the onset of shorter, more elaborately commercial songs, the band has the potential for a more diverse collection. 'Any Major Dude' is almost glam in essence, if not lush in production. The most surprising number, though would be 'East St. Louis Toodle-oo', which is home to a wild talking-box guitar attack, impeccably performed, note for note. It's a jazz cover that's altogether wonderful from a melodic standpoint and in how they redefine the standards of the tune's original limitations. That and it's good! Pretzel Logic has my vote for best overall Steely Dan album, if the debut's the most intentionally defining and shocking.

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Posted Friday, April 29, 2011 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars "Pretzel Logic" isn't exactly a favourite among Prog fans when it comes to STEELY DAN's albums. I guess the intelligent, jazzy flavoured tunes are just too poppy for them. For me it's not as good as "Countdown To Ecstacy" but definetly better than "Katy Lied". "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" is my favourite track on here and a song I still haven't tired of after all of these years.That light beat, prominant piano and above all the vocals create magic. We get a guitar solo 3 minutes in for good measure. "Night By Night" features blasting horns that come and go while the guitar takes the spotlight a minute in and then later at 2 minutes. "Any Major Dude Will Tell You" is a top three for me.There's something emotional about this track for me. I like the piano, bass and drums but the vocals are even better. "Barrytown" is a fun song lyrically, a real toe tapper too. "East St.Louis Toodle" is a Duke Ellington cover that seems out of place. I think they've put the steel guitar through a fuzz box on this one and it sounds weird. A silly diversion. "Parker's Band" has such a great sounding intro as the vocals join in. Horns late. "Through With Buzz" is a short tune with strings, a beat and piano standing out as vocals join in. "Pretzel Logic" doesn't quite make my top three, i'd rate it as my fourth favourite though. A bluesy flavour to the rhythm here. A relaxed guitar solo 2 minutes in. "With A Gun" has this uptempo beat with vocals.This is catchy with lots of guitar. "Charlie Freak" is my other top three tune. A determined beat with piano and vocals on this one. Great track ! "Monkey In Your Soul" has a catchy rhythm with some nice bass as the vocals join in. Horns just before a minute. Sure it's a low 4 stars from me but this is an album I look forward to playing.
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Posted Saturday, May 14, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Pretzel Logic found Steely Dan in a melancholic and contemplative mood, combining the world-weariness of Can't Buy a Thrill with the increased compositional and technical chops of Countdown to Ecstasy. Paying full tribute to their jazz influences with the Charlie Parker homage Parker's Band and the Duke Ellington cover East St. Louis Toodle-oo, Becker and Fagen with their wingmen trace a more depressing course through their unique jazz-rock universe than their previous two albums, paving the way for the outright cynicism of Katy Lied and The Royal Scam. Not on the absolute top tier of Steely Dan albums, but still another excellent release from an extremely consistent band.
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Posted Wednesday, September 7, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars PRETZEL LOGIC from Steely Dan in 1974, is a good album but it has never been one of my favorites. I prefer AJA and COUNTDOWN TO ECSTACY more. I would tie this with the Gaucho level. Very jazzy and not bad, though. Best tracks are "Rikki", "Any Major Dude", and "Barrytown". The rest do not really thrill me very much. I find this album to not have as much "soul" as other releases, maybe it is too perfectly recorded and played. Not enough human soul, I guess. Whatever, I rarely play this and tend to stick to other albums by Steely Dan.
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Posted Wednesday, April 25, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars For me, Pretzel Logic is the cream of the Steely Dan crop. Since they are probably on my top ten list, that's very high praise indeed! It's the first of their two 5 star albums, along with Aja IMHO. Pretzel Logic is less conventionally "progressive" than Aja, which usually gets better reviews and ratings. The songs aren't as long and complex. The same can be said for Countdown to Ecstacy. Pretzel Logic is definitely more streamlined. However, it's the songwriting and variety on Pretzel Logic that clinches it for me.

This is one of those few masterpieces which I find extremely hard to find fault with. Every track is excellent. "Monkey in Your Soul" doesn't quite thrill me like the others, and "Through With Buzz" strikes me as unfinished. These are minor quibbles. I've always assumed that since Becker and Fagen outsourced most of their studio performances, Walter Becker left much of the guitar playing in the hands of Denny Dias and Jeff Baxter. Without knowing who plays on individual tracks, I've always wondered why these two musicians aren't acclaimed as among the best guitar players in rock music. The first two tracks on the album support my claim.

How do you pick the best songs from one of the best rock albuims ever made? At this point, I'd have to pick "Barrytown", a song about racism, and "Charlie Freak", apparently about a dying drug addict. I love the off-kilter melody and harmonies of "Charlie Freak". The fact that the lyrics for these two tracks are more comprehensible, less obscure than normal probably has something to do with my choice. Becker and Fagen's songwriting skills have grown over time, and Pretzel Logic includes many of their best songs. That factor and the variety from track to track on Pretzel Logic earns the album that rare distinction; a perfect 5 star rating.

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Posted Tuesday, September 17, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars The chorus of the title track of this album goes, "Those days are gone forever/Over a long time ago". These words could well be applied to this album as such. Steely Dan made a clean break with the concept of a 'real band'. Touring on the back of Countdown to Ecstasy ostensibly destroyed their enthusiasm for it and they placed their trust firmly in the hands of sessions musicians.

It is a decision that may have appeared bizarre at the time and perhaps bold circa 2013. In 1974, rock was very much about filling large arenas. The box office stars were bands that were renowned for their live act, like Led Zeppelin, The Who or Emerson Lake & Palmer. In such an environment, bucking the trend and sticking to 'boring' studio musicians would have been a strange choice to make. It was something R&B artists like Stevie Wonder did, not a RAWK band!

But time has made Donald Fagen and Walter Becker look very much the sly cats they have always been. Metal gradually unseated rock as the music of the arena in the 80s. With the gradual fading away or slowing down of the big metal bands like Iron Maiden or Metallica, the earlier fascination for the arena has probably ebbed, notwithstanding bands like Muse.

Thus, Steely Dan didn't do so badly for emulating the example of The Beatles and focusing their energy on utilising the magic of the studio. For that reason, Pretzel Logic is perhaps the most influential Steely Dan album. It was the model they would follow all the way to Gaucho, when they hung up their boots. The basic formula - heavily jazz leaning rock - was also laid down in Pretzel Logic. While I personally enjoyed the more hard rocking/'proggy' moments in Countdown to Ecstasy, the duo seemed to desire more focus to create a more cohesive musical experience.

Not surprisingly, many compositional trademarks of Steely Dan can also be traced back to Pretzel Logic. I do not have the wherewithal to pin it down in this review but my gut feeling tells me that three songs - Rikki Don't Lose That Number/Night By Night/Pretzel Logic - lay down the magic formula for much of Steely Dan's work. Compare Night by Night with Home At Last for instance or the chords of Rikki with the title track of Aja. Of course, Steely Dan were far too inventive to simply plagiarise themselves and recycle ideas from this album for subsequent ones. But the approach to constructing a good Steely Dan number was laid down at least as early as Pretzel Logic.

So why does Pretzel Logic still sound so different from Aja? The answer probably lies in their mastery of arrangements. To return to Night by Night, it is one hell of a rocking number with a bias towards rock and funk. Whereas Home At Last leans much more towards smooth jazz and is restrained and subtle in its treatment. Another difference is Donald Fagen's singing is also much more 'open' and full throatedt, again more like rock, on this album. The trademark wryness and irony that we identify with in Fagen's singing is very much intact, both on Pretzel Logic and Aja and also everything else in between.

With roughly the same basic approach, Steely Dan are able to cover a wide variety of moods and that, combined with their quirky chords, is what makes them a compelling experience for a jazz loving prog rocker. The band do require one to be a little tolerant of pop structure and in fact a good amount of pop flavour. They don't resemble pop outright but they do have a slightly commercial element somewhere that you may not enjoy if you are fussy about classic rock aesthetics and such.

Another point more specific to this album is some of the tracks are REALLY short. Just two and half a minutes or so. It may have made for brevity but it also stops the band from developing the tracks a little more which they could have and did on subsequent albums. That is perhaps the main distinction between Pretzel Logic and Aja. The songs on the latter are drawn out and better etched to fully realise their potential what with Fagen telling (ostensibly) the critics that they can sue him if he plays too long.

Pretzel Logic lives up a bit too much to Robert Fripp's vision of the band as small, smart, self sustaining, mobile unit. It could have done with a little more heart. Still, even the really short tracks are heaps of fun to listen to, so four stars for a solid album and a jazz rock classic.

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Posted Saturday, September 21, 2013 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars One of my favorite albums as a teenager, I could not get enough (and still can't) of hearing the title song--this despite the fact that I always considered Side One one of those most rare of species, a "Perfect Side." Yes, Rikki Don't Lose That Number" (9/10), "Night by Night" (9/10), "Any Major Dude Will Tell You" (9/10), "Barrytown" (8.75/10), and "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" (4.5/5) make up, in my opinion, a perfect side of music, one that you can play straight through and never have to skip, stop, or be disappointed. Such a rare thing. Side two, on the other hand, is quite another story. The only song I like/love/always want to hear is "Pretzel Logic"--definitely a top 5 Dan song, maybe my favorite, of all-time. (No, nothing can ever top "Do It Again", Home at Last", "Babylon Sisters" or perhaps even "Kid Charlemagne.")

Then there's the question we're all wondering about: Is this really prog--even the fringes of the jazz-rock fusion sub-genre?

Report this review (#1199121)
Posted Friday, June 27, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars The world of music is a bottomless well. All attempts to get a fair overview will fail. You will always miss important stuff. I have avoided Steely Dan for a while because its name is too close to Steeleye Span's, one of my favourite bands. Steely Dan was established 1972 in Los Angeles and they made seven studio records during the classic rock age. Because I right now am structuring my reviewing around the celebrated year 1974 I picked Steely Dan's third album "Pretzel Logic" which is their fourth highest ranked album here. I like the cover very much where we can se a man selling things you can eat. The album features a lot of instrumentalists, twenty to be precise but only Donald Fagan(keyboards, saxophone, lead vocals), Walter Becker(bass, guitar, vocals), Jeff Baxter(guitar), Denny Bias(guitar) and Jim Hodder(vocals) were listed as the band. But there are a lot of drummers, guitarists and brass people listed as musicians too. Together they created a fine and amazing prog jazz pop record with quality each second.

I wonder if it's possible to listen to this music without smiling. It's so cozy and lovely. Perhaps too cozy for some progers. The little touch of jazz is present all the time and makes the music so intresting. Other influences could be noticed as well such as blues and old-style american brass music. It feels like the music has so many intertexts that it is some American music history in it. Every song except "Moneky in your soul"(6/10) are very good and interesting. "Rikki don't lose that number" and "Any major dude will tell you" do I classify masterpieces. They are both very catchy and intelectual. "Night by night", "East St Louis Toodle Oo" och "Through with buzz"(9/10) are also very unique and very close to perfection. The five other songs are also great and shows just how amazing this musical world of ours is. My average rating ends at 4.23 which becomes four stars! "Pretzel Logic" is highly recommended.

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Posted Tuesday, November 11, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars Well, after thoroughly immersing themselves in the Countdown to Ecstasy experience, which included recording and touring with the same band for about a year, Becker and Fagen were understandably sick and tired of the whole ordeal of playing on the road and began taking steps to rectify the situation. One thing they did was to record a new album comprised mostly of session musicians from New York and Los Angeles. This was, in fact, a lot closer to what they wanted to do originally, the rationale being that most other studio bands up to and during that time (including the Beatles, allegedly) used session musicians and met with much success in so doing.

That's the idea behind Pretzel Logic, whose personnel notes are listed in such a way that it's impossible to tell who is actually in the band (although Becker, Fagen, Dias, Baxter and Hodder are in the sleeve photo). It literally lists only the musicians' names and not their instruments, although the missing information will be easy to piece together for those who have studied the LA studio scene (like me). The album presents a slew of shorter, slightly poppier songs after the commercial failure of Countdown (only two songs are longer than four minutes). Much of the material was also held over from pre-Steely Dan demo tapes ("Parker's Band," "Barrytown"), which I suppose is one reason why I don't listen to it as much as other Steely Dan albums.

We start off with "Rikki Don't Lose That Number," the band's biggest hit up to that time. Opening with a flapamba (which is like a marimba) introduction by Victor Feldman, the groove is set by a backing rhythm which faintly resembles Horace Silver's "Song For My Father." The lyrics can be taken to be about a woman that the composers fancied who was leaving town, or (according to one interviewer) about a marijuana cigarette. Jeff "Skunk" Baxter turns in one of his best and most recognizable guitar solos, and even if he was on the way out after this album's release, you would never know it from his playing here (and he is all over this record, at least side one). A solid track, even if it does seem tailored for AM radio.

"Night by Night" is one that Becker and Fagen thought was the single (even though it wasn't). The late, great Jeff Porcaro makes his first appearance on drums for Steely Dan and gets funky with the phased clavinet and horn backing. Baxter turns up again on the instrumental verse and outro vamp. Another winner.

"Any Major Dude Will Tell You" goes back to the more optimistic songs that Becker and Fagen wrote in the early days even before forming Steely Dan ("when the demon is at your door/in the morning he won't be there no more"). Denny Dias and Jeff Baxter trade off the guitar line at the end of each verse, and Baxter has another solo (less in-your-face than the previous songs due to the delicate nature of the track). Of interest for prog fans: the reference to "have you ever seen a squonk's tears" would be expounded upon at length by Mike Rutherford on the Genesis song, "Squonk," only two years later. Maybe Rutherford was listening to this track for lyrical inspiration?

"Barrytown" is a straight-ahead yet snarky pop-rocker that feels like it belongs on the next album, Katy Lied. The pedal steel guitar on the first two albums makes another appearance here, although a later country-ish track ("With a Gun") has no steel on it whatsoever. The lyrics point to prejudice against outsiders due to a different way of life ("look at what you wear/and the way you cut your hair"). Dig the harmony vocals on the bridge!

"East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" is the one and only official cover on a Steely Dan record, originally written by Duke Ellington in the mid-1920s. (I usually take exception to bands that play primarily original music doing covers, but I've always had a soft spot for this track.) This version apparently combines three different Duke recordings into one, and significantly, Walter Becker plays guitar for the first time with the band (as he would come to do more of later on). Donald Fagen plays the piano solo as well as alto saxophone (his childhood instrument). The rest of the personnel has been documented and is included here: Jeff Baxter on pedal steel (transcribing what was originally a trombone solo), session guitarist Dean Parks on banjo, Jim Gordon on drums, and engineer Roger Nichols on gong at the very end. Great track.

"Parker's Band" continues Becker and Fagen's jazz tributes, this time about legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker. The lyrics are basically about a jam session, referencing Dizzy Gillespie, 52nd Street in NYC, the Parker tune "Relaxin' at Camarillo" and even Horace Silver's "The Preacher," all in Becker and Fagen's own oblique way. The outro features a dazzling dual-sax solo from, I believe, Plas Johnson.

"Through with Buzz" is the band's shortest track (at around 90 seconds) and has never really been one of my favorites. The verses are very short (only one line) and the chorus is little more than "all right, oh yeah," etc. The saving grace in my opinion is the string arrangement by Jimmie Haskell (who I consider to be a writing/arranging genius).

The title track (the first in Steely Dan history) is a bluesy, R&B-flavored number that has since become a concert staple. Becker plays the guitar solo here, which apparently took a while to edit together from different takes (although it flows about as well as any other solo). Gordon rides a slow shuffle groove on drums which would be appropriated (at least stylistically) for "Chain Lightning" on the next album.

"With a Gun" is another short song (about two minutes) and has more of a country feel. Baxter turns up with twangy fills behind the vocals throughout. The lyrics are essentially about an outlaw in the American Old West. Not much to say about this one.

"Charlie Freak" is moodier, built around a loping piano line that repeats throughout the track. The verses are unusually plentiful for a Steely Dan song but don't quite have the panache of Bob Dylan (a hero to Becker and Fagen). The addition of sleigh bells towards the end give the track a chilly, winter-y vibe, but it works.

"Monkey in Your Soul" is the closer here, and unusually features fuzz bass (which I believe is by Becker, who probably also plays the guitar solo). The lyrics could be about a failing relationship or a greedy record executive (one thing I love about Dan lyrics is their ambiguity, which can inspire different interpretations). The song (and the album) ends on a dominant seventh chord, which is unusual.

If it seems like I'm skimming over certain tracks here, it's only because they seem relatively unremarkable to me, even after knowing the music for much of my life. The best stuff here is among the best Dan ever recorded, but the second side is really uneven thanks to "Buzz" and "Gun". Although I like the album, part of my frustration is down to the fact that there really wasn't that much new material written specifically for the album. I'm sure Becker and Fagen could have written 11 new songs in between touring and recording Countdown, but they just re-worked older material possibly due to time constraints. Anyway, if all that doesn't bother you and you just want to hear the progression of the band into a studio unit, this should still be considered an essential part of the journey (this record definitely has more ardent fans than myself). 4 stars out of 5.

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Posted Friday, August 7, 2015 | Review Permalink

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