Genre: Jazz Rock
Preceded by: –
Followed by: Countdown to Ecstasy (1973)
Related to: not available yet
We move away from hard rock this week, with the antithesis of seventies bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. It’s up to the jazzy instrumental magicians Donald Fagen and Walter Becker this week.
Those guys are the core members of the American band Steely Dan. They accidentally ran into each other, noticed they listened to the same jazz music and started a band. They found a proper band name in Burroughs’ novel Naked Lunch, featuring a strap-on dildo called ‘Steely Dan III from Yokohama’. For the title of their first album they were instead inspired by Bob Dylan: ‘Can’t Buy a Thrill’ is a lyric from ‘It takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry’ on Highway 61 Revisited, remember that one? On the album cover you can see prostitutes in a red light district, waiting for clients.
But the most important question remains: how does the music sound? It sounds marvellous. Steely Dan were the kings of the studio: everything was refined a gazillion times after recording and after a few years they didn’t tour anymore to concentrate on studio albums. Maybe it all sounds a little too smooth at first, but after a while you realize this is just superb craftsmanship.
The album has a perfect opening track: ‘Do It Again’. This is one of those songs you feel like knowing for years already. This song must have the best tempo ever and features a great solo on electric sitar. Besides, it’s a perfect example of typical Steely Dan lyrics. No societal complaints or whatsoever, but just telling stories of all kind of persons, ranging from a naïve lover to some slumdog, like the gambling addict in ‘Do It Again’.
Subsequently, you’ll hear David Palmer do the lead vocals on ‘Dirty Work’ and ‘Brooklyn’. Palmer also sang the other songs live during live gigs, as Fagen refused to, but he left the band after this album. The first part of the album is concluded by the beautiful pop songs ‘Midnight Cruiser’ and ‘Only a Fool Would Say That’.
The second part starts furiously again with the radio classic ‘Reelin’ In the Years’. The guitar solo on this track is well-known as favorite solo of all time for Led Zeppelin’s guitarist Jimmy Page. Not that big of an antithesis after all than? Well, Dan’s second album Countdown to Ecstasy, kinda was a flop and according to Becker and Fagen this was due to the fact that they had to rush-record between several tour dates. Compare that with Zep’s second album I spoke about last time.
A last word of appreciation goes to the song ‘Fire In The Hole’, with the tremendous piano playing of Donald Fagen. It starts with the brilliant intro an ends up with a delicious solo. This song proves that a piano should be an essential instrument in every rockband. Check it out and decide whether you like it or not!