Walter Becker’s death recently had me thinking about old albums.
Some people can hang on to their musical tastes over decades. I see these grey old blokes in the crowd at Status Quo gigs in their tour t-shirts, ecstatically jumping up and down; have they not listened to anything else in those years in between youth and old age? How in love with music are they?
Since Youtube, and more lately Spotify, I’m often searching for an old song I once liked only to be dismayed how bad it sounds to me now. Really I’m talking about “rock music”, the music of my youth, guitar bands, basically, usually fronted by some screaming white vocalist. I also used to listen to “soul” but that still sounds good, so it’s just my taste for rock music that’s gone. These are just odd songs revisited; I couldn’t bring myself to listen to a whole album.
So, Walter Becker’s death had me wondering if those albums I used to love still had something to say. Naturally, I’d start with Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic, a masterpiece in its day and one which I thought of as a perfect album – an album without highs and lows, one with a kind of mood theme, and produced without an ounce of fat (no fillers).
I first heard the opening song, Rikki Don’t Lose That Number at school in “Christmas Entertainments” (this was a comedy sketch and music show put on every year by the entertainments society or stage club or theatre incorporated or whatever they were called). I think the band was called Double Diamond, which was the name of a crap beer, the kind that was anathema to the campaign for real ale. If I’m right, then I’m sure the lead guitarist was a teacher and the other four members were pupils (one of which has made a successful career as a professional pop musician).
The people who invented Google hadn’t even been born, so I don’t know how easy it was to track the song down then. I may have been told it was Steely Dan’s by someone in the know, or I may have heard the original on the radio sometime after. Then it was a matter of hot-footing it to the record shop and seeing which album it was on. I bought Pretzel Logic on the strength of that one song.
How to describe the album? It was unusual compared to most rock albums of the time that I don’t know if it is rock by rights. The songs seem more intellectual than most though the lyrics are somewhat obscure. I’ve heard them described as musical short-stories, each song, compact by that day’s standards, features its own protagonist, often if not entirely in the noir genre of storytelling: shady characters, down-and-outs, dealers, misfits and crooks. It’s distanced further from standard rock fare by its hints of jazz influences – Charlie Parker, Horace Silver and, of course, Duke Ellington’s East St. Louis Toodle-oo. There’s also occasional funkiness and use of horns.
It had to be at least twenty years since I last listened to Pretzel Logic from beginning to end. I think it remains a good album; timeless, as they say. And to me it’s still one of my “perfect albums”, consistently good without highs or lows.
Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number
Night By Night
Any Major Dude Will Tell You
East St. Louis Toodle-oo
Through With Buzz
With A Gun
Monkey In My Soul