They stab it with their steely knives
But they just can’t kill the beast
—-Eagles in “Hotel California” as a nod to Steely Dan’s mention in their song “Everything You Did.”
As you know, we lost Walter Becker last year. The guy’s contribution as guitarist, bass player and – especially – songwriter is unassailable. I got to thinking though, about how both Becker and his partner Donald Fagen had done some solo work and how maybe over time it had gotten lost in the shuffle.
So I decided to post a couple of songs by each from some of their solo albums, finishing up with a great Steely Dan tune with a sweet Becker guitar solo. On the solo stuff, don’t go into it thinking “Reeling in the Years” or “Black Friday.” Think of later albums like Aja and Gaucho and you’ll catch the right vibe.
Unless you listened to either of Walter’s solo albums, 1994’s 11 Tracks of Whack (1994, co-produced by Fagen), or Circus Money (2008), you wouldn’t know he sang as well. Is he a good singer?
Actually, I think he’s pretty good and in retrospect, it might have been nice to hear his occasional vocal on Dan songs as a counterpoint to Fagen. He has a certain nasally quality like Warren Zevon and a definite sense of world-weariness.
From 11 Tracks, this is “Book of Liars.” Love this tune.
I can’t remember
Exactly what it was I thought we had
‘Cause I waited so long girl and I came so far
To find out you’re not always who you say you are
And there’s a star in the book of liars by your name
Donald Fagen’s followup to his successful Nightfly album is called Kamikiriad.* Released in 1993, according to Wikipedia, “the album is a futuristic, optimistic eight-song cycle about the journey of the narrator in his high-tech car, the Kamakiri (Japanese for praying mantis). It was nominated for a Grammy Award for Album of the Year.”
I hadn’t heard the tune “Springtime” in quite a while so it was a pleasant surprise to dig into it again. It doesn’t even sound like Fagen singing at first. The song has a terrific groove. It’s the kind of tune the ladies sashay to when they hear it at the bar. (Love that little descending guitar pattern at 2:50 and that organ swirl at about 2:17).
Becker’s second and final solo album Circus Money has a decided reggae feel to it. In the Dan-ishly named “Bob Is Not Your Uncle Anymore,” he takes us on a trip down Jamaica way, mon. I don’t quite know why Bob is not your uncle but with Becker and Fagen I’ve learned it’s better not to ask questions.
I mentioned Fagen’s Nightfly album earlier. Terrific album, big hit back in the day. I’ve always loved the tune “Walk Between Raindrops.” It swings like mad. “Oh, Miami!”
A shadow crossed the blue Miami sky
As we hit the causeway by the big hotel
Now I can’t remember why
After all the words were said and tears were gone
We vowed we’d never say goodbye
A largely forgettable movie called FM was released in 1978. Basically, it celebrated FM radio music and culture. Contrary to popular belief, the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati was not based on it but had already been in production.
Steely Dan were at the height of their popularity and so were asked to write a song for it. Told they could say whatever they wanted, the acerbic duo, of course, wrote a tune decrying FM radio for being “nothing but blues and Elvis and somebody else’s favorite song.”
For whatever reason, there are multiple versions of this song. (Wikipedia has more on this one tune than I would have thought possible.) “FM (No Static at All)” was recorded around the time of the Aja sessions and uses some of the same musicians. Eagles Timothy B. Schmit, Glenn Frey, and Don Henley sing backup.
The soundtrack has a really nice outro guitar solo by Becker and in fact, most of the instrumental work was done by Becker and Fagen. There is another version that has an outro sax solo by jazzer Pete Christlieb but I really prefer Becker’s solo. And in any event this post is to some extent a tribute to him.
So let’s hear him groove and fade off into the sunset.
So long Walter and thanks for all your twisted pretzel logic.
*Fagen has two more solo albums, neither of which I’ve heard at all. Morph the Cat was released in 2006, Sunken Condos in 2012.