So begins the Dan's association with the music press in 1972, the above being a sample of a review of their debut single, Dallas, written by an anonymous American reviewer from an anonymous source.
A lot has happened since then.
Eight albums (both individually and collectively), and many other fine moments have been released in the 16 or so years that have followed, and during this period the rock critics of this world have had something to say about all of their recorded output.
Steely Dan's love affair with the music press, like all bands with few exceptions, has been patchy, but the two have shared some wonderful moments. In England, particularly, it's noticeable that at the outset most of the releases from '72 to '76 were praised, and quite rightly so.
When the band first appeared, the music of the day was mostly bland, tepid and unimaginative and the Dan came through like a breath of fresh air.
But today's news is tomorrow's fish and chip paper, and after the emergence of punk in 1977, Steely Dan became, along with a lot of other groups of the early '70s, the antithesis of what punk represented, and they were constantly criticized for being lazy, laid back, soulless and too sophisticated.
This trend continued for a while, but what goes around, comes around, and even though one can be certain of their "status" in today's fickle world of rock journalism, with bands such as China Crisis, Danny Wilson, Love and Money and Deacon Blue crediting the group as influences of one kind or another, a quiet regard for their music seems to have returned.
The idea behind this piece -- and three more to follow -- is to look at their records from a critic's point of view, using the reviews of their LPs, as they originally appeared in the music press, as raw material.
It's easy to pass comment on these items with hindsight, but nevertheless they make interesting reading.
But where to begin... let's go back to 1972 again where our fearless reporter was still enthusing about Steely Dan's debut platter.
In a rather unassuming little piece, it said:
And then alongside personal reminiscences of pedal steels and Dallas itself, the reviewer offers the most striking observation:
The review as a whole seems harmless enough, but it does not really offer the reader an in-depth opinion of what the single was really like.
It's certainly a million miles away from today's form of journalism, which sometimes takes itself so seriously that the review is often more important than the music it describes.
To be fair, our Dallas reporter had very little information on which to work, as details of the group's origins were thin on the ground, at this stage.
Indeed, details of the group's origins were nonexistent to this reviewer, who concludes by saying:
Can't Buy A Thrill apparently took only three weeks to make, (depending on which interview you believe) which, in comparison to their latter-day releases, is exceptionally quick by their standards.
In an interview with the band that appeared in March 1973, Denny Dias admitted that in his opinion, the LP had been "thrown together":
Despite Dias's lack of enthusiasm, and the aging process that can take its toll on a lot of the LPs of the early '70s, the album still has a freshness and an originality that makes a lot of the other albums of the day tame by comparison.
The band were hardly new to the "recording process," having been around in various guises prior to the formation of the group, and these early Becker/Fagen tunes, written over a lengthy period of time, were not the first songs to be attempted by the duo in the studio environment.
Nevertheless, with Dallas sinking without trace, Can't Buy A Thrill took a lot of people by surprise, and generally the critics loved it.
Unfortunately, the arrival of the band, seemingly from nowhere, resulted in the age-old game of pigeonholing; a journalistic ploy that generally is used when a new band hits the streets with a stunning new record.
For some obscure reason, a group is automatically labelled by comparing them with as many other artists as possible, though most of these so-called influences seem wildly off the mark today. For example:
Others were nearer the mark. In the States, Stanley M. Jay of the Library Journal Preview mentions their obvious Latin influences and perhaps their not-so-obvious jazz influences, whilst James Isaacs of Rolling Stone (more of him later), seemed to be the only person with any idea of what the band sounded like in pre-Thrill days.
For the most part, there was a general agreement that here was a band with a difference -- responsible for an album that was most impressive for a debut platter.
In Britain, for example, some of the reviewers were almost orgasmic in their praise:
Among all of this critical backslapping, one gets the general impression that everyone agreed that Do It Again and Reelin' In The Years were the strongest songs on the album, and therefore worthy of single release.
In the States, James Isaacs of Rolling Stone agreed with this assumption, but did not write about the album as a whole in such glowing terms.
The two aforementioned items were singled out for praise, alongside one other album track, Dirty Work.
But as for the rest...
If you figure that the group's moniker and the blowjob lips and floozies on the hideous cover portend an album of cast iron cuts, figure again, friend. The Dan's forte is more cha cha than churning chomp.
As we have previously mentioned, Isaacs seemingly had access to the material recorded by Becker and Fagen in their earlier days, and in comparing that material with this LP, he gives the album the thumbs-down, generally.
Despite these misgivings, the album went gold in the States, whilst in England its critical success counted for nothing. The LP failed miserably.
In the time between the first and second albums, Steely Dan started headlining in America with the promise of a tour of Europe to follow.
David Palmer, the band's lead singer, was jettisoned for the usual "musical differences," and in on magazine article, Denny Dias talked about the new direction the now five-piece Steely Dan were going to take:
That's going to be the bone of tone of the next album.
Countdown to Ecstasy was certainly quite different from its predecessor, with each of the eight tracks showing a complexity and diversity gained from a new confidence, especially within the studio.
Some people, though, did not agree.
It's all a matter of opinion, of course, but Circus were practically out on their own as almost everybody else gave the LP as much praise as it could possibly merit. There were one or two exceptions:
Once again, as before, most of the critical acclaim came from England. Indeed all three of the rock paper tabloids gave glowing reports.
In the USA, Rolling Stone, arguably the most influential of papers at this time, were still slow to catch on.
Now represented by one David Logan, he seemed reluctant to join in the fun, in a does-he-like-it-or-not review.
Apart from calling Razor Boy and The Boston Rag "rather nondescript ditties," he says:
With Countdown to Ecstasy showing a musical progression from the first album, one cannot entirely understand Logan's "exploitation theory," but then again, any person who says that: Steely Dan may well be the American danceband equivalent of Slade as he does, cannot be taken too seriously!
This time around, everybody's favorite track seemed to differ from person to person.
Hence Pearl of the Quarter is called "a cultured pearl of a tune" by Stereo Review; Show Biz Kids, according to Downbeat is "the most scintillating selection from the LP." My Old School is the "best of an example of songs of which everyone can dance to," as far as Records and Recordings were concerned, and in Melody Maker's opinion, The Boston Rag has "a chorus that once heard you could never forget.
The remaining four tracks each received equal billing elsewhere.
Wading through the many words written about this album, one constantly comes across paragraphs of high praise. Choose from any of the following:
The album, of course, was the last to be made by "the band."
From now on Becker and Fagen were to take sole control of Steely Dan, using the group name for their own purposes.
Even though they did not really split until midway through the recording of the next album, it's interesting to note that a lot more attention was paid to Becker and Fagen's songwriting talents for this record, as the respective positions of the group members became more clearly defined.
Unfortunately, the album met the same fate as before, selling well in the USA, but only achieving good air play and poor record sales in Britain.
It was to take a little while longer for this situation to change, and in conclusion to this first part, two final quotes taken from an American and a British review respectively, sum up best their positions within the two countries at this point.
Last modified on Fri May 31 10:22:05 1996