Wednesday, March 5, 2014

40 Year Itch : Slow Hand Row

I'm not interested in a rock/jazz fusion. That kind of marriage has so far only come up with ponderous results. We play rock and roll, but we swing when we play. We want that ongoing flow, that lightness, that forward rush of jazz
-Walter Becker, Rolling Stone, August 15, 1974

  So maybe it's not fusion. But from the opening notes of  Pretzel Logic, Steely Dan certainly flirts with jazz . Those first notes of the Top 5 hit "Rikki Don't Lose My Number" borrow the Samba piano sounds of Horace Silver's "Song For My Father". At the end of Side One you encounter  a cover of Duke Ellington and Bubber Miley's "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" and, on Side Two, a salute to bebop giant Charlie Parker on "Parker's Band". (There's even a short "quote" from Parker's "Bongo Bop")

   Having played the studio musician/professional songwriter ( for Barbara Streisand no less)  route and already been bored by it all, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen discovered a passion for composing and arranging their own tunes. Mixing things up with lyrics that are sarcastic, ironic, world-weary and romantically disillusioned. On "Rikki" you get a Samba beat, a California pop sheen and the first perfect guitar solo of 1974 courtesy of  Jeff "Skunk" Baxter.

I'll tell you what I like about our group...outside of our technical accomplishments it's that our music scares me more than anybody else's. The combination of the words with the music--like a cheerful lyric and a sad or menacing lyric, or vice versa--I find that irony frightening.
--Donald Fagen, Rolling Stone, August 15, 1974

Of course the critics ate it up. Robert Christgau gave an A+ rating to only two albums in 1974: Pretzel Logic and the New York Dolls album Too Much Too Soon. When the Pazz and Jop critics poll for 1974 came out, Pretzel Logic finished second to Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark. 

But fans also bought the album which went Gold in three months. Pretzel Logic would be the last of the "band albums". The 1974 tour would be Steely Dan's last for nearly two decades. From Katy Lied on, Steely Dan's Becker and Fagen would rely on session musicians.


  1. ...I used to think they were rubbish. I was wrong there.