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The all-purpose 2022/2023 Steely Dan thread

I guess I didn't pay much attention to the date, but while checking on the preorder status of some upcoming SACDs, I noticed that Universal released a 50th anniversary reissue of Steely Dan's first album, Can't Buy A Thrill.

1668819691146.pngApparently you can buy a thrill as a high-res set of files from Universal, or a vinyl pressing. But given's Universal's propensity to, as the old saying goes, fark up a one-car funeral, I am a bit wary at the moment of trying one of their pressings.

I'm listening to the 24-bit/192kHz version on Qobuz and it's not as sharply defined as the version of the album I have on my server. However, the version I have on CD has been through noise reduction and other digital doctoring, apparently. I have no idea of the provenance of this new version, whether it was a transfer of the original analog tapes, or if it was further doctored in the studio. (I'm on my desktop system at the moment, so, I'll have to wait to spin it on the main system to see what's up.) It turns out the digital files were mastered by Bernie Grundman alongside the

50 years. I feel old. Older.

Anyway, I have mixed feelings about an upcoming series of reissues from Analogue Productions.

Chad Kassem worked out a deal where he could release audiophile versions of the first seven Steely Dan albums. The SACDs are already planned and available for preorder, and I will get those without a doubt. None have been released yet, but they will supposedly be released individually over the coming months.

But for pure analog goodness, the initial vinyl issues of these titles will be on their "UHQR" vinyl sets. Deluxe box set packaging with a wood spine, like other UHQRs, and offered only as a set of two 45-RPM records. Chad has hinted that there may be other editions down the road.

All the Dan records are essential listening for me and, with other artists I've followed since my teen years or earlier, very important in my own personal catalog of music. So it's a tough call if I buy later vinyl reissues from Analogue Productions. Thing is, to find clean copies of these records in preferred early pressings could end up costing me just as much, especially if I have to reject a handful due to groove burn (wear). For instance, I do have a somewhat clean early Aja pressing that has some minor but noticeable (read: annoying) groove burn on "Deacon Blues" and "Josie."

I may end up doing a shootout of various versions once I get the SACD reissues in my hands. I suspect Analogue Productions will be the better (best?) sounding of all digital versions. I'm told that they did an excellent job on the two most recent albums (Two Against Nature and Everything Must Go) especially on the former title, where they got rid of the digital harshness and made it a much more pleasant listen. The latter was actually recorded to analog multitrack and has a much smoother sound already.

For whatever reason, I had read that Steely Dan will no longer perform "Do It Again" in concert--can't recall if it was a mutual decision, or if Donald Fagen just didn't want to sing it. Regardless, it's one of the highlights on a solid debut album that included many fine compositions. A little of their jazz influence came through on this album, but would appear more on the follow-up, Countdown to Ecstasy. My own discovery of their catalog began when I read a good review of Fagen's first solo album, The Nightfly. Wanting more, I picked up budget reissues of Gaucho and Aja then worked my way back through the rest of their catalog (all were the MCA "Platinum Series" LPs).

Got any Steely Dan favorites or memories? This thread is the place! (Please take complaints, gripes, "I hates," etc. to a separate thread. 😉)

50 years. Dang it...
 
Once upon a time, I had an LP copy of AJA. I think I lent it out and it never returned. So wanting to hear it again, I bought another copy and made a CDR of it.

Meanwhile I own a CD called A DECADE OF STEELY DAN. It's served me over the years when I need a Dan hit record.

Being in radio, I acquired a couple of later CD issues, TWO AGAINST NATURE, and EVERYTHING MUST GO. I can't say I've ever really listened to much of either, though the track called "Cousin Dupree" seems to register in my brain.

I also have an original FM soundtrack album somewhere around here, and probably some 45s.
 
The good original pressings of Aja were apparently the "AB" catalog number, on the original ABC "bullseye" label. My first purchase was the MCA "Platinum Series" reissue and like anything MCA at the time, the vinyl quality left a lot to be desired, and the sound was a bit stuffy. But that didn't stop me from transferring it to cassette and playing it in the car, with Gaucho on the flip side, many dozens of times.

Of the two recent Dan albums, Two Against Nature is my favorite. I liked Everything Must Go at first, but after a while it just seemed too slick and perfect, despite sounding really good. (I only owned that on DVD-Audio.) "Cousin Dupree" was a good track on the former, and I've also liked "Almost Gothic" and "Janie Runaway."

I've always liked Gaucho but so many out there in recent years have lambasted it. Sure it's not as strong as Aja but it still has a lot of good tracks. Sadly the best track on the album got erased by an assistant engineer, and the re-recording lost the magic that the original apparently had--"Second Arrangement" is only available on a bootleg, apparently dubbed from a cassette demo of, presumably, the re-recorded version.



BTW, I learned more about the provenance of Can't Buy A Thrill. The Analogue Productions is a straight "AAA" analog cut from the original master tapes. The Universal is being cut from a digital copy. 🙄 Remember what I said about one-car funerals...
 
My 2 favorite Steely Dan alhums are "AJA" and "Gaucho" and the mix of Rock Jazz and Blues to me was and is still fabulous. Standouts for me are Deacon Blues. Josie. Home at Last. Aja. Time out of mind. Hey Nineteen and the very long but fabulous Glamour Profession. Just to name a few
 
I used to have "Aja" a number of years ago but I ended up trading it out at a used record store.
I am not enough of a fan to buy it on cd. I am content hearing it on the radio.
 
My first Steely Dan purchase was Pretzel Logic. Not my favorite album of theirs though. I bought Katy Lied next, I liked it better. Their sound was very unique for the time, and finally caught on with the public when Aja was released. Then the whole catalogue really started to sell. All I have now are the box set, Citizen Steely Dan, 2 disc set Showbiz Kids, and the cd-dvd collection Everything Must Go. They were amazing to see live too, when they toured, which wasn’t very often.
 
I bought the Citizen box back when it came out, and it contains the first seven albums plus four bonus tracks. The only slip-up was that they swapped the order of "Your Gold Teeth II" and "Chain Lightning," and that error persisted on the separate album CD releases that followed a year or two later.
 
The "Citizen Steely Dan" 1993 CD box set does NOT have the beginning of the 1974 song "Rikki Don't Lose That Number". The 1978 song "FM (No Static At All)" takes off part of the song & Donald Fagen says "uh huh" on the "FM" reprise.
 
Think Michael McDonald was considered an official member of Steely Dan at one point. He sings backing vocals on the Steely Dan songs "Peg" and "Kid Charlemagne." There may have been others but those were the two that I know of off the top of my head.

I'm not sure why Steely Dan is still considered a band when Donald Fagen is the only member still left. He's basically touring as a solo artist performing Steely Dan songs now.

(p.s. just looked it up, apparently Jeff Porcaro from Toto was also a band member)
 
After they broke up their touring band in 1974 (following the album Pretzel Logic), Steely Dan essentially became Walter, Donald, and a revolving door of studio musicians and vocalists for the remaining albums. The duo did not want to tour, while the remaining original band members (Denny Dias, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, Jim Hodder) wanted to tour, and were also frustrated at their diminished roles on the albums, causing tension that essentially caused the duo to break the group up. Dias did stick around through Gaucho, while Baxter and session singer Michael McDonald would join the Doobie Brothers.

Even prior to the breakup, session musicians sat in on albums like Pretzel Logic while not being band members per se (McDonald, Jeff Porcaro, David Paich, Jim Gordon, Dean Parks, Rick Derringer, etc.). It wasn't until they reconvened for touring in 1993 that they once again billed the group as a band.

A list of all the session musicians on all of their albums through Gaucho would stretch into the dozens, and reads like a who's who of the music scene in the mid to late 70s.
 
Years ago over on the Hoffman boards, Dan recording quality was done to death...I recall the "findings" were that the original MCA CD flat transfers (two versions of of which Steve H managed) were regarded as the best issued. All subsequent issues were tinkered with resulting in adverse sonic impact. There was one caveat (for lack of a better word): Countdown and Pretzel underwent a unique SHM reissue in Japan in the 2000s resulting in a "different" sound...which, surprisingly, many contributors to that board enjoyed (I have them both and they are my go-to versions).

For me, Dan along with Stevie Wonder are the only '70s artists that capture my fancy for the entirety of that decade. Dan's first LP is really unlike anything happening at the time and they had David Palmer, a fine singer, contributing leads as well. Countdown To Ecstasy is where the jazz chops start to shine. The LP is nearly perfect on all fronts and doesn't seem to heed any commercial concerns, which is notable. Razor Boy and King Of The World is about as good as pop can get. Pretzel Logic is more like how the Beatles did their LPs -- lots of different kinds of music. Here, Dan gives us pseudo country (With A Gun), pre-WWII jazz (East St. Louis Toodle-oo), Riffin off of Horace (Rikki), infectious pop (Barrytown) and, of course, the utterly delightfully weird, Through With Buzz. As a pop LP, Logic is stellar. Katy Lied is a bit of a let down after Logic, but no less an A to my ears (and then there's Michael McDonald's penetrating voice as well!). Royal Scam, which, all things considered, is probably their best given it is both a musical amalgam of their first four LP and a signpost of Aja with its slide into smooooth jazzisms. Aja is the first Dan LP that just didn't work for me. It's tooooo dang smooooth. It seemed on Aja that some order of "perfection" was the overlord at the expense of good old fashioned salt-of-the-earth emotional essence. I didn't bother with Gaucho. One thing about Dan: There are no throwaways and no filler. The words -- which, like Laura Nyro's, can at times be so East coast I have no idea what in the Sam Hill they're even singing about -- are surely paramount and given as much weight as the melody, arrangement and production.

Go ahead...and sign in, stranger.
 
I've got a lot of Steely Dan favorites, although I have to say their music hasn't aged as well for me as some others. I'm not sure why -- but they're one of the bands I really need to be in the proper mood to enjoy.

The earlier tunes tend to be my favorites, but one of my favorites for sure is "Third World Man," the last song on the last album before their extended hiatus. I'm a big fan of the first 3 albums in particular, but there are moments of greatness on all the records. I've heard Can't Buy A Thrill so many times I'm past needing to hear it in its entirety very often anymore. But I still really like "Dirty Work" and the other singles when they come on the radio.

That's a serious bummer that they won't play "Do It Again" in concert anymore -- I've always wanted to hear that song live. I have a good friend out in Washington who saw The Dan a few years ago and said it was a terrific show. I doubt they'll ever play close enough to here for me to see them, unfortunately.
 
The band is worth seeing if you ever get the chance. Even when Walter was still around, they had some of the top musicians available in the band. In 2006, seeing them with Michael McDonald was a welcome bonus. I've seen SD three times, although I wish I could see them a fourth time when they do one of their "deep cuts" concerts, where they perform lesser-known album tracks along with the now-legendary tracks that have appeared only as bootlegs ("This All Too Mobile Home," "The Second Arrangement," etc.).

I've long pegged (bad pun, sorry) Aja as my favorite, but I've found that The Royal Scam has grown on me quite a bit, and even the quirkiness of Katy Lied is still appealing. I like tracks from all of them, to be honest. Even Gaucho, which lately, many have taken to hating with a passion. "Third World Man" has really lush vocal layering that gets me every time, and that same style is echoed on the Donald Fagen track "True Companion" which came from the Heavy Metal soundtrack album, which came only a year after Gaucho. (It almost could have been an outtake from that album--it is very similar stylistically.)

 
I like that song True Companion for the fact its almost All instrumental except for the vocal part at the end. I only wish either Fagen or Becker or both would have made more instrumentals along this line they did great long instrumental breaks on Deacon blues and others but never a full non vocal not that I know of anyway.
 
I'm currently listening to one of the last two Steely Dan studio albums--Two Against Nature. This is the SACD remastering done by Analogue Productions. One thing I'm noticing is that the somewhat harsh sound of the original version (from the DVD-Audio, 24-bit/96kHz) has been tamed, and the sound on this version is silky smooth. And I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed some of the tracks on this album. "Janie Runaway" and "Almost Gothic" may be my favorites here. I haven't had a chance to play it on the "big" system yet, but it's sounding good over the KEF LS50s on my desktop system.

The Analogue Productions SACD of Can't Buy A Thrill was finally released and I'll have a copy of it soon. I won't be getting their $150 UHQR vinyl pressing, but the great Bernie Grundman has mastered both the vinyl and digital (SACD) versions. Here's a twist--Geffen is also releasing these on vinyl at a more normal price, but sourced from Bernie's digital mastering (cut to lacquer by Alex Abrash at AA Mastering). So it will be interesting to see if that vinyl version holds up to the SACD.

I still have Everything Must Go to listen to, but the original digital version of that recording sounded very good, since they tracked their parts to an analog multitrack and mixed it down to digital, vs. doing it all in the digital domain. So it already had a nice warmth and natural tone to it. I suspect the Analogue Productions version will not be much different from the original.

Good sounding Steely Dan remasters have been a long time coming, so there are some good times ahead.
 
I bought the Citizen box back when it came out, and it contains the first seven albums plus four bonus tracks. The only slip-up was that they swapped the order of "Your Gold Teeth II" and "Chain Lightning," and that error persisted on the separate album CD releases that followed a year or two later.
What are the 4 bonus tracks? I know about the demo of EVERYONES GONE TO THE MOVIES, and FM as a non-album track. What are the other two?
 
What are the 4 bonus tracks? I know about the demo of EVERYONES GONE TO THE MOVIES, and FM as a non-album track. What are the other two?
"Here at the Western World" is a B-side recorded around the time of Aja. There is also a live version of "Bodhisattva" that might also have been a B-side.

"Dallas" and "Sail the Waterway" could have been included, but the group pulled those two tracks from distribution since they did not like the tracks, and that was prior to their debut album. Having those on a 45-RPM EP, I can see why--they are nothing all that outstanding.

One quirk about the Citizen set is that subsequent reissues of Katy Lied had the wrong track order. On the box set, they ended one of the discs with "Everyone's Gone to the Movies" and "Chain Lighting," and opened the next disc with "Your Gold Teeth II." In essence, flipping the order of "Lightning" and "Teeth." For whatever reason, that incorrect track order made it onto the later album reissues on CD.
 
The live "Bodishattva" was indeed a B-side. I remember seeing it on a 45 back when I used to sell them. (One of the many things I have taking up valuable memory space that could be used for important things my wife told me.)

I have Aja, Gaucho, Can't Buy a Thrill, and the Citizen box set. I used the box set to add all the music to my iTunes library back in the day, just assuming it would sound better. I'm not sure if it really does or not though, I've never compared.
 
The Citizen box, and the subsequent CD releases, used the CEDAR noise reduction system to remove tape hiss. (This was what the box set's remastering engineer, Glenn Meadows, told me decades ago. He, fellow engineer Milan Bogdan, and Becker and Fagen, went through the process and the tapes together at Masterfonics back when the set was being remastered.) Honestly, I don't think they sound that bad, and actually liked that in terms of the tonality, they sounded more immediate and less "soft" than some of the early CD reissues, and especially the poor quality MCA "Platinum Series" reissues I had purchased on vinyl which were quite sad.

I've heard a few of the SHM SACDs from recent years, and they are nothing special. I should have the Analogue Productions SACD in the near future--it's $30, but not $150 like the UHQR 2-LP 45 RPM box they are selling.

I did, however, get a chance to play the Universal vinyl reissue from last year. Surprisingly the vinyl is dead quiet, pressed on-center, and the sound of the remastering is fairly good considering it's digitally sourced. What I guess happened was that during the round of remastering for Analogue Productions, Bernie Grundman mastered and cut their UHQR vinyl version, and mastered digital versions (one for the SACD, the other provided to Universal). Universal, in turn, has released Bernie's digital mastering as a high-res version in PCM digital, and had Alex Abrash cut the vinyl from those digital masters as well.

While it's not quite as good as having an original all-analog cut, this Universal verion sounds quite good. Given the price, I could recommend it. It probably gets you 90% of the way to the UHQR version, especially since (for once) the vinyl pressing itself is very well done.
 
The 1974 song "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" is missing the opening of the song from "Citizen" box set!! The song "Here At The Western World" was recorded in 1976 during "The Royal Scam" sessions BUT did not make it until 1978 "Greatest Hits" which starts side 3.
 
As I have the UHQR 45 RPM sets on loan for a while to do a comparison (at least with Can't Buy A Thrill), I'll be comparing the UHQR to the digitally sourced version I just received and mentioned above. The records are pressed on a clear Clarity Vinyl, and spend a longer time in the press to ensure a lack of pressing defects. The packaging is nice--the set comes in a library case that everything can be stored in, but Analogue Productions provides a gatefold jacket that will hold both records, along with a poly sleeve to store the gatefold in, so it can be placed on normal record shelves. Very thoughtful!

What little I've heard so far sounds really good--I heard more things in the mix on "Do It Again" and "Dirty Work" that I haven't heard before. Little touches deep in the mix that I never paid attention to. I won't have time for a better comparison until after I return from the rally in mid May. I still might try to get in a needle drop to take in the car with me, though.

I also have the "non-Steely Dan", Steely Dan album, ZAZU by Rosie Vela.

I'm looking for a clean vinyl copy of Flaunt the Imperfection by China Crisis. I'd prefer a Virgin pressing from the UK but shipping is so expensive that I'll probably make do with a US Warner copy instead. Walter Becker produced that album for CC, along with Diary of a Hollow Horse.

Becker also produced three tracks on the Michael Franks album Blue Pacific--"All I Need," "Vincent's Ear," and "Crayon Sun (Safe at Home)."

 
As I have the UHQR 45 RPM sets on loan for a while to do a comparison (at least with Can't Buy A Thrill), I'll be comparing the UHQR to the digitally sourced version I just received and mentioned above. The records are pressed on a clear Clarity Vinyl, and spend a longer time in the press to ensure a lack of pressing defects.
One very minor quibble, but I think it might be a condition of Universal licensing these to Analogue Productions. The standard reissue I got has the exact same label type.

The label on the records is the current black Geffen label, which is where Universal decided to release these. Normally, Analogue Productions uses a period-correct label if at all possible--it would have been neat seeing these with their original ABC labels. (And, an MCA "rainbow" label for Gaucho.)

And an overall comment about Universal--it is bothersome to me how different artists on these labels are continually shuffled between other labels they own. Such as, A&M's jazz and Brazil releases coming under the Verve umbrella (as are the Impulse! label records), but others I think are lumped into the faceless Interscope label.

Even the Geffen label is confusing, although I haven't looked up the history of the label itself. It started among the Warner family (Asia, Donna Summer, etc.). Then I think another Geffen label was started elsewhere (probably at a Universal company, or a company they acquired) at a later time. Maybe as DGC? Who knows? In fact, the last two Steely Dan studio albums were on Geffen under the Warner banner.
 
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