Dallas was followed by Do It Again/Fire In The Hole, which was edited down from its original six minutes for the singles market. It went top ten in the U.S.A., but didn't chart in the U.K. until 1975 when it was reissued. Sounds wrote: "This single has an immediate insidious quality that's kept tight in right the way through, with a carving vocal just to add impact." Melody Maker: "They obtain a foot-stomping sound with tight harmonies and electric piano. This is funky, wailing and real teeth-gritting monkey-time music."
Also from the album Can't Buy A Thrill, Reelin' In The Years/Only A Fool Would Say That was chosen as the next single. Melody Maker called it: "The best single I've heard this week. Good, intricate vocal harmonies, clear, precise guitar work and a commercial enough song to break the charts." Sounds liked it, too: "Steely Dan have a polished image and this record swings like crazy." It peaked at No. 11 in America, but failed to chart in England despite considerable airplay.
Show Biz Kids/Razor Boy was also edited by some 80 seconds from the album version. Sounds began their review with a comment on the omission of the four-letter word which, they surmised, "might have prodded the more impressionable among you into raging, uncontrolled copulation in the middle of the street." Melody Maker observed that: "walk into any good disco and you'll hear the great music of Steely Dan. They have rhythm."
Many people considered My Old School to be the best song on Countdown To Ecstasy, and it soon appeared on 45, backed by a bittersweet tale about a New Orleans whore, Pearl of the Quarter. A Rolling Stone reviewer wrote: "My Old School is another exuberant exercise in the toe-tappin' and foot-stompin' that just seems to be a natural byproduct of this group," later adding that "Steely Dan could well make the American dance band alternative to Slade." (?!)
Steely Dan's biggest U.S. hit, Rikki Don't Lose That Number/Any Major Dude Will Tell You, went to No. 4 in June 1974, but even the fact that they had just toured in the U.K. -- albeit cut short by Donald Fagen's illness -- couldn't give the record the push it needed to score. Record Mirror liked it but with a slight reservation: "this gradually unfurling, mellow Latin lilter is too subtle for a single, yet makes an ideal introduction to the group." The New Musical Express reviewer relived his past: "One of life's great experiences is to fly into L.A. airport, rent a car and drive off into town while music like this comes at you from all corners of the car."
After such a sizeable hit, Steely put out the title track of Pretzel Logic, but they couldn't capitalize upon the success of Rikki. In a later interview, Walter Becker strongly denied the suggestion made in a New Times article by Arthur Lubow that Pretzel Logic was about Adolf Hitler.
By the time Black Friday/Throw Back The Little Ones came out, the U.K. music press were all too aware of Steely Dan's lack of singles success. The Melody Maker wrote: "it has a handy collection of sturdy rhythms, attractive tune, amenable lyrics, listenable harmonies and gutsy instrumentation, all welded neatly together," but still pronounced it a miss. Sounds hadn't worked out the story either: "as always, the music is concise, uncluttered and beautifully played. The lyric, as always, is a trible obtuse." Black Friday was followed in the U.S. by Bad Sneakers/Chain Lightning, which, despite its lovely chorus, did nothing.
The first single to be lifted from The Royal Scam was the superb Kid Charlemagne/Green Earrings, which featured a blistering guitar solo from Larry Carlton, who regards it as the high point of his entire career as a session guitarist. Cashbox was optimistic about its chances: "The melody and arrangement are complicated but accessible. Every note is necessary in the clean Gary Katz production. The album is selling well and this single will, too." However, Kid Charlemagne proved yet another chart failure, though I doubt if Becker and Fagen lost any sleep over it.
Steely Dan at last gained their long-overdue top 20 hit in England when Haitian Divorce went to No. 17 toward the end of 1976. It was another long track and on it Walter Becker displayed excellent use of the voice-box, giving his guitar sound almost speech-like articulation. For some unfathomable reason, it was not released in the U.S. -- instead they put out the dance-oriented The Fez/Sign in Stranger.
In early 1978, Peg/I Got The News, taken from the incredible multi-platinum Aja showed Jay Graydon to be another great guitar player. Melody Maker called it: "a furiously lithe and stiletto-sharp dance workout"; Becker and Fagen called it: "a pantonal thirteen bar blues with chorus." The flip side, too, is a marvelous piece of music, full of erotic and suggestive splendor.
The period after Aja was Steely Dan's most prolific for singles releases. As well as the three taken from the album, 1978 also saw the release of FM (No Static At All) which they wrote specially for the film. Playing the saxophone was Pete Christlieb, whom Fagen and Becker had spotted on The Tonight Show, and for whom they would later produce an album, Apogee and pen the song, Rapunzel. Unfortunately, the single, like the film, didn't do particularly well.
Hey Nineteen was Steely Dan's first single to be taken from Gaucho and their second top ten U.S. single. It was backed by a live version of Bodhisattva, as was Time Out of Mind which came out later, causing great indignation among Fagen, Becker and Gary Katz, who had apparently decided upon Third World Man as the B side for the second release. MCA, however, argued that radio demand for a new single prompted the decision to use the same cut. Time Out of Mind peaked at No. 22 in the U.S. chart.
Donald Fagen's first solo single, IGY, was a portrait of the technological optimism that existed during the late '50s. New Musical Express wrote: "Donald Fagen's sizzling sense of the dynamic in modern U.S. pop is hitched to his patented dry, white whine and uptown lilt" but they preferred the jaunty B side, continuing: "although the even more playable Walk Between Raindrops has been relegated to the reverse." Sounds was in agreement, claiming "IGY is upstaged by the slightly more personalized flip, Walk Between Raindrops, a precise yet delirious title, if ever."
Like IGY, New Frontier received a lot of airtime and was edited for the single version. Billboard's critic was unenthusiastic: "the lyrics are diffuse and unsettling, but Fagen wraps them in a comfortable shuffling rhythm for an overall pleasant effect." Sounds just didn't like it: "the song itself is a bit of a plod, but Gary Katz' polished production is so clean and understatedly tasteful that you don't even notice that the music isn't really going anywhere but in one ear and out the other."
The last single to be taken from The Nightfly was Fagen's version of Lieber and Stoller's Ruby Baby. He said, "I sort of based it on the Drifters' version. I threw in a lot of jazz chords and basically made it sound like a big R&B party situation." The New Musical Express reviewer wasn't satisfied: "his self-conscious literary blend of soft rock and cool jazz has been intensely rewarding for years, but it's still more of the same."
Last modified on Mon Feb 12 21:52:53 1996