We have a blog series called, “Music Monday,” here on Arner Adventures. Since music creates a soundtrack for our day-to-day living, it only makes sense. You can’t speak of 70’s rock music for long before the subject of Steely Dan comes up. Steely Dan put out seven albums of original material between 1972 to 1980 that hold up with anything else that emerged from that period and they offer up a smooth, some might say jazzy, witty soundtrack for those times.
“Can’t Buy a Thrill” is their first release and the first to catch my (Gerry) ear, probably due to a $2 bargain bin cassette I purchased to listen to in my car. Cassette decks in cars seem so long ago. I had to pause to consider if the vehicle I’m remembering was pulled by a horse. Of course, it was not, it was my 1978 Datsun 280Z.
Though Steely Dan was not regarded as a singles band, “Can’t Buy a Thrill” contained two of their most enduring singles. “Do It Again” and “Reelin’ in the Years” offer nice cornerstones to the eight other songs on the album. The fascinating artwork to the quirky band name (taken from the William S. Burroughs novel, Naked Lunch) is enough to make you want to take a stroll through their debut album. The Dan, as their more seasoned fans refer to them, had a set, band lineup including guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter of Doobie Brothers fame. Later, Steely Dan consisted of songwriters, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen as the only permanent members, surrounded by a host of polished studio musicians. They didn’t tour during their golden era, but rather put all their efforts into studio recordings.
Starting with the second track, “Dirty Work” one of their more notable songs, after the two previously mentioned, begins a series of songs whose choruses sweep you away with musicianship, irresistible to the ear. Great melodies, and polished, complex guitar work, frame each song throughout the album.
Twisted lyrics and jazz inspired songs form the foundation of most of their work and would anchor most of their future efforts. Their songs were complex and yet seemed to fit into the pop, mainstream seamlessly. The lyrics were often times funny, and fun to pick apart to figure out their meaning. Glenn Frey and Don Henley once referenced them in their song, “Hotel California” with the line, “they stab it with their steely knives, but they just can’t kill the beast.” The idea being that Steely Dan often incorporated non-sensical lyrics that kept you curious as to their meaning, when they most likely meant nothing at all.
Rock music evolved in the 1970’s to incorporate and fuse many different styles and sounds. Nobody was more in the forefront of this trend than Steely Dan. Their music sounded way ahead of its time and embarked on a journey spanning the 1970’s with seven studio albums that are still unique and unrivaled.