Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Steely Dan - Ultimate Music Guide

From previous posts you will have worked out that I'm quite keen on Steely Dan, so I was pleased to see Uncut add them to their Ultimate Music Guide series. These magazines are a great way of getting started with an artist, I have bought several, The Byrds, Van Morrison, & The Beach Boys issues all sent me off to the record shop.

With the Steely Dan one I have better insider knowledge and while it is very good, certainly making anything I could write to advise you where to start redundant, there are gaps...

The first is that as far as I can see nowhere does the song F.M. get a mention. It won awards and was released in various versions which surely gives it trainspotter appeal.

Number two nit-pick is the Hoops McCann Band. Named after a character in "Glamour Profession" (Steely Dan fans love this stuff) their "Plays the Music Of Steely Dan" album is a Jazz-lite set of covers. Not a musical sensation but part of the lore. And lore is one of the important things about Becker and Fagen. Bard College, Jay & The Americans, Chevy Chase, Muswellbrook... If you don't know what I'm talking about then catch up with Brian Sweet's excellent Biography called "Reelin' In the Years" (what else). If you ever see his other book "Complete Guide to the Music of Steely Dan" for less than ridiculous Amazon prices grab it. As a supplement to the interviews in the Ultimate Music Guide get Barney Hoskyns' "Major Dudes: A Steely Dan Companion". There is a small overlap of interviews, but not enough to matter.

Something else that is of interest to the train spotter in me are Steely Dan covers.

Woody Herman's "Chick, Donald, Walter & Woodrow" marries a suite from Chick Corea with five Steely Dan songs, far more effective big band Dan than Hoops McCann.

Herbie Hancock covered 'Your Gold Teeth II' on "The New Standard", an album by the way that is high up on the list of best Jazz albums of recent years.

"The Nightfly" has attracted its share of easy listening covers. Mel Torme took on 'The Goodbye Look' and 'Walk Between the Raindrops' on his Reunion album with Marty Paich, (whose son David covered Bodhisattva with Toto), and the Four Freshmen had a stab at Maxine and I.G.Y.

Best covers? The Pointer Sisters' take on Dirty Work clearly influenced Steely Dan's own live arrangement of recent years.

 Wilco's version of 'Any Major Dude' is good as is 'King Of The World' from Joe Jackson. Oddly Waylon Jennings managed a not bad rendition of 'Do It Again'..

Buy the Steely Dan Ultimate Music Guide, if you are a fan or not. Becker and Fagen make good copy whatever your opinion of their music. Personally I love it and am patiently waiting for Donald to get his finger out and release some better live albums and proper expanded editions of the albums.


My dwindling opinion of Donald Fagen took another hit this week with the headline "Steely Dan Singer Donald Fagen Sues Bandmate Walter Becker's Estate". While it's hardly the first unseemly scrap for control of a band name, Yes do it every second Thursday after all, the comments in my obituary of Walter Becker stand.

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