Archive for the Steam-Powered Dildo (aka Steely Dan) Category

Tom Waits’ Still Beating “Heart”

Posted in Misc, Steam-Powered Dildo (aka Steely Dan), The Greatest with tags , , , , on March 1, 2010 by notastehack

I’ve devoted quite a few words to the glory of Steely Dan because they stand for everything I think is perfect in music. While so many musicians write songs, Steely makes songs: working tirelessly for that one little moment that we the audience often won’t immediately recognize without a PHD in musical theory. Donald and Walt purportedly spend hours, days, months in the studio by themselves, endlessly fiddling with levels, mixes and chord progressions – sometimes resulting in what they want, but also occasionally making them realize that they have to let the song go, either to be modified and put on a later album (Royal Scam’s “Caves of Altamira” was originally a much different song called “Android Warehouse”) or to end up truly trashed; only to rise again when someone unearths it, gives it a perfunctory spit-shine, and puts it on a compilation record (see their 1994 “Roaring of the Lamb” album).

Their musical craftsmanship, which borders on obsessive compulsiveness, is set into stark relief by their traditional jazz roots – which keeps them open to improvisation (Larry Carlton’s incendiary solos on “Kid Charlemagne” were apparently done on the first take… not to say that Don and Walt didn’t make him do them a few more times, for good measure, but what you hear is his first effort). Few artists are able to combine these combative rational and sensual impulses, but those who can are often some of the greatest out there.

Tom Waits (a fan of, and respected by, Steely themselves) has staggered his way to the front of these few.

For the uninitiated, Waits – like a mangy dog that could either rub himself amiably against your leg or bite you with a mouth full of god-only-knows what infectious diseases – must be approached with caution. Start out by listening to “Blood Money” or “Bone Machine” and chances are good that you’ll be scared away. Whenever anyone tells me that they’ve been meaning to get into Waits (and in a pretentious university setting this happens rather often) I’ll always point them towards his “Coffee Break Radio Show”, which was recorded in 1975 just prior to the release of “Small Change” (which had at the time a working title of “Pasties and a G-String, a Beer and a Cheap Shot, Cheaters, Slicks and Baby Moons”… this tentative title underwent a small change itself). The album shows Waits at his most exposed, it’s just him and a piano, and is therefore a rare insight into the notoriously twisted mind of the scotch-soaked sundry that typifies Tom.

If “Coffee Break” sets down some dry kindling, watching a few youtube interviews of Waits will have you reaching in your pocket for matches. With the necessary tools in hand, his 1974 “The Heart of Saturday Night” will set the mess ablaze. You’re hooked. The conflagration should now burn hot enough to consume “Mule Variations”, “Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards” and any other, edgier, Waits you can get your hands on.

Being a sucker for sweet stuff, I’m partial to the well-contained blaze, and “Heart” lies comfortably in his sentimental chest. From the smoky barroom opening of “New Coat of Paint”, to the conflated juxtapositions of his nostalgic “San Diego Serenade”, the album walks down a rainy side street occasionally lit by the dim streetlights of “Diamonds on my Windshield” but is then left to turn up its collar against the elements in “Drunk on the Moon”

The poetry is at once self-reflective (“never heard the melody until I needed the song”) and impetuous (“I’m selfish and I’m cruel but you’re blind”) but is nonetheless omnipresent – like the mumblings of a drifter that, when you accidentally hear what he’s saying, turns out to be the transient poet-laureate of the metaphorical big city.

The traditional bluesy band structure (upright bass, drums, tenor sax and Waits on piano and guitar) is dissimilar to Steely – who used over two dozen session players on “Aja” (as a point of interest, the saxophone-toting antihero with the pseudonym “Deacon Blues” is played by Pete Christlieb, whose tenor is the same as the one you think you can hear while “Drunk on the Moon”) but gets the point across by this very intimacy. The ever-elusive autobiographical voice still hides in “Aja”, and the truly existential “Where’s Walt-o” (and Don-o, for that matter) temper is achieved by constantly shrouding their identity in the plethora of different styles, played by different people – the Odysseus coming “Home at Last” is not the same cat who’s enamored with the coquettish “Peg” – whereas Waits’ session players give the album a uniform feel (who sound, as Nate Cavalieri suggests in his Rhapsody review, like they were “plucked from a flyover state Holiday Inn”) – which underlines the sense you get that after their set is over, you can practically see them finishing their drinks, silently packing up their gear and getting into the now even older Ol’ 55 to move to the next city. After, of course, a bite to eat at Napoleone’s.

But truly transcendent is the oddly formulaic guy-lost-girl “Please Call me, Baby”. Thomas Lee’s 2005 review of the album lovingly refers to the song as “predictable as an Elvis flick”, but expressed so well that “the strings, the schmaltz, and the headache combine to make it otherworldly”. It’s a hell of a ballad, spoken honestly through the slow lilt up the major scale only to forget how it got there and once again descend the ladder and put its feel on solid, albeit unremarkable, ground. It’s apologetic, but at its wits end; excusing, but conflicted. It’s a love-song for the realistic, a testament for the scruffy prophet, a call-to-arms for the emotionally unequipped.

Waits’ genius has, throughout his multi-decade career, worked its way through the pragmatic, gone cubist and blue, and occasionally comes back to flirt with realism – but did, in my humble opinion, achieve a clarity and honesty in its early days, with the alcohol-fueled insouciance of albums like “The Heart of Saturday Night”, that will never be rivaled by the foolish lovers and angry artists who croon and cry over the airwaves.

Tom Waits – Please Call me, Baby

Kid Charlemagne

Posted in Steam-Powered Dildo (aka Steely Dan) with tags , on August 8, 2008 by notastehack

it’s been a while, so an SD post was kind of necessary, plus I’ve been listening to The Royal Scam more than can possibly be healthy.

For anyone as geeky about the Dan as I, you’ll know that The Royal Scam is Steely Dan’s most guitar heavy album; with greats like Larry Carlton, Dean Parks, Elliot Randall, and Denny Dias going for a more grungy, super-electric sound.

It’s also their most cynical album (The Royal Scam = The American Dream) and arguably their most transparent (if any Steely Dan album ever can be even close to being understood, this is it). There are so many references to Hollywood, sex, drugs, and shady characters that it had to be a good album.

But “Kid Charlemagne” doesn’t need to have any of this back story because when the chips are down it’s just an amazing song. An amazing song about drugs.

Stuff to know:

“Stopped to stare at your technicolour motorhome” = The bus “Further” used by the Merry Pranksters

The first two verses are about LSD chemist Owsley Stanley

The line that a lot of people hate, but I think is their best – period – “is there gas in the car? yes there’s gas in the car” is a reference to the fact that Owsley was arrested when his car ran out of gas on the side of the road.

Besides the name of the band being derived from a steam-powered dildo in “The Naked Lunch”, the line “I think the people down the hall know who you are” also contains a reference to the William S. Burroughs classic. ‘People’ are the term Burroughs uses to describe vice police and their informants.

Larry Carlton’s famous solo was done the first time he was given a crack at it.

Sleek and Jazzy – head bopping fun. enjoy

Steely Dan – Kid Charlemagne

Stolen Dan

Posted in Hip-hop, Steam-Powered Dildo (aka Steely Dan) with tags , , on July 29, 2008 by notastehack

re: the aformentioned obsession with Steely Dan.

It strikes me that haters might not realize that throughout the years the songs they loved were ripping the Dan off. Anyone well enough acquainted with both genres will note the samples used, but most will just assume that various artists capitalized on a random sample from a random song that no one had ever heard of. Now I’m not implying that this is what the artists themselves felt – merely their listening public.

With the advent of King Kanye sampling SD I think it’s important to post a couple of the better known tracks in question.

And let it be known this doesn’t piss Donald, Walter, or me (inconsequentially) off. When someone asked them about it Donald apparently started singing “uptown baby, uptown baby”.

Here you go – Remix first, then original.

Off ‘Graduation’ and ‘The Royal Scam’ Respectively

Kanye West – Champion

Steely Dan – Kid Charlemagne

Off ‘Make it Begin’ and ‘Aja’ Respectively

Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz – Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)

Steely Dan – Black Cow

Off ’3 feet High and Rising’ and ‘Aja’ Respectively

De La Soul – Eye Know

Steely Dan – Peg

And finally, off their debut self-titled album that forever rocked the world of music… (and SD’s album “The Royal Scam”)

All Saints – I Know Where It\’s At

Steely Dan – The Fez

Do it Again – Steely Dan post #1

Posted in Steam-Powered Dildo (aka Steely Dan) on July 28, 2008 by notastehack

Steely Dan is my favorite band. Hands down. Seriously.

The only down side to that is that I’m 22 and most Danfans are… well… my dad. My room mate last year refused to accept Steely Dan as a band and referred to them as “elevator music”. In an attempt to proselytize a little I will make it my mission to, over time, go through all of Donald Fagan and Walter Becker’s albums (including their solo attempts) chronologically and with as much comprehensiveness as possible.

Since it is the aim of this blog to just talk about what the hell I’m listening to at any given moment, I’ll only include the Steely Dan stuff as an afterthought so that if you’re like my room mate you won’t get bored.

In the news though – Becker just released his second solo album: the hotly anticipated “Circus Money”. See below how obvious it is that he used to do a mess of drugs…

also – check out this song off the album

Walter Becker – Upside Looking Down

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