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Steely Dan FAQ: All That's Left to Know about This Elusive Band
I was married to my lovely wife in 1974. We set off on our honeymoon in our Ford Escort with two cassettes. One was 'Pin Ups' by David Bowie and the other was 'Pretzel Logic' by Steely Dan. Interestingly the previous albums had passed me by ('Can’t Buy a Thrill' and 'Countdown To Ecstasy') although singles 'Do It Again' and 'Reelin’ In The Years' with that incendiary guitar work had really grabbed me. Little was known about Steely Dan back then and apart from an odd mention in the music press it was difficult to find out anything about them. They were always seemingly elusive and even mysterious. Becker and Fagen? Are they a firm of solicitors? The years rolled by and Becker and Fagen moved location to New York City to record 'Gaucho' after the success of 1977’s 'Aja' had set the benchmark in both substance and style.
With songs full of strange characters such as Kid Charlemagne, Dr. Wu and Josie, weird places and even weirder situations, getting a handle on Steely Dan can be a mammoth task.
Thank goodness then for Brooklyn-based writer and musician Anthony Robustelli who has meticulously and lovingly put together this amazing book that really does appear to leave no stone unturned. Robustelli takes the reader through the life of the band in an easy-to-digest style which, considering the amount of history there is to cover, is a mammoth task. For instance who played that stunning solo on 'Rose Darling' or the saxophone on 'Doctor Wu'? It is all here carefully and lovingly compiled. The number of incredible musicians who have graced Becker and Fagen’s work is almost unbelievable yet they all get a call out here.
Beginning with childhood years and into college years Robustelli comprehensively unfolds the duo’s history recounting the early touring years before delving into the recorded works, each song covered carefully with added anecdotes. For instance, Kenny Vance played drums on 'Ida Lee'.
Cleverly the author throws in chapters on the guitarists, the drummers, the bass and keyboard players who graced the albums (and some who didn’t)to keep the reader engaged.
The author’s in depth analysis and seemingly “insider” information goes into great depth to dispel many of the urban myths that have haunted Becker and Fagen over the years and opens up insights into the songwriting techniques and how they leave no stone unturned in the production of their work.
Helpfully we get analysis of the solo works and the emotional return of Steely Dan. The chapter 'Tearful Reunion' is almost worth the asking price alone.
'Steely Dan' is simply a must have for fans and for those interested in discovering the band or wanting a fascinating read.
“Can't buy a thrill?" Oh yes, you can!
P.S. After a rummage in the archives guess what? I still have the cassette- oh yes and the wife.
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Keith How investigates an extraordinary new detailed biography about Steely Dan
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