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Steely Dan – Reelin’ In The Years

February 22, 2015

Brian Sweet (Omnibus Press)

The style in which this book is written is a remarkably good fit for its subject matter. Comprehensive, obsessed with detail, slow-moving and a bit dull: the description applies equally well to both book and band. Brian Sweet does well to detail the labyrinthine sessions which eventually give birth to Steely Dan’s nine studio LPs plus assorted solo records . If you want to find out who played what, when and why then this is the book for you.

What is missing is any sense of context. Steely Dan first hit in the UK during the fallow period between the end of prog and the start of punk and made a considerable impact through the pages of NME where their wit and economy were lauded as an example of classy pop. Sweet makes no attempt at explaining why the songs of Becker and Fagen offered such stark relief against the then all-pervading wall-to-wall denim-clad World Of Rawk.  It was genuinely innovative in 1973 for a rock band to take its cues from Ellington, Monk and Parker and seemingly show no awareness of anything that had happened since the Beatles made their debut on Ed Sullivan. For that Steely Dan offer a fascinating (if scary) alternative vision of how rock’n’roll could have developed.

Becker and Fagen’s sleeve notes for the re-issue of Katy Lied apparently refer to an earlier version of this book as “controversial and critical”. Having read all 378 pages I can detect no trace of either.

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