Posts Tagged ‘Steely Dan’

Saturday Single No. 556

Saturday, September 9th, 2017

Boy, you go away for a week, and stuff piles up on you, in this case, folks crossing over. Walter Becker of Steely Dan left us on September 3, and country giant Don Williams and Troy Gentry of Montgomery Gentry both died on September 8. So this is the first moment I’ve had to sit down and really think about any of those deaths, and I’m not sure what to say. I’ll deal with Becker today and probably write about the other two next week, after we’re all unpacked and the laundry from the road is done.

When Steely Dan came along in 1972, I liked what I heard, and I still like it. All of the early albums – from 1972’s Can’t Buy A Thrill through 1980’s Gaucho – are on the digital shelves, even though I haven’t often written about the work of Becker, his partner Donald Fagen and the rest of the folks who laid down those sounds.

But liking Steely Dan isn’t enough for me to know what to say about its music. Trying to describe it, I once wrote of the Dan’s 1974 hit, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” that it had the visceral feel of that convalescent season, combing relief with “dissonance and odd angles and strange transitions.”

A far better assessment of what Becker meant to Steely Dan and to a fervent listener came the day after Becker crossed over. I frequently lean on the work of my pal jb at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ when I either don’t know what to say or don’t know enough to write intelligently about something. Today I do so again. Go here and read jb’s reflections.

As for this space, it would too easy to post “Rikki” here this morning. So I’m going to dip into 1977’s Aja and the track whose lyrics tell us:

Well, the danger on the rocks is surely past
Still I remain tied to the mast
Could it be that I have found my home at last?
Home at last.

I know that Steely Dan and a romantic notion seem as odd a pairing as cognac and Cheez Whiz, but it would be nice to think that Becker is – in whatever way he might have wished – home at last, so “Home At Last” from Aja is today’s Saturday Single.

Taking Some Time

Friday, March 18th, 2016

With my attention turned elsewhere, things will be a bit lean around here for a few days, including tomorrow, when there will be – for one of the rare times since early 2007 – no Saturday Single. Instead, the Texas Gal and I will be at a State Senate District convention of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, a result of our having volunteered as delegates when we were at our precinct caucuses earlier this month.

Instead, here’s a preview, sort of, of the next installment of our “Follow the Directions” adventure, Steely Dan’s jaunty take “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo,” a tune written by Bubber Miley and Duke Ellington and first recorded in 1926 by Duke Ellington and His Kentucky Club Orchestra. The track is from the Dan’s 1974 album Pretzel Logic. It doesn’t really sound like Steely Dan, of course, and I’ve often wondered vaguely why Walter Becker and Donald Fagen dropped it on the album.

Well, I imagine there’s an answer out there somewhere, and maybe I’ll look into it when my current tasks are taken care of.

Six From The ’70s

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

So we’ve sorted the tracks in the RealPlayer and found about 24,000 from the 1970s. Let’s go find six at random to think about this morning.

“In the corner of my eye, I saw you in Rudy’s. You were very high.” So starts “Black Cow” from Steely Dan’s 1977 album Aja, one of two Steely Dan albums I had before the 1990s (when I, as is well-known around here, went a little mad and bought more than 1,800 LPs over those ten years). My memory, aided by a look at the LP database, tells me that I won Aja for answering a trivia question on WJON while I lived in St. Cloud in late 1977, but there was a delay on the radio station’s part in getting the album, and then there was a delay on my part in getting to the station after I moved to Monticello. The delays didn’t bother me because Steely Dan wasn’t really in my sights at the time. I had Pretzel Logic on the shelves because of the presence of “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” (and I liked the rest of the album), but the work of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker wasn’t high on my list. Still, I wasn’t going to pass up a free album, so I took Aja home, and I liked it okay. But it’s probably not on my Top 200. So, “Drink your big black cow and get out of here.”

Canny marketers as well as classically trained musicians, the duo of Ferrante & Teicher rarely missed a trend in the 1960s and 1970s, and as the world hit the dance floor in the late 1970s, Ferrante & Teicher followed, providing us in 1979 with Classical Disco, one of the stranger albums of the duo’s nearly forty-year recording career. Covering pieces ranging from composers Rachmaninoff and Khachaturian to Grieg and Tchaikovsky, the album closes with a thumping version of Felix Mendelssohn’s famed “Wedding March” (cliché that it is). Given the move in recent years toward massively choreographed wedding processionals and recessionals (some staid, many not), I can see a couple and their friends putting together a disco processional to the beat of the Ferrante & Teicher track. If it were my wedding and up to me, I’d save it for the reception.

Head On was a late 1975 release from Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and its relative failure in the charts portended the end for the rockers from Canada. The group’s previous three albums of new music had all gone Top Ten in the Billboard 200, but Head On stalled at No. 23. A single from the album, “Take It Like A Man” (with a backing vocal from Little Richard) went to No. 33 in early 1976, but the band’s moment had passed. Fittingly, then, the track titled “It’s Over” is the one that pops up from Head On. It’s a decent enough track, not unlike most of the stuff in the group’s catalog, but its unsubtle pleasures didn’t offer listeners anything new as 1975 was turning into 1976.

As an object lesson that one can find almost anything online these days, we move next to “Tiffany Case” from John Barry’s soundtrack to the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever. When the RealPlayer offered the track to me this morning, I winced, but not because of the music. (It’s a decent bit of quiet and pretty musical fill for the movie, nicely portraying the soft side of Ms. Case, played in the film by the lovely Jill St. John.) The wince was for an expected difficulty in finding the track at YouTube. (I’d already made and uploaded one video this morning.) But there it was, and a quick click on the #JohnBarry hashtag shows me that what appears to be the vast majority of Barry’s work is now officially available at YouTube. I will have to do some digging there soon.

Whenever I write anything about Bobby Womack, I always feel as if I don’t know enough about the man or his work to write anything substantial. Today is no different, even though I know more about him and have heard more of his stuff now, thanks to a little bit of concentrated effort in the past few months. Anyway, what we have this morning is “Natural Man” from Womack’s 1973 album Facts Of Life. It’s a gender-flipped version of the Gerry Goffin/Carole King song “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” best known for the 1967 hit version by Aretha Franklin. It doesn’t seem to work, but then covering a classic is risky territory, and doing so with a gender-flip seems to make things all the more awkward. Womack’s delivery is fine, as usual. But it just feels, well, odd.

Speaking of covers of classic records, we close our expedition this morning with Ellie Greenwich taking on “Chapel Of Love” from her 1973 album Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung. Greenwich, of course, wrote the song with Jeff Barry and Phil Spector, and the Dixie Cups had a massive hit with it in 1964, with the record sitting at No. 1 for three weeks. For her own album, Greenwich and co-producers Steve Tudanger and Steve Feldman take the song in an interesting direction, with bare-bones instrumentation and layered and entwined vocals, coupled with some ringing bells in the middle. It works for me.

Summer Songs, Part Two

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

We’ll pick up today with summer songs, continuing from last week’s post that looked at the years 1968-70 as well as at 1972’s “Where Is the Love” by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, the tune that sparked the idea.

So what about 1971? Well, that one’s easy. I spent most days that summer mowing lawns and cleaning floors at St. Cloud State and most evenings hanging around with Rick with a radio playing. And despite the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” and “Treat Her Like A Lady” by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose and a few other records, it was the summer of “It’s Too Late” by Carole King. As I wrote in a post a couple of years ago: “There are few sounds that pull me back in time as potently as the piano figure that opens ‘It’s Too Late’.” And as friend and commenter jb said in response to that post, that piano figure is “the sound of the summer of ’71 distilled to a few seconds.”

Having taken care of 1972 in last week’s post, we move on to 1973. Several records bring back specific moments from that summer when I prepared to leave home for the first time: Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome,” Dr. John’s “Right Place Wrong Time,” Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round In Circles” and a pair of records by ex-Beatles, Paul McCartney’s “My Love” and George Harrison’s “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth).” But Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water” was just as present during that season. And it earns its place as the summer record of 1973 for that omnipresence and for one specific moment. Three years ago, I wrote:

Sometime during late July or early August of that summer, many of us who would spend the next school year in Denmark through St. Cloud State got together for a picnic at Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis. At one point during that evening, I was standing at the base of Minnehaha Falls – the waterfall that gives the large park its name – talking for the first time with a young woman who would turn out to be a very important part of my next nine months. Some distance away, another group of picnickers had a music source of some kind, and in that moment, those distant picnickers were listening to “Smoke On The Water.” Ever since, that opening riff puts me back at the base of Minnehaha Falls during the first tentative moments of a friendship that for a while became something else.

The first month of the odd summer of 1974 found me at home recovering from a still-unexplained illness, and for the rest of the summer I worked part-time at the St. Cloud State library. I also hung around with Rick and with folks from The Table in the student union as I tried to figure out how to fit my memories of my nine months away into the life I was resuming in St. Cloud. The music around me, as I look back almost forty years, seems as unsettled as I was that summer. There were some big hits and some good records: “Band on the Run” by Paul McCartney & Wings, “Sundown” by Gordon Lightfoot, “Rock the Boat” by the Hues Corporation, “Please Come To Boston” by Dave Loggins. But none of those sum up the summer, a season that seems to have been filled not only with relief that I was whole but with dissonance and odd angles and strange transitions. And the record from that summer that still feels both ways all these years later is Steely Dan’s “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.”

A year later, I felt like me again, going to school, working with folks I liked, spending time with friends from The Table and from elsewhere, playing some tennis and on one memorable evening, being hypnotized with several other patrons on the small stage of the Press Bar downtown. Music was all around me, from the jukebox in Atwood Center and from radios in many places, including my room, my car and the apartments and rooms of the several young women I dated that summer. I recall “Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John, “Love Will Keep Us Together” by the Captain & Tennille, “The Hustle” by Van McCoy & The Soul City Symphony, “I’m Not In Love” by 10 c.c. and several more. But there are two countryish records that pull me back more potently to the summer of 1975, and they both play in memory from the boothside jukebox at the Country Kitchen: “Wildfire” by Michael Martin Murphey and “I’m Not Lisa” by Jessi Colter. Same companion across the booth?  Yes. Same night? I think so.

That’s a nice place to stop for today. I had no plans to make this a three-part series, but that’s where it’s gone. We’ll pick up the last couple of college years and whatever other summers stick with me sometime in the next week.

Edited slightly.