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Bitch School: When Steely Dan’s Walter Becker met Spinal Tap, it did not go well…
01:28 pm

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…....

Posted by Martin Schneider
01:28 pm
BASS IN YOUR FACE: Isolated bass parts of Sonic Youth, Rolling Stones, The Police, Rick James & more

Poor bass players. In the hierarchy of rockbandland, even the mercenary backup singers get more love. Like a drummer, a crummy one can wreck your band, but unlike a drummer, even a superb bass player can fade into the background, seeming for all the world like a mere utility placeholder while the singer, guitarist and drummer all get laid. Before the ‘80s, the bass player was perceived as the would-be guitarist who couldn’t make the cut and got offered a reduction in strings as a consolation prize. Since the ‘80s, bass has been the “easy” instrument a singer hands off to his girlfriend to get her in the band.

It’s all a crock of utter shit. A good bass player is your band’s spine, and is a gift to be cherished.

An excellent online resource for bassists,, has links to an abundance of isolated bass tracks, from celebrated solos to deep cuts to which few casual fans give much thought. There are, of course, song-length showoffs like “YYZ” and “Roundabout,” but there are unassuming gems to be found too. Check out how awesome Tony Butler’s part is in Big Country’s kinda-eponymous debut single. It wanders off into admirable weirdness, but when the time comes to do the job of propelling the song forward, this shit is rocket fuel.


Though Sting has been engaged in a long-running battle with Bono to see who can be the most tedious ass to have released nothing of worth in over 25 years, listening to his playing in the Police serves as an instant reminder of why we even know who he is. The grooves in “Message In A Bottle” are famously inventive and satisfying, but even his work on more straightforward stuff like “Next To You” slays. You can practically hear the dirt on his strings in these.



Funny, as much of a trope as “chick bass player” has become, loads of time spent searching yielded almost no isolated tracks from female bassists. Which is ridiculous. The only one I found was Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, heard here on “Teenage Riot.” It takes a bit to work up to speed. Taken on its own, it’s a minimal, meditative, and quite lovely drone piece.


Here’s a gem—a live recording of Billy Cox, from Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys, eating “All Along The Watchtower” for breakfast.


This one was a revelation—the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman on “Gimme Shelter.” I knew this was a great bass part, but there’s stuff in here I’ve never heard before, and it’s excellent. I should have been paying more attention.


But is there “Super Freak?” Oh yeah, there’s “Super Freak.”


I searched mightily to find isolated bass tracks from Spinal Tap’s gloriously excessive ode to both low-ends, “Big Bottom,” before I realized there would be absolutely no point in doing that. So I leave you with the unadulterated real thing.

Previously on DM: The incomparable James Jamerson: isolated

Posted by Ron Kretsch
11:11 am
‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare’: The origin of Spinal Tap
04:09 pm

Spinal Tap
Legend has it that the initial creative spark for This is Spinal Tap was generated from a serendipitous moment at the Chateau Marmont in 1974, when Christopher Guest overheard the following “duncelike” dialogue between the bassist for a rock band and his manager:

Manager: All right, well, we’ll take our instruments up to the room.
Bassist: Don’t know where my bass is.
Manager: I beg your pardon.
Bassist: I don’t know where the bass is.
Manager: Where is it?
Bassist: I think it’s at the airport.
Manager: You have to get back there, don’t you?
Bassist: I don’t know, do I?
Manager: I think you better.
Bassist: Where’s my bass?
Manager: It’s at the airport.

Guest let that idea ping-pong around his head for a while, and in 1978 Spinal Tap made its first appearance on an ABC sketch program called The TV Show, which aired at 11:30 pm. The initial target of the sketch was an NBC music show called The Midnight Special. In the book Risky Business: Rock in Film, R. Serge Denisoff and William D. Romanowski explain that the three main characters of the band were developed during video shoot. According to Harry Shearer (bassist Derek Smalls), “We were shooting a takeoff on ‘Midnight Special,’ just lying on the ground waiting for the machine that was supposed to make the fog effect to stop dripping hot oil on us—and to relieve the tension of that moment, we started ad-libbing these characters.”

In the clip, Rob Reiner introduces the band not as “Marty DiBergi” but as Wolfman Jack. The video is a kind of repository of heavy metal video tropes—the endless over-emoting on stage, the quasi-choreographed physical interplay between the band’s members, a video montage including a trippy poker game and a death’s-head judge pronouncing the band to be “guilty,” complete with gavel. There’s also a sublime Busby Berkeley moment that no real heavy metal band would ever be caught dead executing—this is the reference to “lying on the ground” in Shearer’s comment above. And just to top it off, there’s a shot of a playing card—the ace of spades, natch—on fire.

You can’t tell from watching it—at least, I can’t—but the keyboardist in the video is none other than Loudon Wainwright III.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Spinal Tap’s IMDB rating goes to 11
LEGO ‘This Is Spinal Tap’: Nigel’s Guitar Room

Posted by Martin Schneider
04:09 pm