10 Great Steely Dan Deep Album Tracks



steelydanWe all know and love the big, famous Steely Dan songs. But beyond the biggies the Steely Dan catalogue is full of under-appreciated and lesser-known gems. Here is a subjective list of ten of my favorites.

 

10. Two Against Nature – Two Against Nature

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It was one of the great Rock comeback stories of all time. 20 years after their last album the Dan re-emerged with this album in 2000, and it went on to win Grammy Album Of The Year in a huge upset. They were still sonic perfectionists, but while 1980’s Gaucho veered too often into easy listening, this album saw the band get their edge back. There’s nothing squishy about this track.

 

9. Monkey In Your Soul – Pretzel Logic

This is like Steely Dan predicting what a 2010s indie rock band from Austin Texas might sound like. Instead of the usual clever Steely Dan sophistication this is more prosaic fare, musically and lyrically – “I got one and you want four, it’s so hard to help you” – and delivered with an unusual easy looseness that made the track a bit of an outlier.

 

8. Chain Lightning – Katy Lied

The band really only made two straight blues numbers, “Pretzel Logic” which is one of Steely Dan’s better-known numbers, and this one, which isn’t so well-known. Of course I use the term “straight blues” loosely, since the 13-bar structure is built on some unusual blues chords and some untypical backing vocals. Rick Derringer took the lead guitar honors and acquitted himself pretty well.

 

7. Fire In The Hole – Can’t Buy A Thrill

I’m wondering if the entire Can’t Buy A Thrill album isn’t too well-known, like the entire Aja album, to have any songs included on a list like this. But I do know that this track had an indelible impact on an impressionable, music-loving pre-teen. “Am I myself or just another freak” was a call to arms of sorts, without even knowing just how freaky the world could actually get.

 

6. Slang Of Ages – Everything Must Go

Released three years after Two Against Nature, this album was like Let It Be coming on the heels of Abbey Road – more of an off-the-floor feel, smaller, less ambitious, and quite frankly, a bit of a disappointment after the greatness of the comeback album. But a Steely Dan fan can’t not love this track, because it features Walter Becker’s lead vocals for the first time ever, in a way closing the circle that began with multiple lead vocalists on the Can’t Buy A Thrill album back in 1972.

 

5. Your Gold Teeth – Countdown to Ecstasy

The band’s first couple of albums delivered several pop/rock hits, but this track was a preview of the deep jazz influence that would dominate their sound a couple of albums down the line. Still, it Rocks, especially with Skunk Baxter’s incendiary solo and that amazing outro. What a jam.

 

4. The Royal Scam – The Royal Scam

I remember travelling to Manhattan for a visit and this song came on the radio as we came crawling across the Geo. Washington Bridge. Not only is the bizarre, stop-start rhythm perfect for bumper-to-bumper traffic, but the song’s powerful New York mythology suddenly rose up and smacked me right between the eyes. Not to mention one of the great Rock trumpet solos ever. Good thing I wasn’t driving.

 

3. Barrytown – Pretzel Logic

Steely Dan made their fame merging Rock with Jazz, but it’s important to remember Messrs. Becker and Fagen got their start in the biz as staff songwriters for ABC-Dunhill records. They could probably churn out pop songs in their sleep, and that particular aptitude was a lot more evident on their early albums. This is just a well-crafted pop melody and a well-crafted verse, chorus and middle 8, and there’s not a horn to be heard.

 

2. Everyone’s Gone to The Movies – Katy Lied

Writing a song about a pedophile is not exactly a formula for chart success. At least you can be sure nobody’s going to cover it. And yet the song’s chorus is so sunny and joyful that, had the verse been about just about anything else, it could have been a hit. That’s Steely Dan for you. If you look at the lyric as an allegory of popular culture then you can sing that infectious chorus loud and free.

 

1. West Of Hollywood – Two Against Nature

Steely Dan could build long and complex chord progressions, which include some outrageous and obscure chords, and still keep the song widely accessible – an amazing talent. This chord progression is one of the more amazing, and they must have known it, repeating it several times in the outro. There are a couple of jarring chord changes – they sound like key changes – but after a couple of times through, it all starts to make perfect brilliant sense.

Photo credit: By Kotivalo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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  1. Pingback: 10 Great Steely Dan Tracks Part 2: The Hits | Rocknuts

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