Four from the Road

| March 17, 2019 | 6 Comments

There seems to be nothing new from DPAA this past week in terms of MIA accounting. So here’s something off-topic in place of the usual Sunday “No Longer Missing” article.

Longtime readers know I travel a bit. And last month’s trip was a long one – long, as in well over 6,000 mi over a span of 2 weeks.

On the road, I listen to music. This past trip, I had a chance to listen to Steely Dan’s first 6 albums in detail.

Without further ado: here are four from Steely Dan – one from each of their first four albums. They weren’t hits, so they didn’t get a whole lot of airplay. But they’re IMO absolute gems nonetheless; they compare well with anything the band ever did, including their best works.

1. From their debut album Can’t Buy a Thrill: an absolutely gorgeous little tune about one of NYC’s boroughs.

2. From the follow-up album Countdown to Ecstasy: a wonderful, complex song about a truly dark subject.

3. From their third (and perhaps their best) album, Pretzel Logic: a beautiful song about coping with difficulty.

4. From the Steely Dan album that was nearly ruined by technical issues, Katy Lied (see note): here’s the gorgeous little tune that gave the album its title, albeit indirectly.

Any number of artists have made music as meticulously crafted as Steely Dan. But I’m personally convinced no one other than the late Walter Becker and Donald Fagen could have written their material.


Author’s Note: during the recording of Katy Lied, Steely Dan used dbx noise reduction technology – which at the time was cutting edge and substantially superior to that of the more common Dolby noise reduction technology. They were trying to produce an album with even better sound quality than their three previous ones (which were already superb).

Unfortunately, when attempting to produce the final mix of the album the band discovered that the dbx unit used on the album’s master tapes had malfunctioned horribly. Even dbx engineers called in to help couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong – or how to fix it.

The band had two options: re-record the entire album, or attempt to salvage the damaged master tape “by ear” via adjusting various internal filters and other settings in an unlocked version of the dbx unit manually to produce the best sound they could from the damaged master tape. They chose the latter option, and were only partially successful.

The band actually apologized to their fans on their next album, The Royal Scam, for the poor sound quality of Katy Lied.

The moral of the story: there’s a reason that cutting edge technology is often referred to as “bleeding edge”. (smile)

Category: Pointless blather, Who knows

Comments (6)

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  1. 5th/77th FA says:

    Tanks for the Blast from the Past Hondo. I needed it. You are surely correct that these boys had it going on, and typically, some of the best stuff got either little or no air time. I had most of their stuff on polyvinyl carbon, transferred to cassette tape back when I was a road warrior. Wore out several copies when good commercial FM was few and far between and when they got to playing the same 25 songs over and over. Used to stop in some of their broadcast studios (you know, back when they had them) and tell them to “Change your damn rotation up, please.” Good times!

    6000 miles over a 2 week time frame is a lotta hauling. ‘Purt near 500 miles a day average. Even in a comfortable 4 wheeler doing the interstate that will wear a body out. State and county routes hauling a load? No thanks. Till I had the flat tires in my brain I was making a run to the Tampa area about 5/6 times a year, usually by myself. Those days are prolly over now. 422 miles one way, interstate most all the way. Woulda been there now for the chillun’s spring break. They’ll be coming to see me in June. Last trip at Christmas, Concorde Airlines did the driving.

    Hope we see some more “come home” next week.

  2. OWB says:

    Ah, yes. Stirs memories of back in the day, listening to vinyl recordings, or, if one was really lucky, reel to reel, music. Had some very interesting sound systems back in those “good old days.” Mostly hybrid arrangements that took up a lot of space.

  3. 26Limabeans says:

    Best damn studio work ever. Perfectionists.

    “nothing new from DPAA this past week in terms of MIA”

    Rest easy warriors, we will never stop looking for you.

    • Hondo says:

      Best damn studio work ever. Perfectionists.

      Dunno about that. Alan Parsons did truly spectacular work in the studio, too – both with his own projects and those of his clients. His clients included the Beatles (Abbey Road and Let it Be), the Hollies (multiple albums), Pink Floyd (Dark Side of the Moon), Wings (2 albums), Al Stewart (Year of the Cat and Time Passages), and others. I’d really hate to try and choose between Steely Dan and Alan Parsons work when it comes to studio excellence.

  4. AZRobert says:

    9-1-1973 saw them play at the old balboa open air stadium in San Diego, i was a young 15 and some other dude played too, Elton something….

    Strange days indeed!

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