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Steely Dan - What's your take on them?

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  • Steely Dan - What's your take on them?

    The duo of Donald Fagen & Walter Becker as Steely Dan is one of the most well-respected associations of talent in music. Their compositions, both musically and lyrically, along with their drive for perfection from a recording standpoint is almost legendary. That's not to say every album is brilliant, since few (if any) artist(s) can lay claim to such successes. But by and large their output has been of very high quality and generally has also been well received. I've always found it interesting to hear that many consider them to be studio musicians, despite the 9 albums and some touring, yet I understand it somehow.

    Despite all of these wonderful attributes, successes and recognitions, I don't find myself to be a big fan. This is a bit odd for me as I'm usually drawn to artists that create based on their commitment to their art, regardless of success or the potential thereof. An example of this is The Tragically Hip. I have the highest regard for Gord Downie and his lyrics as he writes about the Canadian experience from a personal point of view. If he wrote lyrics that were more generic The Hip would IMO be a bigger success internationally, but that is not what drives him/them. I love that sense of integrity and commitment to personal beliefs, but hey...that's me.

    While I would never question the level of integrity and commitment Steely Dan has, I do find their music to sound a bit too similar with little variation of interest (to me). They don't take any chances and follow a tried and true method that becomes almost monotone and quite prefabricated sounding. I have the same opinion about Donald Fagen's last solo album Sunken Condos. While beautifully recorded and a sonic treat, it left me rather uninterested in playing it with any regularity.

    How do you feel about them?
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  • #2
    I like the first two albums the best- after that, select cuts from the later albums. I don't know why AJA is considered an audiophile grail- it sounds far too antiseptic to me. Musically, they are clever, but I need more than that to listen frequently. The first album is unbelievable, though- what a mix of styles, all played at virtuoso levels, but radio friendly pop. My go-to back when the records were released was Countdown, though. I think that was the album Ray Brown played on with them. The originals aren't particularly expensive, either.

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    • #3
      I recently bought a large collection of R2R Master Dubs and the Steely Dan "Katy Lied" album was among them. I listened to it - anything special to listen for? I had heard of Steely Dan before, but never actually heard anything by them. The closest was Rickie Lee Jones' cover of "Show Biz Kids" where I thought the word play of "Las Vegas" and "Lost Wages" was cute. Steely Dan tee shirts are mentioned in the lyrics.

      Thanks, Larry
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      • #4
        Larry- Katy Lied has some history behind it- much of it on the web. Apparently, the tape was done using dbx noise processing, and they had trouble on the decoding- took it to dbx, got additional equipment, finally, as i recall, when the record got mastered, they used Ken Duncan, a pretty fabulous engineer at the time to deal with it. My recollection is that some of the band never liked the sound, despite Duncan's efforts. I don't know how that affects the tape you have. I always assumed that the encoding was done at the multitrack level so it is what it is, and anything pulled off of it is going to be affected, but I may be wrong. In any case, it gives you a good topic to research while you are listening to it. I forget which copy I have on vinyl- I did do a bit of research to find a "best pressing" some time ago, but that may be irrelevant to your tape, and my memory is tapped out on more details. (I may now go back and see what the story was- I know Denny Dias had a whole rant about it on the web, but seem to remember others saying his account wasn't entirely accurate).
        Last edited by Bill Hart; 06-15-2016, 04:46 PM.

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        • #5
          Bill Schnee won 2 Grammy's for engineering Aja and Gaucho. Though it was at the height of how many channels can you sling together to make a recording. I have the tape of Aja and it's good but it doesn't send shivers down my spine. But the music....
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          • #6
            Top 3 favorite bands for me. I don't count Jazz and classical in this discussion.
            Christian
            System Gear

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            • #7
              I saw them live late 70s or very early 80s and I know I have some LPS but I do not play them just not a band that spoke to me. No matter how good the recording or how talented the musician if you do not like the tune you do not like the tune.

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              • #8
                I seen them live twice at jones beach . Nice clean music in sound but way too slow and actually left early .
                now the cd,s and hi Rez I own are good in quality . But there music overall. Is not played that often by me
                analog stuff.
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                • #9
                  Originally posted by rockitman View Post
                  Top 3 favorite bands for me. I don't count Jazz and classical in this discussion.
                  Who are the other two, Christian? (I suspect it is Zep and the Dead, but don't want to be presumptuous).

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                  • #10
                    I for one really like Steely Dan. Lots of great songs and usually always recorded damn good. Gaucho is a kick-ass album for me both musically and sonically. I have it on tape and it's exceptional. Countdown to Ecstasy is also great.
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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Bill Hart View Post

                      Who are the other two, Christian? (I suspect it is Zep and the Dead, but don't want to be presumptuous).
                      You got it...if I was stranded on a desert island with only 3 bands to listen too. For Grateful Dead...I must have all the live recordings I want.
                      Christian
                      System Gear

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                      • #12
                        I love the AJA album, but the recording always gets on my nerves. Something not quite right about it.
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                        • #13
                          The Royal Scam is their best album musically, imho. The Japanese first issue press is the one to get.
                          Christian
                          System Gear

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                          • #14
                            All these bonsai trees are giving me the willies. Let's finish our drinks and split.

                            Any one ever see the 1968 Burt Lancaster movie entitled "The Swimmer"? Its the story of a guy who gets back to his house in upscale suburbia by swimming across backyard pools. On the way.he goes through various people and scenarios at various levels of cool, un-cool, and swank. When he arrives at his house he finds it abandoned, apparently for several years. Being hip by making fun of being hip, the movie is stylized and disturbing. Gave me the feeling I get reading a Jean-Paul Sartre novel.

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                            • #15
                              Gaucho is probably the best one sonically, but musically its weak.
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