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

  1. #1

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

    It seems that every rock journalist is required to refer to Steely Dan as 'smart', 'clever', 'thinking man's rock', with further requisite remarks about the 'skillful production'. No pundit dare dis them.
    Ok, Riki, Do It Again, and Reelin' In The Years are indeed on a level above 90% of all radio fare from the 70's, with the latter tune containing The Greatest Opening in Rock Music History. But a lot of their other stuff seems to me to be pretty MOR, the production slick to the point of muting the dynamics, a bit emotionally detached, even --dare I say it -- sonically predictable.

    So, what makes them earn all the plaudits? Theories, ideas, samples, references please...

  2. #2
    I know a pretty well known prog artist who in private conversations with me has sort of hated on Steely Dan. This is a guy who knows theory and can appreciate jazz and rock influenced by jazz and what not but he ain't buying. I love them and appreciate the fidelity of their recordings and their chord vocabulary and melodic sense. Some people are put off by their strange lyrics, the snark of Fagen's singing, etc. I am not.

  3. #3
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    What's so great? If nothing else, Aja is the greatest vocal fusion album and track ever recorded.

  4. #4
    Member Big Ears's Avatar
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    I agree with the OP that Steely Dan alternate between the catchy and the bland. They have an indefineable something, with Haitian Divorce being annoyingly catchy while having a certain depth too. Gary Katz's production for Love and Money was similar to that of SD; razor sharp in places and wide of the mark in others.
    Member since Wednesday 09.09.09

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    You could make a case for Steely Dan making a distinctively American version of progressive music. By Gaucho, their work owed little or nothing to British sources - it was slick R&B-pop crossed with jazz, entirely American. They considered themselves to be carrying on the tradition of Duke Ellington, and in some ways they were, by making music that was both highly commercial and artistically excellent. Also, they were progressive within the Big Time Music Business, rather than at loggerheads with it.

  6. #6
    Member Vic2012's Avatar
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    I love 'm. My favorites are still the first two albums. Aja is my least favorite. Too polished and slick. Give me Can't Buy A Thrill over Aja x1000.

  7. #7
    Member Zeuhlmate's Avatar
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    I appreciate a few tracks, but generally its too slick & polished for me.
    I can enjoy how well executed some of it is, but in my ears it gets a bit library'ish after some minutes.

  8. #8
    I appreciate the guitar playing. The guitar solos recorded on their albums over the many years. Particularly Larry Carlton. Once the singer opens his mouth I shut off the player. I also do not prefer their style of writing. In the 80's they were worshipped by many music college youths and at the time it made my skin crawl. Eh...because it was overrated hype. Like some guy with a long white beard sitting on a white puffy cloud instructed everyone to like Steely Dan. Perhaps a lot of people liked them? No no no...it was more like commercial brainwashing. Follow the leader...(so to speak)..... They were fine players but I didn't appreciate their style of writing.

  9. #9
    Occipital Provocatee Plasmatopia's Avatar
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    I had a greatest hits compilation on cassette that I played quite a bit in the late '80s and into the early '90s. A few years ago I found several of their albums on CD for little $$ so I now have a half dozen of the albums proper. I was left feeling that most of the good stuff was on the compilation.
    Let's blow this dinosaur heap.

  10. #10
    I'm a big Steely Dan fan up to Gaucho, but it wasn't always so. Like others, I always found them a bit too slick, and their non-singles tracks to be a bit "bland." I'm not sure where along the way that changed for me.

    I'd always had Aja, but when they started coming out on CD I started buying their other albums. My wife liked them a lot, and they were a nice accompaniment to dinner, so we spun the albums quite a bit, and somehow the stuff just started clicking with me in a different way. I started realizing how infectious and interesting a lot of the melodies on these albums are, and how haunting and enigmatic some of the lyrics can be. Dr. Wu from Katy Lied is a great example, that song gets me every time.

    So, I can understand some hesitation about these guys. For me, time and exposure got me to appreciate aspects of their music I'd glossed over. I can't say that would be the case for everyone. But I think at heart Steely Dan are songwriters and song-crafters, and the main appeal of their music is ultimately the melodies, coupled with the somewhat cryptic lyrics. Great playing is a plus for some (like me), but I don't think that accounts for most of their popularity.

    Bill

  11. #11
    ALL ACCESS Gruno's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Plasmatopia View Post
    I had a greatest hits compilation on cassette that I played quite a bit in the late '80s and into the early '90s. A few years ago I found several of their albums on CD for little $$ so I now have a half dozen of the albums proper. I was left feeling that most of the good stuff was on the compilation.
    Pretty much where I am at with them. Their nicely stacked compilation works well for me.

  12. #12
    Oh No! Bass Solo! klothos's Avatar
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    I like them because they are one of those bands where the sum of the parts equals the output (most of the time)...They are one of those "band of players" bands that dont make everything sound like an exercise in self-indulgence

  13. #13
    The Cuervo Gold and the fine Columbian
    "Alienated-so alien I go!"

  14. #14
    Member Guitarplyrjvb's Avatar
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    Love all of the music from the Dan, including Fagen's solo material. Becker's, not as much. Great playing, writing and singing on all of their albums. My favorite from them is "The Royal Scam". Kid Charlemagne and Green Earrings are sublime.

  15. #15
    Member Vic2012's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sputnik View Post
    I'm a big Steely Dan fan up to Gaucho, but it wasn't always so. Like others, I always found them a bit too slick, and their non-singles tracks to be a bit "bland." I'm not sure where along the way that changed for me.

    I'd always had Aja, but when they started coming out on CD I started buying their other albums. My wife liked them a lot, and they were a nice accompaniment to dinner, so we spun the albums quite a bit, and somehow the stuff just started clicking with me in a different way. I started realizing how infectious and interesting a lot of the melodies on these albums are, and how haunting and enigmatic some of the lyrics can be. Dr. Wu from Katy Lied is a great example, that song gets me every time.

    So, I can understand some hesitation about these guys. For me, time and exposure got me to appreciate aspects of their music I'd glossed over. I can't say that would be the case for everyone. But I think at heart Steely Dan are songwriters and song-crafters, and the main appeal of their music is ultimately the melodies, coupled with the somewhat cryptic lyrics. Great playing is a plus for some (like me), but I don't think that accounts for most of their popularity.

    Bill
    Good post. For me it's mainly the songs and vocals/harmonies as well, and the great guitar work. I also love how they use vibraphone and steel guitar on the earlier albums, ala Razor Boy from Countdown To Ecstacy.

  16. #16
    Geriatric Anomaly progeezer's Avatar
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    IMHO the question "What's so great about Steely Dan?" can definitively be answered by another question, "Are you f*****g kidding me??".
    "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

  17. #17
    Member Vic2012's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rune Blackwings View Post
    The Cuervo Gold and the fine Columbian
    It's Colombian, not Columbian.

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by Vic2012 View Post
    It's Colombian, not Columbian.
    I knew eventually someone would correct that
    "Alienated-so alien I go!"

  19. #19
    Geriatric Anomaly progeezer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vic2012 View Post
    It's Colombian, not Columbian.
    Quote Originally Posted by Rune Blackwings View Post
    I knew eventually someone would correct that
    And it's not so fine anymore when you compare it to what's grown indoors by botanical stoners all over the world now, so spell it any way you want.
    "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

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    Member Vic2012's Avatar
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  21. #21
    Member Vic2012's Avatar
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    I still miss good old Colombian Gold.

  22. #22
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    I'm down with the Dan to through Aja. (Gaucho left me underwhelmed.)
    What a great run of terrific albums though!!!
    Why are they so great?
    Good songs.

    That's all I'm asking for from any artist, regardless of genre.
    And they had 'em in spades.
    And they were cool.
    Prog's Not Dead

  23. #23
    Member Jerjo's Avatar
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    What's so great? Pistols at motherfucking dawn for the lot of you unbelievers and blasphers.

    Steely Dan is one of those rare acts who I play at least once every week. Everything from the debut through Aja, some tracks off Gaucho, some live boots, and then three outa four for Fagen's solo work.

    The attraction: the caustic world view of the lyrics (tinged on rare occasion with a glimmer of hope - "Any World That I'm Welcome To"), the music is complex but never for the sake of being complex, truly memorable melodies, and damn, just one great guitar solo after another.

    And while the dynamics aren't the whisper to a roar of say the Who or Zeppelin, they're quite effective. This track, played at an authoritative volume on good headphones or decent system, is nothing but dynamic:

    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

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    This is a good one. I am one of those people who did not get this band for many years. They were huge in the 70’s when I was growing up, but I pretty much hated the stuff I heard. When I was in college a buddy of mine who was a guitarist was always talking up “The Dan” (as he called them), trying to get me into them, and still I resisted. When the “Aja” album came out, I was working on an AOR radio station and we played the single “Peg” to death and I pretty much hated it too (still not fond of that song), but……..as has tended to happen with me over the years, my music pallet has expanded and about 10 years ago I started giving them a 2nd chance and suddenly something clicked with me and I learned to appreciate them. The only album I currently own is a 2CD compilation, but with the exception of “Peg” I like every song on it, and have been meaning to check out more of their studio albums. It took me almost 40 years, but I finally became a fan.

  25. #25
    That's Mr. to you, Sir!! Trane's Avatar
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    Generally too slick for me (I feel like labelling them AOR >> as in Adult, rather than Album, or FM rock), though there are some songs I really like

    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).

    Today, I tend to prefer them in the early days when they were a real band touring... Countdown is the one I prefer from that era.

    In later albums, I'll tend to prefer Royal Scam... and fail to see the critical hoopla for Aja....

    But overall, I'll probably never own anything from them except the CD-r compilation I made.
    I'm not even sure I ever played it since I finalized the disc.

    ===============

    Still get to hear all of the SD tracks I need when I tune in to classical radio.
    my music collection increased tenfolds when I switched from heroin-addicts to crazy ones

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