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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Steely Dan

The Definitive Collection

Review by Gary Hill

I’ve been wanting to work Steely Dan into Music Street Journal for a long time. I keep trying repeatedly to fit one of the older releases in as a retro review, but it just never happens. Frankly, while these guys were never what I’d call “progressive rock,” their combination of clever lyrics, pop sensibilities and jazz stylings have always made them one of my favorites. Well, now with this new “best of” release it gives me a chance to work The Dan into MSJ. I couldn’t be happier. It’s always tough to come up with a “definitive” collection that really is that. Fans of a group will always have their own choices for what the best songs a group has released are, and odds are these “best of” comps won’t cut it in those terms. Still, with Steely Dan it’s really hard to miss. They haven’t done any dog material as far as I’m concerned. This may not be the collection I’d consider “definitive” – I’m not sure I could narrow it down to one CD – but frankly since this showed up here I’ve been listening to it over and over again. I have all the material that’s on the disc elsewhere, but that doesn’t stop me from eating this up. If you already have all the music (like I do) this is an iffy acquisition, but if you don’t own any Steely Dan, by all means rush out to get this one. ‘70’s accessible rock just doesn’t get any better than this.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Do It Again

This tale about a gambling addiction is a bouncy rocker with some great instrumental work. The psychedelic sitar-type jamming in the center is quite cool as is the funky guitar line on the closing segments. I’d guess most people have heard this number at one time or another, but it still holds up well.
Dirty Work

The chorus on this one is so catchy that you will almost surely find yourself singing, “I’m a fool to do your dirty work.” Overall this is a jazzy ballad-like number. It has a great retro texture and is another great track. The horn solo instrumental segment is a great touch.
Reelin' In The Years

More guitar oriented than the stuff that has come before, this one doesn’t lack in the jazz elements, though. The guitar soloing that starts it off is extremely tasty, though. This is another that’s very well known. It’s also one of the Dan’s highlight tracks. The interesting thing about this song, in my opinion, is the contrast. While it feels all happy and cheery musically, when you listen to the lyrics they are scathing and sarcastic.
Bodhisattva

This bouncing jam has some killer instrumental work in the form of a number of varied solos. It’s more of a rock and roll piece than some of the other stuff here, but there is still enough interesting alterations to keep it from becoming anything close to generic. In fact, this one comes fairly close to the progressive rock vein in places. The outro is a real ‘70’s rock trademark sound.
My Old School

A bouncy jazz piano based sound starts this jumping piece off. It’s a lot more jazz oriented than the last couple tunes. This has some extremely meaty jamming.
Rikki Don't Lose That Number

This might be The Dan’s most famous number. It’s certainly a great balladic jam and a definite highlight. It seems to pull in a lot of both the jazz and progressive rock stylings that are pretty frequent visitors to SD’s music. This track also has some especially tasty guitar soloing.
Black Friday

This is another personal favorite of mine. This one is an energetic cut that’s quirky and still oh so accessible. The chorus is a real smoking one.
Bad Sneakers

This is perhaps a bit less obvious choice for the disc. It’s not that it’s not a good song – it’s actually quite a strong one. The thing is, this one isn’t that well known. It’s a more laid back balladic number. It still has some bounce to it, and a definite jazz texture, but it’s definitely a lot lower in energy than a lot of The Dan’s other material. I’ve always liked the track’s free-form flow on the lyrical presentation and the Doobie Brothers-like chorus. This is a good change of pace and a nice surprise in its presentation here. The instrumental break on it is a tasty one.
Kid Charlemagne

This one has always been another favorite, although perhaps not as high profile in terms of the mass audience. I love the vocal performance on this one and the general arrangement with its sort of swirling texture. This is a song of contrasts. It feels at first quite minimalist in approach. Yet when you really listen there is quite a bit going on in the background. This one is one I definitely would have picked for this collection had I chosen the songs. There is some more extremely tasty guitar work on this one. I don’t know why but the whole, “is there gas in the car? / yes, there’s gas in the car” bit on this one always brings a smile to my face.
Deacon Blue

This is another track that was a regular of FM radio in the 1970’s. It’s a cool, bluesy groove and yet another strong piece on show. The amazing thing about all these potent cuts is that the Dan stuff that isn’t presented here is still strong stuff. They really didn’t do any weak material. The chorus on this one is another captivating one. I love the lines, “they got a name for the winners in the world / I want a name when I lose.” The horn solo on this one is especially tasty.
Peg

This is another of the better-known cuts by the group. It’s a bouncy, slightly funky jam that’s lots of fun. The intro/transitional musical segment on this has always reminded me of Stevie Wonder.
FM

Considering Steely Dan were among of the darlings of ’70’s FM radio it should be no surprise that they were asked to do the theme song to the film of the same name. This is a slower groove with a slightly funky texture. It probably won’t grab you on the first listen, but give it a chance. It’s a great tune. I wouldn’t consider it to be one of the best on show here, but it certainly belongs. It also contains some wonderful instrumental passages. The closing guitar solo on this sounds so much like David Gilmour you might find yourself checking the credits.
Hey Nineteen

Another bouncy, playfully textured cut, this is another winner on a disc that is full of them. While the drug reference in the chorus might not be up to today’s PC standards, that chorus is catchy as hell. The guitar work on here is understated but extremely classy.
Babylon Sisters

This has one of the more jazzy grooves on the whole disc. It’s also an extremely cool jam with a lot of emotion and texture. The soulful chorus runs the risk of feeling over the top, but I think it stops just short of it. This one is steamy, yet laid back, kind of like a relaxing session in the sauna.
Cousin Dupree

Whether or not the movie in the theaters ripped this track off (if you don’t know what I’m talking about you probably haven’t watched entertainment news over the summer) this is a great song. The groove that this is based on is one of the funkiest of the disc. It’s playful and very entertaining.
Things I Miss The Most

The only track from the latest incarnation of the group, this is very jazzy and has a killer groove. It’s a rather mellow piece, but is still very catchy and satisfying. I’d have to say this holds up with any of their best material from their hey day. It’s a nice way to end the collection.
 
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