Steely Dan Sunday: The Five Best Steely Dan Covers
7 September 2014
For such a popular and well-known band that was conceived around an elite songwriting team, Steely Dan’s songs aren’t covered as much as you might think they should. Is it the seductive complexity of the songs that makes them too hard to render? Have musicians decided that they were so perfectly executed when Steely Dan recorded them that there’s no use in trying to compete against these versions? Or is the genius of Becker and Fagen still underappreciated after all these years?
We’ve dug deep, however, and did find plenty enough to satisfy your soul, and not just the ones that make up most of the Me, Myself and Irene soundtrack. That includes some ‘solo’ SD compositions and even a few that didn’t make it on Steely Dan/Donald Fagen/Walter Becker albums.
Steely Dan enthusiasts S. Victor Aaron and Preston Frazier screen the covers and each pick their five favorite ones, from a wide diversity of artists applying a wide diversity of styles to these songs. What better way to appreciate the brilliance of Becker and Fagan than to hear their songs sounding so great even when other people are playing them…
S. VICTOR AARON
5. Barrytown – Ben Folds Five, from Me, Myself and Irene OST: BFF plays it straight and adds little to the original. So why is it on this list? Because with the rollicking, folk-rock piano-based melody and the sneering, put-down lyrics, it’s as if Becker and Fagen wrote this song specifically for Ben Folds.
4. Pearl Of The Quarter – Boz Scaggs, from Memphis: With a classic arrangement that sits somewhere between Memphis soul and Philly soul, Scaggs caresses this Big Easy Becker/Fagen love song with his signature smooth croon.
3. Gold Teeth II – Herbie Hancock, from The New Standard: It’s on the European release of the jazz piano legend’s 1996 set of pop covers, but strangely left off the American one. Hancock and his elite band of Michael Brecker, John Scofield, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette swap out chords, push hard against the song’s parameters and vacillate between a waltz and 4/4 swing, topped off by Brecker’s soul-saturated tenor sax solo in place of Denny Dias’ guitar.
2. Were You Blind That Day – Luciana Souza, from The New Bossa Nova: Souza chooses the more scathing lyrics that were eventually replaced for “Third World Man” and her slightly-behind-the beat phrasing quietly gives the song the poignancy it seeks.
1. Show Biz Kids – Rickie Lee Jones, from It’s Like This: Accompanied by a coffeehouse acoustic bass, spare percussion and not much else, Jones molds “Show Biz Kids” into her beatnik image. She repeats the climatic profane-laced line with a disgusted sneer over and over until it nearly reaches a shout, like someone trying to sound hip. Only, she actually does sound hip.
5. Bodhisattva by Toto from Live In Amsterdam: – Chorus guitars of Steve Lukather and Tony Spiner compliment Bobby Kimbell/Tony Spinner vocals. Simon Phillips makes you wonder why he’s never played with Steely Dan.
4. Dallas – Poco, from The Last Roundup: This version of Poco’s cover of the first Steely Dan single smokes due to pedal steel player, Rusty Young’s fire and strong vocals by Paul Cotton and SD studio ace Timothy B. Schmidt.
3. Big Noise, New York – Carolyn Leonhart and Wayne Escoffery, from Tides Of Yesterday: This version by the husband and wife team is the most jazzy of the many covers of this song. Leonhart, a SD alum since 1994 provides a sassy vocal and Escoffrey blows his tenor sax with the zeal befitting a SD sax solo.
2. Chain Lightning – Cornelius Bumpus, from Known Fact: The late Steely Dan sideman/saxophonist played the song countless times yet delivers a bluesy version of his last solo album. If you don’t have Known Fact get it.
1. Megashine City – Drew Zingg, from Drew Zingg:. Another SD sideman/guitarist with a song they never recorded. Perhaps they are still working on lyrics for this rocking instrumental. Zingg’s version expertly produced by guitarist George Walker Petit allows Zingg to do what he does best.
Off the top of my head, my personal five would be the aforementioned Herbie Hancock version of Gold Teeth II and...
Sara Colman - Book of Liars
The Push Stars - Bad Sneakers (but the studio version...)
Sara Isaksson and Rebecka Tornqvist - Barrytown
Cryptacize - Peg... but since I couldn't find a video for that one (though you can read about it and listen to it here: http://www.stereogum.com/9499/cryptacize_cover_steely_dan/tour-dates/), here's an equally good one: Harmonious Wail covering Home at Last: