Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Steely Dan Katy Lied (1975)


If there is such a thing as a consensus amongst hard core Steely Dan fans as to the Dan’s best effort, almost everyone – including the general population that made it their biggest selling platter – would concede the crown to Aja. Seven tracks of perfection, each brilliantly orchestrated and executed by a cast of musician’s musicians. The lyrics were “languid and bittersweet” and if you didn’t like ‘em then “drink your big black cow and get out of here.”

Much to admire here. – Purdie’s shuffle, Graydon’s Peg solo, McDonald’s one word background vocals, and Steve Gadd’s greatest moment ever as a studio drummer. If you can get past the stock footage, Classic Albums gives the full story on this great collection of songs in rich detail with snarky comments by Becker and Fagen themselves.

Then there is Katy Lied. That sweet beauty of an album with the insect on the cover. Cameron Crowe writing in Rolling Stone said it best describing Dan’s fourth album as “Anonymous, absolutely impeccable swing-pop. No cheap displays of human emotion.”

Amongst the Dan illuminati, well-documented DBX problems aside, Lied may be their finest effort. Katy was the harbinger of what was to come with Royal Scam, Aja, and Gaucho. Great songs in a variety of tempos and feels, strategic placement of the perfect session people, and the emergence of Walter Becker on Black Friday and Bad Sneakers, as a lead guitarist of peer with the greats that came before him (Randall, Dias, and Baxter).

There is just so much to this album.

Nineteen year old not-yet-legendary drummer Jeff Porcaro provides a clinic in setting a rhythmic foundation though a number of styles. Jeff swings through odd time signatures in Gold Teeth, unveils his soon-to-be-signature shuffle on Black Friday, does his best Jim Gordon on Chain Lightning, and adds John Guerin flourishes on the fade out of Dr. Wu. Anyone wondering why Mr. Groove is remembered with such awe can see why on Katy Lied. It wasn’t until the new millennium that Becker and Fagin would again rely so much on just one drummer.

There is also the restrained and always-perfect melodic flourish supplied by future Grammy winner Michael Omartian on piano. He is all over that record, always complimenting the song, never drawing attention to himself or his instrument – just like he did on Rikki Don’t loose that number. His contribution to the overall tone of Katy cannot be overstated. His playing is beautiful.

Nor can contributions of guitarist Dean Parks be overlooked. Listen to Rose Darling, and pay attention to his passing tones. He swings, keeps the song harmonically centered, and manages to provide a tasty solo as well. It’s understated, and brilliant at the same time. This is why Park’s resume has literally thousands of gigs. His support is all over that record – yet Parks is often overlooked by fans in favor or the flashier axemen on Lied. Scream “Injustice!” as you go back and listen to the guitar in the background throughout the album.

Hang on Sloopy’s Rick Derringer provides a jaw dropping blues solo on Chain Lighting begging the question, “Rock and Roll and Hochie Koo? Same Guy?” Elliot Randall saves the weakest song, Throw Back the Little Ones, with his solo. Denny Dias bebops his way through an impressive bridge of changes, all with swing and melody, on Gold Teeth part 2. Walter Becker simply astonishes us all with the range showed on the Blues based shredding on Black Friday (what a tone!), and the lyrical every-note-counts break on Bad Sneakers. We also see the first appearance of soon-to-be critical (think 5th Beatle) Larry Carlton who lays down some Crusaders scratch and funk on Daddy Don’t Live in that New York City No More. People like to call Royal Scam “the guitar album.” Not so sure about that, this album is full of great guitar.

I wish I were done. But like an ad from the late Billy Mays, “wait, there’s still more!”

Unknown-at-the-time Michael McDonald makes his first appearance on vinyl, providing his distinctive backup vocals that would become ubiquitous 10 years hence. His remarkable multi-tracked in-tune-with-himself work on Bad Sneakers, Black Friday, and Any World that I’m Welcome is still amazing. This was a very talented find for the Dan, and “Rick Jarred Productions” whoever the heck they were. I suppose someone profiled in the book Hit Men. Still wonder why that had to be included in the credits.

The worlds most recorded drummer, Hal Blaine, sits in on Any World that I’m Welcome to and shows how rim taps are done and concludes with a tour of his toms on the fade out. Chuck Rainey is also on board, although I suppose the bass mix might be a frustration from the DBX, it is hard to hear. Check out the bass on Black Friday, if you can, it’s amazing.

Fagen sounds great in all his double tracked glory. He proves once again to be perhaps the only person who can deliver the Dan’s very peculiar lyrics (are you crazy, are you high, or just an ordinary guy?) which are everywhere on the record. So is the humor (I’ll bet she’s in Detroit with lots of money in the bank, although I could be wrong) and so is that most frustrating of Dan adjectives, irony (everyone’s gone to the movies, now we’re alone at last). It’s all there, in very tight, mostly under four minute packages.

So are the weirdest liner notes I have ever read. An inside joke to which no one but Becker, Fagen, producer Gary Katz, and engineer Roger Nichols understand and get. Payback for the DBX problems I guess. When you make a record as good as this one, you are entitled.

While this 1975 release went Gold, it had no singles that charted higher than #37 and was destined to become what it is today: the hidden gem of Steely Dan.


March 26, 2013 - Posted by | Steely Dan Katy Lied |

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