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Bitch School: When Steely Dan’s Walter Becker met Spinal Tap, it did not go well…
09.07.2017
01:28 pm
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Walter Becker passed away last weekend. I’ve been listening to Steely Dan a ton all summer long, so the loss hit a little harder than usual. The news elicited the usual round of condolences and encomiums from fans across the world, a group that included one that maybe Becker’s fans weren’t waiting for as much. Michael McKean, lately killing it in Better Call Saul and of course (as David St. Hubbins) the lead singer of the world’s most preposterous heavy metal band, Spinal Tap, reminded his Twitter audience that Tap and the Dan did indeed once cross paths:
 

 
Michael McKean is probably the most musically gifted of the Spinal Tap guys—remember, he was once briefly a member of an actual band, namely the Left Banke, and his father was one of the co-founders of Decca Records. So on some level it makes sense that he would be the one to think of including Walter Becker in Spinal Tap’s 1992 album Break Like the Wind in the form of some silly-ass “technical notes.” That album was quite a star-studded affair, in fact, featuring the contributions of Jeff Beck, Dweezil Zappa, Joe Satriani, Slash, and Cher. I’m betting McKean was on the phone a lot that year.

Becker’s notes make up one “panel” of the fold-out lyrics sheet on the CD release. You can see a picture of the whole shebang on the Australian CD release. The entirety of Becker’s account of “the astonishing Crosley Phase Linear Ionic Induction Voice Processor System” runs exactly four paragraphs, in which space Becker earnestly touts the invention of one “Graehame Crosley” which functions by “measuring “the flow of ionic muons” from the singer’s vocal output, for which the singer is obliged to “wear on his person a number of small balance plates which will offset the fields created by various inanimate objects on his body at the time of the recording.” The duly muon-measured vocal stream, in the case of this album, was then captured on “the huge BBC 16 channel cassette recorder which the band had schlepped over from David’s home studio.”
 

 
Not surprisingly, Becker absolutely nails the particular tedium and self-importance familiar to anyone who has perused such technical accounts on album liner notes, but was careful to sprinkle in a few unmissable gags to get the sought-after chuckles from Tap’s fan base. But this would not be a Steely Dan story if there weren’t some grousing and bad feeling somewhere. In the April 1992 issue of Metal Leg, the exhaustive Steely Dan newsletter that existed from 1987 through 1994, Becker wrote an account of submitting those “technical notes” to the Tap crew. His primary contact was “Mike McKeon” (sic), and according to Becker, Spinal Tap wanted Becker’s text primarily for use “in a throwaway fashion, more as a design element than anything else”—which seems rather unlikely when you think about it, you don’t go to Walter Fucking Becker for the equivalent of musical lorem Ipsum text. But Becker was “perhaps erring on the optimistic side insofar as a good outcome was concerned” because the Spinal Tap guys pared down Becker’s text somewhat, indeed omitting an entire paragraph dedicated to an account of dealing with the Crosley System’s inability to deal with a vocalist who had previously undergone a brass kidney transplant (this being Derek Smalls).

Having his text fucked with in this manner seems to have really set Becker off, who tetchily informs Metal Leg that by being able
 

to set the record straight, I feel that I may yet snatch victory from the clutches of disaster, especially since your circulation may well exceed the sales of the doleful Tap disc, once we correct for the high percentage of non-readers or remedial readers in the ranks of Tap purchasers, many of whom bought the CD by mistake anyway, thinking it was either a) an actual heavy metal album, or b) funny.

 
Whoa! All you angels up there in heaven, do make sure to not get on Walter Becker’s bad side!

It could be that this minor conflict, such as it is, explains Becker’s noticeable omission from the album’s list of thanked people (the five guest musicians mentioned above all got thanked).
 
Much more after the jump, including Becker’s original, unedited submission to Tap…....
 

READ ON
Posted by Martin Schneider
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09.07.2017
01:28 pm
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Dead to Dan: Steely Dan’s amazing guide to giving up the Grateful Dead and becoming a Steely Dan fan
08.03.2017
09:42 am
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Do the Grateful Dead and Steely Dan occupy opposite poles of some optimist/skeptic spectrum? I’ll allow that they just might. The two bands definitely have little in common aesthetically, what with the Dead’s trademark move being the lengthy improvised guitar jam and the Dan opting for a much tighter method that might just involve importing several seasoned sessionists in order to nail down a difficult solo, as famously happened with “Peg.”

If you picked lyrics from the two bands at random and presented them in the form of a quiz, most knowledgeable music fans would have little trouble telling the two apart.

Which brings us to the official Steely Dan website, which has an unusual status among such entities for two reasons: its existence runs back very nearly to the very dawn of the World Wide Web, and Becker and Fagen clearly perceived it as a potential venue for their own personal expression.

According to the Internet Archive, Steely Dan’s website first surfaced no later than April 11, 1997, which is two years after the accepted inception of the WWW but remarkably early for an act as established as Steely Dan. The site is so old that it was was and running several years in advance of Steely Dan’s return to presenting new studio material to its audience, namely Two Against Nature, released in 2000, and Everything Must Go, released in 2003, both of which events it duly documented and promoted, as well as the many tours the Dan has undertaken over the years (remember when Steely Dan didn’t tour?).

The website has an unmistakably personal touch. As stated, whoever is running the website is expansive and expressive, with all sorts of pages dedicated not only to their albums and tours but also to such matters as the Dan’s tongue-in-cheek letter campaign to get set the terms of the band’s inevitable induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which didn’t last long because it happened in 2001 (the Dead beat them by seven years).

Amusingly, much of the website is in straight HTML, enough so to make one positively nostalgic for an Internet without any way to spread the word to LinkedIn or whatever. One such page is an amazing guide for music lovers who aren’t yet sure if they can handle Steely Dan, with detailed instructions on how to make the leap from Grateful Dead fandom to Dan fan status.

The “Deadhead/Danfan Conversion Chart” offers detailed illustrations of how to shed the “rectangular granny glasses” favored by Deadheads in favor of the “LA Eyeworks clipons” that are more typical of the pussyhound/drugrunner characters one might encounter in Steely Dan songs. In each case there is a transitional item named, occupying the creepy and simultaneous “Deadfan/Danhead” category—in the aforementioned example of eyewear, “rayban knockoffs” occupies that slot.

There are 20 such triads (Deadhead—Deadfan/Danhead—Danfan) and nary a weak one on the list. As a kicker, the final entry offers the Grateful Dead and Steely Dan themselves as start and end points, but I won’t name which artist they picked to be the transitional figure. But it’s kind of genius.

Here it is, but you can see the original version here:
 

 
Thanks to Sydney Aja Peterson for the find.
 

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Steely Dan’s hilarious tongue-in-cheek ‘open letter’ to Wes Anderson
The Donald Fagen song that’s so obscure, Donald Fagen himself probably doesn’t even remember it

Posted by Martin Schneider
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08.03.2017
09:42 am
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Cars, McCartney, and Bowie, remade by Replicants: When Failure formed the greatest cover band ever


 
I’ve been fairly unrestrained in expressing my abiding fandom of the commercially underachieving ‘90s rock band Failure, both in real life and on Dangerous Minds. They had everything I loved—dense and creamy distorted guitar tones, gripping tension-and-release dynamics, emotive, anxious melodic and lyrical content that FAR surpassed the one-dimensional angst typical of the period’s radio rock. The poor sales of their masterpiece Fantastic Planet contributed to the band’s end, though time has rehabilitated the album and it’s now considered an influential classic, which set the stage for Failure’s reunion last year. The announcement of that tour made me as giddy as a kid on Christmas morning, and I drove three hours to once again catch a band I utterly adored but hadn’t seen in concert since 1992.

As it happens, there was more than just a tour in the offing—Failure have fully reactivated, and their first album in 19 years, The Heart Is A Monster, will arrive next week. I’m confident that fans of Fantastic Planet will be more than satisfied—I typically take a dim view of reunions, and if Monster was in any way unsatisfactory, I’d be properly bitching up a storm about it. But no. It’s goddamn glorious. The band conceived Monster as a continuation of Planet, and even picked up the numbering of its interstitial segues from where the prior album left off. I’ll not subject you to lengthy gushing, it’s streaming in its entirety on Entertainment Weekly’s web site if you want to judge for yourself. I recommend listening from beginning to end in a sitting if you can swing the time. (I should add that they’re on tour now, and later in the summer they’re doing dates with another neglected ‘90s favorite of mine, Hum, about which I’m kinda headsploding.)
 

 
One of Failure’s most illuminating, and just flat out most fun albums wasn’t even a Failure album, but a 1995 time-killer project. Waiting for Fantastic Planet to be released and unable to tour, Failure prime movers Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards teamed up with ex-Tool bassist Paul D’Amour and keyboardist Chris Pitman (Tool, Blinker the Star, and I shit you not Guns N’ Roses) to record a superb album of transformative ‘70s and ‘80s cover songs under the name Replicants, a winking Blade Runner reference. What could have just been a goof turned out as an extremely strong work in its own right, and their eponymous album is not just my favorite covers album, it’s been one of my favorite albums period for 20 years.

A contemporary article in the UCLA Daily Bruin of all places provided a look at the band’s formation and intent:

Ken Andrews, lead singer of the Replicants, has been stuck in a “Warehousy loft-type space” for about a year. Tired of the white-walled complex and its “big air conditioning ducts,” he wants to be out and on the road. But the tortured musician must continue mixing and producing in his “utilitarian” studio.

“I’m really sick of it. I really want to play live now,” complains Andrews. However, the current band member of Failure and frontman for his side project the Replicants manages to remain laid back and positive. And with good reason. The Replicants have just released a self-titled album of covers of tunes ranging from the Beatles to the Cars. Snatching countless enthusiastic reviews, the project includes the talents of one Tool member (Paul D’Amour), one Eye In Triangle musician (Chris Pitman), and one other Failure member (Greg Edwards). And, once Andrews’ soon-to-be-released Failure album hits stores, he will be able to return to his beloved stage.

 

 

Strangely, a four-track demo tape of the haphazard group landed on a desk at Zoo Entertainment. Before they knew it, the Replicants were an official band with an offer to record an entire album of cover songs. “At that point, we had no idea what to do,” explains a baffled Andrews. “Everyone would just bring up songs and either we would all agree or we wouldn’t and I think everyone sort of got their one song that maybe other people didn’t want.” However, they could all agree on one thing: The Replicants would have their own musical freedom.

“We like doing the Replicants because we could do different versions of these songs in ways that Failure or Tool wouldn’t,” Andrews says. For instance, neither spawning ground for the creative forces of the Replicants would think to record Missing Persons’ “Destination Unknown” with an industrial/techno spin. Each song was dealt with individually, following no preconceived notion of the album’s overall sound. This system provided a good musical balance for Andrews and his associates.

Some of the transformations are huge (John Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep?”), some are closer to mere production-values updates (obligatory cover-band “Cinnamon Girl”), but pretty much every revamped tune on the CD has some kind of a tonal shift to the darker. One simple and actually sorta brilliant minor-key modulation imparts a wholly unexpected sense of dread to Replicants’ version of the Cars’ bouncy “Just What I Needed.” See if you ever unhear it.
 

 
More Replicants, after the jump…

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Posted by Ron Kretsch
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06.26.2015
09:25 am
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The Donald Fagen song that’s so obscure, Donald Fagen himself probably doesn’t even remember it
04.28.2015
12:37 pm
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A few weeks ago I was poking around John K. King Used & Rare Books, Detroit’s incredibly massive used bookstore—it’s one of the best bookstores I have ever been in—and I stumbled upon a curious volume, colorful and bright: The 90s: A Look Back—A History of the 1990s Before They Happen, edited by Peter Elbling and National Lampoon honcho Tony Hendra. Practically a magazine in book form and bearing a copyright date of 1989, the volume is some kind of satire of the media’s addiction to end-of-decade reviews. I popped it into my cart and didn’t think much more about it.

After I got home, the book began to puzzle me even more. The Hendra link obviously called to mind National Lampoon, but the presence on the masthead of the names Graydon Carter and “Kurt Anderson” (sic) suggested some kind of relationship with Spy, which was smack in the middle of its glorious heyday in 1989. A perusal of the table of contents yielded an astonishingly impressive list of contributors—David Mamet, Bill Murray, Ann Magnuson, Mike Wallace, Keith Haring, Paul Krassner, etc. Some nugatory Internet researches revealed the existence of a prior volume ten years earlier, edited by Christopher Cerf and Tony Hendra, that was far more successful, under the title The 80s: A Look Back at the Tumultuous Decade 1980-1989. Any decade that includes hefty doses of President Ronald Reagan is going to be somewhat impervious to satire, and this “90s” volume appeared to have come and gone without much comment.
 

 
Not surprisingly, the real world has a tendency to outstrip satire. The joke of the book is that the 1990s are described before they happen, and even if the joke were better, the transpiring of the actual 1990s we all lived through would inevitably reveal the project to be far less prescient (and interesting) and far more of its time than contemporaneous assessment would ever imagine. The gags of Japan and Disney purchasing everything, both tropes that were très big in 1989, predominate, but nobody thinks of the 1990s in those terms anymore. One exception to the rule is the contribution from George Carlin, entitled “S.P.I.N.,” an acronym standing for “Subscriber Preference Initiated News,” which predicts with devastating accuracy a post-newspaper world in which a reader’s news diet is tailored to his or her preferences, a media landscape that the Internet depressingly made all too familiar.

In the back of the book a few musically inclined luminaries including Spinal Tap‘s (and, lately, Better Call Saul‘s) Michael McKean, Weekend Update co-creator Herb Sargent, and not-yet-Disney-axiom Randy Newman collectively come up with the “Songs of the Millennium.” One of the songs is by Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, whose previous full-length album, The Nightfly, had come out a hefty six year’s earlier.

Fagen’s contribution is called “The Mop Song 2000,” and purports to present the chart-topping hit of “Stend’or of the Rill,” who hails from “102nd Starfleet, Sector 1267H4, Earth Orbit 10021,” which is probably future-speak for New York’s Upper East Side. The ditty, which shows every sign of being tossed off, neatly ties together a cute, 1980s, sci-fi premise and the rejuvenating pessimism of millennialism, telling the tale of an Earth so fucked up that aliens show up to “mopify,” i.e. clean up, the mess we’ve made of it. Humanity’s time is “fini” so the best thing to do is to let the aliens wield their “Fire-Mop” and start afresh. Lord knows we can’t do it.

I’ve searched on Google for information about this song, and found precisely zero references to it, so DM duly offers it up for any Steely Dan completists out there. If anyone finds a bootleg track of Fagen demonstrating a melody, that would be mind-blowing and great, but in all honesty you can pretty much supply your own “Babylon Sisters”-ish vocal tracks in your head as you read the lyrics.
 

 

The Mop Song 2000

Say Mop-d’dwee-dit
The sky is falling
Men of Earth
Your time is up
We have come
To decorate your world
To mopify your planet
Say Moppity-mop-d’dwee-dit

Say celebration
Der Himmel fällt
Hombres de la Tierra
Votre temps est fini
It’s party time
But first a thorough cleaning
We’ll mopify your planet
Say Moppity-mop-d’dwee-dit

Our leader told us
That y’all are psycho
That soon you’ll be
Right in our face
Say Hallelujah
The Fire-Mop is hungry
We’ll mopify your planet
Say Moppity-mop-d’dwee-dit

 

Posted by Martin Schneider
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04.28.2015
12:37 pm
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Donny Osmond serenades Miss Universe contestants with Steely Dan’s ‘Peg,’ 1979
12.04.2014
01:49 pm
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In an event that some commentators are calling “the most 1970s thing that ever happened,” Donny Osmond in 1979 was hired to sing a treacly medley of four recent pop hits to the five finalists of the Miss Universe beauty pageant, a medley that starts with Steely Dan’s “Peg” (off of 1977’s Aja) and then segues to Wings’ “Goodnight Tonight” (non-album single), The Commodores’ “Three Times a Lady” (1978’s Natural High), and Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” (1976’s Songs in the Key of Life).

It’s too bad they don’t let Osmond sing all of “Peg,” but some producer probably wisely decided that it would be too goofy to have him sing the line “It’s your favorite foreign movie” in such a setting—to a Brazilian or Swedish woman, no less, and in Perth, Australia! According to Wikipedia (see last link), after Maritza Sayalero (Miss Venezuela) was crowned the winner, the stage holding her throne collapsed when the runners-up flocked towards her in order to congratulate her. That incident did not make the TV cut.

Interestingly, Osmond included “Peg” on his album Soundtrack of My Life, released earlier this year, in a much more, er, up-to-date style.

Here’s Osmond singing his medley at the 1979 Miss Universe pageant. Just for kicks we’ve also included the (much-better-known) version of the Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years” (off of Can’t Buy a Thrill, 1972) he taped with his sister Marie in early 1978.
 

 
More of the Steely Dan/Osmonds intersection after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Martin Schneider
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12.04.2014
01:49 pm
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Steely Dan’s hilarious tongue-in-cheek ‘open letter’ to Wes Anderson
03.21.2014
10:17 am
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I think I have the same relationship with Wes Anderson movies as a lot of people my age. We saw The Royal Tenenbaums as teenagers, and having never seen a François Truffaut film, it blew our minds. The colors, the shots, the soundtracks, the ennui—we were absolutely certain no one had ever made movies like this. Of course, age, experience and Netflix eventually set us straight, and Anderson’s movies never quite glowed the same way again—for me, they feel pretty cloying at this point.

Conversely, I grew up thinking of Steely Dan as my mom’s lame-o jazz-rock “mellow gold” relics. But at some point I listened to Aja on a whim of childhood sentiment and found myself really enjoying it. You might say, I had a change of heart. (Sorry, I had to do that.)

Had you told teenage Amber that someday late-20s Amber was going to laugh with Steely Dan, at Wes Anderson, she would have rolled her eyes harder than she had ever rolled them before—quite the feat for an adolescent of such practiced disdain and sprezzatura.

And yet, here I am, laughing my ass off at an open letter from Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, posted from their very own website in 2006. The pair start off with some heavy-handed praise, then transition to a brilliant back-handed concern-troll; they were of the opinion he had lost his touch. Honestly, it’s a little difficult to tell if they’re being sarcastic or earnest—right up until the point that they offer to save Anderson’s career with some custom-written Steely Dan originals for the low price of $400,000.

When questioned about their offer in a 2007 interview, Anderson said that he “appreciated their advice.” But when pressed, he admitted, “I can’t say that Steely Dan made me feel like a million bucks actually; but, I think it was kind of funny.” At least he’s a good sport about it?

From: W. Becker and D. Fagen [AKA Steely Dan© ]

To: Wes Anderson

Maestro:

As you may know, we are the founders of the celebrated rock band “Steely Dan”©.  If for some reason you don’t know our work, check with Owen and Luke Wilson - they’re both big fans.  Here’s something you may not know about us: when not distracted by our “day job” – composing, recording, touring and so forth – we like to head downstairs into the paneled basement of our minds and assume the roles we were born to play - you may have already guessed it by now – the roles of Obsessive Fans of World Cinema.

That’s right. Eisenstein, Renoir, Rene Clair, Bunuel, Kurosawa, Fellini, Godard, Tarkovsky, Ophuls the Elder, Blake Edwards, Ophuls the Younger, you name it. Sat there, dug it.

Maestro, we give to you this Message: there was a time when Giants walked among us. And, damn, if you, Wes Anderson, might not be the one to restore their racial dominance on this, our planet, this Terra, this… Earth.

You may have heard that we have recently made it our personal project and goal to deliver a certain actor of no small importance to your past and present work from a downward spiral of moral turpitude from which it seemed there might be no escape. We are delighted to report that, with the news of Mr. ________’s participation in your new film (which we understand to be entitled, indeed, charmingly,  “Darjeeling Limited”), our efforts have been repaid, and How.

This unqualified victory has inspired us to address a more serious matter. Let’s put our cards on the table -  surely, we are not the first to tell you that your career is suffering from a malaise. Fortunately, inasmuch as it is a malaise distinctly different than that of Mr.______ , and to the extent that you have not become so completely alienated from the intellectual and moral wellsprings of your own creativity, we are hoping that we - yours truly, Donald and Walter - may successfully “intervene” at this point in time and be of some use to you in your latest, and, potentially, greatest, endeavor.

Again, an artist of your stripe could never be guilty of the same sort of willing harlotry that befalls so many bright young men who take their aspirations to Hollywood and their talent for granted. You have failed or threatened to fail in a far more interesting and morally uncompromised way (assuming for a moment that self-imitation and a modality dangerously close to mawkishness are not moral failings, but rather symptoms of a profound sickness of the soul.)

Let’s begin with a quick review of your career so far, as it is known to us and your fans and wellwishers in general.

You began, spectacularly enough, with the excellent “Bottle Rocket”, a film we consider to be your finest work to date. No doubt others would agree that the striking originality of your premise and vision was most effective in this seminal work. Subsequent films - “Rushmore”, “The Royal Tenenbaums”, “The Life Aquatic” - have been good fun but somewhat disappointing - perhaps increasingly so.  These follow-ups have all concerned themselves with the theme we like to call “the enervated family of origin”©, from which springs diverse subplots also largely concerned with the failure to fulfill early promise. Again, each film increasingly relies on eccentric visual detail, period wardrobe, idiosyncratic and overwrought set design, and music supervision that leans heavily on somewhat obscure 60’s “British Invasion” tracks a-jangle with twelve-string guitars, harpsichords and mandolins. The company of players, while excellent, retains pretty much the same tone and function from film to film. Indeed, you must be aware that your career as an auteur is mirrored in the lives of your beloved characters as they struggle in vain to duplicate early glories.

But, look, Mr. Anderson, we’re not trying to be critical – dammit - we just want to help.

Enter the Faboriginals©, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan©. The muse is a fickle mistress at best, and to leave her high and dry, with just a “lick and a promise” of the greatness of which one is capable - well, sir, it’s just plain wrong.  It is an Art Crime© of the first magnitude and a great sin against your talent and your Self.  We just don’t want to see it go down that way. 

So the question, Mr. Anderson, remains: what is to be done?  As we have done with previous clients, we have taken the liberty of creating two alternative strategies that we believe will insure success -  in this case, success for you and your little company of players.  Each of us – Donald and Walter - has composed a TITLE SONG which could serve as a powerful organizing element and a rallying cry for you and Owen and Jason and the others, lest you lose your way and fall into the same old traps.

STRATEGY 1:

Donald believes that you are at a crossroads and that you must do what none of your characters has been able to do - namely, let go of the past: leave it as it lies with no concern for the wreckage, and move boldly forward towards new challenges and goals. To this end he has composed a fresh, exciting title song for your new film, “Darjeeling Limited”. It’s rousing, it’s hip, by turns, funny and sad, and then funny again. Although the music is not entirely out of line with the chic “retro” pop you seem to favor, it’s been fire-mopped© clean of every last trace of irony and then re-ironized at a whole new level – “post-post-post-modern” if you will. The lyrics are as follows:

[CHORUS ]
Darjeeling Limited©
That’s the train I wanna get kissed on
Darjeeling Limited©
But I’ll be lucky if I don’t get pissed on

This is a country of starving millions
We’ve got to get ‘em their tea on time
I know romance should be on the back burner
But girl I just can’t get you off my mind
Cause baby every single time I’m with you
I’d like to have as many arms as Vishnu
(Arms as Vishnu)

[CHORUS ]
Darjeeling Limited©
That’s the train I wanna get kissed on
Darjeeling Limited©
But I’ll be lucky if I don’t get pissed on

You told me you’d be mine forever
That we’d get married in the Taj Mahal
The minute I’m done baggin’ this tea, babe
Then I’ll be makin’ you my Bollywood doll
Forget the Super Chief, the China Star now
Give me the choo-choo with the Chutney Bar now
(Chutney Bar now)

[CHORUS ]
Darjeeling Limited©
That’s the train I wanna get kissed on
Darjeeling Limited©
But I’ll be lucky if I don’t get pissed on

STRATEGY 2:

Walter believes that the best strategy for you now would be to return to the point in your career when it was all good, when all was working as it should, when there was magic in every song you sung, so to speak.  Youthful idealism, jouissance©, original spirit - these will be your watchwords.  “Birth is residual if it is not symbolically revisited through initiation” - it’s an old French proverb.  In other words, your new film will be called “Bottle Rocket Two©” and will be the logical continuation of the first film which was so well loved. (“Bottle Rocket” was our fave among your movies, did we mention that?) You pick up where you left off and find a new continuation that takes you elsewhere than to ruin.  The eponymous title song would reframe the important existential questions which are at the core of your artistic vision and would go something like this:

Bottlerocket Two©

Any resemblance
Real or imagined
People or places
Living or dead

Any resemblance
As-if or actual
Characters or circumstance
It’s all in your head

Flying out to India
Trying to get into you
Old Bombay
It’s a very long way
To chase a “bottlerocket” to©

Precise simulations
Possible parallels
Never intended
Co-incidentals

Persons and places
Present or otherwise
Comrades in comedy
Brothers in crime

Hiding out in India
Babycakes they’re watching you
This is our latest -
It may be our greatest -
It’s called “bottlerocket” too©!

Who pitched the story?
Who built the scenery?
Who raised the money?
Whose movie is it,
Anyway?

[Guitar Solo ]

Come to think about it, these songs are both so fucking strong that you may wish to consider a hybrid approach that uses both of them - after all, they’re both set in India, which is where your company is setting up shop now.  You could go with some kind of “film within a film” or even a “film within a film within a film” or some such pomo horseshit, just like Godard’s “King Lear” or whatever.  That’s your call, you’re the director.

Please note that all these lyrics and titles have been heavily copywritten, trademarked, registered, patented, etc., etc., so anybody using them will have to negotiate the rights from the legitimate Faboriginal© owners, which is us.  We are currently represented by Michael “Mickey” Shaheen, Esq., of Howard Beach, Queens County, New York NY.

The other change that we would have to make would concern Mark Mothersbaugh.  Everyone in Hollywood knows that he is a first class professional musical supervisor.  Obviously you and he have a lot of great history together and we can imagine there is a certain rapport both professional and personal.  But we certainly can’t work with him, anymore than he would consent to work with us.  Same thing for the mandolins and the twelve-string stuff and the harpsichord, they’re out.  You yourself may be partial to those particular instruments. We’re not. Remember, we saw “Tom Jones” in its original theatrical release when we were still in high school, we had to listen to “Walk Away Renee” all through college and we fucking opened for Roger McGuinn in the seventies, so all that “jingle-jangle morning” shit is no big thrill for us, OK?

Argh!...goddammit…sorry, guy! We kinda lost it for a minute there.  Look - Mark is probably a swell guy.  But you, Wes Anderson, must remember that Mark and his music are part of the old way of doing things, the old way of being, the old way that has brought you to the precipice. Mr. Anderson, you must be fearless in defense of your creations and your genius, absolutely fearless, and not give in to sentimental considerations.

So - let’s get going, shall we?  Send the check for US$400,000 (advance on licensing fees) out by Fedex to Mickey by tomorrow and we’ll talk a little later in the day about merch, percentages, backend, soundtrack, ASCAP, etc. Mickey himself doesn’t need any kind of an advance but he’ll probably take a couple of points on your net career action.  It’s a little expensive - and Mickey certainly doesn’t need the bread - but just pay the points, okay?  It’s a lot better than the alternative.

We remain your abject servants,

W. Becker and D. Fagen AKA Steely Dan©

Below, the Dan on The Midnight Special in 1973:
 

Posted by Amber Frost
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03.21.2014
10:17 am
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Countdown to Ecstasy: An interview with the creator of the forthcoming ‘Steely Dance’ covers project
11.06.2013
11:30 am
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I recently caught wind of an exciting musical project based out of New York City—an album-length set of Steely Dan covers (roughly ten tracks) recorded in a disco or dance style with exclusively female vocalists. The project is called Steely Dance, and its presiding genius is Julian Maile, formerly a member of the original Hedwig and the Angry Inch ensemble and lately a regular at the longrunning Loser’s Lounge series of cover concerts at Joe’s Pub in downtown Manhattan.

Maile is working on the Steely Dance project as we speak, and he’s started a Kickstarter in order to pay for the mixing and mastering of the tracks as well as kick the singers a little well-deserved dough. If you are as eager to hear these tracks in their pristine, danceable glory as I am, be sure to drop by and send Maile a few bucks. Below are three sample clips to indicate what the final product of the songs will sounds like.
 

 

 

 
Yesterday I conducted an email interview with Maile to get a little bit of background on the project. As a preliminary question I asked him whether these tracks are remixes or what? Maile clarified that the term “remix” is inapt because “I’m starting from scratch, not using any of Steely Dan’s actual recorded sounds. The styles are not really set in stone, because it was kind of difficult to get The Dan material to adhere to a ‘pure’ expression of Techno or even Disco. …The genres are loosely: Techno, Disco, Italo-Disco, House,  Reggaton, Dubstep and Techno-Shuffle. Hardcore proponents of these genres might not agree that the label fits: but there it is.”

Here’s the rest of the interview.

Dangerous Minds: Why choose Steely Dan for your project?

Julian Maile: Well, to be quite honest, in January 2012 I had just done a long weekend playing “The Music of Steely Dan VS. The Music of The Doobie Brothers” [Loser’s Lounge gigs] and while there was no clear winner, I enjoyed the difference between the two. Like two different pharmaceutical drugs…. Anyway, Dan music was on the brain—at the same time I was getting a new computer, after years of using an outdated one. I thought I should probably sharpen my skill set and play catch-up with the current crop of music software. One day I was testing a synth or technique or something, and I just needed a loop to play while I figured it out. For no reason I put down the chords to “Deacon Blues.” Later I listened back and realized I had made kind of a funny thing. It kind of made me chuckle to have all those major 7th chords zipping by at breakneck speed. It was really just to amuse myself that I continued down this path, with no real plan. Then one day I went to see a band at Santos Party House [in downtown Manhattan] and before the band there was a DJ playing some uptempo stuff. One of my friends asked me what have I been up to, and the music was so loud—she had to repeat herself. Then I said “Oh I’ve just been messing around with Steely Dan songs, adding dance beats and synths,…” “WHAT? I can’t hear you!” I repeated myself. She just looked at me, puzzled, and said: “Steely Dance?” I immediately kissed her and gave her a gigantic hug.

Now when I’m nearing the end of this project—I still have to get the songs mixed and mastered—I feel that I can answer Why The Dan. It’s because their music is un-coverable. Their personas are so intricately woven into the music, and that music is so goddamned well-recorded that people probably say “You know what? Fuck it—let’s do ‘Locomotion’ instead.” Which I completely understand… when I was playing the aforementioned Steely Dan vs. Dooble Brothers extravaganza, there was one intense guy sitting right in the first row watching everything onstage, turning his head at the tiniest detail. We were doing a Dan song and I was playing guitar—an iconic guitar solo. At the climax, just as I was hitting [this] famous lick, my hand slipped—you know, it gets hot on stage and sometimes you forget your sweatbands. I flubbed the end of the solo. Dude in front, who was watching me like a hawk the whole time, shakes his head, let’s out an exasperated “ARRGGHHHHH!” and throws up his hands in the air. His girlfriend calmed him down, and he glumly sipped his Sea Breeze, looking at the program, wondering what other masterpiece we’re going to destroy with our incompetence.

Now I’ve played a fair amount of shows, and the only other time this happens is when you play Beatle music for Beatle fans. The difference is “Beatle music” is covered all the time. Sometimes the covers are better than the originals—Donny Hathaway’s “Jealous Guy” is one example. There is absolutely no chance of this happening with the Dan. So it’s an impossible task, and with all impossible tasks—there is a special kind of freedom.

DM: When did you first get interested in Steely Dan?

JM: I first got interested in The Dan kind of late, as in, not when I was a sarcastic teenager. My aunt used to play their records, but my parents didn’t. Of course I knew the hits. Here is an example of my ignorance: one of the crappy jobs I had was working at a Mom & Pop used computer store on the Upper West Side in the Days Before The Internet. Except there was no Mom—and Pop was nuts. He would buy stolen equipment and re-sell it. He tried to hide it from the employees but everyone knew what he was doing. He would get paranoid and wave a gun around the store. Bear in mind—this is a computer store. One relatively calm day into the store walks a mild-mannered bespectacled gentleman wearing a tweed jacket. He wants to buy the fastest used 486 with the latest software. I’m just about to tell him that the 486 IS the fastest, because it’s faster than a 386—when my boss runs out of the back room, covered in cat hair. He had a very hairy cat—there was cat hair on all the display models. Anyway, he fawns and fusses over Mr. Tweed Jacket, and I’m brushing cat hair off my shoulders, when another employee—who was studying music conducting and knew about these things—whispered, “THAT’S WALTER BECKER.” A very distant bell rang. Oh yeah. Steely Dan. Later in life I regretted not saving his receipt or copying down the address in Hawaii where he wanted the computer sent.

DM: The Steely Dance project showcases the musicianship and songwriting skills of Fagen and Becker. Can you talk about the tradeoff of focusing on that, possibly at the expense of, say, the trademark sardonic quality of Fagen’s vocals or his lyrics?

JM: Well, it is definitely not easy to dance sardonically. To be sardonic you need a target, and if you are dancing sardonically you are probably making fun of someone else near you on the dance floor… which could result in a laser pointer on your chest.

So another good reason to use female singers in Steely Dance is because the sharp barb of the snarky comment can be deflected into the air by a Diva. Where a lyric sung by Donald Fagen with a beatnik sax accompaniment might be sarcastic or cutting, that same line sung by a drop-dead fabulous diva fighting for her rights in spandex tights with sweeping synthesizer and peppy kick drum—that same line might be transformed into something amusing or playful.

I think this is why I like Aja so much, because there are a lot of backup female singers on that record. And their presence, to me, kind of says: “Hey, people may characterize us as misanthropic smart-alecs, but we LOVE harmony singing!” And anybody who loves harmony that much MUST have a cordial, playful, good-natured vein in their body. And in their music. Except The Eagles.

DM: How is Steely Dan perceived in the dance/disco scene?

JM: Well, I myself can’t believe I’m actually sending emails and Facebook updates basically telling people that “Hey everybody, I like Steely Dan.”  I suspect, or maybe it’s wishful thinking, there are crate loads of respect for Steely Dan in any music scene—among people who make the music. Not really for the lyrics—but the sound.  A Dan record is very well-recorded, and well-arranged.  The musicianship is top drawer and the grooves are solid. Sound guys are always using Steely Dan songs to test their equipment. One sound guy I met said that he thinks Steely Dan are the Stanley Kubrick of jazz-rock (!). I guess you could say that Steely Dan is music by professionals for professionals… but why should the professionals have all the fun?

DM: Tell me about some of the vocalists you’ve gotten involved with the project.

JM: I’ve gotten some fun singers to participate in Steely Dance: Anna Copacabana is a singer and go-go dancer that has her own variety show at Joe’s Pub. Amber Martin is a singer and performance artist who also does shows at Joe’s Pub. Cici James is a singer and a Trekkie who owns a science fiction bookshop in Dumbo. Most of the rest all sing at the Loser’s Lounge tribute series at Joe’s Pub.

Each is a Diva in her own way!

DM: I understand you’re working on a video. When can we expect to see that?

JM: Yes. We are editing a video for “Do It Again.” That should be live sometime around the holiday season. We are also in the planning stages now for a video of “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.”

Here’s a little bit of tongue-in-cheek footage in which “Fagen” and “Becker” discuss some of the material that didn’t make it into Steely Dance (It’s an homage to one of my favorite rock docs ever.)

 

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Reconsidering Steely Dan
Donny & Marie cover Steely Dan. On ice.

Posted by Martin Schneider
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11.06.2013
11:30 am
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Donny & Marie cover Steely Dan. On ice.
03.20.2013
03:49 pm
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image
 
Oh my. There really IS a bottomless pit of shitty seventies “show biz” clips, isn’t there? Each one worse than the last.

It seems like the entire world could have imploded with a paroxysm of kitsch back then…
 

 
Thank you very kindly, Matthew Best!

Posted by Richard Metzger
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03.20.2013
03:49 pm
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Reconsidering Steely Dan
07.25.2011
03:19 pm
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When I was a kid in the 70s, Steely Dan were all over the FM airwaves and I absolutely loathed them. Music for assholes as far as I was concerned.

Punk rock hit when I was 10-years-old. I can assure you that I had about as much time for Steely Dan growing up as I did for the Eagles or Lynyrd Skynyrd. Which is to say, none. I hated them. It was always THEIR albums that they used in high end stereo stores to demonstrate equipment. Although I did give them some cool points when I later realized that they’d gotten their name from William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (“Steely Dan III from Yokohama,” a strap-on dildo referred to in the text), I associated them too much with the dreaded middle-of-the-road “AOR” radio format and with middle-aged guys who owned expensive sound systems.

Well, now that I AM a middle-aged guy with an expensive sound system… I must say, boy I was wrong about Steely Dan. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are badass musical geniuses. I simply didn’t know what I was missing out on!

Why the change of heart? Gotta say, it is my audio equipment. I’m a audiophile. I don’t take it to the extremes that some people do, but I do have a good 7.1 surround system and it’s something I derive a lot of pleasure from. The idea of low quality MP3s horrifiy me. I have an iPod, but I haven’t charged it for years.

A few years ago, I became aware that there was an underground coterie of amateur and professional audio enthusiasts who were lovingly capturing and restoring quadraphonic mixes from the 70s. Hundreds of albums came out on quad LPs, 8-tracks and reel to reel tapes. These hi-fi maniacs, to whom I am in great debt, go on eBay and elsewhere and hunt these things down. They don’t bid against each other, it’s a cooperative, community thing. There are other guys who restore the old quad equipment. This online community turn out album after album of such high end four-channel audio that it can take your breath away (Note: It’s not 5.1, it’s quad, so on a modern surround system, the center speaker drops out. Low frequencies are still sent to the sub-woofer, though, so it’s more like 4.1, I suppose)

The process, as I understand it, is that they take the 4-channel material into ProTools or a similar audio program and then (usually) turn them in to DVD ISO files which are then normally uploaded to torrent trackers or other file sharing means like Rapidshare or Hotfile. The end user then burns these files as a DVD for use in a DVD player.

But back to Steely Dan. I’ll listen to anything once in multi-channel. Yes, even bands that I’ve always hated, like the Doobie Brothers or Guns-n-Roses, once. Everything merits at least one listen. Some don’t merit two, however.

When a few Steely Dan albums (Countdown to Ecstasy, Can’t Buy a Thrill and Pretzel Logic) in quad were offered to me by a friend, I accepted them, but I never burned them to DVDs, they just sat there on my hard drive. Then one day a few months ago, I was watching an episode of Rob Bryden’s Annually Retentive sitcom, which uses “Reelin’ In the Years” as its theme tune and I remembered I had them. And so I burned them, wanting to hear this song in multi-channel audio.

Not sure if it was the mood I was in, the weed I was smoking or maybe just the music itself, but I was soon having a full on out-of-body rock snob musical orgasm. What an idiot I’d been. snubbing Steely Dan for so many years. I was a damned fool!

Maybe it does take a good hi-fi to really appreciate Steely Dan. I’ve been listening to them now quite a bit since then and they’re like the diamond cutters of rock. They really don’t sound like anybody else. Their legendary attention to sonic detail and search for perfection in the studio puts them in a league entirely of their own creation. Their sound is so sleek and so clear, almost crystalline. There is a lot of space around the instrumentation (a hallmark of their sound greatly enhanced by a multi-channel mix) and you can turn their albums up as loud as fuck with very, very little distortion. (Yes, I’m a lousy neighbor…).

If like me, you were a butt-head who always hated Steely Dan, do give them a chance again, you’ll be glad that you did (but not over ear buds or computer speakers, it won’t be the same).
 

 
Below, two clips of Steely Dan in their musical prime on The Midnight Special in 1973:
 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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07.25.2011
03:19 pm
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