Monday, October 24, 2005

Indispensible Seventies Music - Part 1

I've said numerous times in past posts that us POTS should be very careful not to get caught in the past, musically speaking. A regular feature here is newer music that POTS would enjoy. And there is a LOT of EXCELLENT music out there to be explored and enjoyed.

But I also don't want to leave the music of the seventies completely behind. There was some INCREDIBLY good music that came from that generation. With this regular feature I will attempt to list MY favorites. Not VH1's, or Rolling Stone's, or any other columnist's favorite. The favorites of a regular guy, Jon, born and raised in Heartland, USA.

Steely Dan's Aja.

One of the most unique albums of the decade by one of the most unique "bands" of the decade. How do you even begin to describe The 'Dan?

Steely Dan is 2 people - Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. After the 2 constants comes a long line of some the the world's best musicians from the world of pop, rock, and jazz. Steely Dan is NOT about live performances, although they have and do tour from time to time. Steely Dan is about complex melodies and changes, biting lyrics, and musical perfection. All wrapped up in a pop package. How they became a pop fixture is beyond me, but it all works. I'm going purely by memory here, but through the seventies, they released 7 albums, every one a true classic. I believe Aja was their last album of the seventies. The eighties brought more good music, by Steely Dan and Fagen solo, but that's a different post.

Aja was something completely different in the pop world.

In the mid to late seventies pop music had been moving a different direction. The hard rock of the early seventies was not as prevalent. Jazz was becoming a force on popular music, as the fusion movement gained momentum. Several bands, such as the Doobie Brothers, moved to a lighter, jazzier sound. Personally, I didn’t care as much for the Doobie’s later work, but it was successful for them. Aja captured that sound without losing The ‘Dan’s edginess. Pretty incredible, when you think about it. It included the pop hooks Steely Dan is famous for - “They call Alabama the Crimson Tide, call me Deacon Blues”, but also included lyrics such as “Spanish kissin', See it glisten, You came ragin', Love rampagin', I got the news…” from the little known classic “I Got The News”.

But out of all the incredible Steely Dan tunes over the years, the title song Aja is maybe the best. It opens with a beautiful piano, light and airy. The drummer, light on the cymbals, catches your attention, and the bass, showing classic Dan restrained bass work is melodic. The tempo speeds up, slows down, speeds up, and the chord changes would challenge an experienced classical musician. A xylophone (?) shows up, and even a police whistle. The guitar, weaving it’s way through the complicated melody is incredible. Into the mix jumps a raucous saxophone while the drummer picks up his presence to complement the intrusion. It slows down to reprise the opening melody again, and prepare for the finish. I slows to nothing, then a drum solo kicks in, and an incredible solo it is. Steve Gadd is the drummer, a well known fusion studio musician. If you’re looking for a John Bonham drum solo this ain’t it. It’s subtle, laid back, and kicks ass. And rumor has it that Steve Gadd's drum work on Aja is the ONLY track ever laid down in a Steely Dan recording session that was done in a single take.

Steely Dan is a lot like Scotch Whiskey. It’s an acquired taste, one that doesn’t appeal to everyone. It takes some getting used to, and when you start to develop a taste for it you can spend a lifetime exploring the nuances.


Rudy Zarsov said...

Thanks for re-exciting my interest in blogging. I grew stale and uninterested for a while but a friend sent me your page with your link and I became over excited.

Anonymous said...

I love the music of Steely Dan. I even loved the Bee Gees. I love them now, and I loved them:

When the Bee Gees Were Three
words and music by Dr. BLT (c)2006

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