Reelin’ In The Years
In 1973, I heard a song on the car radio. It had a distinctive vocal, and one of the best guitar solos I had ever heard on a single pop song. The lyrics were easy to pick up, and the catchy chorus stayed in my head immediately. I bought it the next day, and was surprised at the unusual name of the band that had recorded it, Steely Dan. I went over to see some friends that night. They all played instruments, and were always keen to listen to anything new. One guy, a drummer, declared that the drumming was slick and crisp. The bass player praised the bass line, and the guitarist agreed that the solo was potentially legendary. We played it over and over, ignoring the rather bland lyrics, revelling in the quality of the vocals, and obvious musical talent. The B side, ‘Only A Fool Would Say That’, was altogether more Jazz orientated, and melodic, giving a clue as to the main themes behind this band’s music.
I started to investigate more of their recordings, and discovered the earlier song, ‘Do It Again’, which I preferred to Reelin’. I soon bought the album, ‘Can’t Buy A Thrill’, containing both songs, as well as the marvellous track, ‘Dirty Work’. The fusion of Jazz and Rock was more apparent, once I began to listen to the album repeatedly, and Reelin’ seemed almost out of place in there. Later that year, I bought the next album, ‘Countdown To Ecstasy’. The songs were more like progressive rock, with the other influences less obvious than those on the first release, and I felt that here was a band that I could follow, and appreciate the changes. I found out more about the group, discovering that the core was actually two artists, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. They used assorted band members, a guest vocalist on occasion, and made great use of session musicians on recordings. It was Fagen’s voice that drew me in, and I became a life-long fan , and collector of all their records. They were unlike any other band around at the time, and the recognisable vocal sound, and high production values, set them apart from the crowd, at least for me. I felt that this might have had something to do with them originating in the East of the USA, giving them a very different style to the more familiar West Coast groups.
Things just kept getting better. The list of songs kept on coming, and became part of the soundtrack to my life through the 1970’s, until the release of ‘Gaucho’, in 1980. Many of those tracks remain as some of my favourite songs up to this time, even after many more years of collecting a wide variety of music. ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number’, ‘Dr Wu’, ‘Peg’, and ‘Deacon Blues’, to name but a few of those enduring tracks. I never caught up with the more recent collaborations, many years after the band split in 1981, though I did buy the Donald Fagen solo album ‘The Nightfly’, in 1982, and could see from this where the real Jazz influence had matured.
Ironically, ‘Reelin’ In The Years’ ended up as one of my least favourite Steely Dan songs. However, it remains significant, as it introduced me to the band that I have loved for so long. Here is a simple audio version, from the original album. I still think it is the best way to hear it. Live performances are freely available on the Internet.