Tag Archives: Steely Dan

1001 Songs – 1977: Part Two

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

Black Betty – Ram Jam

Okay, I started listening to a later remix of this before the beat was a bit too modern and dancey for a blues rock song from 1977. Then when I found the correct version… it still felt incredibly modern and one of those songs that really was crying out for a dance remix.

‘Black Betty’ is this brilliant mixture of boogie-woogie and hard rock that is a cover of an old African-American work song. Needless to say, that due to the origins and content of the song (and that this band were white) this song managed to conjure up a bit of controversy at the time. It’s still a great execution, even if the content is a bit wanting.

Born for a Purpose – Dr. Alimantado & The Rebels

The further we get into reggae’s evolution, the more it is progressing into something that I am no longer dreading. The production is cleaner, which means that the lyrics are taking centre stage. There is also a whole lot more variation in the song, which is really necessary when you are making something nearly 6 minutes long.

It’s just a pity that these developments never became universal within reggae, but horses for courses I suppose.

Zombie – Fela Kuti & Africa 70

Time for the list to make a rare veering off of Western music and highlight a genre that I have yet to hear before: Afrobeat.

This is a word I’ve heard a number of times to generically refer to music from Africa, but I’m not surprised that such a cool name has also been applied to a genre; in this instance a genre fusing West African musical styles with jazz and funk from America.

At twelve and a half minutes long, and lyrics only starting just before the halfway mark, it’s definitely hard to ignore the jazz influence. Like Fela Kuti himself, ‘Zombie’ is a very political song aimed at the military in his native Nigeria for following orders without thoughts.

Wuthering Heights – Kate Bush

Time for debut song of one of my favourite artists of all time. The first time where a woman got to number one in the UK charts with a song she wrote herself. And she was 18. And she was raised in a neighbouring major town.

I’m biased because I love Kate Bush, but ‘Wuthering Heights’ is one of those watershed moments in music. This song is 458th in this list and there hasn’t been much like this before.

It’s the birth of art pop and a host of other genres It’s the song that influenced a huge section of female singers afterwards. And she was 18 with massive acclaim still to come in her life.

Not bad for a song written from the perspective of a ghost in Emily Brontë’s classic gothic novel (specifically from the BBC adaptation… not the book) because Kate Bush just happened to like the idea.

Uptown Top Ranking – Althea & Donna

I believe that this is the first reggae song I have heard on this list with female vocals. That alone makes this a really interesting entry. Then you figure in that it was the first song by a female duo to top the UK starts and it was all down to radio DJ John Peel playing it by accident… welll it just makes for a really interesting story.

The song itself is more of a step back to earlier reggae, especially when compared to ‘Born For A Purpose’ in terms of the repetition and the overall style. However it still has the progression because of the cleaner production. Not entirely sure how this became a hit, but it’s great to finally hear some female reggae artists.

I Feel Love – Donna Summer 

Third female vocalist in a row, that must be some sort of record for this list so far. Like ‘Wuthering Heights’ earlier, ‘I Feel Love’ is another of those landmark records. Not only is this the moment where disco went electronic and started to bleed into other neighbouring genres and inspire new ones, this was the moment that electronic music gained sung lyrics and a kick drum.

Giorgio Morordor’s production is sublime as he takes you on this hypnotic journey. Together with Donna Summer’s breathy and other-worldly vocals, ‘I Feel Love’ is one of those songs that can still make you take time and zone out completely. It was an instant classic in a year of genre-defining moments that still has plenty of songs to go.

Peg – Steely Dan

Time for something a bit more conventional as we get to ‘Peg’ by Steely Dan (a song I first heard as a cover by Nerina Pallot). After some pretty major songs, it’s actually quite nice to have this as a mental break after so many heavy hitters.

This isn’t a revolutionary song, but it’s a nice song that helps exemplify the jazz-infused soft rock genre. It’s a nice signpost of the other types of rock that were out there at the time. Nice to hear the softer side sometimes.

Marquee Moon – Television

Well, I did say at the beginning of the month that I would be hearing ‘Marquee Moon’ again. Thanks to my initial listen to the album, I now associate this album (and song) with the ill-informed act of putting up a flatpack bookshelf in 33 degree heat.

Listening to this in a historical context as a song, rather than in the running order of the album, really does change how I perceive this song. In the album, ‘Marquee Moon’ is this epic moment, but on it’s own it overstays its welcome as a nearly 11-minute song.

It is worth repeating though that ‘Marquee Moon’ and its album really were what punk had to morph into after the initial explosion went alight like touch-paper. This post-punk genre persisted much longer than punk every could have, and I am thankful for that.

Like a Hurricane – Neil Young

It’s probably because it’s been a long time since I last did a Neil Young album for the blog (which it definitely is and I still have his 1975 album Tonight’s The Night to listen to), but I have never heard him embracing his electric side.

I know that this is one of Neil Young’s big songs and that it is a classic within the genre, but surrounded by the other songs of the year I just don’t see it doing anything particularly big or new. It’s a song that overstays it’s welcome, unlike the longer ‘Zombie’, and… yea it just left me really cold.

The Passenger – Iggy Pop

What a great song to finsh the post on. Such a change from his earlier 1977 song ‘Dum Dum Boys‘ where he was casting off the identity of the past as part of his solo debut album.

‘The Passenger’ comes from Iggy Pop’s second album of 1977 (because why not release your first two solo albums in the same year) and is far less experimental and more focused on bringing an older rock and roll style and applying some more punk musical elements to it.

Like most people my age, I know ‘The Passenger’ from a car commercial and it’s one of those songs that has managed to make me smile whenever I hear it being played. After his previous song from 1977 it’s great to hear Iggy Pop back in his element and with a lot more confidence.

Progress: 464/1021

1001 Songs – 1972: Part Two

Silver Machine – Hawkwind

Starting off today’s batch of songs with a bit of space rock that helped to introduce the world to Lemmy (who, obviously, later goes on to found and front Motörhead). It’s the meshing of harder rock guitars and sci-fi bleeps and bloops that make this space rock and, therefore, an interesting addition to the list. I guess this is what happens when a prog rock and psychedelic rock are given access to electronic instruments – which means we are one step closer to the world of shoegaze… which I am looking forward to see being born.

I like a long intro in a song, but it was a bit long for something that never opened up an album. By the time Lemmy properly got into it, the song was over and it was a few bleeps and bloops left before the end. Still, it’s another one of those signposts for what was beginning to happen in 1972.

Tumbling Dice – The Rolling Stones

Listening to this reminds me just how much I need to listen to and cross off Exile from Main St. from my albums list. This is an album that is ranked within the top 10 of all albums ever released and ‘Tumbling Dice’ is the track chosen to represent this album on the songs list.

With ‘Tumbling Dice’ the Rolling Stones are still doing their blues rock thing, as they had been doing for nearly a decade by this point, but it’s such an interesting labyrinth of a song whose runtime is under 4 minutes. On the surface it feels it would be a bit piecemeal – there are so many changes along the way that it keeps your ear out for what is coming next. I can’t even begin to imagine how you would put a song like this together. Maybe I should listen to this album soon…

Thirteen – Big Star

I thought this song sounded familiar – Elliot Smith did a cover of this which was later released on his posthumous New Moon collection.

‘Thirteen’ is a sweet folk song about adolescence, but the earlier part of adolescence where things are still a bit more innocent. It’s interesting to hear him name check ‘Paint it Black’ by the Rolling Stones because that feels so honest to what a teenager at that time would have started to get into. On the whole it’s simple, effective and emotionally honest.

Big Eyed Beans from Venus – Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band

God, how long has it been since I listened to Trout Mask Replica. A long time, and I had forgotten how surreal Captain Beefheart could be. However, unlike anything I’ve heard of his before, ‘Big Eyed Beans from Venus’ was part of a body of work created as an attempt to create a more commercial album. This, in effect, was a leftover track from another album which then got included in their second of two albums of 1972.

It’s sticking very much with his idea of a surreal avant garde blues rock with lyrics that I can’t exactly make heads nor tails of. However, this does feel more in line with other songs I’ve heard so far in the 1972 section of the 1001 songs list. It still has the chaotic threads of a Captain Beefheart song, but it’s tempered down to the point where this feels like a mainstream compromise on his own terms.

Rocket Man – Elton John

Hands up – I cannot hear this song without thinking of the William Shatner spoken word version. Try as I might, I just close my eyes and I see Shatner delivering this as a weird trio performance.

Expelling the image of Shatner from my brain – ‘Rocket Man’ feels like a song that could have been produced if The Beatles hadn’t split up and were then finding influence from David Bowie. It’s a cool idea to write a song about the future of space travel to the point where being an astronaut is an everyday job, kind of en par with being a space trucker.

Speaking of space, this is another song from this year where space age sounds are being used to supplement rock compositions – and this is 10 years after ‘Telstar’ did a lot of the intial leg work.

Mama Weer All Crazee Now – Slade

Looking at the album cover of Slayed? I swear that Noddy Holder has always looked like he was at least in his 40s. Also, like people, the main thing I know Slade from is ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’, so any other songs of theirs can feel a bit jarring.

With ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’ it’s clear that metal and glam rock is about to explode from it’s confines within the wider genre of hard rock, but the time isn’t uite yet. It’ll only be a year before this songs list sees that spillover and temporarily take over the air waves before punk and disco become firmly established. It’s a full body adrenaline rush of a song that must have killed when played live. I guess we’ll see how this develops further when ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ arrives in 1973.

Rocky Mountain High – John Denver

Well at least I won’t be having to sit through ‘Annie’s Song’ as part of the songs list. I know it’s famous and well loved, but it’s really been overdone (as the choir episode of The Vicar of Dibley would tell you).

Like how ‘City of New Orleans’ was a love letter to the railways of America that were under threat, ‘Rocky Mountain High’ is John Denver singing about his love of the Colorado mountains. It’s full of beautiful images of the mountains and watching the sunset whilst enjoying the countryside. Towards the end of the song, he turns on the tourists who are ruining his beloved Rockies which does wack you in the face… in a good way.

The Night – Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons

This shows my ignorance, but I didn’t realise that Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons lasted past the end of the 1960s. Let alone move towards the Motown family of record labels and craft something quite like ‘The Night’.

Not mincing words, but I thought that ‘The Night’ was extraordinary. This is a piece of blue-eyed soul with Phil Spector style of production. I mean, this hits so many things that would make me love a song. A dark song with beautiful harmonies and a massive production that just gives off hints of menace. This is such an about turn from ‘Working My Way Back To You’ that to call it a maturation in their sound is underselling it. Just such a pity that it never really took off in the US.

Reelin’ in the Years – Steely Dan

I guess it was the name that gave me this idea, but I always figured Steely Dan would be a metal act. So here I am girding my loins for something more in the realm of Slade, but instead I’m getting what would have happened if The Beach Boys had decided to make their music move towards the hard rock sub genre.

This is described as jazz rock in the book (which means yet another sub-genre of rock that I need to keep track of) and I am keen to see how this genre develops as I really liked the softer rock, the harmonies and the more upbeat blues structure. They have a few albums in the Acclaimed Albums Top 1000… which further illustrates the need with me to speed the hell up.

Always on My Mind – Elvis Presley

The timing of this song feels like something from a Hollywood biopic. Elvis separates from his wife Priscilla and within weeks is recording a song about how he should have been a better husband. The problem that I have is that despite the situation, Elvis’s version feels somewhat detached. Other artists would have been able to use this as an opportunity to unburden their feelings – but Elvis is a singer, not an artist, and there is a fundamental difference there.

I can see why, for the narrative, this version of the song is on the list – but better versions have since been done by Willie Nelson, the Pet Shop Boys and Loretta Lynn.

Progress: 363/1021