Rocktober Day 29: Steely Dan...all of it


We’re getting close to the end folks, and unsurprisingly we’re sort of running out of steam. When I decided on this year’s theme, I had NO IDEA how hard it would actually be to find 31 albums that are worth your time and ours. And so it is today we step a little outside the box and talk about the band that people either love or hate, either get or do not. It’s a band that is near and dear to my heart (in fact my favorite band) and it pains me to eviscerate them in the manner I’m about to, but it simply must be.

The band I’m speaking of is none other than Steely Dan. Now I know, I know...It’s a fact that this rotating cast of musicians rotating around Donald Fagan and Walter Becker are some of the best makers of music that the world has ever seen. Jeff “Skunk” Baxter on guitar? GET THE F@!# OUTTA HERE!! The man is an absolutely monster. Jim Hodder on drums. OH.MY.GOD. As for Fagan and Becker? Master musicians and songwriters who can switch from jazz to rock, to well, whatever they want at the drop of a hat.

Over the course of 8 albums, group produced some heady, HEADY music throughout the 70’s. In fact without hits like “Do It Again”, “Reelin’ In The Years”, “Kid Charlemagne”, “Hey Nineteen”, “My Old School” and more the 70’s might not have been quite the period of grooviness that it is known for. Steely Dan soundtracked the shit that was going down in an intelligent, complex, and most of all catchy way that has survived the test of time.

But then there’s the rest of their catalog.

Like I said, I’m no Steely Dan apologist. I love this stuff, and even though my love is in fact undying, I’ll be the first to admit that songs like “Fire In The Hole”, “The Caves of Altimira” or “The Fez” can be a little hard to take. There has always been a smarmy vibe to the Dan’s music, and when they’re hitting it, really hitting it, that weird seedy magnetism works for them to the nth degree. It’s when they’re not hitting it that the flaws in the super slick veneer are revealed.

To the uninitiated, listening  to the “lesser” songs of Steely Dan could be something akin to hanging out with your friends creepy uncle for an afternoon, while he pounds cocktails and leers at anything and everything that comes by...including you. The tone that the group sets with their music is to be sure, an intentional one. But outside of the decade that produced the subject matters inspiration it could easily be seen as trashy, off-putting and downright inappropriate.

Yes, the sad fact is that no matter how much I love the band, they are the park flashers of the rock world. They are the guys who walk around in a raincoat and nothing but, surprising anyone and everyone who walks by with a vulgar display of humanity that has the potential to scar the victim for life. You can find druggies, dealers, molesters, adulterers and more throughout the entirety of Steely Dan’s catalog and it’s all set to that oh so smooth lite jazz beat.

Ohhhhhhhh yea.

And so it is that you, dear reader, have really only one choice to make when it comes to Steely Dan. You can consider it a crime against music and good taste, and sweep it under nostalgia’s rug to be found someday on a radio dial that doesn’t switch stations until the song is over, or you can simply embrace the Dan, warts and all, and respect that at least if they were going create a catalog as audacious as they did, the did it ALL their way, with no compromises whatsoever. I fall into the latter camp, and when I think of good, no, great music now, I think of Steely Dan and Steely Dan ONLY. It’s like a disease, probably caught from one of the characters in their songs, but it is one that I want no cure from. I’ll gladly hang out with Dr. Wu, Kid Charlemagne, Katy (who lied) and whatever other of the bands characters happen to be hanging around at night, because at the very least, and despite their faults, they are some damn interesting people.

Now, I don’t expect you (or anyone) to be right there with me on this one, but since you’ve all definitely heard Steely Dan, maybe you should give them a closer look now. We’ll go slowly, and we’ll start at the beginning, and I assure you, along the way you’re going to see some things that aren’t pretty, but that’s life right? It’s not all unicorns with rainbows blasting out of their ass. Sometimes it’s dark. Sometimes it’s gritty. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. But in the end it’s all vital and it’s that pulse that Steely Dan somehow tapped into that manages to elevate them above their surface roles as musical schmaltz dealers that most people who don’t know think of them as today.

So you ready? Is there gas in the car? Alright then. Let’s go.



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