Friday Night Jazz: Steely Dan

Friday, June 20, 2008 | 07:00 PM

Katy_lied

I'm a huge fan of what the BBC once called "one of the most important and intelligent bands the US has produced: Steely Dan.

Saw 'em live a few times, most recently on Wednesday night at the Beacon Theater. If you ever get a chance to see a concert in a small venue with large artists, its a very interesting experience (3rd row center doesn't hurt either).

Their music is characterized by "complex jazz-influenced structures and harmonies, literate and sometimes obscure or ambiguous lyrics, filled with dark sarcasm." They are known for their "adroit musicianship and studio perfectionism." (Wiki)

I was trying to figure out the best way to recommend material from The Dan -- which albums you must own -- but I simply cannot offer up anything better than the 4 CD box set.

The 4 CD box set itself is the first six 7 of the Dan's studio releases on 4 discs for the bargain price of $36.

Steely_dan_boxed_setSteely Dan are justly famous for their use of "chord sequences and harmonies that explore the area of musical tension between traditional pop music sounds and jazz." These 4 CDs reveal a musical dynamism that is unmatched in modern music.  The lyrics are sardonic, engaging and humorous. Indeed, it is one of the greatest catalogues in the annals of pop/jazz music history. That's one reason why Steely Dan makes my short list of greatest American Rock and Roll bands. (Note that on Rolling Stone's top 500 albums, Pretzel Logic is #385 and Can't Buy a Thrill is #238.

Also of note: Citizen Steely Dan: 1972-1980  contains what may very well be the best Amazon review I have ever come across.

Your other option is to grab a few single discs. If I had to cut it down to just 3 CDs, here's how I would roll: Surely, you can pick any of the five early Dan CDs -- all are great -- but my favorite is 1975's Katy Lied ($7.97). The album saw took otherwise classic rock style songs, and arranged and played them in a jazz idiom. With Michael McDonald's background vocals, the Dan infused a smoky Soul flavor. It was complex mashup of styles that worked wonderfully.

Aja My second disc choice has to be the great Aja, a groundbreaking 1977 CD. It was a favorite of audiophiles, stunned recording engineers, oh, and  dominated FM radio for a year. Aja was even more heavily jazz-influenced than Katy Lied, and was graced with  top-notch jazz musicians: Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Wayne Shorter and Chuck Rainey.

Aja won numerous awards, shot into the Top Five in the U.S. charts within three weeks of release, and was one of the first American LPs to be certified 'platinum' for sales of over 1 million albums. It was that good. Aja is #145 on Rolling Stone's top 500 albums. If I have any complaint about this slick disc, it was that the radio play was so overwhelming it became a bit played out way back when.

Last year, I mentioned the making of Steely Dan' Peg (off of Aja) that I randomly discovered on YouTube. It was simply terrific. If you are any type of Dan fan, you must go order this right now.

The third selection is Donald Fagen's solo disc, The Nightfly (a previous Friday Night Jazz selection). Even if you get the Dan box set, you have to add this CD to the mix. The WSJ called The Nightfly "one of pop music's sneakiest masterpieces" and I think that moniker fits well. The key to this is the music's timeless quality. It was retro back in 1982, and over the years, has never grown to sound tired or even of a specific era. It remains fresh, even 25 years later.

Not only did the CD win critical acclaim amongst the jazz and pop reviewers, but the disc delighted audiophiles of all stripes. You see, The Nightfly was one of the first fully digital recordings of popular music. Add to that the usual crisp, sleek production The Dan were famous for, and you have a recipe for a phenomenal recording.

Any of the above provides a rewarding aural experience. These are amongst the best music from the  1970s/80s era, and indeed of all time.

~~~

Before we jump to the videos, one little bit of trivia: Since both Becker & Fagen were avid readers of 1950's "Beat" literature, they decided to name the band "Steely Dan" after a dildo in William Burroughs' "Naked Lunch" . . .

>

videos after the jump.

Black Friday

New Frontier

Making of Peg

Previously:
Friday Night Jazz: The NightFly   
http://bigpicture.typepad.com/comments/2008/01/friday-night-ja.html

The Making of Steely Dan's Aja     http://bigpicture.typepad.com/comments/2007/06/dvd_the_making_.html

Greatest American Rock and Roll Band?
http://bigpicture.typepad.com/writing/2003/12/greatest_americ.html

Sources:
The Nightfly' Still Lives at 25
ROBERT J. TOTH
WSJ, January 9, 2008; Page D8
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119983831897376337.html

The Nightfly (Wikipedia)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nightfly

Friday, June 20, 2008 | 07:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (29) | TrackBack (0)
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When Black Friday comes
I'll stand down by the door
And catch the grey men when they
Dive from the fourteenth floor.
When Black Friday comes
I'll collect everything I'm owed,
And before my friends find out
I'll be on the road.

Posted by: george | Jun 20, 2008 7:19:44 PM

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