Sunday Jazz: Star-Spangled Jazz

Here’s a handful of jazz songs (if not necessarily jazz compositions) to get your flags waving and your fireworks exploding (legally, of course).

So fresh — 10 Steely Dan songs that will never get old

Steely Dan (Donald Fagen & Walter Becker)Steely Dan is one of those bands that evokes an instant response from people — usually a big, goofy grin or wretching noises of some sort. There really seems to be no middle ground for people once they’ve been exposed to the unique and acerbic brand of jazz-rock practiced by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker.

Like a lot of others, I figured that the Dan was all about “Reelin’ in the Years” and “Black Cow,” and not much else. Boy how wrong was I! Here’s ten shining examples of what this great band has to offer beyond the classic rock radio staples, if only you’ll come along for the ride.

1 — “Fire in the Hole” (from Can’t Buy a Thrill, 1972)

No need to go any further than the band’s debut LP to find evidence of their greatness. And if you’re ever going to appreciate Fagen’s earnest but somewhat warbling vocal delivery, might as well start now. The way the tension built up over the verses resolves in such subtle beauty in the chorus as a joy to behold. A lot of Dan fans swear by Can’t Buy a Thrill as their best album, and this is one of the reasons why.

2 — “Kid Charlemagne” (from The Royal Scam, 1976)

If it’s good enough for Kanye West to base an entire song around, it’s good enough for the rest of us. Rhythmically this finds the Dan operating on a whole ‘nother plane (thanks to Bernard Purdie and Chuck Rainey), but what really takes this track over the top is the Larry Carlton guitar solo. It’s one of the crown jewels of ’70s music.

3 — “Here at the Western World” (from Greatest Hits, 1978)

This didn’t make the cut for The Royal Scam, a testament to that album’s potency. I can see why, though — it’s a relatively subdued track and doesn’t quite fit with what was their darkest album ever. Or maybe not, as it is about a brothel.

4 — “Parker’s Band” (from Pretzel Logic, 1974)

Fagen and Becker have made no secret that their shared love of jazz was one of the reasons they were so effective as a songwriting team. Elsewhere on Pretzel Logic they offered one of their only cover songs (of Duke Ellington’s “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo”), and here they blow the doors off the place with a smoking tribute to Charlie Parker. If this song doesn’t make you want to explore the Bird’s music, nothing will.

5 — “Aja” (from Aja, 1977)

Already a great song and the centerpiece of the Aja album (pronounced like Asia, by the way), the transcendence of this number is summed up in three words — Steve. Gadd. Drums. I’ll wait for you to pick your jaw up off the floor before we continue.

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