Sunday, November 30, 2014

LP of the Week - "Katy Lied," Steely Dan (1975)

Every year around Thanksgiving time, I think of this album because of the opening cut, "Black Friday" - a song that predated (by two or three decades) the capitalistic bacchanal that "the day after" has become.  Even with that being the case, there is a lyric that could easily apply to what the day has become in the modern age:

When Black Friday falls you know it's got to be
Don't let it fall on me

I didn't give "Katy Lied" its proper due when the album was released in the spring of 1975, but in my defense, a) it was released on the heels of three consecutive masterpieces; and b) I was only 15 years old.  At the time, I lamented the fact that "Steely Dan" no longer seemed to be a band.  This was the first of their albums that openly listed all of the session contributors, and while over time it would come to be a given that "Steely Dan" really meant "Fagen and Becker," that wasn't the case back then.  Back then, I didn't appreciate all the names appearing in the album's credits- Phil Woods, Michael Omartian, Jeff Porcaro, Hal Blaine, David Paich, Rick Derringer and Larry Carlton among them - but nearly four decades later, it's pretty clear that when it came to session men, Becker and Fagen chose nothing but the best.

It's also fair to say that "Katy Lied" was a transitional album, bridging the gap between the the eras when the band really was a band and the glossy sound that would characterize "Aja" and "Gaucho," the final two albums of the Dan's first incarnation.  But having said that, "Katy Lied" is brilliant in its own right, and includes at least three songs that deserve a place in the "Dan pantheon" - "Doctor Wu," "Chain Lightning," and "Any World (That I'm Welcome To)," as well as several others ("Bad Sneakers," "Rose Darling," "Black Friday" and "Everyone's Gone to the Movies") that are nearly as good.  The only real weak cut on the LP is the last one, "Throw Back the Little Ones," which if nothing else gives a clue to the direction that Becker and Fagen would be heading on their next effort, "The Royal Scam."

Another sign of the direction that Becker and Fagen were heading with Steely Dan is in the rather lengthy description (longer than the musical credits) of how the album was recorded.  In it, there's references to "very expensive German microphones," "master lacquers done on a Neumann VMS 70 computerized lathe," "variable depth helium cooled cutting heads" and "computer logic circuits."  Knowing what we now know about the dynamic duo, this very well could have been an early manifestation of their somewhat odd sense of humor.

No comments: