Monthly Archives: August 2012

“Reelin’ In The Years”

Like coffee, Steely Dan is a bit of an acquired taste.  I grew up in a household where, for a few years, there were only two CD’s in the house: The Beatles REVOLVER and A DECADE OF STEELY DAN.  That greatest hits compilation gathered quite a bit of dust.  The appeal of a band like The Beatles is instant and able to transcend age and experience.  The appeal of a band like Steely Dan is…a bit more complicated.

To be fair, I never gave Steely Dan more than a causal listen before casting them off as “lame.”  I must say, the band has a certain reputation among rock fans, many write them off as “dad rock”, self-indulgent, and worst of all: boring.  One of my all-time favorite comedians, George Carlin, even has a pretty funny joke that has the lameness of the band’s fans as part of it’s punchline.  Another factor at play in my inability to fully enjoy Steely Dan was my own ignorance of jazz.  Steely Dan, unlike most rock bands, are more jazz-influenced than they are blues-influenced. Jazz is a funny thing, and like coffee (and Steely Dan) a bit of an acquired taste.

“You been tellin’ me you’re a genius
Since you were seventeen
In all the time I’ve known you
I still don’t know what you mean”

And so, I remained ignorant of the greatness of Steely Dan until my second-to-last year of college.  I was driving home from school one autumn afternoon when I heard “Reelin’ In The Years” on the local classic rock radio station.  I’m sure I’d heard it before, but I must not have been ready because that afternoon I was struck-dumb by the song.

“Reelin’ In The Years” is  awesome for two reasons: the blazing guitar work and the incredible delivery of the lyrics.  The guitar work is exceptional, so much so that guitar god Jimmy Page has been quoted as saying that the guitar solo in “Reeling In The Years” is his all-time favorite solo.  That’s mighty praise.  Singer Donald Fagen has gone on to sort of roll his eyes when it comes to the song, calling it “Dumb but effective.”   And I guess it’s effective, like a shotgun’s effective when fired within a foot of it’s target.  To be fair, “Reelin’ In The Years” is a great blunderbuss of a song compared to the more nuanced work Steely Dan produced over their long run.  I guess the fact that it’s more of a straight-up rocker is part of the reason it’s the most-played Steely Dan song on classic radio today.

“Reelin’ In The Years” would be an noteworthy if all it consisted of was Elliott Randall’s out-of-this-world solo-but then there are the song’s lyrics, which perfectly match the quality of the guitar work.  Like all of Steely Dan’s best songs, “Reelin’ In The Years” is equal parts bitter and wistful.  “Reelin’ In The Years” is accusatory and at the same time filled with a sad-sort of desperation.  Steely Dan’s lyrics are famously opaque, but on “Reelin’ In The Years” the band is a bit more on-the-nose obvious than usual, without the usual literary flair or West Coast double-talk found in most of their songs.  I think that’s another reason why the song is so popular on classic rock radio: it doesn’t take a PhD in English to figure out what the hell the song is about.

Admittedly not the coolest dudes in rock.

All the best lyrics in the world don’t mean anything if the delivery is off, though.  The lyrics, though a bit dumbed-down as far as Steely Dan songs go, are delivered spectacularly.  They come come fast and furious.  There’s so much venom in Fagen’s voice as he spits the words out, his voice barely keeping up with the wailing guitar.  The amount of information, the sheer volume of emotion and narrative conveyed so perfectly and so quickly it’s downright Dylan-esque.

The song ended and I switched off the radio.  I went home and got online and started reading about the band, trying to figure out which album I was going to buy first.  A month later I went back home to visit my parents, before I left I found that dusty copy of A DECADE OF STEELY DAN.  Without asking, I slipped the album into my duffle bag and have never looked back.  I never thought I’d be a Steely Dan fan, but I am.

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Pig River Records

As history buff, I think there’s something both enjoyable and infinitely rewarding in re-examining the past.  The good folks over at Pig River Records agree, and to that end have constructed a very unique website dedicated to re-examining and enjoying the music of the early 1960’s.  The website “was established on the 1st of January 2012, (1962) since which time it has seamlessly reported on the world of music as if it were happening today.” 

The website features both full-album and single-track reviews, as well as thoughtful essays on the music scene of 1962.  There’s even a music stream of the songs featured on the website.  It’s a fascinating endeavor that’s equal-parts time-capsule, museum curation, and rock criticism.  Artists commonly overlooked or (even worse) forgotten by today’s generation of music fans are given their proper due in the same breath at Bob Dylan and Chuck Berry.

In addition to my duties here at DEFENDING AXL ROSE, I have graciously been afforded the opportunity to contribute to Pig River Records.  If you would be so kind, please go and visit Pig River Records.  Tell them Axl sent you. 

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The Defending Axl Rose 100th Post Spectacular!

This is my 100th post here at DEFENDING AXL ROSE. I’ve been vaguely aware that the 100th post was looming on the horizon, and as such I’ve been trying to figure out what to do to commemorate this (small) milestone. In the end, I decided to go back to the very beginning. Not to December of 2011 when I saw an interview with Axl Rose on VH1 Classics (the impetus for this blog), but rather ALL the way back.

It’s embarrassing, but my earliest memories of music are of The Thompson Twins. My mother was a Thompson Twins fan and in the early 1980’s that was what was playing in our house. “King For A Day” and “Don’t Mess With Dr. Dream” were the soundtrack to my early, brain-forming years. I guess that explains why I am so hopelessly, utterly fucked-up. Luckily, it wasn’t all bad 80’s synth music in my house, I was also exposed to The Beatles very early in life. I have many fond memories of jumping on couches with my little sister listening to REVOLVER. That more than makes up for having the Thompson Twins forced upon me.

Right after I saw WAYNE’S WORLD (with it’s awesome “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene) I went to the mall and bought my very first music-purchase: a cassette copy of CLASSIC QUEEN. I still have the cassette:

From there it was a steady decline into to the seedy world of CD’s, vinyl records, turn tables, MP3 players, foreign music magazines, and did I mention CD’s? I own a modest 500+, but only because my wife has made me feel a bit self-conscious about my collection. There was a time (pre-Spotify to be sure) where I’d buy six or seven CD’s a week. Some of my favorite memories involve record stores. I’ll still never forget the time I went to the Virgin Record store in Nashville, it was like a dream come true…to this day I’m convinced they had every single album I wanted/would ever want (even stuff that hadn’t been recorded yet!). I know I’m supposed to hate big-chain stores, and I do, but that Virgin Record store was my idea of heaven. That’s all gone now, which is probably just as well. If heaven existed on Earth, what would mankind strive for?

Speaking of striving and working, I have pledged to continue to work on DEFENDING AXL ROSE until the end of 2012. I can’t say what will happen after that, but if people remain interested (and there’s still awesome music to write about) I’ll keep going. I want to thank everyone who’s ever commented on one of my posts, it really does mean a lot. Since starting this blog I’ve discovered a really cool online community of music nerds that have made me feel super-welcomed. So big thanks to them as well. I’ve added a Blog-Roll to the side-bar, anyone reading this should go visit all of those websites (they’re all awesome).

I guess that’s it for now. One hundred down.

Rock On.

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Presenting The Summer Jam of 2012: “Slow Days Fast Company”

Summer.  The Cars once sang, “Summer…it turns me upside down. Summer, summer, summer. It’s like a merry-go-round.”  Oh, oh, it was  magic.  I guess that’s about right.  Except now I’m old, so instead of days off at the beach all I get is a sweaty upper-lip on my morning drive to my shitty office job.  It kinda sucks getting older, doesn’t it?  Kids have the freedom of summer but no money or car to really do anything with all that time.  I have (a very small amount of) money and a car and I’m stuck in an climate-controlled death-chamber pushing papers like a drone.  It’s not fair.

The romantic in me likes to think that that somewhere, someone is having THE summer of their lives.  While it’s hard for me to believe that Summer 2012 is an amazing, stupendous event…Blonde Summer have just released a song that’s (nearly) made me a believer once again.

Summer fun…just add water.

“Slow Days Fast Company” is everything that summer should have been but never was (for me at least) growing up.  Listening to it’s shimmering guitar tones and murky vocals is like spending an entire week at the beach with your best buds.  Like an echo from a simpler time, Blonde Summer have let me feel the magic of summer once again. I guess that’s something.  Sure, it’s hipster shit…but it’s hipster shit that makes me feel briefly good about life. 

The rest of SLOW DAZE is pretty good, too.  You should check it out–either at the beach or while you’re one your way to your crappy office job.

 

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