Boneyard Media

Archive for the ‘Steely Dan’ Category

Donald Fagen, Eminent Hipsters (2013)

Friday, August 8th, 2014


No insights here about Steely Dan LP/cassette song sequences I’ve puzzled over in these pages. Just disarming short essays about the Boswell Sisters, Henry Mancini, Ike Turner, Alfred Korzybski and General Semantics, Ray Charles, Jean Shepherd, NYC jazz radio in the 50s and 60s, Bard College, and Ennio Morricone. This is all topped off with grouchy journal entries from the “Dukes of September” tour with Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald. This whole thing was so much fun I’ll likely reread it for kicks.

P. 106: “JULY 6. I’m finally back in a civilized hotel, the Four Seasons on Elliott Bay in Seattle…They have a serious spa here and there’s just time enough to get a massage…I drew a girl – let’s call her Naomi – who was young and pretty, which is always nice. But she looked a little scrawny for the job.

“Working on the backs of my calves with some minty oil, she asked me if I wanted her to go deeper, so I said sure, a little bit. Suddenly Naomi from Seattle turned into Rosa Klebb, the SMERSH interrogator from the James Bond series. I couldn’t believe the force with which she was driving her knobby little knuckles into my petrified muscles and tendons. It was excruciating, but I have this stupid thing – like, no son of Staff Sergeant Joseph Fagen, veteran of the Big One, is going to whine about a little pain in front of some strange girl. Finally, all greased up and smelling like a Twizzler, I limped into the elevator in my bathrobe, crab-walked back to my room and started to pack for the gig.”

I’m still laughing about Fagen’s report from San Antonio.

Pp. 121-122: “JULY 18… [T]he ambling ghost of Fess Parker intersects our path. In 1955, the elders of San Antonio, Texas, after noticing the influx of tourists following the final episode of the Davy Crockett series…got some Disney architects to look at the river, resulting, many years later, in a sort of San Antonio Land, which is the present-day River Walk. Our hotel is on the River Walk, and that’s why I was awakened earlier than I wanted to be by a loud mariachi band just outside the window.

“…I’m back from the show. The house was a legion of TV Babies, maybe tourists from Arizona. I don’t know. Probably right-wingers, too, the victims of an epidemic mental illness that a British study has proven to be the result of having an inordinately large amygdala, a part of the primitive brain that causes them to be fearful way past the point of delusion, which explains why their philosophy, their syntax and their manner of thought don’t seem to be reality based. That’s why, when you hear a Republican speak, it’s like listening to somebody recount a particularly boring dream.

“…The crowd sat through our versions of some of the great sixties soul tunes, hating them, waiting only for the amygdala-comforting Doobie Brothers hits that Michael sings, Boz’s dance numbers and the Steely Dan singles that remind them of high school or college parties…Toward the end of the show, during McDonald’s piano introduction to “Takin’ It to the Streets,” I think I really made [backup singers] Carolyn and Catherine uncomfortable by walking back to their riser and telling them, as a way of venting my rage, that I’d been imagining a flash theater fire that would send the entire audience screaming up the aisles, trampling each other to get to the exits, ending up in a horrible scene outside on the sidewalk with people on stretchers, charred and wrinkled. When things aren’t going well, the girls, standing just behind me, have to listen to my insane rants. If they’re singing, I’ll rant to Jim Beard, playing keyboards on the next riser, or, if he’s busy, I’ll walk across the stage and harass the horn players.”

Aja and Gaucho song sequences

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

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The cassette version of Aja I used to listen to in my teens had a totally different song sequence from the LP version. Still don’t know what the reasoning was behind such drastic reshuffling. I maintain that not only should the cassette sequencing for Pretzel Logic become the standard version, but also that the cassette sequencing for both Aja and Can’t Buy a Thrill are much stronger and more sensible than the LPs.

All the Steely Dan albums through Gaucho, incidentally, had weird cassette vs. LP sequence discrepancies. Gaucho is actually the one Steely Dan album that I feel strongly about as having a better LP lineup. But again, why the difference in the first place?

Aja (LP):  Side 1 – Black Cow; Aja; Deacon Blues. Side 2 – Peg; Home at Last; I Got the News; Josie.

Aja (Cassette): Side 1 – Aja; Deacon Blues; Josie. Side 2 – Black Cow; I Got the News; Peg; Home at Last.

Gaucho (LP): Side 1 – Babylon Sisters; Hey Nineteen; Glamour Profession. Side 2 – Gaucho; Time Out of Mind; My Rival; Third World Man.

Gaucho (8-Track): 1 – Babylon Sisters; Time Out of Mind. 2 – Gaucho; My Rival. 3 – Hey Nineteen; Third World Man. 4 – Glamour Profession.

Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy a Thrill cassette version sequence

Saturday, March 21st, 2009


I won’t go on and on about this the way I did with Pretzel Logic, but you might as well try out the cassette sequence of Can’t Buy a Thrill, which I also feel is a big improvement over the LP sequence.

Steely Dan, Can’t Buy a Thrill (LP version): Side One – 1) Do it Again; 2) Dirty Work; 3) Kings; 4) Midnight Cruiser; 5) Only a Fool Would Say That. Side Two – 1) Reeling in the Years; 2) Fire in the Hole; 3) Brooklyn; 4) Change of the Guard; 5) Turn That Heartbeat Over Again.

Steely Dan, Can’t Buy a Thrill (cassette versions): Side One – 1) Do it Again; 2) Brooklyn; 3) Dirty Work; 4) Kings; 5) Change of the Guard. Side Two – 1) Midnight Cruiser; 2) Only a Fool Would Say That; 3) Fire in the Hole; 4) Reeling in the Years; 5) Turn That Heart Beat Over Again.

The superior song sequence on cassette versions of Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009


I’m not sure why, but certain major labels in the seventies and eighties would release cassette and vinyl versions of specific albums with different song sequences. The three I remember clearest from the seventies are Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic and Can’t Buy a Thrill as well as Cheap Trick’s Heaven Tonight. Did these differences have to do with space restrictions from format to format? Maybe, but I’m not convinced.  I bring this up is because I lament how Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic now survives only in the original vinyl sequence, and I want more listeners to consider experiencing it in the more meaningful sequence used on the original cassettes. Let’s compare the two:

Steely Dan, Pretzel Logic (LP version): Side One – 1) Rikki Don’t Lose That Number; 2) Night By Night; 3) Any Major Dude Will Tell You; 4) Barrytown; 5) East St. Louis Toodle-Oo. Side Two – 1) Parker’s Band; 2) Through with Buzz; 3) Pretzel Logic; 4) With a Gun; 5) Charlie Freak; 6) Monkey in Your Soul.

Steely Dan, Pretzel Logic (cassette versions): Side One – 1) Rikki Don’t Lose That Number; 2) Through with Buzz; 3) Monkey in Your Soul; 4) Any Major Dude Will Tell You; 5) Parker’s Band; 6) Charlie Freak. Side Two – 1) Barrytown; 2) East St. Louis Toodle-Oo; 3) With a Gun; 4) Night By Night; 5) Pretzel Logic.


On the vinyl version, two of the album’s most crescendo-worthy cuts, the neon-lit “Night By Night” and “Pretzel Logic,” with its epic mad visions, are squandered off in the middle of sides one and two, respectively. On the cassette version, they close the album effectively, one after the other with the same sort of authoritative finality as nightfall and dreams.

Sides one and two of the vinyl version end with what come off as offhanded snickers – “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” and “Monkey in Your Soul.” On the cassette version, though, they’re rightfully reconfigured as supportive – and therefore more useful – middle tracks, giving way to the haunting and poignant “Charlie Freak” as the side one closer and “Pretzel Logic” for side two.

The entire trajectory of the album, in fact, makes more sense in the cassette versions. Let me rephrase that: it makes sense while the vinyl one doesn’t. Side one of the cassette functions as a series of person-to-person conversations, pleas, jokes, and negotiations, all of which give listeners a sense of the tangled, “pretzel”-like nature of relationships. “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” that vulnerable and familiar message to a girl we all assume the singer will never hear from, is followed up by his declaration of having had it with a pain-in-the-neck friend named Buzz who steals girlfriends (Rikki?) and money. Next comes “Monkey in Your Soul,” which offers classic Steely Dan yuks by featuring a prominent, buzzing guitar line as a follow up to a song called “Through with Buzz.” It also reinforces the “yeah, right” nature of “Monkey’s” message which is that, no, the singer can’t hold his ground. He can only supplicate, wise-crack, or grouse. “Any Major Dude Will Tell You” reinforces our impression of him – all nifty words and no action – and we feel pity. With “Parker’s Band,” our frustrated singer is listening to records and longing to get lost in the city where he can lead a loose and commitment-free existence, something he’ll actually gun for in response to the tragic side one culmination of “Charlie Freak.” There’s no second-person dialogue going on in this song. Someone’s dead now, and the best our man can do is drop a keepsake in the corpse’s coffin. Time to make some changes.

Side two of Pretzel Logic, as conveyed so well in the cassette sequence, elaborates on the nightlife fantasies we heard about in “Parker’s Band,” conjured up by the interpersonal failures in side one. It’s about foregoing the micro-existence of relationships and losing oneself in the impersonal, macro-existence of the “city.” It kicks off with “Barrytown,” Steely Dan’s own twisted version of “Okie from Muskogee,” calling for the removal of people like the singer in side one from where folks like to do things the old-fashioned way. This is followed up by city-life objectification and fantasy with a version of Duke Ellington’s “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo,” which serves as a symbolic gateway.  Fantasy gives way to reality with the scenes of murder and robbery in “With a Gun,” with its campy steel guitars channeled in directly from Muskogee. But this is general street conflict nowhere near as painful as the heartbreaking business documented on side one, and on the following track we see our singer-protagonist reveling and taking refuge in it, living “night by night.” It’s a moment of bittersweet transcendence that Joe Jackson later tried to capture in “Stepping Out” as the “night” side closer for his carefully sequenced Night and Day LP. (It’s no surprise that Jackson was a huge Steely Dan fan, something we find out in his A Cure for Gravity. I’ll bet he owned the cassette version of Pretzel Logic – not the vinyl.) With “Pretzel Logic,” finally, we get a cinematic escape into dreams, time-travel and absurdity, providing the whole story, in conclusion, with an apt title.

Bud Scoppa’s 1974 review of Pretzel Logic in Rolling Stone sums up how the album, in its vinyl sequence, has continued to be understood as merely a collection of cleverly executed songs: “wonderfully fluid ensemble. . . private-joke obscurities. . . arrogant impenetrability.”  The cassette version, though, which someone with some authority arranged in a distinctly different sequence, sounds like a carefully constructed album with an actual story to tell.