Periodically, I plan to use this space to pay homage to artists who I believe are worthy of focused attention — artists with an extraordinary, consistently excellent body of work. Some are commercial superstars; others have slipped under the radar of many readers. Most will be somewhere in between those extremes.
In this essay, I look at the curious assemblage known as Steely Dan.
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A lot of popular music — perhaps too much of it — is predictable. For more than half a century, radio play has typically gone to the songs and artists that cater to the masses. Safe, accessible, painless to interpret and assimilate. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that. But like many music aficionados, I tend to prefer art that somehow pushes the boundaries, explores the unusual, juxtaposes disparate elements, and yet wraps it in an aurally pleasing manner that’s memorable and gratifying.
In a nutshell, that describes the repertoire of Steely Dan, one of the strangest, most musically intelligent, lyrically cryptic “bands” to emerge from the fertile late ’60s/early ’70s period.