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Thread: Ok, what's so great about... Steely Dan?

  1. #51
    Oh No! Bass Solo! klothos's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cannygoodlike View Post
    I'm probably a bit weird but Gaucho is one of my favourite albums of theirs.
    I like it just fine....then, of course, "Drama" is one of my favorite Yes albums as well.........

  2. #52
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    Quote Originally Posted by arturs View Post
    Samurai.

    The Dan boys had better chops and production values, but all the basic ingredients of Steely Dan are in that sole Samurai album: the jazz chords in a pop setting, the tricky horn charts, the vibes, the sarcastic half-spoken lyrics.

    I'll bet that Donald and Walter listened to Samurai a lot before their Steely Dan fame.
    I'd be surprised if they had.

    Not that Samurai don't sound like a sort of proto-SD on that track - they definitely do. But that, while Don & Walt are definitely into obscurities, I'd bet money their tastes run in quite a different direction: Almost exclusively toward American jazz, and specifically toward guys like Mingus, Monk, Gil Evans, Ellington, John Lewis, and the like. Plus certain of the Great American Songbook tunesmiths, like Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, and Kurt Weill (Yes, he's German, but he had a Broadway career, too.) Also R&B of course, probably Motown in particular to judge from their preference for the sophisticated over the gritty. I suspect they'd consider Samurai, and pretty much anything British, to be secondary music - and why should they waste their time even checking out secondary music when they could go to the source?

    Also consider their personalities - two snarky, sarcastic guys who make an ironic fetish of hipness. With people like that, there's always going to be a competitive edge to even the closest friendship. Well, there's nothing hipper than being only into black music, and the hippest black music fans of all are jazz fans. Can you imagine how Walter would have reacted if Donald showed up and said, "Hey I just picked up an album by this British band called Samurai. Jazz-rock, sort of, and pretty cool." Or snuck it into a stack of records they were listening to? Talk about raw meat for put-downs. Even if they both liked it, neither would admit that because it wasn't American, it wasn't black music, it wasn't jazz, and it wasn't R&B. So it couldn't really be all that good, could it?
    Last edited by Baribrotzer; 02-16-2017 at 08:43 AM.

  3. #53
    That's Mr. to you, Sir!! Trane's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Plasmatopia View Post
    Either one probably shouldn't be forced to be in the same sentence as Cuevo Gold.

    Most of the stuff grown indoors on the planet is simply too strong... In the 70's,n I used to find very few weeds too strong (Hawaiian blue, whenever you could find it), but in the 90's and 00's , most of the stuff is sooooo strong that they either put me to sleep or drive me into paranoia (which it rarely did way back then)

    Quote Originally Posted by nosebone View Post
    Plus, they sound like no one else.
    As I said Doobie's MBM, but that's them copying Dan, not the opposite.
    But to me SD epitomized a late 70's FM-band radio rock song

    Quote Originally Posted by Sean View Post
    What's NOT great about Steely Dan?
    TBH, in the series "OK, what so great about XYZ?" (four or five threads so far), this is the only one where I can say that there is one outstanding album: Joni, Neil and Van have at least one in my book, but SD doesn't

    Quote Originally Posted by Digital_Man View Post
    I'm slowly starting to collect their albums. I think maybe they are a bit of acquired taste. I didn't used to like them much but I think I'm finally starting to warm up to them. Some of their songs have been played to death on the radio but you could say that about a lot of bands.
    I feel that maybe I could find them one day a fantastic band if I played them enough to find all of the intricacies and "in-trick-acies" and study their text, but I simply haven't got the patience to do that.

    if I need 900 listens to "get it" fully, then it's simply not for me... or worth my precious time


    I tried a few times, and now I've got my CD-r comp, which I will probably play this w-e (it's in my Ardennes hideout,, I think)
    my music collection increased tenfolds when I switched from heroin-addicts to crazy ones

  4. #54
    Geriatric Anomaly progeezer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trane View Post
    Most of the stuff grown indoors on the planet is simply too strong... In the 70's,n I used to find very few weeds too strong (Hawaiian blue, whenever you could find it), but in the 90's and 00's , most of the stuff is sooooo strong that they either put me to sleep or drive me into paranoia (which it rarely did way back then)


    Too strong for who?

    How can someone I perceive to be pretty discerning not "get" SD? (Walks away mumbling)

    "My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician, and to tell the truth, there's hardly any difference"

    President Harry S. Truman

  5. #55
    Member Jack in Wilmington's Avatar
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    Saw them in 73 when they were fairly new to the music scene. They had just released "Countdown to Ecstasy" and I really can't remember anything about their performance. They were the opening act on a three act bill that included Tracy Nelson and Mother Earth (2nd bill) and Loggins and Messina ( top bill ). Obviously Steely Dan has faired the best out of those three and the billing would be much different if these groups played today on the same bill. I would love to see SD now.

  6. #56
    Member Jerjo's Avatar
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    I went to college in Fargo, North Dakota. There were three colleges in the area so the bar scene was pretty active with plenty of bands playing a circuit of about ten bars. And once in a while we'd get bands coming from the Twin Cities. My friends and I were considering going to a bar one night and we called to see who was playing. It was a band from the Cities. I asked if they were any good and the bar manager said, "put it this way, they can actually play Steely Dan". We went and were not disappointed.
    I don't like country music, but I don't mean to denigrate those who do. And for the people who like country music, denigrate means 'put down.'- Bob Newhart

  7. #57
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trane View Post
    I first became aware of them around Royal Scam or Aja (the latter most likely), but for years, I couldn't tell them apart from Doobie Bros' Minute By Minute (which I still heavily dislike).
    Michael McDonald is a common denominator. He sang "Minute by Minute" and his voice is featured on support vocals on the "Aja" album.
    I think Steely Dan operated outside of what was the box in the 70's. Unique song crafters.

  8. #58
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    Quote Originally Posted by señormoment View Post
    Michael McDonald is a common denominator. He sang "Minute by Minute" and his voice is featured on support vocals on the "Aja" album.
    He was a band member at the time of Katy Lied - played second keyboards live, but just sang backup on that record.

  9. #59
    Connoisseur of stuff. Obscured's Avatar
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    "The Royal Scam"

    "Aja"


    2 of the greatest albums/songs of all-time.
    "Henry Cow always wanted to push itself, so sometimes we would write music that we couldn't actually play – I found that very encouraging." - Lindsay Cooper, 1998
    "I have nothing to do with Endless River. Phew! This is not rocket science people, get a grip." - Roger Waters, 2014
    "I'm a collector. And I've always just seemed to collect personalities." - David Bowie, 1973

  10. #60
    Quote Originally Posted by Jack in Wilmington View Post
    Saw them in 73 when they were fairly new to the music scene. They had just released "Countdown to Ecstasy" and I really can't remember anything about their performance. They were the opening act on a three act bill that included Tracy Nelson and Mother Earth (2nd bill) and Loggins and Messina ( top bill ). Obviously Steely Dan has faired the best out of those three and the billing would be much different if these groups played today on the same bill. I would love to see SD now.
    Loggins and Messina kicked ass live. They actually still do... just sayin'

    Quote Originally Posted by KerryKompost View Post
    Steely Dan illuminated the true potential of "rock" music, that it could be harmonically complex, verging on jazz, and yet still keep a greasy rock undercurrent. I got off the train with "Gaucho" but was delighted to find some gems on "Two Against Nature" like "Almost Gothic."

    Great songwriting.
    I'm not going to really even make any comments here about the Dan, who, in every way, are like holy water to my soul, except to give another thumbs up to Almost Gothic - the quintessential Dan track. If you don't "get them" or like them that is, of course, perfectly fine. Not all music touches everyone in the same way.

    But everything - including the last two albums and the Becker and Fagen solo sets - is brilliantly done. Not a wasted note or word. The darkness and deep humour.... the writing... the snark (yes!)... the production... the attention to detail and the sequencing of their albums all had a major effect on me. I love them to this day. Highly recommend Gaucho, if you're a disbeliever, which has some of their finest work (the title track alone is a thing of amazing depth, sadness and beauty). I would also like to add that Larry Carlton is so badass on their albums it's ridiculous.

    Ok kids. Take off your cheaters and sit right down. Carry on...

    K
    And the code is a play, a play is a song, a song is a film, a film is a dance...

  11. #61
    Jefferson James
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    Quote Originally Posted by Polypet View Post
    Highly recommend Gaucho, if you're a disbeliever, which has some of their finest work (the title track alone is a thing of amazing depth, sadness and beauty). I would also like to add that Larry Carlton is so badass on their albums it's ridiculous.
    Kim, I'll give the Gaucho album a spin on your recommendation, all I know are the hits and for Steely Dan they were pretty boring to me ("Hey Nineteen", "Babylon Sisters"). The song "Gaucho" is very cool (listening now), still, those sax breaks are what I call "Saturday Night Live" music LOL. The verses/vocal sections are astoundingly cool but the rest of the song leaves me a bit cold, which is weird for Steely Dan.

    Still, even my least favorite Steely Dan song is miles above most anything else. Any band who could write a bona fide standard such as "Deacon Blues" is all the rage in my book. That piece is just epic in every regard.

    As for Larry Carlton, I was so, so lucky to see him with Steely Dan a few years ago in LA when they played "The Royal Scam" album full thru; he was awesome, as were the band. In the 2nd half of the set they performed the song "Aja" and my girlfriend and I were both completely swept away in a bubble of beautiful music -- it was probably the finest "live music" moment I've ever experienced. Transcendent.

    Fagan reminded me of a white Ray Charles at the piano; a master and at his age the experience comes through in the voice. Man, he was cool. They performed some rare early SD track and Fagen said, "This is for all the...um...connoisseurs out there..."

    What a glorious time to be free.

  12. #62
    Favourite exemplars. I think everyone can find something enjoyable herein

    Kings


    The Boston Rag


    Charlie Freak
    And the code is a play, a play is a song, a song is a film, a film is a dance...

  13. #63
    Several more...

    Everyone's Gone to The Movies


    Jack of Speed (Live w/ Wayne Krantz)
    And the code is a play, a play is a song, a song is a film, a film is a dance...

  14. #64
    Quote Originally Posted by Polypet View Post
    Highly recommend Gaucho, if you're a disbeliever, which has some of their finest work (the title track alone is a thing of amazing depth, sadness and beauty).
    I agree with this. For me Gaucho is a little uneven, but what's good is really super good, and does rank, again, for me, among their best work. And the lesser stuff is still listenable. Probably time to give this a fresh spin with an ear to some of those "lesser" tracks. I'll probably discover some gems.

    I have The Nightfly and like that (but don't love it), but none of the more recent Steely Dan has resonated with me. I probably need to get Kamakiriad, but every time I sample it, it just feels so... meh. What am I missing with this one?

    Bill

  15. #65
    One last little set. My apologies if this is too much Dan for anyone... personally, i just dig 'em to death

    Slang of Ages


    Hard Up Case (Walter Becker)


    Brite Nightgown (Donald Fagen)
    And the code is a play, a play is a song, a song is a film, a film is a dance...

  16. #66
    Member Lou's Avatar
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    Always loved the Dan, and played a lot of it in high school band. The title track to Pretzel Logic is an all time favorite.
    A Comfort Zone is not a Life Sentence

  17. #67
    As for the "smooth jazz" label often tossed at these guys, i think it's important to distinguish intent from the sound of it. I had a most hilarious experience in a restaurant where some fine genuine smooth jazz was being played (on satellite radio, presumably). I have no problem with well executed smooth jazz, other than, say, the Kenny G variety. I can enjoy it on its own terms, you know. In this case it was a Bob James tune, a Hubert Laws tune and then... "What A Shame About Me", which if you're not familiar with this, is the most horrifyingly sad and darkly true song in the world - very much NOT a soft jazz topic (but supremely jazz). I almost died laughing, it was so perfect. Deep snark and sarcasm then followed by some Grover Washington. It was hilarious and so cool.

    I once read an interview with Walter where he said it was a high point of his life hearing some of their darkest things slid in between the soft jazz on radio, "in elevators", etc. Talk about subversion

    Anyways... i hope the videos above were enjoyable enough for everybody. Some of their lesser known gems, imho.
    And the code is a play, a play is a song, a song is a film, a film is a dance...

  18. #68
    Oh No! Bass Solo! klothos's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Polypet View Post
    As for the "smooth jazz" label often tossed at these guys, i think it's important to distinguish intent from the sound of it.
    although not a genre (yet), I put Steely Dan in the "Yacht Rock" category where some bands have more blues/country in their Yuppie Rock sound (Firefall, etc) while others are more RnB/Jazz influenced ( Steely Dan), and a bunch of Yuppie/Yacht bands dotted in between those two points at various degrees ( Pablo Cruise, Doobie's MBM, Boz Scaggs, Starbuck, England Dan & John Ford Coley, etc)

  19. #69
    Member Jerjo's Avatar
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    Donald Fagen's last two solo albums really worked well for me. Quite looser and more R&B inflected than most Dan records but they still have that sublime atmosphere.

    On one of my SD boots, during "Hey Nineteen" Fagen is vamping a bit in the middle section, talking about life back in "the 20th Century", going to the beach, and then asks the women singing backing vox, "what was that tequila called" and then they coo oh so sweetly "the Cuervo Gold". And we swing into the chorus as smooth as silk. I can see where the whole vibe could be an anathema to die hard rockers. SD works on a different level, pulling from veins that are not usually mined by rock or pop acts.
    I don't like country music, but I don't mean to denigrate those who do. And for the people who like country music, denigrate means 'put down.'- Bob Newhart

  20. #70
    Member Guitarplyrjvb's Avatar
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    Fagen's latest, "Sunken Condos" is great. He and Becker are geniuses in my book!

  21. #71
    Quote Originally Posted by klothos View Post
    although not a genre (yet), I put Steely Dan in the "Yacht Rock" category where some bands have more blues/country in their Yuppie Rock sound (Firefall, etc) while others are more RnB/Jazz influenced ( Steely Dan), and a bunch of Yuppie/Yacht bands dotted in between those two points at various degrees ( Pablo Cruise, Doobie's MBM, Boz Scaggs, Starbuck, England Dan & John Ford Coley, etc)
    They're in a completely different league - on so many levels - from any of those guys. Though i love the Doobies and Boz - both have done brilliant work - SD are really a New York thing at heart, attitude and style wise, whatever similarities some may see on the surface. None of those other bands, with but a few exceptions, have the same level of authentic quirk, imho. Slick production is not Steely Dan's main thrust but only one aspect of what they're about. Again YMMV but, personally, i think folks are missing the actual meat of what they're doing when they lump them into that set of artists. That said, none of that matters. Either one likes them (for whatever reason) or they don't. I happen to think they're unique unto themselves, being so familiar with their history and seeing their work evolve over the years. The level of sophistication in their stuff is light years above what any of the so-called "Yacht Rock" groups were doing. Seriously. I say this as one who likes some of those other bands well enough - Seals and Crofts, for instance, get lumped in there. They were very very good. But they were not doing anything at all like what SD does in terms of songwriting, arrangement, production, harmonics, etc. To my ear, it's night and day.

    Just saying. I understand why some think it's all the same. Believe me, it really is not.
    And the code is a play, a play is a song, a song is a film, a film is a dance...

  22. #72
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    When it was released I picked up Aja, mainly for the incredible drumming of Steve Gadd on the title track. I thought the rest of it was cold and lacking emotion. It felt like a guitarists wanted to let lose in spots but we're roped in. They just didn't have enough energy when my years were young. I've gone back many years later and enjoy most of their albums. There is a lot to appreciate from their work.
    Last edited by Tangram; 02-17-2017 at 09:04 AM.

  23. #73
    Member Emeritus (A.M.P.) rcarlberg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by progeezer View Post
    IMHO the question "What's so great about Steely Dan?" can definitively be answered by another question, "Are you f*****g kidding me??".
    Yeah, totally. Steely Dan and The Police -- two bands I can appreciate as being very successful in decoding what makes a hit, and then using their not-inconsiderable musical skills to write a lot of hits. On purpose. With no higher goal than to get rich doing it.

    In both cases, I feel like I'm listening to a a corporation that ought to sell shares to their "product."

  24. #74
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    What's so great about Steely Dan?

    They're great, that's what's great.
    "The woods would be very silent if the only birds that sang were those who sang best..." - Henry David Thoreau

  25. #75
    Estimated Prophet notallwhowander's Avatar
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    I've never gone too deep with their catalogue. I have four albums on the early side. My favorite is Countdown to Ecstasy. For anyone interested, try that one out.

    Part of what I like is the stories they tell, in that oblique style, like they are trying to keep from incriminating themselves or others. It can take a while to tease things out. As mentioned before, "Dr. Wu" is a great example, as is "Kid Charlemagne," or "Your Gold Teeth."

    I remember I was playing "Your Gold Teeth" as a entry music for a sixth-grade English class (I find that opening groove infectious). One kid asked out loud, "What kind of music is this?" A classmate readily responded, "It's jazz, man." The memory still makes me happy.
    Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world.

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