The unappreciated greatness of Steely Dan

The article below just appeared in the Boston Globe, written by Ty Burr, and it’s about how some young people are coming to appreciate the music of their elders, which they call “dad rock”. Oy!

Click on the screenshot to read:

The intro:

One of the more satisfying cheap thrills that comes with getting old is watching the discombobulated expression on someone young when they realize something they’ve dismissed as hopelessly parental is actually something rather . . . good.

Translation: Today’s sermon will be on Steely Dan and the vicissitudes of dad rock.

It’s prompted in part by a June 18 New York Times article in which writer Lindsay Zoladz admitted with a degree of chagrin that the music of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, long derided from her back-seat position on family car rides, has in her early 30s taken up permanent residence in her headphones.

Wrote Zoladz, “My recent embrace of Steely Dan has helped me settle into a newfound level of self-acceptance. I am a discerning, feminist-minded millennial woman. I also love dad rock.’’

Here’s Zoladz’s article:

Back at the Globe, Burr first pushes back at the demeaning term “dad rock” (why not “mom rock”?), and then goes on to explain why the Dan are so great. I’ll skip the second part, and give my own brief take. The argot:

But, first, a word about “dad rock,’’ a term coined (as the Times article points out) in a 2007 Pitchfork review of a Wilco album. The phrase is, of course, profoundly insulting while remaining absolutely undeniable, the end result of generations of boomers and Gen Xers treating the music of their youth as catechism for their children. Apostasy is guaranteed.

Dad rock takes its place next to dad jeans and dad jokes as an endearing diminution — you’re corny as hell, old man, but I guess we’ll keep you — but what kind of music actually qualifies? In practice, it’s whatever you play to your kids as important cultural education (disguised as fun) until they retaliate by going over to K-pop, Katy Perry, or industrial death metal. In theory, it’s all the classic rawk from your adolescence that you now hear in Starbucks and the aisles of Whole Foods. More damage has been done to Van Morrison’s career by the overplaying of “Moondance’’ than by his worst-charting album.

The Beatles don’t count as dad rock, because they’re foundational — a bouncy pop bedrock best introduced early. But the Stones, the Who, and (sob) the Kinks qualify. So does Springsteen, which I know is tough for a lot of you. So do the laid-back LA rockers of the 1970s — the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne — and Southern rockers like the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Marshall Tucker Band. The prog rock that was so rad in 1974: Yes and ELP and all the rest? Don’t even try. My personal induction into the dad rock hall of shame came when a group of my guy friends and I started singing Jethro Tull’s album-long “Thick as a Brick’’ at a barbecue — and we knew every word.

I’m not sure what Burr means by “foundational,” because if you’re talking about the roots of rock, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis were also foundational, but surely they’d be classified as “dad rock”. Like the Dan, the Beatles were sui generis—though the Beatles began heavily influenced by the rock of the late Fifties and early Sixties. Both bands developed their own style that, well, didn’t reflect earlier influences nearly as heavily as other groups. I mean, “Eleanor Rigby,” and “Blackbird”—where did they come from? I’d also disagree that Fleetwood Mac and the Allman Brothers were dad rock: they were great bands that can still be appreciated not as a marker of your youth, but as great music on its own, just as we can appreciate Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, and Charlie Parker. Are Parker, Basie, Ellington, and Billie Holiday “dad jazz”? I don’t think so. And that’s where Burr goes wrong:

I could go on; the point is that the process is a natural state of evolution. No growing person can develop their own taste until they overthrow their parents’ tastes, which means cherry-picking selected parental pop while making independent forays into their generation’s musical present and a self-curated past. Such rejection has gotta hurt, but it opens the floodgates for the tide to come the other way. My 20-something daughters send me their playlists now, and they’re fantastic. And you know who turns up on them a fair amount?

Perhaps my beef arises because this view doesn’t reflect my own musical journey. When I was a kid, I listened to my parents’ LPs, including Sinatra, the great Broadway musicals like Oklahoma and My Fair Lady, and White Folks’ Jazz: Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, et al.: the music my parents danced to, live, at Penn State dances. And I still love that music. I never overthrew my parents’ taste, but simply added to it my own tastes beginning when rock took off when I was about five years old. That’s when I first heard “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets, often regarded as the first true rock song.

I’ve always said—and I stand by this still, and have defended it with examples—that somebody had to grow up during rock’s halcyon days, and those lucky people happened to be me and my contemporaries. For as I was finishing high school, the Beatles were surging, along with the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Santana (NOT dad rock), Janis Joplin, and so on ad infinitum.  You’d have to be pretty tone deaf, or lack taste, to say that today’s rock and pop music is just as good as the music of that era. (I can hear blood pressures rising!). Well, somebody had to say it, and I did.

In my view (this is a theory that is mine) most art forms describe a flattened parabola. Classical music began reaching its apogee with Bach and Beethoven, and has gone downhill ever since Stravinsky. Painting, too, is now debased, so that visits to art galleries are dutiful rather than exciting. And as for opera, well, let’s not talk about it. (I shouldn’t have to say here that all tastes are subjective, and that I’ll get angry responses by people who say that classical-music adepts, for instance, find much to admire in the modern genre. But if that’s the case, why do symphony orchestras still present “the greats”, throwing in a little classical modern music to try to get people interested in newer stuff?)

And so rock further declines, and perhaps some day will give way to another genre of music. As for me, I do try to listen to good rock music—and yes, there’s some—but I never hear anything as good as the music that enveloped me when I was a teenager. Further, well into my forties, I developed a love for “real” jazz, the jazz of black people, beginning with Louis Armstrong and extending through Ellington and Basie to Parker, Gillespie, and John Coltrane. I have no truck for contemporary jazz, so I guess I like “Dad Jazz,” except that a). my dad didn’t listen to black people’s jazz, and b). jazz is pretty much moribund.

Now that I’ve angered many, I’ll just add that Steely Dan is great because their music is complex—the first real rock that was inextricably bound up with jazz.  The more you hear it, the more you’re attracted (if you have taste). It bears repeated listening, and each time you listen you hear something more. Here are ten reasons why the Dan is not “dad music (click on the song to hear it on YouTube):

1.) Dr. Wu
2.) My Old School (fabulous ending)
3.) Only a Fool Would Say That
4.) Haitian Divorce
5.) Deacon Blues
6.) Kid Charlemagne
7.) Midnite Cruiser
8.) Dirty Work
9.) Bad Sneakers (one of my favorite, with a great guitar solo), link below
10.) Peg

Have a listen to this, particularly the off-tempo break starting at 1:55, and tell me this is “Dad rock”. (As for what the words mean, that’s your guess.)

The Dan: Becker and Fagen:

Photo: Chris Walter

I’ll close by thanking my old friend Tim for the article (I’m not sure whether he’s a Dan fan), and for suggesting the last of the “unappreciated groups” I’ve put below. And here they are: fantastic groups or musicians (not “dad music”) that I consider underappreciated:

  1. Laura Nyro
  2. Buffalo Springfield (CSN and CSN&Y are pretty well appreciated)
  3. Blood, Sweat, and Tears (only the “Child is Father to the Man” album)
  4. That Allman Brothers (pretty well appreciated, but not nearly as much as they should be)
  5. The Band (pretty well appreciated again, but not enough)
  6. Tim’s suggestion: Gordon Lightfoot (I recommend only his first album, Lightfoot!, which is a masterpiece; it’s not rock but folk/country).

h/t: Tim

95 Comments

  1. Paul Monné
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Lots of Canadian Content in your list of 6 underappreciated acts!

    • Posted June 28, 2020 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      Indeed; Canada has contributed more than its share to rock and pop and folk and country.

  2. John Dentinger
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    If those kids are having a hard time appreciating Dad Rock, imagine what they think of my fave: Yacht Rock, as exemplified by Yacht Rock Revue. Want proof of how good YRR is? Check out any of their Steely Dan covers, or their original stuff like Step or Bad Tequila. Smooth.

  3. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    “Dad rock”?

    Look, kids, I’m a laid-back kinda fella, willing to tolerate (hell, sometimes even to encourage) lotsa your youthful shenanigans.

    But don’t fuck with me about The Dan, man. That’s a (major-mu-chord-laden) bridge too far.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      My own millennial progeny love the rock’n’roll of the Sixties and Seventies. But then, between their mom and me, they grew up with it as the aural equivalent of mother’s milk for their ears.

      • Steve Pollard
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

        My two sons-in-law (in their 30s) are both guitarists in rock bands, when they can find time from having to earn a living, and both know their classic rock even better than I do. Their bands play it, or songs derived from it, all the time. Our local indie music venue held a Bowie celebration night last year, and they both took part and did Ziggy proud.

        And my other kids are the same. I don’t think I ever forced my youthful tastes on them, but somehow they’ve grown up liking them anyway. My son (now 28) nicked half my old LPs in his late teens, and remains a devoted fan of The Pretty Things. I don’t agree with PCC(E) about classical music, but I do think that genius will win out in the end!

        My addition to Great Underestimated Bands of the Past: Stone the Crows. I was lucky enough to see them, live, twice. Unforgettable.

      • Posted June 28, 2020 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

        We have infused Jamie with music from all over the place. (Almost) every genre. Lots of classic rock/folk/country from the 50s-90s. Classical. Jazz.

        He has pretty eclectic tastes for a 16-year-old in 2020.

  4. Mal
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    The guitar break is probably Walter
    Becker’s best ever solo.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      I love the guitar playing of “Skunk” Baxter on Countdown to Ecstasy, especially on “My Old School.”

      • Paul Matthews
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

        It seems that Becker and Fagen were yearning to work with better musicians than their bandmates in the early incarnation of the group (and of course they eventually got their wish) but IMHO they were lucky to have Mr. Baxter. He was great.

        I listened to the first three songs on Countdown to Ecstacy over and over and over in my youth. I loved the rest of the album too but there was something about those first three tunes.

    • CR
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      Personally, I’m partial to Larry Carlton’s solo on Kid Charlemagne (as well as his other contributions to “The Dan”).

      • uommibatto
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

        This solo is often lauded by Rick Beato on his “best of” videos.

        L. Smith

  5. Posted June 28, 2020 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    I love Steely Dan but I who calls them “The Dan”? And which one’s Dan? (vague Pink Floyd reference)

    I suspect that Lindsay Zoladz getting to her 30s has more to do with her newfound appreciation for Steely Dan. Someday we’ll know enough about how the human brain works to understand why people at that age start to appreciate non-rebellious music. Another thing that needs explanation is why virtually everyone’s favorite music is music that was popular when they were in their early 20s. Ms Zoladz may now like Steely Dan but I bet it isn’t her absolute favorite genre and nor will it ever be.

  6. Randall Schenck
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    I kind of think the music you go for is mostly a product of your age. However, within that age range the individual likes vary a great deal. I happen to be the same age as the professor but I was not consumed by the Beatles as much as PCC. That is just difference within the age group but they can be considerable. However, I know some people 5 to 10 years older than us who tend to go for a different sound. They don’t like the hard rock and are more likely to call some of it acid rock. My wife is about 4.5 years older than me and I notice the difference between us. Anyway, as you move forward into 90s I probably would not recognize anything and that is 30 years ago.

  7. Ré ÓLeannáin
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    “William and Mary won’t do … and I’m never going back to my old school”?

    Any dissenters?

    • CR
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      I was wondering if PCC forgives them for that lyric.

      • Posted June 28, 2020 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

        No because it’s one of only a handful of colleges and universities mentioned in Rock Songs.

        Others: U. of Alabama (“Crimson Tide” in “Deacon Blues”)

        Swarthmore (Creeque Alley by the Mamas & Papas)

        • Mark R.
          Posted June 28, 2020 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

          Vampire Weekend has a lot of UC Berkeley references. I’m bad at linking and such. Or maybe I’m just lazy right now. Vampire Weekend is a great contemporary band though.

      • Posted June 28, 2020 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

        Plus the lyric wasn’t meant as a random insult, it was a reference to a real incident.

  8. Paul Matthews
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Soon it will be called Granddad Rock.

    • jezgrove
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      Yup, volunteers will be going into old folks homes and trying to get them to have singalongs to the Beatles and Stones…!

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

        And my brother’s back at home with his Beatles and his Stones
        We never got it off on that revolution stuff
        What a drag, too many snags

        — Mott the Hoople, “All the Young Dudes” penned by David Bowie in 1972.

        Plus ça change, man.

        • jezgrove
          Posted June 28, 2020 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

          “All the Old Dudes” :o(

        • uommibatto
          Posted June 28, 2020 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

          “Why do I need TV, when I got T. Rex?”

          L. Smith

  9. Posted June 28, 2020 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Thus inspired, I am now playing ‘Do it Again’ by S.D. Gotta get me some more.

  10. jezgrove
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    The actor Chevy Chase played drums with Walter Becker and Donald Fagen when they were all in their teens. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chevy_Chase#Early_years

    • jezgrove
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      Doh, got the link wrong: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chevy_Chase#Early_life

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      Becker and Fagen toured as part of the back-up band for Jay & the Americans (of “Come a Little Bit Closer” and “Cara Mia” fame) in the late ’60s. Jay thought they were weirdos, referring to them as “Charles Manson” and “Charles Starkweather.”

      Screw him and the pop songs he rode in on.

  11. frednotfaith2
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    My dad’s music was mostly country, but also some Ray Charles and Jim Nabors (to my recall my parents had several of his albums from the ’60s. Myself, I got into the Beatles in the ’70s as a teen — for some reason most of the music I got seriously into as a teenager (I turned 13 in 1975) was rarely whatever was new but mostly rock music from 1963 to 1974 or so, although I did like Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan too. But the Beatles were by far my faves, and not because anyone I personally knew got me into them but simply from hearing their songs on the radio and wanting to hear more of them. My younger (by 10 months) brother was more into contemporary material, but he never got into collecting albums like I did. Usually getting a K-Tel collection of recent radio hits was good enough for him, but I started my collection with Sgt. Pepper and other of the Beatles’ studio albums, most got greatest hits collections of other artists I liked, although for those I really liked I’d later get the studio albums. I never became a dad so no one to tell me that the performers I most love are “dad rock”, and my collection does include several lps of material released from every year from 1963 through about 2004 or so, but not much new from the last 15 years. Maybe just a matter of getting on in years, no longer listening to commercial radio and having too much more to occupy my time with to do much exploring of new music that might tickle my fancy.

    • Doug
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

      I got hooked on the Beatles in 1974; I turned 14 that year. It was the 10th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in the U.S.,and their records were on the radio non-stop. I wonder how many other people had the same experience?

  12. Posted June 28, 2020 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Great musicians, Steely Dan.
    Not rock, not jazz. Just their own thing.
    The name of the band derives from a dildo in William Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch”.
    How cool is that?

  13. A C Harper
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    I’m going to go out on a limb here… my theory, which is my own, is that most of the ‘dad rock’ and similar genres was ‘analogue’. There were no drum machines, synthesisers were yet to step forward, recording was on a limited number of channels (on tape). The music was sometimes complex and well produced but it didn’t suffer from the digitalisation, auto-tune and over production of more recent ‘digital’ music.

    • Posted June 28, 2020 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think that really explains it. The reliance on production is more a symptom than a cause. Digitization is a good thing as evidenced by the “digital remastering” of some of the old stuff. Analog instruments are still very popular and a lot of great stuff involved synthesizers (and a lot of terrible stuff too).

      I put it down the change in structure of the musical industry and how music is consumed. It’s too complicated to go into here but that’s my theory.

    • BJ
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

      Just for an example, the pop of real drums as opposed to the electronic BS from most of what’s popular today is just completely different. You can really feel the rhythm a great drummer is playing, hear the fills he’s adding, etc. One of the many great things Neil Peart once said was that he charted his drumming for most songs the way a writer charts a story: he’d lay down a relatively simple beat at the beginning to let the listener know that “this is what the story will be about,” and then adds to it as the song moves forward, getting more and more complex and adding more fills and shifts. Like a great essay, he lays out the thesis and then builds upon it.

      But all of that pop, all of that rhythm, all of that complexity is lost in today’s electronic drums. The sound and feel so utterly dull and lifeless, like most of the music today.

      • darrelle
        Posted June 29, 2020 at 7:32 am | Permalink

        Electronic drums are the worst electronic instruments. They really stink live in concert. Sometime in the later 80s I saw Depeche Mode at the Coliseum in LA. Big show, expensive, but my then-future-wife really wanted to see them. My god. It was horrible. Huge stage with the band standing close together in the middle of the space with almost no equipment except a few small electronic consoles. No recognizable instruments, no showmanship, no recognizable drum sounds and no soul. Hands down the most flat, boring concert I’ve ever been to.

        And I liked Depeche Mode’s music. Not a huge fan like my wife was, but I liked them fine. But live they were dreadfully boring. Their music and how they played just didn’t work at all in a live setting.

        • Roger Lambert
          Posted June 29, 2020 at 7:50 am | Permalink

          You, sir, have crossed the line. Electronic drums are wonderful instruments which I have played live on many dozens of gigs. They sound just great compared to a typical drum kit in most situations, especially with the sound patches used in the last decade or so.

          Now, if you are talking about the electric drums sounds of the ’80’s – the BOO-boo-boo electronica stuff, or a (shudder) electric drum machine – we are in total agreement.

          • darrelle
            Posted June 29, 2020 at 7:54 am | Permalink

            Yep, I definitely was thinking of the early electronic drum craze of the 80s.

            That’s exactly it. I was trying to think of a way to describe the sound and couldn’t come up with anything. “BOO-boo-boo” nails it though.

            • Roger Lambert
              Posted June 29, 2020 at 9:12 am | Permalink

              Ugh – Oh the humanity! Miami Vice, big big hair and padded shoulders. Our species will never live that era down. ;>D

          • Posted June 29, 2020 at 8:50 am | Permalink

            That’s a good point. The drum machine sound is done on purpose in some music. The same could be said about all synthesizers these days. If it sounds like a synth, it’s because the artist wanted it to. And all those commercials with orchestral music, those are synths too.

  14. revelator60
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    “Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis were also foundational, but surely they’d be classified as ‘dad rock'”

    Unfortunately those artists now seem to be “granddad rock.” In my area it’s now almost impossible to find a non-satellite radio station that plays 1950s rock’n’roll. The original fans are dying off and not being replaced.

    Terms like “dad rock” are horrible to my ears. I’m glad some young folk are finally realizing that good music was made before they were born—perhaps they’ll realize that goes for ALL the arts.

    I would also like to put in a word for classic soul, the artistic equal of rock. What an immortal roster: James Brown, Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Jackie Wilson, James Carr, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, the Four Tops, Al Green, and so many more.

  15. D
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    1 and 3 are the same in your Steely Dan top 10 list.

    • Posted June 28, 2020 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

      No, the album is the same, but if you click the titles, they go to the right songs.

      • D
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

        They each go to a different Youtube upload of Dr. Wu.

        Are you a fan of Fagen’s solo work? Never heard you mention The Nightfly. It’s a masterpiece.

        • Posted June 28, 2020 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

          Indeed; for some crazy reason I thought “Katy Lied” and “Dr. Wu” were different songs. They aren’t: “Katy Lied” is a line in “Dr. Wu.” I’ve added another good song.

          • Posted June 28, 2020 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

            “Katy Lied” is also the name of the album that contains “Dr. Wu”.

            • Posted June 28, 2020 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

              And the album cover of a katydid is a visual play on the title.

  16. Dave
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    First, I love Steely Dan.
    But second, I would argue that for jazz influenced rock you could look to The Doors and Blood Sweat and Tears who were several years ahead of them.

  17. BJ
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    I’m a pretty young guy, but I’ve always listened to the music of the 30’s to the 80’s. In terms of percentage, almost none of the music in my collection is from the era when I grew up or after (the big exception is Phish, although even they formed before I was born). No, I grew up with and continue to listen to classic and progressive rock, and, as I got older (my teens and early twenties), I added jazz, classical, and some other categories like bluegrass to my musical horizons. But, throughout my life, I’ve never had much interest in the music of the day; I was always looking back to find new things, and I continue to do so even now. I grew up right around when the era of great rock was dying, and I agree that it has basically had its run, just like classical music, painting, architecture, and so many other forms of art. I often wonder if this cultural decline in the arts signifies something larger. Considering how much postmodernism has affected things like classical music, the art scene, writing, etc., I think there’s a lot that could be written about all of this.

    • BJ
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

      Oh, and Steely Dan is among my most frequently listened. I was just playing Aja (the album) last night, along with Rush’s Hemisphers (again, the whole album). For anyone trying to introduce someone else to Steely Dan, I’d recommend using Kid Charlemagne. It combines both more common rocks themes and the band’s trademark jazz influence and complexity.

      • John Dentinger
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

        Check out Mark Danell’s tribute to Larry Carlton, on Monkeyboy’s Six Strings of Smooth, Kid Charlemagne. Smooth.

        • BJ
          Posted June 28, 2020 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

          Not bad! He’s not nearly as smooth as Larry Carlton, but I still wish I could play the guitar like that.

    • Posted June 28, 2020 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      I often listen to the Phish channel on Sirius/XM.

      • BJ
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

        Oh, no! You’re missing most of their best stuff and hearing a whole lot of very, very mediocre (and frequently what I’d consider “bad”) Phish on that station! Far too much of their selection on that station is shows from the past few years. The best Phish is from between around 1994 to the summer of 2003. There are ebbs and flows — for example, most shows from 2000 aren’t that great — but, in my opinion, the band has been a shell of its former self for years now. They returned from a five year hiatus in 2009 and were still pretty good for a few years (though nowhere near the peak of their powers), but they’ve gone significantly downhill over the past four or five years in particular. Also, listening to recent shows involves a lot of new material that doesn’t isn’t 1/100th as good as their older work, so the song selection for a recent show is a lot worse than that from the best years.

        The following isn’t one of their most insanely complex compositions (look to e.g. Reba, You Enjoy Myself, or, for a short one, All Things Reconsidered for that) and it’s not really one of their “jam” songs either (the jam at the end here is only about six minutes and stays on one theme the entire time), but I think it’s their most beautiful song. For those patient enough, it really takes you on a beautiful rollercoaster, from raging peaks to quiet, dew-flecked valleys, and the pause right in the middle before the guitarist hits the note at 7:22 to start the song up again…well, if you’re at the show, the anticipation that builds is incredible.

        Turn your speakers up to get the full effect!

        And if you want some great versions of the other songs, feel free to ask. I can do this all day 😀

        • Posted June 28, 2020 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

          While they play modern Phish on Sirius, they also do play some of the older stuff. I notice because they often display the location and date of the performances on my car radio. I won’t argue about the mix though.

          I think I heard that version of “Divided Sky” just recently. Although I’ve not made a study of it, the earlier stuff seems to be more jazzy and be more finely conducted, a la Frank Zappa. The later stuff is more Trey jamming to a band trying to follow his lead. Is that how you see it?

          • BJ
            Posted June 28, 2020 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

            Well, there are a lot of considerations. The biggest is that Trey himself has really slowed down; he can’t play at even half the speed he used to and often plays very sloppily, and too often completely forgets notes or chords in the middle of a song. The latter has always been a feature of Phish — it’s hard to get it right every time when you’ve played over 928 different songs over the course of 1702 shows to date — but happened infrequently enough back in the day that fans would sarcastically cheer when someone flubbed a big note. Then there’s the overall lack of creativity, which you have observed, though it’s rooted in many issues, from the band just trying to follow Trey to a lack of cohesion generally. In their best years, they spent nearly every day together, practicing for hours on end and sometimes meticulously constructing setlists. Like the greatest athletes in team sports that require constant movement (think ice hockey), they could anticipate each others’ movements, and thus could construct improvisational jams where new themes seemed to appear from nowhere. Many nights they didn’t plan their setlist ahead of time and would just wing it. Back in 1998, there was a show in West Valley City, Utah, which was well out of the way of the other locations on their tour route, which led to low ticket sales. On the day of the show, they decided to play Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon as the second set for those who attended. I imagine that took a few hours of frantic practice before the show started!

            I could dig down much, much deeper into the issues that plague present-day Phish and what made them so special at their peak, but it’s not really worth it. When you’re listening to the good stuff, you know it’s the good stuff, and the same goes for the mediocre and bad as well. Ultimately, I realize that Phish history lessons are boring to people who aren’t absolutely crazy for them like I am. You did really hit the nail on the head when you mentioned Zappa, though! He was an enormous influence on them. Here’s them playing Peaches en Regalia back in 1997. There’s one with better audio on Youtube which can be found by searching for “Phish peaches en regalia vegas 96,” but I chose this one because it also includes their interpretation of the theme to 2001: A Space Oddysey, though this particular “2001” is a shorter one.

            And hey, thanks for talking Phish with me! I always appreciate it when someone who isn’t as interested in them as I am asks questions. It’s really fun 🙂

            • Posted June 28, 2020 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

              I just went to pick up some takeout Thai food for me and the wife and heard some Phish in the car. It was “Bathtub Gin” and “Axilla”. I think both were from Cuyahoga Falls, OH in 2012. I liked both of them but I’m not any kind of super Phish fan like you. I do enjoy their music.

  18. Tim Harris
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    I really do not think that classical music has necessarily gone downhill since Stravinsky. What has happened is that the culture, and patterns of patronage, that supported classical music throughout the 17th, 18th, 19th & early 20th centuries has largely disappeared, classical music is no longer so central to national cultures as it used to be, and the status that accrued to being a well-known classical composer or musician no longer exists. And of course the rise of readily available popular music has made a huge difference. As a matter of fact, I think that this is a good thing. But what it means, is that you have, if you want to hear new ‘classical’ music, to make an effort to keep up – which means listening to not so very interesting work as well as very interesting and challenging work, and most people, unless they have a burning interest in ‘classical’ music understandably do not want to spend time and effort on this. As an example of interesting and challenging work, I recommend George Benjamin’s recent opera ‘Written on Skin’, which has a marvellous libretto, or ‘text’ as the writer prefers to call it, by the very good British playwright Martin Crimp. A semi-staged production of it was put on at the Suntory Hall in Tokyo last year, with a wonderful American baritone in one of the leading roles, and a number of very good Japanese singers in the smaller roles.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

      What has happened is that the culture, and patterns of patronage, that supported classical music throughout the 17th, 18th, 19th & early 20th centuries has largely disappeared, classical music is no longer so central to national cultures as it used to be, and the status that accrued to being a well-known classical composer or musician no longer exists.

      So pretty much the same way Video Killed the Radio Star? 🙂

  19. Robert Van Orden
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    An underappreciated act is The White Stripes. They’re campy but fun and Jack White can play.

    On the other end of the spectrum is The Doors. They’re terrible. Maxim Magazine said years ago, and I paraphrase, their music sounds like it was recorded in an airplane hanger and mixed by drunks. Uh huh. I’d also add Morrison’s ‘poetry’ was about what one should expect from a heavy drug abuser: morose and self-absorbed.

    The Beatles were excellent, of course. I give most of credit to George Martin. He took them from bubble gum, teeny bopper jingles to more intricate music with expanded instrumentation and cutting edge sound quality. He set a new standard of for production value in pop/rock.

    So those are three of my random musical opinions. Lulz.

    • Posted June 28, 2020 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

      I think the Doors had a unique statement to make and one worth hearing. Their scope was rather limited so it is probably good they didn’t last long though it shouldn’t have ended with Morrison’s death.

      • Robert Van Orden
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

        What statement could that be I wonder. Nihilism?

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

      On the other end of the spectrum is The Doors. They’re terrible. Maxim Magazine said years ago, and I paraphrase, their music sounds like it was recorded in an airplane hanger and mixed by drunks.

      “Jim Morrison is a drunken buffoon posing as a poet. Give me the Guess Who. They have the courage to BE drunken buffoons, which MAKES them poetic.” — Lester Bangs, rock critic nonpareil.

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted June 29, 2020 at 7:16 am | Permalink

      The White Stripes are, were, an incredible rock band. They were blisteringly good, up there with the greatest bands of all time. When they tried to slow down and write songs that were less about tearing your ears off they were significantly less interesting, and tended to come up with stuff like ‘We’re Going To Be Friends’ – too twee and lightweight for me. But if you stick to their rock songs they were an amazing, caveman-minimal rock and roll band. And Jack White plays the guitar like no-one else I’ve ever heard.

      I always thought The Doors were faintly ridiculous, but I don’t mind ridiculous. It signals a willingness to be pretentious, a willingness to put yourself out there creatively and fuck the risks. So you end up with lyrics like ‘his brain is squirming like a toad’, which has to be one of the worst lines ever…but you also sometimes touch upon genius, like they did with ‘The End’. Which, if you had to describe it conceptually, sounds like it has the potential to be truly, world-endingly awful – “wanna hear a ten minute long, eastern influenced, sitar-heavy, sung-poetry jam about the Oedipus Complex?” “Thanks, I’ve just got to throw myself into this threshing machine first”
      …And yet it turns out to be pretty magnificent. I appreciate that willingness to invite ridicule, to walk the line. If you fall every now and then I’m much more willing to forgive you. Give me that over some cautiously tasteful, gnomic, says-nothing, means-nothing song from Dylan, or Leonard Cohen, or whoever, any day.

      • Posted June 29, 2020 at 8:12 am | Permalink

        Well, I think the line about a brain squirming like a toad was very evocative. As for this take, “Give me that over some cautiously tasteful, gnomic, says-nothing, means-nothing song from Dylan, or Leonard Cohen, or whoever, any day.”, I’ll refrain from invective, and just say that the claim that Dylan’s songs, at least, say nothing and mean nothing is insupportable. I’ll just use one example, “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted June 29, 2020 at 9:05 am | Permalink

          Or how about, off the top of my head, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” or “With God On Our Side”?

          • jezgrove
            Posted June 29, 2020 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

            Or “Hurricane” – appropriate right now as an example of how things still need to change.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted June 29, 2020 at 8:59 am | Permalink

        Without “The End,” what would Francis have put over the opening scene of Apocalypse Now?

    • darrelle
      Posted June 29, 2020 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      Regarding the Doors, I couldn’t argue against any of what you’ve said, except perhaps the recording quip, but even so there are quite a few Doors songs that I think are very good.

      Morrison’s poetry was pretty bad in general, pretentiously attempting deep meaning and usually failing miserably. But he was a pretty good rock vocalist with a good sounding voice.

      Not sure I could pick a favorite, but Wild Child is a contender. As is Rider’s on the Storm. And I like their cover of Gloria. Texas Radio and the Big Beat is a guilty pleasure too.

      • darrelle
        Posted June 29, 2020 at 10:02 am | Permalink

        Uh oh. Were’d that apostrophe come from?

  20. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    ? From an example, the singer in “Steely Dan” can’t sing. And for my taste it was really boring music.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

      Aside from one-half the founding duo (viz., Donald Fagen), vocalists that have appeared on one or more Steely Dan tracks include Michael McDonald, David Palmer, and Royce Jones.

      Boring? Puh-lease. And what band is it you find “not boring”?

  21. jedijan
    Posted June 28, 2020 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    One of the pleasurable things about watching the occasional television program is how often a song of our youth, almost forgotten, will reappear on an ad, bringing back all those sweet memories. Makes one wonder who is actually writing those ads; surely not the millenials.

    I raised my son on Midnight Oil and a mixture of 70s classics, including Pink Floyd and Lou Reed. Son even happily accompanied me to a Midnight Oil reunion concert a few years back. We like to play my father’s music too on the occasionsl long drives; all those classic Irish pub songs! He can sing along to all too. Not to forget The Seekers, that are some of my earliest recollections, guaranteed to warm the cockles of your heart.

    Best of all I introduced son to all my favourite comedy series too; Monty Python and The Young Ones. He even introduced some of his teachers and classmates to them also. How enriched their lives became when they also discovered them. Feeling a little down with all this Covid19? Play a classic Monty Python movie and I dare you not to smile at the absurdity. Ni!

    • Bruce Cochrane
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

      To this excellent list, I would add:

      1. Little Feat (Missionary Territory is amazing).
      2. Talking Heads (OK, 80’s band, but they got it right on “Stop Making Sense”}.
      3. And on a personal note, Warren Zevon. He got me through graduate school. RIP.

      • BJ
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

        Heh, we were talking about Phish above, so I can’t help but comment that they’ve covered two of those three bands’ albums. Every Halloween show they play a “musical costume” for the second set, which is an entire album from a different band. They did The Talking Heads’ Remain in Light in 1996 and Little Feat’s Waiting for Columbus in 2010.

        My two favorites are the aforementioned 1996 show and when they did The White Album in 1994.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted June 29, 2020 at 9:15 am | Permalink

        With The Heads, you don’t have to wait for the Eighties: Talking Heads: 77 is the bomb. And Fear of Music came out in ’79.

        Little Feat was one of the great bands ever. Shame Lowell George died so young. He and Gram Parsons were two tragic 1970s’ losses.

        • Posted June 29, 2020 at 9:18 am | Permalink

          I agree on “Talking Heads: 77”. One of the best concerts I ever went to was when Talking Heads played on the grass in front of Royce Hall at UCLA. I don’t think the album was even out yet. Just four people playing really cool music.

    • jedijan
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

      Strangely enough my brother, who has been relearning guitar during the social distancing, sent me this today. Don’t watch if you seek perfection lol.

      https://1drv.ms/v/s!AiFVYZptYYSto2wlReavB4l4qgy1

    • BJ
      Posted June 28, 2020 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

      I caught The Meaning of Life on TV a couple of weeks ago. I think you’ve inspired me to watch the other two in the Python trilogy tomorrow! And with all the extras on the Holy Grail special edition, I can spend my entire day doing it!

      • jedijan
        Posted June 28, 2020 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

        You will have a very happy day. Holy Grail is simply the best! Enjoy. 🙂

      • revelator60
        Posted June 29, 2020 at 12:03 am | Permalink

        The movies are great, but I would argue that the group’s greatest achievement was their TV series, Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

  22. chrism
    Posted June 29, 2020 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    The cleverness and musicality of Steely Dan always amazed me. People rag on 1970’s music because the the dross on Top of the Pops was truly awful, but there was so much good stuff from the ‘album bands’. I even came across an article in the Torygraph praising Supertramp the other day:
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/artists/cereal-conspiracy-theories-911-curious-legacy-supertramps-breakfast/
    Even if it does mistakenly classify them as prog rock. We still had Fairport Convention and the unfortunate Sandy Denny in those days, Joni Mitchell was at her best, and Pink Floyd found their groove without Syd. Even then, though, I had a weakness for some music that never was and never will be respectable: The Moody Blues. I just can’t help it.

  23. Greg Geisler
    Posted June 29, 2020 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Huge Dan fan, had all their vinyl. Most definitely timeless music.

    If you want to take a deep dive into how some of their songs were fashioned google “steely dan making of”. The short videos are fascinating. You have no idea how much effort went into each song. I am even more in awe of their talent after watching the videos.
    https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=steely+dan+making+of

  24. prinzler
    Posted June 29, 2020 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    I’m gonna have to dissent on the connection between jazz and the Dan, it goes too far. Steely Dan does not use the harmonic and rhythmic vocabulary of jazz. They are using the most sophisticated vocabulary in rock in a very sophisticated way. The vocabulary of jazz is sophisticated too, but that doesn’t mean Steely jazz is jazz-like.

    Haven’t read all the comments, so maybe someone beat me to the punch.

    • Posted June 29, 2020 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      I agree. They have some jazzy licks but that’s about as far as I’d go with the jazz connection. It’s rock music but with more sophistication than average. Of course very little is definitive when it comes to labeling music styles.

      • prinzler
        Posted June 29, 2020 at 11:36 am | Permalink

        Thanks. I love Steely Dan, too. And, labels get fuzzy at the margins. Oh, and “Steely jazz” in my post above should be “Steely Dan.”

  25. prinzler
    Posted June 29, 2020 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    PCC(E): Absolutely agree about Child is Father to the Man. My favorite tracks are “Somethin’s Goin’ On” and “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know.” Al Kooper’s vocals, and the arrangements, and some great sax solos, make those tracks.

    • Marou
      Posted June 30, 2020 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      Hardly a bad track on Child is Father to the Man. Kooper was an admirer of Traffic whose eponymous album is also underrated.

  26. Roger Lambert
    Posted June 29, 2020 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    “Steely Dan is great because their music is complex—the first real rock that was inextricably bound up with jazz.”

    Have you discovered Blodwyn Pig yet? Jazz-blues-rock fusion that preceded Steely Dan by four years. Led by Mick Abrahams, lead guitarist on the very first Jethro Tull album.

    Their album “A Head Rings Out” is just plain wonderful.

  27. Roger Lambert
    Posted June 29, 2020 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    And 4 years before Blodwyn Pig, the Graham Bond ORGANization was melding jazz, blues, and rock with Ginger Baker on drums, Jack Bruce on bass, and John McLaughlin on guitar.

  28. jezgrove
    Posted June 29, 2020 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    Yes, Graham Bond’s contributions are overlooked – he played a very similar role to John Mayall, but is much less appreciated.

  29. Andrea Kenner
    Posted July 1, 2020 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Readers of this website might be interested in reading the book “This Is Your Brain On Music” by Daniel J. Levitin. It delves into the reasons why we get so attached to the music we listened to in our youth.


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