Something you should know about me at this point.
I’m a man. Who’s a fan. Of the Dan.
Steely Dan, that is.
I just saw them in concert this week, and it reminded me of why I love those guys so much. Those guys being Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, the driving force behind Steely Dan.
Heck, let’s face it: those guys are Steely Dan.
My taste in music is pretty varied. I enjoy rock and roll, jazz, country, bluegrass, classical, gospel, blues, R&B, even some rap. Don’t go much for heavy metal, though. Sorry, all you headbangers; in my younger days, I did like me some Black Sabbath now and then, but now that I’m a geezer, it’s just a little too hard on the ears.
Anyway, back to those guys.
The brilliance of Steely Dan is that they arranged a perfect marriage of straight-up rock and cool, slick jazz, creating their own little niche, where no one else resides. Even if someone does, Becker and Fagen were there first, and do it best.
Listen to the breezy melodies over the complex chord structure, the musical performances buffed to an ultra-high gloss in the studio, with the help of some of the best jazz musicians in the business. Early on in their career, Becker and Fagen abandoned the idea of a band, forsaking live performances and focusing instead on bringing in outside session players to help them achieve the sophisticated sound they were looking for. Even without touring, they built up a fiercely dedicated fan base.
Pay close attention to the lyrics, though, and you realize there’s some sinister goings on under all that sheen and polish: stories about incest (“Cousin Dupree”), pedophilia (“Everyone’s Gone to the Movies”), drug manufacturing (“Kid Charlemagne”) and dealing (“Glamour Profession”) and consumption (“Time Out of Mind”), gang violence (“Josie”), psychotic breaks (“Third World Man”, “Don’t Take Me Alive”) and, especially, dirty old men (“Hey Nineteen”, “Janie Runaway”, “Babylon Sisters”). And all delivered by the wonderfully sardonic vocals of Donald Fagen. You can just see the arch of the eyebrow when you listen to him.
But they sound so good. Especially, in concert, when they have such a topnotch assemblage of musicians backing them up. A couple of particular standouts are drummer Keith Carlock and guitarist Jon Herington, but they all tear it up right good, believe me.
If Steely Dan has escaped your radar to this point, I highly recommend you check ’em out. Oh, and they can definitely rock when they want to; “Kid Charlemagne”and “Bodhisattva” are all the proof you need for that.
And if you really want a treat, look into where this duo got its name. That’s all I’m saying on that.