01 May Steely Dan-Reelin’ In The Years, Brian Sweet
Steely Dan-Reelin’ In The Years
Steely Dan Website:
If you were listening to FM radio in the 1970’s it would have been impossible not to have heard of Steely Dan or heard their music. Their hits, Reeling In the Years, Do It Again, Any Major Dude and Rikkie Don’t Lose That Number, added so much to the soundtrack of that decade. Steely Dan opened up many new sonic vistas for me back when I was just a junior high school kid. I remember listening to Aja for the first time in 1977 and being amazed at the great songwriting, the clean studio feel of the recording, and on the first side of what was then a vinyl record, the saxophone solo’s by Tom Scott on the first track Black Cow, the amazing drum solo of Steve Gadd and tenor sax of Wayne Shorter on Aja, and the lyrics and saxophone solo on Deacon Blues by Pete Christlieb. I have been a huge fan ever since, and the publication of this book does a great job detailing their entire personal and musical history. Reelin’ In The Years takes a true comprehensive look at the Steely Dan legacy, and for true die hard Dan fans, Reelin’ In The Years by Brian Sweet is a must read. Originally published in 1994, it was recently updated and revised in 2015.
It takes a certain musical sophistication and warped sense of humor to truly appreciate Steely Dan and their music. To the uninitiated they have always seemed aloof and condescending. What’s interesting about this book is that it does not actually analyze their music in any traditional sense, but reveals the story of their evolution, demystifying their complex musical and lyrical language.
So much of their history is shrouded in mystery and their legendary vague interviews are parsed here; if you know their music you will find some very interesting storylines that you likely won’t find anywhere else.
A basic history of Steely Dan can be found at Wikipedia …..https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steely_Dan.
For those of us that crave the deeper meaning of the music, and hope to unearth many of the long lost details of the band’s history, this book provides the means to find some serious buried treasures……..
Did you know that Katy Lied, as originally issued, was a flawed representation of what was actually recorded? Here you will find out exactly why.
Did you know that Walter Becker has not one but two solo recordings? Or that he is not a fan of his own singing?
Are you aware that Donald Fagen has four solo recordings? The last of which is called Sunken Condo’s?
I am a totally committed Steely Dan fan and had no idea the answer to the above questions….
Many more interesting things come to light in this book…..that Walter Becker produced a Rickie Lee Jones recording called Flying Cowboys. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_Cowboys. On this recording you can clearly hear the Steely Dan type influence on Rickie. Additionally the history of The New York Rock And Soul Revue is laid out, the group which gave rise to Donald Fagen’s comeback to performing, which ultimately led to subsequent Steely Dan tours and their recordings Two Against Nature and Everything Must Go. This tiny Wikipedia sketch could use some updating from the information provided in this book….https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_York_Rock_and_Soul_Revue.
Steely Dan evolved from an early rock band to the supremely sophisticated jazz/studio supergroup that produced, to my mind, two of the most brilliant recordings ever made, Aja and Gaucho.
To understand how they got to this pinnacle, one must understand the influence on the early recordings of a couple of somewhat unheralded yet brilliant guitarists, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and Denny Dias. More about Denny here….https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denny_Dias. How they became a part of the early Steely Dan, what they contributed, and how you can hear their work in the early music becomes very clear once you’ve worked your way through that stretch in the book. And then, of course, the apex of the book begins with Chapter XIII, The Crimson Tide, Page 157, where the full details of Aja are revealed. As if that is not enough, that segues directly into Chapter IX, Bodacious Cowboys, which details the recording and messy circumstances surrounding Gaucho. By the way, Classic Albums-Steely Dan Aja is a fantastic DVD that details the recording of this classic work, including jam sessions with some of the original musicians and Becker and Fagen at the control booth with the master tapes walking you through various stages of the Aja mixes and recording process.
All in all Reelin’ In The Years is well worth the time and effort, if you are indeed a Steely Dan fan, to read. There are some awkward places and sentences that could have been better delivered or better edited, and there is so much information that one ought to be prepared for the onslaught, but for true fans, you cannot find a better, more complete source of Steely Dan information. I can’t wait to go back and reread many sections of this book, and certainly have found new things to listen for, particularly in the earlier music where the Jeff Baxter influence is so apparent. Baxter’s pedal steel guitar work is all over the early Dan tracks; when he left Steely Dan and joined the Doobie Brothers the Dan’s music definitely went in a different direction. There is more about Jeff here…https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Baxter. Great book, great music, great memories. Steely Dan had it all, lyrics, harmony, master soloists, creative spark, confidence and a vision. A great legacy preserved in this book, check it out if you have the time and inclination.