Tag Archives: Pretzel Logic

Rocks In The Attic #827: Steely Dan – ‘Rotoscope Down’ (1973)

RITA#827You can keep your expensive Zeppelin and Floyd bootlegs. I’m more interested in curios like this, a ‘peak behind the curtain’, as the record’s subtitle tells us, of Steely Dan’s 1973 American tour.

Recorded in front of a small audience at the Los Angeles Record Plant in late 1973, although some sources put the date as March 20th 1974, it’s a brilliant run-through of selections from the band’s first three studio albums (Can’t Buy A Thrill, Countdown To Ecstasy and Pretzel Logic). The inclusion of three songs from Pretzel Logic suggests the recording is from the later date, as this would fall after the February release of the album.

RITA#827aThe liner notes on the simple pink-photocopied insert that acts as the cover reads:

THE BOYS IN THE BAND ARE DENNY DIAS ON GUITAR / JEFF “SKUNK” BAXTER ON GUITAR / WALTER BECKER ON BASS GUITAR AND VOCALS / JIM HODDER ON DRUMS (AND BACKING VOCALS) / DONALD FAGEN ON PIANO AND VOCALS / RECORDED IN LATE 1973 AT THE LOS ANGELES RECORD PLANT / NO IT’S NOT YOUR EARS…THE BAND ARE PLAYING LOUD TO THE POINT OF DISTORTION / THE TAPE WAS EDITED (EXTENSIVELY) BY DEEK / EXTRA SPECIAL THANKS TO MR. TIME FOR THE GOOD SENSE AND SOUND ADVICE / THE BAND GET VERY, VERY EXCITED DURING TRACK THREE ON SIDE TWO / AS MELTS THE SNOW IT’S OL’ STEREO / BYE BYE / TAKRL 1924

The comment around the distortion is spot-on. It doesn’t sound bad, just the result of being recorded outside of the mixing desk I’m guessing. The band are on fire though, as you would expect them to be.

Hit: Reelin’ In The Years

Hidden Gem: Mobile Heart

RITA#827b

Rocks In The Attic #279: Steely Dan – ‘Aja’ (1977)

RITA#279This isn’t my favourite Steely Dan album. That has to be the awesome Pretzel Logic. I guess any of them could be my favourite though – they’re all so consistent. But just like your favourite James Bond actor, or your favourite Doctor (Who), it always comes back to the first one you were exposed to, and for me that was Pretzel Logic.

Aja has to be the best sounding Steely Dan record though. The production on it sounds just perfect, like it was recorded on a computer, but without losing all the soul that pro-tools recordings always seem to do. Obviously it couldn’t have been recorded on a computer back in 1977 – it’s just recorded really well; seven tracks of perfection.

When I saw Steely Dan a couple of years ago on the 2011 Shuffle Diplomacy Tour, they opened with the title track from Aja. I don’t know what the drummer did wrong to deserve that – the drum parts on that song are amazing, with an awesome drum solo mid-song over the saxophone parts. I think I’d like a bit of a warm-up before I tackled that in a setlist. Perhaps it was punishment for his habits on the tour bus or something. Anyway, he nailed it – and he was only a young dude as well. He didn’t even flinch; he just took it all in his stride. Give the drummer some, indeed.

The title-track from Aja is probably the best example of the band being classified as jazz-rock. There are huge portions of the song based around a simple two-note motif, reminiscent of Miles Davis’ So What opener from Kind Of Blue. Like most of Steely Dan’s music though, I have no idea what any of the lyrics mean – but it doesn’t really matter. The music is just so rich, that they could be singing in ancient Hebrew and I’d still dig it.

Thanks to De La Soul heavily sampling Peg (for their song Eye Know), I felt I already knew that song before I heard anything else by Steely Dan at all. It’s a great pop song – probably their most commercial and mainstream-sounding single, but the prominent Michael McDonald backing vocals on the song are the only sour point on the whole album for me.

The master tapes for two of the albums songs – Black Cow and Aja – have gone missing over the years, preventing the record company from being able to bring out a SACD or 5.1 version of the album:

“When we recently sent for the multi-track masters of Aja so as to make new surround-sound mixes of same, we discovered that the two-inch multi-tracks of the songs Aja and Black Cow were nowhere to be found. They had somehow become separated from the other boxes, which the producer had abandoned here and there (studios, storage lockers, etc.) almost twenty years before. Anyone having information about the whereabouts of these missing two inch tapes should contact HK Management at (415) 485-1444. There will be a $600.00 reward for anyone who successfully leads us to the tapes. This is not a joke. Happy hunting.” – Donald Fagen & Walter Becker, 1999.

Really? “$600.00”? That misplaced decimal point sure sounds like a joke to me.

Hit: Peg

Hidden Gem: Aja

Rocks In The Attic #172: Steely Dan – ‘The Royal Scam’ (1976)

This is Steely Dan’s most guitar-heavy album. Given that I’m a guitarist, and I love Steely Dan, this should really be my favourite Steely Dan record. It isn’t (Pretzel Logic is), but I still love The Royal Scam.

Like most fans of the Dan I’d say that Fagen and Becker never put a foot wrong. The one album that people always put forward as their worst – their last one, Gaucho – is always held up as the beginning of the end (after six straight years of churning out an album every year, it took them three years to release Gaucho after the success of Aja). I actually like Gaucho, and it’s by no means my least favourite (Countdown To Ecstasy tends to be, although it’s still a fantastic album).

I haven’t bothered to check out their two ‘reunion’ albums released since 2000. I’ve heard a couple of tracks, and at least they seem to sound like Steely Dan – unlike most bands who release an album after twenty years apart and end up sounding like a bad tribute band (case in point: The Doobie Brothers’ last couple of studio albums in the 1990s and 2000s).

Out of all the bands I love – my top ten favourite bands even – Steely Dan are definitely the most lyrical. Being a guitar player, a lot of lyrics go straight over my head – I’m just busy listening to the band, I just haven’t got the time to try and start deciphering the words – and this is especially true of the Dan.  Their material is just so musically interesting, I just love everything that pours out of the stereo when they’re on.

Hit: Kid Charlemagne

Hidden Gem: The Fez