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STEELY DAN

Jazz Rock/Fusion • United States


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Steely Dan biography
Founded in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, USA in 1972 - Disbanded in 1981 - Reunited in 1993 up until Becker's death in 2017 - Inducted into Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 (Performer)

In the year of our Lord, 1967, at the esteemed institution of higher learning known as Bard College located in Annandale-On Hudson New York, two jazz loving musicians met and decided to form a musical partnership that would cast a long shadow over American music over the 1970's and whose reputation and stature has only grown over time with new generations discovering their music and appreciating their unique and uncompromising way of making music. Never associated with progressive rock... yet.. as progressive as any group asssociated with progressive rock. Music made with crytic, highly intellectual lyrics grounded not in mythology or sword and sorcery but in the experience of living in 1970's America. Full of dark humour, social commentary delivered with a biting sarcasm by one of rock's greatest unappreciated lyricists. The music itself was a highly demanding unique treatment of the jazz-rock fusion that was so fresh and creative in the 1970's. The music though was not a mere vehicle for musical indulgence, expression, or wankery but was presented in a mainstream context with the music, and the lyrics being strengths that set the group apart from contemporaries in the jazz-rock scene. Tales abound of multiple retakes, from the greatest instrumentalists in American music, repeating complex parts over and over till they met the demands of the groups leaders. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker.

Fagen and Becker at Bard and discovered a shared passion for the music of Brubeck, Coltrane, Ellington, and Charlie Parker. During college.. like all of us music loving college have done..they formed several bands that explored their love of jazz. After Graduating in 1969 they left for New York City to try their hands at becoming songwriters and selling the songs they had written together. While that did not pan out for them, they did make an acquaintance in Kenny Vance of 'Jay and the Americans', that would set them on the road to success. They got their first taste of life on the road as back-up musicians and even doing the soundtrack for the low-budget Richard Pryor film 'You Gotta Walk It Like You Talk It'. However their most important contact was soon to come. Gary Katz of ABC Records.

Katz took Fagen and Becker under his wing and in 1971 brought them with hi...
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STEELY DAN discography


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STEELY DAN top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.55 | 201 ratings
Can't Buy A Thrill
1972
4.02 | 209 ratings
Countdown to Ecstasy
1973
3.73 | 180 ratings
Pretzel Logic
1974
3.67 | 157 ratings
Katy Lied
1975
3.72 | 179 ratings
The Royal Scam
1976
4.18 | 322 ratings
Aja
1977
3.69 | 167 ratings
Gaucho
1980
3.31 | 91 ratings
Two Against Nature
2000
2.98 | 69 ratings
Everything Must Go
2003

STEELY DAN Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.75 | 33 ratings
Alive in America
1993
0.00 | 0 ratings
Maria McPartland & Steely Dan: Piano Jazz (Radio Broadcast)
2005
3.50 | 6 ratings
In Concert
2008
3.00 | 1 ratings
Going Mobile
2013

STEELY DAN Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

3.26 | 8 ratings
Classic Albums: Aja
2000
3.59 | 16 ratings
Two Against Nature
2000
2.14 | 2 ratings
In Concert
2008
0.00 | 0 ratings
Dilectus
2012

STEELY DAN Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.00 | 2 ratings
Fagen & Becker: You Gotta Walk It Like You Talk It (OST)
1971
5.00 | 1 ratings
Steely Dan
1978
3.56 | 12 ratings
Greatest Hits
1979
4.00 | 1 ratings
The Very Best Of
1979
4.00 | 1 ratings
Steely Dan
1981
4.00 | 1 ratings
Walter Becker / Donald Fagen - The Early Years
1983
3.69 | 16 ratings
A Decade of Steely Dan
1985
0.00 | 0 ratings
The Very Best of Steely Dan: Do It Again
1987
0.00 | 0 ratings
The Very Best of Steely Dan: Reelin' In the Years
1987
3.13 | 9 ratings
Gold ( Expanded Edition)
1991
4.00 | 5 ratings
Then And Now - The Best of Steely Dan
1993
3.38 | 20 ratings
Citizen Steely Dan
1993
4.00 | 6 ratings
Showbiz Kids: The Steely Dan Story 1972-1980
2000
4.00 | 2 ratings
The Definitive Collection
2006
0.00 | 0 ratings
The Best Of
2007
0.00 | 0 ratings
The Very Best Of
2009

STEELY DAN Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

3.00 | 3 ratings
Dallas
1972
4.00 | 3 ratings
Reeling In The Years
1972
3.33 | 3 ratings
Dirty Work
1973
3.33 | 3 ratings
Show Biz Kids
1973
4.00 | 3 ratings
Pretzel Logic
1974
4.00 | 3 ratings
Bad Sneakers
1975
3.33 | 3 ratings
Haitian Divorce
1976
4.00 | 3 ratings
Kid Charlemagne
1976
4.00 | 3 ratings
Black Friday
1976
4.00 | 3 ratings
Josie
1977
2.50 | 2 ratings
Four Tracks From Steely Dan
1977
4.00 | 3 ratings
FM
1978
4.00 | 3 ratings
Do It Again
1978
3.50 | 2 ratings
Do It Again (Hazlo Otra Vez)
1978
4.00 | 3 ratings
Peg
1978
3.83 | 5 ratings
Rikki Don't Loose That Number
1979
3.67 | 3 ratings
Hey Nineteen
1980
4.00 | 3 ratings
Time Out Of Mind
1980
3.50 | 2 ratings
Reelin' In The Years
1982
2.00 | 1 ratings
Remastered: A Sample of Steely Dan
1993
2.00 | 1 ratings
Sampler
2000
3.67 | 3 ratings
Cousin Dupree
2000

STEELY DAN Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Walter Becker / Donald Fagen - The Early Years by STEELY DAN album cover Boxset/Compilation, 1983
4.00 | 1 ratings

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Walter Becker / Donald Fagen - The Early Years
Steely Dan Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by jamesbaldwin
Prog Reviewer

— First review of this album —
4 stars This record contains pre-Steely Dan demos of the 1968 - 1971, more or less unofficially issued with varying track listings under different titles. All these "s**** boots" (Walter Becker) were sourced from a cassette sold by Kenny Vance in 1983 without consent of the artists, hence the absymal sound quality. It's one of the first albums I've ever listened, around 1986, with a blue cover, and the title "Old Regime", the most commercial song.

Now, let's talk about the songs.

Side A 1. Brain Tap Shuffle (2:56) is a very convinced boogie where Fagen and Becker sing in unison, and where Dias' sharp guitar is in the foreground, and thanks to the backing vocals you reach a great fusion sound between jazz, blues and soul. The only flaw is that it ends too soon. Vote 8.

2. Come Back Baby (4:02) is a beautiful song, another piano ballad with bass bluesy and the two voices of Fagen and Becker in unison. Simple structure, verse and chorus, with a guitar solo (Denny Dias again) in the center and at the end, immediate and inspired song. Rating 8.

3. Don't Let Me In (4:10). Another piano danced to the rhythm of a boogie, with drums (John Mazzi) and bass (Becker) very strong, and with Fagen's voice in the foreground along with Dias' rhythm guitar. These songs flow which is a pleasure for the ear. This is even more catchy than the previous ones, perhaps too commercial. But Dias' sharp solo lifts the quality and makes it a beautiful blues. Rating 7.5/8

4. Old Regime (3:05). A very rhythmic (John Discepolo on the drums), commercial, verse/chorus pop song, in which the fall of the old regime is sung by Keith Thomas. Nice jazz bridge that, after the second chorus, connects the second verse with the third. Very gritty song but conventional. It is the weakest song of the album. Rating 7+.

5. Brooklyn (5:37) is the only song of this collection that will end up on an official Steely Dan record and this version is slower and more resigned than that on "Cant buy a Thrill". This one is very evocative, based on singing by Fagen and keyboards but in the center has an interesting guitar solo (Elliott Randall), then the song expands a lot up to 6 minutes, becoming the most ardous of the album. In my opinion it is emotionally better than the original one included on the debut album, which loses much of its languid charm even if it is better arranged. Rating 8+.

Side B 1. Mock Turtle Song (3:25) is like the first of the A-side: a really jazz-fusion song with soul backing vocals, xilophone (?), jazzy rhythm, percussive piano, guitar solo (Dias). What a grit these early Steely dan! They got still sixties accents. Very radiophonic and commercial, immediate but also inspired. Rating 7.5/8.

2. Soul Ram (2:05). The shortest song of the album: a pop-jazz track: who sings? I think Keith Thomas, and not Fagen, his voice is more high-pitched and more soulful, less melancholy. Great work of keyboards and percussion. Short filler but very lively. Rating 7+.

3. I Can't Function (3:59). Piano ballad with great Becker on bass and where Fagen plays a saxophone solo. Fagen and Becker singing together and in the end we can hear their talkin'. Rating 8.

4. Yellow Peril (4:01). The track has a great piano work (Fagen), it's a refined pop-jazz ballad, with Fagen's voice in the foreground rising to the high notes. Shy electric guitar solo, which the production does not highlight. Beautiful song, solid, with a nice piano tour and an expressive singing. Rating 7.5/8

5. Let George Do It (3:03). Piano ballad in the honky tonk style, very rhythmic, flowing pleasantly, beautiful singing (Keith Thomas), and sorry only that it ends after 3 minutes. Rating 7,5/8.

Words and music by Fagen and Becker except B1: Words by Charles Dodgson. Arranged By - Fagen, Becker.

Album not really prog and composed largely on the piano, which is the sound carpet to every song (except in Brooklyn where keyboards prevail), and which develops with longer songs in the style of ballads, or with shorter and faster songs. There are no real masterpieces but each song is pleasant, melodically inspirated and has an immediacy that will no longer be found on the band's official records.

A record to listen for every fan of the group.

Rating: 8,5. Four stars.

 Countdown to Ecstasy by STEELY DAN album cover Studio Album, 1973
4.02 | 209 ratings

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Countdown to Ecstasy
Steely Dan Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by TCat
Special Collaborator Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team

5 stars After their decent but far from perfect debut, one of the lead singers (David Palmer) left the band leaving Donald Fagen to sing lead on all of the songs. Who knew that this would lead to a much better album with their follow up "Countdown to Ecstasy", especially when the album cover was so ugly. While it's true that a hit single wasn't generated from the album, it has its share of classic tracks that have become favorites. Eventually, it received the gold status it deserved, but it wasn't an instant success even though the critics loved it. Now many fans consider it one of their best, and rightly so.

The original cover art was created by Dorothy White who was Fagen's girfreind at the time. The record company couldn't see past the fact that her painting had 3 characters and insisted that two more should be added to represent all of the band's members. What ended up happening was the cover looked unfinished. The proofs were also stolen and that didn't help either. Fagen ended up hating the cover, but he pretty much hated all of the early covers.

The subjects of the songs pretty much followed the same themes of the debut with topics like drug busts and living in excess. The music also stuck with the jazz inspired rock sound of the debut, but this time around, it was more evident, and that movement towards a more free feeling sound is what helps elevate this album so far above the debut. Yes, the debut had "Do It Again" and "Reelin' in the Years", and it is tough to beat those to jam-based songs that are definitely some of SD's most memorable and popular. However, the opening track to "Ecstasy" is sooooo much better. With layered vocals, Fagen strengthened his voice, but the biggest draw to this song is the long instrumental sections that feature rocking and bop-style playfulness between Fagen's keys and Becker's bass and Baxter's guitar which was one of the best examples of their ability to work together. The fact that the lyrics alluded to the fact that if you want to achieve spiritual perfection, you don't necessarily have to give up everything you have was a concept that went against what the hippies of the time tried to preach.

From there, we go to a more jazzy, laid-back vibe that also had a nice even level of complexity in the ironic song "Razor Boy". There is a nice, happy, island vibe to the whole thing, plus Jeff Baxter (who would later play for The Doobie Brothers) lends his smooth steel guitar to the mix, and what you end up with is a biting, yet positive feeling track. "The Boston Rag" works off of a heavier rock sound, but retains the shiny jazz feel nevertheless. As the song develops and moves into the final instrumental break, the piano and guitar work together to create a rugged sound and Jeff Baxter once again pushes it to a nice climax with a distorted guitar solo. This is followed by "Your Gold Teeth" which has a great jazz groove established by the solid keyboard work which use jazz harmonies to lay a nice foundation for Becker's bass and Baxter's guitar. The topic is a female grifter and her ability to scam people with her looks and smarts. The sleazy world is well represented and enhanced by the cool keyboard and guitar solos that surround the verses.

"Show Biz Kids" is another SD classic which forms the persistent and infectious groove early on that repeats all the way through the track but never gets tired as the almost hip hop sound of the music. It works its way into your brain and refuses to leave until long after. The rowdy slide guitar solo is performed by the guitar guru Rick Derringer. This one will get your foot tapping and was one of the first popular songs to use the famous "F" word which was sampled by "Super Furry Animals". After this comes the 2nd of the one-two punch of fan favs called "My Old School". This one is also infectous with the solid backbeat and a jazzy flair. The track is autobiographical as it tells about a drug bust that Fagen and Becker were involved in at their high school. "Daddy G", the person mentioned in the lyrics, is G. Gordon Liddy, who was the local prosecutor at the time. Baxter has another rocking guitar solo in this one too. The sassy sax lines created by the 4 person sax ensemble also make this track a keeper and a favorite.

Baxter continues to deliver excellent pedal steel guitar on "Pearl of the Quarter" which has a definite country flair to it, one of the few SD tracks that could be considered country tinged. The final track to this masterpiece album is "King of the World" which explores the theme of nuclear holocaust in a somewhat sarcastic manner, a theme that Fagen would return to. If anyone doubted SD's ties to jazz flavored rock would not be able to deny it after this track and this album. A nice, smooth synth solo in the instrumental break caps everything off perfectly.

Definitely a major highlight in SD's discography, I consider "Countdown to Ecstasy" one of their best and for sure an influential album for bringing jazz/rock fusion and pop together in one seamless style. The album would be the source of inspiration for many artists, even including Joe Jackson, who released an amazing jazz/rock/pop album of his own called "Night and Day". If there is only one SD album that you hear, this is one that should be one of your choices. Excellent musicianship and songwriting persist through this album which never really gets stale and would be the album that would define their unique sound. No doubt that this album is one of their 5 star masterpieces as it raised the "cool" factor 100%.

 Can't Buy A Thrill by STEELY DAN album cover Studio Album, 1972
3.55 | 201 ratings

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Can't Buy A Thrill
Steely Dan Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by TCat
Special Collaborator Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team

3 stars Steely Dan's debut album, "Can't Buy a Thrill", was released in 1972, and was the least jazzy of what they would sound like by the end of their career. But there was still that jazz edge to it, and it was still infectious. The public welcomed them well as the album ended up with two enduring hits. The lineup was definitely more that just Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, though they were definitely there, but Fagen also wasn't the only lead singer at the time either. Becker stays on bass on this album and the guitars are handled by Jeff Baxter and Denny Dias. Jeff "Skunk" Baxter was also a regular member, but would later go off and be a Doobie Brother. Sure, there is a lot more history to it all than that, but there really is no need to go over all of that since it has been done many times before.

The album opens with the rollicking hit "Do It Again" featuring Fagen on vocals and that definitive guitar and sitar solo. This is one of those tracks that everyone knows intimately. This was followed by another hit, this time much lesser known, "Dirty Work". Though not as catchy, it is still memorable and sung by session musician David Palmer. "Kings" is a return to the catchy track, but missing that guitar hook. Nevertheless, the track is upbeat and has a great jazzy instrumental break with some dissonance thrown in to prove that this was not just another rock band. The track also uses the trademark backing female vocals that you would hear more often in their later music. "Midnight Cruiser" is a bit more mellow, but with a memorable chorus. Jim Hodder sings lead vocals on this one, but his voice has got the vulnerability that Fagen's does, and so it fits in well. You can definitely hear Fagen in the chorus though. The guitar solo is a bit heavier in this one and also features two guitars. "Only a Fool Would Say That" has a lighter jazz touch to it and sounds similar to their later tracks, especially since Fagen sings lead. The spoken Spanish vocal at the end is done by Baxter.

"Reelin' in the Years" another well-known hit opens side 2. Again, there is the excellent guitar solo played by session musician Elliot Randall that most everyone is familiar with, and a leaning to a more standard rock sound, but an excellent song nonetheless. Again, Fagen does the lead. "Fire in the Hole" has a nice piano led intro and instrumental break with a hard stomp sound to it. This is yet another Fagen led vocal and moves back to a jazz sound with a more complex melody. Baxter is doing the pedal steel guitar here and has his own nice solo on the last break. "Brooklyn" also sees Baxter on the pedal steel but is sung by David Palmer again and has a nice chorus. It is a straightforward, almost country rock sound to it, especially with another steel solo. Palmer also sings lead on "Change of the Guard" which also is a teensy bit heavier with a strong backbeat and a nice dual guitar solo. "Turn that Heartbeat Over Again" closes the album and features Walter Becker helping out both Fagen and Palmer on vocals. It also has a more complex sound to it and mixes rock and jazz nicely.

Though it is a bit different from the later albums, it is still an enjoyable album from Steely Dan in their earliest years. It is a great debut album and shows hints of where the music would eventually lead to. Because it is an enjoyable album, it is tempting to rate it higher than it should be, but I honestly think that it is better than a 3 star album because it is done quite well and showcases the bands talent. Personally, I would give it at least a 4 star rating, but for the purposes of this site, I must consider it 3 stars because it isn't that progressive. So that is the reason for the low rating. But don't let that deter you from obtaining this album.

 Two Against Nature by STEELY DAN album cover Studio Album, 2000
3.31 | 91 ratings

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Two Against Nature
Steely Dan Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by TCat
Special Collaborator Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team

4 stars After 20 years, Steely Dan finally released their 8th album. After the release of 'Gaucho' in 1980, the SD frontmen, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, released several solo albums and participated in many other projects, and finally got back together, much to the delight of fans everywhere, to 'Do It Again'.

This time around, they kept the band down to just themselves, and played most of the instruments by themselves, but they also had many, many guests helping them out. For the most part, the album followed right where they left off, playing a smooth, jazz fusion with funky and rock sensibilities. Becker played all of the regular guitars, including bass, while Fagen took care of keyboards, vocals and many other instruments.

The style is very much like they had in 'Aja' and 'Gaucho', both successful albums, and they weren't about to change a good thing. And they didn't have to. This was their signature sound, and it is what people expected, that cool, hep jazz sound, with a lot of good guitar and plenty of brass, sax and clarinet.

This predictability in their sound does work to its detriment however. That is not saying this is a bad album, because you get that same clean sound as before, with emphasis on perfection in sound. But, you know exactly what you are getting, and I tend to miss some of the odd surprises that the band used to pull on their listeners, causing them to stretch a little.

Now, there are still reasons to get this album, and those reasons are tracks like 'Two Against Nature' which has a lovely sax solo. The song that follows, 'Janie Runaway' has the great funky and complex attitude found on Fagen's 'The Nightfly' title track. The opening track 'Gaslighting Abbie' is also excellent and gets you all excited for what could have been an excellent album. I even like the closer 'West of Hollywood' mostly for the instrumental sections. But, the best tracks are on the first half of the album, and even then, a few of them are a little less memorable. And nothing really stood out on the 2nd half, just more of the same, a great sound, but lacking anything new. The album starts to sound more like some great outtakes from their glory days instead of new songs, because the sound is really not much different.

Even with the strong tracks though, by the time its all done, it feels like you have heard this before. The band's quest for perfection tends to shine out all of the rough edges that used to make them so appealing. There are also no surprises here. It would have been nice to hear some more progressive sounds, like in the track 'Aja', or some blues-inflected tracks like 'Black Friday' or 'Chain Lightening'. Or even a more guitar driven track like 'Bodhistava' or rendition of a standard, like the instrumental 'East St. Louis Toodle-oo'. Variety could have gone a long ways here, but they keep things safe with the jazz style they are most comfortable with. But, at the same time, it could have been a lot worse, and at least they ended up with a decent album, just a step above 'Gaucho', but not as great as 'Aja' or 'Katy Lied'. Anyway, it's a great album, definitely not a throwaway, just not as good as it could have been. Still, it gets 4 stars for its clarity and musicianship, but it could have been a 5 with some variety or more progressiveness.

 Aja by STEELY DAN album cover Studio Album, 1977
4.18 | 322 ratings

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Aja
Steely Dan Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by TCat
Special Collaborator Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team

5 stars By now, most everyone has probably heard this album, either partially or completely. To review this album again is almost like repeating everything everyone else has already said about it. It is a gem, the perfect pinnacle for Steely Dan's career as a group and a homage to two great jazz rock greats, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. They did have some great material before this album and even after, but nothing matches the perfection of this album. And the amazing thing is, you listen to it and it all seems so effortless. That could have been part of the trouble prior to this album, in that not every album was consistently as good as this one turned out to be, that maybe they were trying too hard.

The jazz is smooth, mostly, and the music is very catchy. The tunes stay in your head, even the instrumental parts. You can search Steely Dan's discography, and yes you will find some great music, but the closest thing you will come to that compares to this album is Donald Fagen's "The Nightfly". This album set the bar for me as far as jazz rock is concerned, and the title track "Aja" set the standard for individual jazz/rock songs. What a perfect song, plenty of smoothness and progressiveness, a perfect blend of both. Trying to describe the title track is impossible, it must be heard and re-heard to appreciate it.

There are other great songs here including "Deacon Blues" with it's amazing sax-led instrumental sections, the somewhat funky "Black Cow" and "Josie", the lilting piano hook of "Home at Last", it's all good. There is quite a line up of jazz musicians contributing to this album also, and even with this many players, everything sounds so cohesive. Even Michael McDonald's supporting and background vocals sound perfect here, and I'm not a McDonald fan at all.

So anyway, for such a masterpiece, this is a short review. But the music here really speaks for itself. You can talk about jazz chord progressions and techniques all you want, and you can analyze the music to death, the best way to experience it is to listen to it, but not just once, several times. Every jazz/rock fusion fan should be familiar with this album.

 In Concert by STEELY DAN album cover DVD/Video, 2008
2.14 | 2 ratings

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In Concert
Steely Dan Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by Matti
Prog Reviewer

2 stars The American band Steely Dan released seven albums between 1972 and 1980, but quite soon they quitted touring, concentrating on the polished and sophisticated studio albums. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker reactivated the group in 1994 and released "Alive in America" next year. It was only in 2000 that a new studio album "Two Against Nature" saw the light of day. And on that same year they performed in New York, resulting in this 75-minute live album/DVD. My own relationship to SD is not a very strong one. I prefer a bunch of [relatively melodic] songs from their mid-to-late 70's albums and from "Gaucho", 1980. The comeback album I have never bothered to listen to.

The package has left musicians unnamed. Also the essence of the DVD itself is quite ripped-down: the concert just starts without any introductions, cameras concentrate on close-ups of the musicians, mostly on Donald Fagen since he's the vocalist. It goes on like this for a long time, no overviews of the band, the audience totally absent. It feels more like watching unoriginal, early music videos featuring just band playing. The picture quality is deliberately slightly unsharp.

Also, especially a couple of first songs, or actually each one (as many as 5) on the concert unfamiliar to me before, sound frankly quite boring. All based on a steady funk-ish beat. I'm not surprised to learn afterwards that they are from the then-new album. Amidst them are 70's songs, such as 'Bad Sneakers', 'Josie' and 'FM'. The performances are faultless and very faithful to the studio originals. Guitarist Walter Becker looks dead serious and joyless, and the large group, buried in anonymity as it seems at first, doesn't actually set the stage on fire either. Am I impressed? Surely not. I'd probably have better time with my self-compiled Steely Dan CD, reading a book simultaneously.

I felt a mild turn for the better in my reception, when Becker heartily introduces the group in the halfway. The song set (pretty average as a whole) at least features 'Babylon Sisters' and 'Kid Charlemagne', both on my SD fave list. And the three female backing vocalists are good looking. But this is one of those modest live DVD's that it's OK to see once but nothing more. I'm glad I only borrowed it from library.

 Citizen Steely Dan by STEELY DAN album cover Boxset/Compilation, 1993
3.38 | 20 ratings

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Citizen Steely Dan
Steely Dan Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by cfergmusic1

4 stars This box set, released in 1993 during Steely Dan's original comeback tour, collects every original album track released during the first phase of the group's career (1972-1980), in chronological and album order on 4 CDs/cassettes, plus various non-album rarities scattered throughout. One could almost think of this as replacing the original albums in that case, arguing that if you have this box set, you really don't need the albums, and vice versa (of course I'm crazy enough to own both sets.), so this is essentially a review of the non-album tracks, of which there are four.

The live version of "Bodhisattva" from the July 5th, 1974 show in Santa Monica, CA (the Dan's last gig for 19 years), is the only one to be officially released during the's band original tenure, as the B-side of "Hey Nineteen" in 1980. Prefaced by a memorable two-minute introduction by Steely's MC-in-residence, the constantly inebriated Jerome Aniton (who actually introduces Donald Fagen as "Mr. Steely Dan"), the band powers through with a fire not heard on the studio version. Even though Becker/Fagen did not like performing live in the least, the band nonetheless had a reputation for producing exciting, high-energy concerts, and some say that the '74 band was their best, with the double-drumming of Jim Hodder and Jeff Porcaro. The sound quality may not be that great today, but Steely's live engineer, Dinky Dawson, was a genius in his time (being the first person to mix the audience live with the band), and so this recording should be listened to with that in mind. This rendition appears in the middle of disc 2 in between the tracks from Pretzel Logic and Katy Lied.

The next track, "Here at the Western World" on disc 3, was originally released on 1978's Greatest Hits compilation and recorded during the Royal Scam sessions (and appears here between those tracks and Aja) but probably would have fit better on Katy Lied, as it's a gentle, piano-based medium-tempo tune typical of that album. This song about hanging out at a brothel (the "Western World") contains a typically stellar guitar solo by Dean Parks, emotionally affecting in its own way. Pop fans take note: one of the background singers on this track is the late Kasey (Kvitka) Cisyk, a national treasure in her ancestral homeland of Ukraine, best known for singing the original "You Light Up My Life" before Debby Boone replaced her vocal tracks for a Big Hit cover version of the tune.

Two rarities abound on disc 4: "FM," from the little-known 1978 film of the same name, also appeared on 1985's compilation A Decade of Steely Dan as the lead-off track. For the second and final time, Becker/Fagen employ a string arrangement, this time by Johnny Mandel of "MASH" fame; the chart employs rich, full jazz chords and string sections typical of Mandel. In another return appearance, Pete Christlieb ("Deacon Blues") blows his tenor sax again, and here's where we have an exclusive to this box for the first time; the version heard on the FM soundtrack and Decade feature a Walter Becker guitar solo at the end, but the version on this box, previously heard only on the closing credits to the movie, feature another Christlieb sax solo over the same ending loop. Christlieb gives it his all on this one, and his collaborations with Becker/Fagen would prove fruitful, as they produced his jazz album with fellow tenor Warne Marsh, Apogee, released in 1978 on Warner Bros. (Longtime Dan guitarist Denny Dias also assisted with production duties on that album, which by the way is essential listening for any fan of post-bop and West Coast jazz.) "FM" appears here between Aja and Gaucho.

The final track on disc 4, and on this box, is another exclusive: the rare 1971 demo of "Everyone's Gone to the Movies" (a song which originally appeared on Katy Lied) with the original band of Fagen, Becker, Dias, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, and Jim Hodder. Stripped down to the basics, this version is much funkier than the later version (that guitar line will stay with you for days) and has less restrictive chord movement in the verses (the choruses are basically the same); of note is that Fagen's (?) keyboard solo on the album version was originally a Skunk guitar solo with the chorus at the end, as it appears here. Background vocals are supplied by Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman of the Turtles, who were calling themselves "Flo and Eddie" around this time; their parts should be fairly easy to pick out.

Although some people probably thought this was the complete representation of Steely Dan on record at the time, that couldn't be further from the truth. The pre-Can't Buy a Thrill singles "Dallas" and "Sail the Waterway," as well as various pre-Dan demos released as bootlegs, are conspicuous by their absence, solely because Becker/Fagen had trouble finding anything in the vaults that they liked. Of course now, most everything by the Dan can easily be found on places like YouTube, including those early bootleg demos, which certainly wasn't the case in 1993! The booklet includes a hilarious letter by Becker/Fagen to MCA vice-president Andy McKaie on this very subject, along with a lengthy press release regarding the comeback tours as well as various Dan artwork and paraphernalia. Only the most die-hard Dan fans will care about this sort of thing, though, so as great as this music and box are, I can only recommend it to them despite my high rating. 4.5 stars out of 5.

 Gaucho by STEELY DAN album cover Studio Album, 1980
3.69 | 167 ratings

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Gaucho
Steely Dan Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by cfergmusic1

4 stars After the release of Aja in 1977, Becker and Fagen took their first real break from recording albums and occupied their time with other projects. In 1978 alone, they wrote and recorded the theme song for the DJ movie "FM" (which starred Michael Brandon and Eileen Brennan and came and went in the theaters), produced a jazz album with hot tenors Pete Christlieb and Warne Marsh called Apogee, and had the honor of having six of their songs covered by Woody Herman's Thundering Herd, one of the last surviving groups from the "big band" era of the 30s-40s. (Five of those arrangements were released on the album Chick, Donald, Walter & Woodrow in '78; the last was released as a bonus track on CD some years later.) And, oh yes, they packed up and moved back home to New York from Los Angeles to begin work on Gaucho, which would prove to be a major challenge for them, and as such, the last album of new material they would release for quite some time.

Any major Dan fan will tell you that Becker/Fagen always wrote about New York when they were in California, and ironically, started writing about LA on this album (i.e., "Drive west on Sunset to the sea" from "Babylon Sisters"). I suppose I have a different perspective on this; having lived my entire life in Los Angeles and being intimately familiar with the Steely catalog from a young age, every album has an LA feel to me, and especially this one?but this is more of a "relaxing at home at night" kind of feel, rather than the "tooling around Laurel Canyon in the afternoon" vibe of the early material. Given that I always listened to this album at night, it was an easy conclusion to come to, but it also feels like the twilight of Steely Dan's career, since Becker/Fagen broke up after this album and everyone thought the band was done forever (and in a way, they were right).

The leadoff track, "Babylon Sisters," captures this feeling about as well as any other. Opening with a dark, silky groove from Bernard Purdie and sleazy, phased-out Rhodes from the late Don Grolnick, this track contains more overt references to LA than previously heard in the Dan catalog (incidentally, I actually have driven west on Sunset to the sea listening to this track). Fagen collaborated with Rob Mousey on most of the arrangements for this album, and this track introduces some new colors into the ensemble?namely, bass clarinets by George Marge and Wally Kane, and light percussion by Crusher Bennett (for some reason I find it hilarious to think of a delicate instrument like bar chimes being played by someone named "Crusher"). In fact this album, having been recorded mostly in NY, features a lot of new faces to the ever-growing list of Dan session musicians?Purdie and Chuck Rainey (this track's bassist) are among the few returning players. The song itself builds on the slick feeling of Aja, but with a suitably darker tone which applies to the album in general. The muted trumpet solo by Randy Brecker has been a favorite for most of my life.

"Hey Nineteen" introduces another new element, typical of the burgeoning 80s?a drum machine (Wendel, engineer Roger Nichols' invention) based on samples played by Rick Marotta. (This is probably why most people don't like this album, arguing that the Dan's quest for studio perfection reached their limits with this track in particular.) This is essentially a "generation gap" song; a man getting on in years finds himself attracted to a young co-ed but quickly finds that they have nothing in common, not that that matters. This one is more upbeat than "Babylon Sisters" but uses a lot more space to great effect.

"Glamour Profession" is the longest track on the album at 7 1/2 minutes; it also closes out Side One, thereby following the same exact format as Aja?which is appropriate since this is basically "Deacon Blues" part two. The subject this time is high society people?basketball players, business executives?caught up in the drug-fueled lifestyle of the late 70s-early 80s (see also Zappa's "Cocaine Decisions"). The bridge, ostensibly based on Kurt Weill's "Speak Low," is yet another great sequence from the minds of Becker and Fagen, but the ending vamp has always struck me as a bit sleepy (or maybe that's just Steve Khan's guitar solo). Great track nonetheless. By the way, Steve Gadd's drum track is not filtered through a drum machine, although it may sound like it at times. Fun Fact: The name "Hoops McCann" was taken from this song for the name of John Cusack's character in the 1986 movie One Crazy Summer?which shows that there was at least one Dan fan in the writing room.

The title track opens up Side Two and borrows elements from a Keith Jarrett tune called "Long as You Know You're Living Yours" (as admitted by Becker/Fagen themselves; Jarrett sued and got a co-writing credit after the fact). This track arguably has more musical interest than that earlier creation, though; the verses go through a lot of different phases but somehow don't feel as contrived as you might expect. Jeff Porcaro makes a return appearance in the drum chair, and Walter Becker has his only guitar solo on the record here. (I haven't mentioned Becker that much in this review because he was not involved in most of the album's sessions due to being involved in a car accident, as well as other issues.) I'm not sure if this song is really about a homosexual menage trois, but the reference to "bodacious cowboys" cracks me up every time.

"Time Out of Mind" seems to be cut from the same mold as "Hey Nineteen"; sparse rhythmic support anchored by Rick Marotta/Wendel's drum machine backbeats (I'm not actually sure if Wendel was used on this track or not). More oblique references to drugs ("rolling in the snow," "chasing the dragon") that can only be discerned by reading between the lines, as is the usual custom with these guys. Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits fame turns in a guest appearance on guitar, contributing mostly fills between vocal lines but with a nice solo on the end vamp. Another great instrumental bridge can be found here as well, bolstered by a horn arrangement with a full, five-man sax section usually found in big bands.

"My Rival" sounds at first like a futuristic video game (at least the organ does) before reverting to a slow, funky groove with Latin undertones from Nicholas Marrero's timbales. Rick Derringer contributes guitar fills before the verse and was originally in line to play the solo before that honor went to Steve Khan, in one of his best outings with the Dan. Becker/Fagen seemed to like writing instrumental bridges for this album, since this one has nice, crunchy chords under a square-wave synth lead.

"Third World Man" is the closer, one of the moodiest the band ever put together. One interesting fact is that this rhythm track originally came from the Aja sessions (which explains the appearances of Joe Sample and Larry Carlton) for an unreleased song called "Were You Blind That Day?" Having recently heard that song (in two different versions), I can say that that song, not one of their best to begin with, ended up much better in this form, but either way, it could only have worked on this album and not Aja. The song itself is most likely about a Vietnam veteran with PTSD who engages in questionable activity due to his disorder. Carlton has probably the best guitar solo of the album because, well, he's Larry Carlton.

Remember when I said Becker/Fagen had a tough time making this album? Gaucho took them well over a year to record, for various reasons. Becker's aforementioned issues during production, very extensive mixing after the sessions, complicated rhythm charts necessitating all-night recording sessions with the same band, the invention of Wendel to make sure they had nanosecond-perfect drum tracks?not to mention the accidental erasure of one of the best songs Becker/Fagen ever wrote, "The Second Arrangement" (although various "safety copies" of the tune exist and can be found on YouTube). Even after the album was released, the record label (MCA) decided to charge an extra dollar for every copy, which of course led to much consternation between MCA and Dan manager Irving Azoff. Basically, everything that could go wrong with this album, did go wrong, and by the time Gaucho finally came out late in 1980, both Becker and Fagen were thoroughly sick of the whole experience, of themselves and of each other, and decided to break up their partnership shortly thereafter.

For all that, though, the music contained herein passes the "Dan test" with flying colors and, over time, has come to be regarded as the triumph it always was. One can easily understand, though, why these guys needed a break from spending pretty much all their waking hours inside of recording studios for eight years, and in fact, it wouldn't be until 1986 that Becker/Fagen were "reunited" on model-turned-singer Rosie Vela's debut album, Zazu (produced by longtime Dan producer Gary Katz), and not until 1993 that they would reform Steely Dan and go out on tour once again. As usual, the good far outweighs the bad here, so I highly recommend this as one of the first two or three Dan albums that you should own. 4.5 stars out of 5.

 Aja by STEELY DAN album cover Studio Album, 1977
4.18 | 322 ratings

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Aja
Steely Dan Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by cfergmusic1

5 stars I have to admit that I came to this review with more than a little bit of trepidation. How does one even try to write about their favorite album of all time? Aja has been with me for as long as I can remember?through most every major and minor life event pretty much since childhood?so long that it's hard to know where to begin, and even still, try to do the music justice. But I'd still like to try anyway.

This album, of course, is the one that really put Steely Dan on the map, the one where most people agree that their particular style of jazz-inflected rock was best represented. I would have to say that's pretty right on; even considering that these guys never made a bad album, this one generally stands out for its elevated taste, polish, songwriting, horn and rhythm arrangements, engineering?I could go on, but I think you get the idea. It's no wonder, then, that the album was the highest-charting of their career, making it into the Top Three in America.

On a more personal note, however, it's also the album that I turned to probably the most often (along with the surrounding SD albums, The Royal Scam and Gaucho) in the midst of a sometimes carefree, sometimes dysfunctional childhood and family life. Somehow, to my 7-year-old self back in 1997, and for most of my formative years from then on, it seemed to be one of the only things that made sense to my confused mind at that time. Given the fact that this album probably has more to do with progressive rock than any other in SD's oeuvre, and because of its deceptively cloudy mood in general, I'm not exactly sure what that says about my personality or how musically advanced I must have been at that time (having started piano at age 3 and gone on my merry way picking out tunes since then). Whatever the case, this is just one of those albums that I can safely say that my life would be a lot poorer for its absence.

Anyway, onto the music. "Black Cow" opens with a smooth, funky, phased-out clavinet (played by the Crusaders' Joe Sample) and guitar sequence that sounds as milky as this song's namesake drink mix. The lyrics seem to fall under the typical Becker/Fagen subject of individuals who seem to have lost their way in life?social misfits, in a sense. What's truly amazing is how the music primarily does not reflect this way of thinking; it's mostly happy-sounding due to the major key tonalities, but with a subtle hint of melancholy throughout. Larry Carlton plays guitar in a supporting rhythm role and he also helped with most of the rhythm charts; future Lawrence Welk employee Paul Humphrey turns in his only drumming appearance with the Dan here, and Victor Feldman plays a classic Rhodes solo that actually skips ahead of the beat very slightly (see if you can figure out where). The song rides out a vamp, not on the original tonic chord, on top of which chief horn arranger Tom Scott blows a mean tenor sax solo. "So outrageous," indeed.

The title track is widely recognized as the Dan's all-time masterpiece, which is pretty difficult to argue with. At almost 8 minutes, it's the longest track the Dan would record for some time (until "West of Hollywood" on their Grammy-winning comeback album, Two Against Nature). Not a moment of those 8 minutes is wasted, though, starting with the piano-led intro which is once again the perfect mood-setter for what follows. I interpret the lyrics, at their most base level, as expressing a longing or even homesickness for the Far East and elements of same (which makes sense since "Aja" sounds like "Asia"), but I'm willing to accept the possibility that it goes a lot deeper than that. The lengthy instrumental section that follows is firmly in the mold of "prog" but occupies a space all its own, in the first part bolstered greatly as usual by Denny Dias' guitar solo (in his last-ever appearance with the band; he would officially quit after this album's release) as well as Walter Becker's bluesy fills in the reprise (by the way, Becker's co-conspirator Donald Fagen gets in an appearance on police whistle in addition to playing synths).

The second part, beginning at about 5 minutes, is immediately darker and tends to hang on one specific type of chord (minor 11th); tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, who has always struck me as someone who saved his best stuff for other people's albums, continues the tradition of jazzers appearing on Steely Dan records; obviously, years of tenure with Miles Davis and Weather Report prepared him well for his solo spot, one of the Dan's best on any instrument. After a reprise of the intro and third verse, we return to the minor-key vamp from Shorter's solo, which is now a backdrop for the Dan's only recorded drum solo (from Steve Gadd, who remarkably needed only two takes to get this beast of a song down). Bubbly, atmospheric synths carry the track to its fade-out (intriguingly, fade-outs are shared in common by all seven tracks on the album). The perfect marriage of musicianship, lyrics, style and substance? Very likely.

Another mini-masterpiece follows with "Deacon Blues," briefer than the title track by only 30 or so seconds but longer on narrative. Opening with another evocative, Rhodes-led intro (with an "in-time" hold before the first verse), the song unfolds at its own leisurely pace, aided and abetted by drummer Bernard Purdie and bassist Walter Becker. The verse-chorus sequences are almost two minutes long but amazingly don't feel as long as they actually are; the horn voicings starting at the second verse are some of the crunchiest yet with the band. The instrumental section completes the trifecta on Side One by featuring yet another stellar tenor sax solo, this time by Pete Christlieb who was playing regularly on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show at this time. The lyrics, to me, paint a more detailed and slightly better picture of the kind of thing they were going for on "Black Cow," while still being typically impenetrable?is it about some poor schlub who's down on his luck, or a young upstart who wants to be a sax-blowing jazz cat (or both)? Who knows, but I always got a kick out of the "Alabama/Crimson Tide" reference even before I knew what it meant. Christlieb blows again, here and there, over the extended tag, almost trading off with phased-out guitar figures by either Carlton or Lee Ritenour. Viewers of the "Classic Albums" documentary on this album will delight at the discovery of a very faint bell-like synth part (originally meant to replace a flute) doubling the background horn line in the instrumental section. Overall, one of the Dan's best and most recognizable tracks.

Speaking of recognizable tracks, "Peg" kicks off Side Two and was one of three hit singles from this album (the others being "Deacon Blues" and "Black Cow"). The intro line is one of the few uses in popular music of the Lyricon, a primitive woodwind synthesizer, played by Tom Scott who would use it on several of his own albums. The tune itself is described in the liner notes by Becker/Fagen as a "pantonal thirteen-bar blues with chorus," even though it's actually not (by the way, in yet another nod to their jazz heroes, this is one of the few rock albums with detailed liner notes, such as might be found on a 50s-60s Blue Note record, with a complete rundown of who appears on what track). The lyrics are most likely about a pin-up girl or porn star, though probably not about anyone in particular. One-timer Jay Graydon's guitar solo is yet another celebrated instrumental excursion, and while it may not be the best guitar solo the Dan ever put on a record, it's certainly a lot better than every other solo they tried, as is borne out by the "Classic Albums" documentary. Michael McDonald, who was such an important part of 1975's Katy Lied, shares with Paul Griffin the harmony vocal, which underscores Becker/Fagen's love of thick chords. Graydon appears once more just before the fade-out. Also: as on "Don't Take Me Alive" from Royal Scam and "Babylon Sisters" on Gaucho, neither Becker nor Fagen actually appear on the track as instrumentalists.

The next track, "Home at Last," is still another instrumental (as in rhythm tracks) triumph for the group as well as one of the Dan's most literary sets of lyrics (based on Homer's The Odyssey). Based on Becker and Fagen's instructions, drummer Bernard Purdie (the only drummer to appear on more than one track here) essentially invented a new beat; the half-time shuffle, the innovations of which were later expanded and popularized by sometime Dan employee Jeff Porcaro, on Toto's classic track "Rosanna" (which itself also borrows from Led Zeppelin's "Fool in the Rain"). Beginning with the previous track, the lyrics on Side Two are generally more direct and sparse than on Side One?a nice contrast. More instrumental goodies: Vic Feldman's acoustic piano on the intro and each re-occurrence of the pattern; the horn backgrounds after the second verse which may or may not be augmented by synths (after all these years, I'm still not sure), and Fagen's brief synth solo afterward; and one of Walter Becker's tastiest and most lyrical guitar solos (which stands in sharp contrast to the Dan's "comeback" years where he tried to fill in every available space with licks). Purdue substitutes the ride cymbal for the hi-hat on the fade-out, which raises the intensity slightly and almost seems to hint at the aforementioned "Rosanna."

"I Got the News" is a track that Becker/Fagen had had in the offing since at least the Katy Lied days (the demo recording from that period is completely different though). Ed Greene, another one-timer in the Dan drum chair, points the way toward rap music by contributing a bouncy beat that ends on the same cadence every two bars; my understanding is that this became a sort of running joke among the LA studio scene of which Greene was a part. ("Hey, we need that fill on this track, let's get Ed in here.") Anyway, this track is sort of a distant cousin of "Green Earrings" as it has some of the same elements lyrically, but with kinkier undertones ("Slow down/I'll tell you when/I may never walk again"), as well as the fact that this track also has two guitar solos. Larry Carlton is featured on the first instrumental bridge (after "Broadway duchess darling"), which stands alone from the rest of the song while still maintaining continuity; Becker makes an appearance in the second bridge ("Spanish kissin"). In a rare liner note gaffe, the clavinet on the first bridge is uncredited (although it's probably either Fagen or Feldman). One of those tracks that grows on you over time.

The finale, "Josie," is more similar to the tracks on Side One than the previous three. Featuring an intro guitar line that most serious Dan fans already have memorized by now, the track rides an overtly funkier backbeat supplied by LA "drum guru" Jim Keltner, who also overdubbed a garbage can lid as percussion in the breakdown after the second verse (proof that the best can make anything sound musical). Josie is the prototypical hell raiser, who comes back to town to see some old friends and cause trouble with said friends as a form of celebration ("Sleep on the beach and make it"). Becker has maybe his best ever guitar solo on this track, and Chuck Rainey, who appears on every track except "Deacon Blues," utilizes the upper register in his bass line, which is unusual for him.

I think one of the keys to the success of Aja is how well everything hangs together musically. Much like Miles' Kind of Blue, it is all of a piece, with everything flowing together in a completely logical way (although now that I think about it, this could very well be down to the fact that most songs are the same tempo), and nothing wasted in terms of songwriting, musicianship?everything just, well, works. Obviously the Dan following had been building for a long time, with each album becoming more successful and allowing Becker/Fagen to hire Irving Azoff as their manager?he was also managing the blockbuster Eagles of the "Hotel California" period, and as such, he could afford to spend vast amounts of money on Aja's ad campaign (which included TV commercials!) so I'm sure that played a part in their success as well. Certainly having Aja in their back pocket put them over the top, which was a long time coming; I'd like to think that more sophisticated listeners and fellow musicians took notice as well, most notably the Crusaders who were producing similar music around this time.

Whatever the case, this album firmly cemented the name "Steely Dan" in the eyes and ears of many discerning music listeners by the end of the 70s. It's a certified classic for several very good reasons, and no self-respecting music collection, particularly one maintained by an individual with a keen ear for jazz, should be without it. Highly recommended, with no reservations whatsoever. 5 stars out of 5.

 The Royal Scam by STEELY DAN album cover Studio Album, 1976
3.72 | 179 ratings

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The Royal Scam
Steely Dan Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by cfergmusic1

4 stars Not content with the bright, moccasin-comfortable sounds of their previous album, Katy Lied (which Becker and Fagen considered a failure because of technical gremlins), Steely Dan decided to once again change their sound radically; The Royal Scam, released in 1976, has a grittier, funkier and yes, darker sound than the Dan had explored previously. With this album, they resumed the practice of having a different cast of session players on every track (which began with Pretzel Logic). Gone are the days of the "Katy Lied band" as I call it (bass guitarist extraordinaire Chuck Rainey being one of the only holdovers from that record), giving way to a conglomeration of studio stars featuring no less than 27 musicians and around ten completely new names (including a new guitar hero in Larry Carlton, who was with the Crusaders at the time).

It is interesting to see the criticism levied at this record. A lot of people in my experience don't really like this album so much, and although I love it dearly, I can understand why. Much of the music is rather repetitive, built around four-, two- and even one-chord vamps ("Sign in Stranger," "Green Earrings") although this is not the case for the entirety of the songs in question. But the repetition doesn't bother me, as Becker and Fagen were always trying to do different things with their music (they even admitted they were trying for a disco hit with "The Fez"). They wouldn't have done it in the first place if they didn't find some musical merit in it (especially not at that time, when each successive album took longer to complete due to their studio perfectionism).

"Kid Charlemagne" is the leadoff track here, and incidentally, the inspiration for an old online handle of mine. Lyrically, the song is essentially a Cliffs Notes bio of 60s-70s LSD guru Stanley Owsley (or was that Owsley Stanley?). This track also serves as the official SD introduction to legendary studio drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, who had played on several hits by Aretha Franklin and countless other artists (his grooves here are instantly recognizable), and as the unofficial introduction to Larry Carlton (unofficial because he did play rhythm parts on Katy Lied), who has two amazing solos which, reportedly, were done in only two or three takes! A definitive Dan track.

"The Caves of Altamira" is another holdover from the demo tapes, revised and updated for 1976. The original version was piano-voice demo with simplified chord movement and an extra verse; here it's a slick, hip studio production with an added horn section. The sax solo in the middle and end sections I believe is by smooth-jazz cat John Klemmer (if so, it's one of the only times I ever liked his playing).

"Don't Take Me Alive" is considerably nastier then the previous two tracks from the outset, starting off with a loud, arpeggiated G7+9 chord by Carlton who will come to dominate this track (more or less). The lyrics paint one of Becker and Fagen's most dystopian future visions yet, backed up by Carlton, Rainey and drummer Rick Marotta (another newbie to the Dan). I think Paul Griffin may be playing keyboards here. Another great one.

"Sign in Stranger" continues the theme of the previous track (an outlaw on the run from society at large), this time with a science-fiction bent. This is the beginning of three tracks built on rather minimalistic vamps (which are of course expounded upon between the verse lines). The end-of-verse turnaround and bridge add interest, and Paul Griffin has one of the all-time great Dan piano solos. Dig the out-of-left-field horn outro, with Carlton working his magic again.

Speaking of Griffin, "The Fez" is the only SD piece credited to Becker, Fagen and another writer (not after the fact like "Gaucho"). Paul Griffin is the third writer here, possibly because he played a keyboard line in rehearsals that Becker and Fagen decided to use in the song. The lyrics are about as simple as you can get ("I'm never gonna do it without the fez on/Oh, no" repeated six times), although some would view it as a safe sex PSA wherein "the fez" represents... well, never mind. Carlton soars over the bridge once again, which has some of the best harmonic changes the band ever put together.

"Green Earrings" is the last of the vamp-based tunes for now, again with a killer instrumental bridge section (I'm starting to think that Becker and Fagen saved their best stuff for the bridges on this album). Lyrically, it describes a con artist who only loves a woman for the jewelry she wears. This track is notable for having two guitar solos by different players, something not done since "Bodhisattva." Denny Dias is up first, and Elliot Randall returns once more to blow over the instrumental verse, and in the out-vamp where he employs a ring modulator during the fade-out. Serious Dan fans should check out the instrumental version of this tune, where the out-vamp is retained in full, running three minutes longer than the album version; the rhythm section really lets loose there.

"Haitian Divorce" was, surprisingly, a runaway hit in the UK where reggae was riding a wave of popularity thanks to the likes of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. The lyrics are based on then-recent experiences by co-engineer Elliot Scheiner (who wanted a quickie divorce at the time), and the running commentary throughout the track is provided by talk-box guitar, played by Dean Parks and manipulated by Walter Becker. This is the only potential downside of the record, as the talk-box tends to make this track rather sleepy (although, having said that, it's a hell of a lot more tolerable than Peter Frampton).

"Everything You Did" is, I feel, one of the Dan's more underrated tracks. Maybe people don't like it because of the subject matter (about a jealous husband discovering his wife has been cheating on him)? Not sure, but I always loved it, especially the 5/4 bars in the guitar solo (Carlton yet again). Have I mentioned yet that Larry Carlton is all over this record? Well, he is, although his studio tenure would only really last until the next album, but more on that in a future review.

By the way, I've mentioned the Eagles quite a bit in my Steely Dan reviews, and it's mostly because of this line in the song: "Turn up the Eagles/the neighbors are listening." This was Becker and Fagen's "poke in the eye" to the LA country-rock titans whose "Greatest Hits" album was on its way to becoming one of the best-selling albums ever. SD evidently saw the Eagles (aka the White Drifters) as rivals because they both started in LA at the same time (but, refreshingly, bore no ill will towards them). Don Henley and Glenn Frey were flattered by the reference in this song, so they returned the favor in their huge hit of the same year, "Hotel California," with the line "they stab it with their steely knives/but they just can't kill the beast." Steely Dan and the Eagles are two of my favorite bands, so it's nice to know that they had a mutual admiration society of sorts.

Back to the album at hand, which ends with the title track. When people comment on the "dark" sound of this album, they're mostly talking about this song, which is about Puerto Rican immigrants in New York City (although Becker and Fagen changed the name of the city "San Juan" to "St. John," which is actually in Newfoundland, Canada). This is another vamp tune, based on six-bar phrases; in the key of C minor, the cycle unusually starts with the turnaround in the first two bars, then is followed by four bars of Cm7. Starting in the second verse, the fill-in solos between verse lines are played by Chuck Findley on trumpet and Dick "Slyde" Hyde on trombone. There is also occasional backing from the horn section, at one point featuring a low pedal C which I believe is played by contrabass trombone (???). At 6 1/2 minutes, it is the longest and best track on the album; I've always gotten off on the dark, brooding atmosphere it creates throughout its duration.

Even though some people don't regard Scam highly, I have a soft spot for it because it was one of the first Dan albums I had as a kid. (I actually started off with this, Aja and Gaucho, and somehow proceeded to work my way backwards through the catalog.) I refer to those three albums as the definitive period of Steely Dan, where their concept was realized more fully than any other album. If you're the slightest bit curious about this band, you probably already have this album anyway, but be sure to check it out if you don't; at least one song here will be familiar to you to begin with. 4.5 stars out of 5.

Thanks to micky for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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