You Can Not Like Steely Dan

Recently a friend reluctantly admitted (his words) that he doesn’t like Steely Dan.

Though I understand, I don’t get it.

Moving from album to album can be confusing. Aja is slickly polished radio play through and through. Countdown to Ecstasy is ignoring-you-to-talk-to-ourselves rambling fusion jazz rock. Can’t Buy a Thrill is more radio-ready pop and rock, but rougher, simpler.

Certainly, Donald Fagen’s voice is an acquired taste. Nasal, whiny, angry. His keyboard playing is very very jazz, as is the Dan’s songwriting style. Sometimes.

There’s where the confusion comes from, on both sides. Steely Dan is a fusion of jazz and rock, with some songs leaning strongly one way or the other, and some so commingled it’s hard to sort which is where with whom.

The Boston Rag, for instance, from my favorite Dan album. All the elements of regular old rock: electric guitars and drums all played loud, a simple verse/chorus song structure, one of the aforementioned guitars doing a meandering solo—yup, it’s rock.

Except, the guitar solo comes after a strangely organised jazz instrumental break of piano, bass, and drums that sounds like a rumba or some such fancy dance. The harmonies are every so slightly discordant. Even the opening notes of the song are two guitars in discord, not harmony. So, it’s jazz.

This is why we all talk about jazz-rock and all those other hyphenated genre. Which is fine with me. I like weird combinations; electric bluegrass, progressive rock, Mark O’Connor’s Concerto for Fiddle and Orchestra.

Right now I’m listening for the ten thousandth time to King of the World, a perky jazzy longish ramble about a survivor of the nuclear holocaust broadcasting a plea for someone, anyone, to answer so he knows he’s not alone, despite the fact that with luck, he might live ’til Saturday. With an almost joyful keyboard solo and witty sarcastic lyrics, it doesn’t feel much like a sad song. During the instrumental outro, I can see them dancing. They seem to be making fun of someone, someone who probably doesn’t get it.

You can ‘not like’ Steely Dan all you want. I like ‘em just fine.

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8 Responses to You Can Not Like Steely Dan

  1. Karen J says:

    Interesting – I saw two of their four-nights-in-a-row concerts in Chicago a couple of years ago (wherein they replayed their 4 biggest albums).

    I’ve always loved Steely Dan’s music on the radio, never owned the albums, and was really disappointed by those concerts… they were clearly having fun, and the fans were having a good time, but it felt like there was an ‘energy barricade’ between the stage and the audience! Like they wouldn’t have even noticed if we’d all been Raptured right before the break. Weird, and a phenomenon I’ve never felt before.

    My primary music experience lately has been as “the Roadie’s Groupie” for a high-energy Irish bar-band of brothers, though – that may have something to do with the unexpectedness…? The Dooleys* so obviously feed on and back the energy of the crowd.

    * http://www.dooleybrothers.com/
    ~~~~~~~
    I’m so glad you’re sending out a ‘monthly round-up’, Joel, I’d’a probably never found *this* blog, otherwise!

    ~ Bright Blessings ~ Karen

  2. spinhead says:

    I’ve read all over the place that they were anywhere from stand-offish to totally oblivious to fans. I met Skunk Baxter once, and he was cordial, but even in an interview setting, not warm and fuzzy. I think these guys were just doing all this because they wanted it, not because anyone else did. They never asked anything back from anyone, didn’t, as far as I know, act like anyone owed them, just went over there and did their thing.

    The Dooleys look like fun. They don’t have anything streaming at their website. Maybe they’d trade CDs and coffee mugs for web work ;) Though it’s the only time I’ve heard anyone else mention Lisdoonvarna, outside of my book Through the Fog.

    While you’re stalking me, I’ve finally started writing at my personal blog: http://JoelDCanfield.com/

    Stalk, Karen, stalk!

  3. Karen J says:

    Almost certainly! Get in touch w/ Jim — *I’m* really pleased that they finally have “Buy Now” buttons!!! (Tell ‘em ‘Cian’s Karen – Kharmin’ sent you…)

    There’s a catchy little tune (don’t remember if it’s actually *on* their album) that Jimmy Moore does called Lisdoonvarna, too – I’ve heard it introduced as “Irish rap”!

    and Yay! for personal writing, too!!! I haven’t gotten over there, just yet, but I will – I have 3 new emails (or comment windows) open right now, and it’s getting late!

    Stalk! Stalk! ;)

  4. spinhead says:

    I’ll put that on my list of things to do ;)

  5. Karen J says:

    Oh, come on!! It was YOUR idea ~

  6. spinhead says:

    I know. Better marketing if someone else were to suggest it ;)

  7. Karen J says:

    oh — OH!

    now I get it – FINE, so I’ll put it on MY list of things to do…

    remind me please? K

  8. spinhead says:

    I’ll do that :) and thank you.

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