Single Status Update
"Drive west on sunset, to the sea..."
I first disovered Steely Dan in late June of 2006, during my first summer living alone and independantly of my parents. I was living with Doug Wedgwood, father of classmate Kris Wedgwood, in a house he was renting in Lower Fairview, generally onsidered the ghetto of Red Deer. We lived at the far west end of the rundown neighbourhood on a cul-de-sac filled with yound families and retired seniors, shelted from the weather my a steep hill arved by glaciers. We had a garage in the back where we kept my bike, as well as Kris's various incomplete soldering and de-soldering junk, the tools, and empty beer bottles.
"Turn that jungle music down, just until we're out of town..."
I remember it very clearly: I was working on my bike on a hot summer afternoon, cooling with a 40 oz coke and lime crush slurpee, the radio cranked in the garage and tuned to CKUA, independent radio from the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Mulligan Stew, a eclectic radio programme hosted by Terry David Mulligan was up after 2 hours of blues and roots, a refreshing change. Terry picks random songs that he happens to hear at say, a shopping mall or at a friend's house. Formerlly a VJ for CBC when they showed music videos before MTV or MuchMusic had been created, he's like the Dick Clark of Canadian media, but totally in touch with international, independent, and just plain cool music. His show brings memories of BBQ's back at home with the radio on the deck and pork on the grill.
"...This is no one night stand, it's a real occasion..."
It struck me like a splash of cold, fresh water. Soul music. A dry reggae kit with sparse reverb. A teasing, intricate, deep electric piano leaving the ghosts of notes it used to hit. A bass guitar so calm and controlled like Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams", but deeper and funkier. I hummed along to the song, but I couldn't keep in tune, it kept changing it's progression to chords I never would have predicted or expected. F# to B, then down a fourth to G#, but then even lowed to E, and then back to G#? what the hell is going on here? you can't do that in pop music!
"...Close your eyes and you'll be there, it's everything they say..."
Horns...a small horn section, big on trumpet, alto and tenor sax, but there's a trombone in there too...matching that great little shakeup, followed by that B9...man this is as smooth as velvet..smooth as milk...
wait, I know that voice...
Donald Fagen. I associated his name with the word "Fag", which i'm sure he got teased alot into adulthood. I was only familier with his solo album "the Nightfly", a concept album about growing up in the 50's but with very 80's sounds. The only track from it I knew was I.G.Y (International Geophysical Year) which has this spooky introduction, and strange polyrhythms that my young ears could not appreciate. It's one of the first CD's my dad ever bought when CD's first came out which, along with The Cream of Eric Clapton, made up most of my listening around the ages of 2 and 3. I can distinctly remember hearing I.G.Y. and Layla with images of the wood-paneled air conditioner in out apartment in Saskatoon (we moved to Calgary when I was 3).
Mulligan revealed that the artist was, in fact, Steely Dan, and not some jazzy Motown or Stax single. "Babylon Sisters". Hell, they didn't even release it as a single, Terry just Picked it. It was catchy, and it was just what I needed, some new music for jam night at The Vat. How good was their other material? Did they have any acoustic stuff? Would I have to learn tricky jazz chords like majors with added 2nds?
So here's what i've learned about Steely Dan. It's not some guy with that name, the band is actually named after a massive steel dildo that a young man's girlfriend fuck him up the ass with after volunteering to give him a rimjob. The band was two creepy looking guys named Donald Fagen, who could play great piano, but liked cool experimental jazz stuff on the electric piano (think of that scene in The Blues Brothers where Ray Charles busts out "Shake Ya Tailfeather" on the pawn shop Rhodes), and also dug early synthesizers. The other guy was this skinny, junkie looking guy with really long hair and a thick mustache named Walter Becker. Both guys hung out at an upstate New York arts college, probably smoked alot of pot and opium, read beatnik masterpieces, and listened to great jazz. They tried to start a rock band, but discovered that the songs they wrote required more thanjust a guy on piano, bass, and drums, so they hired a shitload of session musicians for their albums, resulting in only touring for 2 years after their debut. The guys could never be rock stars, they didn't have the look or the right sound.
They didn't just write good stuff; they produced good stuff, constantly. Every detail of their music is scrutinizingly meticulous, from the pacing of the hi hats to the depth of the phasing on vocal tracks. and this was stoner music too: i could toke up and turn my brain off and it would still get better. The Dan put out 7 albums in the 70's, one every year from 1972 to 1977, then they missed 2 years while getting hit by cars, having master tracks deleted, having their girlfriend die of heroin overdose, you know the usual things that happened to rock bands in the 70's. by the time they released Gaucho in 1980, they had become a bunch of old farts who were being mocked by the young upcoming 80's yuppies. They didn't release another album together for 20 years.
The Magnificent Seven:
Can't Buy a Thrill (Pop Rock, good debut, typical 1972 record)
Countdown to Ecstasy (Weird fucking album but some good songs)
Pretzel Logic (a black & white snapshot of their college years)
Katy Lied (the one album by them that doesn't sound better on vinyl)
The Royal Scam (the darkest and funkiest of their works)
Aja (Jazz Pop at it's finest. Chord Progressions that amaze me)
Gaucho (one of the first albums to use computerized drum beats. So 80's)
So why am I telling you about this lousy band from the 70's that your parents probably listened to and you probably don't like? Well, because I didn't grow up listening to it, I discovered it independently of my parents through a chance encounter on the radio. Not since Wilco, and NIN before that has a band caused me to obsess over every detail of their music, their background, and their rock legend. I can't tell you where to start, but I think that if you like classic rock, any of Miles Davis' late 60's work, or are a guitarist/musician looking for some interesting, challanging, weird and downright funky material, that Steely Dan may just be the band for you.
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I've been a big Genesis fan ever since the release of their 1980 album, Duke. Before that, I really didn't understand any of their work. Too artsy, too intellectual. It was on Duke where Phil Collins' presence became more apparent. I think Invisible Touch was the group's undisputed masterpiece. It's an epic meditation on intangibility. At the same time, it deepens and enriches the meaning of the preceding three albums. Christy, take off your robe. Listen to the brilliant ensemble playing of Banks, Collins and Rutherford. You can practically hear every nuance of every instrument. Sabrina, remove your dress. In terms of lyrical craftsmanship, the sheer songwriting, this album hits a new peak of professionalism. Sabrina, why don't you, uh, dance a little. Take the lyrics to Land of Confusion. In this song, Phil Collins addresses the problems of abusive political authority. In Too Deep is the most moving pop song of the 1980s, about monogamy and commitment. The song is extremely uplifting. Their lyrics are as positive and affirmative as anything I've heard in rock. Christy, get down on your knees so Sabrina can see your asshole. Phil Collins' solo career seems to be more commercial and therefore more satisfying, in a narrower way. Especially songs like In the Air Tonight and Against All Odds. Sabrina, don't just stare at it, eat it. But I also think Phil Collins works best within the confines of the group, than as a solo artist, and I stress the word artist. This is Sussudio, a great, great song, a personal favorite.