Steely Dan’s ‘The Royal Scam’ (MCA) Album Review and Retrospect

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If I am ever forced to live on a desert island (not a love island), and can only take one Steely Dan album, I would choose their fifth released in 1976, ‘The Royal Scam‘ (MCA).

Although often called their ‘guitar’ album, largely because it contains some fabulous guitar solos by the legendary Larry Carlton, and others, it wasn’t the easiest choice for me to make. The problem with Steely Dan albums is that they are all excellent and I love them all. The song writing is peerless, along with the musicianship and production. ‘Scam’ made it as my number one purely because it contains my favourite Dan track: ‘Don’t Take Me Alive’ – more of that later.

So what makes this album so good? Well, all of the above and then some. It might be said that this was a transitional album. After the 1974 release of the mighty ‘Pretzel Logic‘ (MCA), the ‘band’ that was Steely Dan fell away after the two leading lights and songwriters, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, decided touring wasn’t for them.

In many ways this was a shame to me. Jim Hodder was a fine drummer and also singer on their first album. Similarly Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, who was to join The Doobie Brothers, was a wonderful virtuoso guitarist who had contributed some fine work of his own on the first three albums.

Session Musicians Are King

From 1975 and the recording of ‘Katy Lied‘ (MCA) onwards the Dan would rely more and more on a succession of top notch session musicians to raise the quality of their recordings.

By 1976 musicians like Carlton and drummer Bernard Purdie were featuring in the recording of this album. When it was released the reviews were not too positive, yet when I first heard it as a precocious teenager, I was simply blown away. I had heard all their previous albums, thanks to a guitar playing friend who was into all things American.

Even so, the first track and single, ‘Kid Charlemagne’, to me did not sound too promising at first. It began with a funky, yet heavy sounding electric piano, though the song builds into something wonderful by the end. It tells a rather typical Dan story relating to drugs and associated wild lifestyle.

This track doesn’t have one but two brilliant guitar solos by the irreplaceable Larry Carlton. The most revered, in the middle of the song, is often ranked as one of the best ever guitar solos. The outro solo is, to my mind, almost as good.

A Transitional Album

Track two is one of my all time favourites, ‘The Caves of Altamira‘. It is apparently largely based upon a children’s book by Hans Baumann about a visit to the famous caves in Cantabria, Spain. This is typical Steely Dan, a jazz-fusion oriented song that sends you on a journey back into the mankind’s murky past, basically enlightening your imagination. Great tenor saxophone solo too by John Klemmer.

Then comes my favourite track of all, ‘Don’t Take Me Alive’. It is unusual in that it must contain the best ever guitar intro of all time, played once more by the inimitable Carlton. The song is about a lone, desperate terrorist, seemingly ill at ease with his own thoughts as the situation worsens. There is also a lovely, understated guitar figure before the final chorus, which to me suggests the individual flying through the air, maybe jumping out in a kind of release.

‘Sign in Stranger’ is another great track with much humour and word play. A great guitar solo by Elliott Randall. ‘The Fez’ is one of those rare Dan tracks that has a third writer, namely piano player Paul Griffin. To me this track also points more towards the style of music the ‘band’ would create more exclusively on ‘Aja’ and ‘Gaucho’ in years to come.

‘Green Earrings’ continues this more rock-fusion, funky trend on side two of the vinyl version, with wonderful guitar work by Denny Dias and Elliott Randall.

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‘Haitian Divorce’ is one their better known songs and singles, relating a sad, yet somehow humorous tale of a failed marriage. It is also one the Dan’s few nods to reggae.

‘Everything You Did’ is one of those songs which grows on you. At first listening it perhaps sounds like the weakest track on the album, yet its quirky story line and fine Carlton guitar work lift it. It is most noted for the line ‘Turn up the Eagles the neighbours are listening’, a possible reference to the pre Joe Walsh Eagles and their quieter, country rock influences. The line carried enough wait for a reply to be made in a much more famous song later in 1976, namely ‘Hotel California’.

The title track, placed unusually at the end, is surely one of Steely Dan’s most underrated songs. The story is straightforward enough about the experience of immigrants in NYC, yet what is unusual is the songwriters’ serious social conscience, which isn’t normally on display.

So that’s my take upon ‘The Royal Scam’. It has its critics, yet it contains virtually everything musically, with references to their past and future development. It is more polished than their earlier albums, but not nearing the point of ‘over production’ as heard on ‘Aja’ the following year.

Copyright Francis Barker 2020

 

 

 

Joni Mitchell / Buffy Sainte-Marie : The Circle Game

from Oannes Songs Of Childhood Nostalgia #2 Η σύνθεση της Joni Mitchell ηχογραφήθηκε πρώτα από την Buffy Sainte-Marie για το άλμπουμ της Fire & Fleet…

Joni Mitchell / Buffy Sainte-Marie : The Circle Game

Derecho Storm Strikes Midwest USA – We Are All At Nature’s Mercy

Derecho storm hits the Mid West.

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Photo by Andrew Beatson on Pexels.com

The Derecho storm cutting a trail of devastation across Midwest America is an example of how we are all at nature‘s mercy.

A derecho storm is a vast and usually long lasting wind with associated thunderstorms which runs in a straight line, the name meaning ‘straight’ in Spanish.

How often do we see events like this follow on from others, adding ‘insult to injury’? We can only pray that the threat to life is minimalised.

Copyright Francis Barker 2020

2020 ALBUM DRAFT- ROUND 4- PICK 6- ECLECTIC MUSIC LOVER SELECTS- ELTON JOHN- GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD — slicethelife (reblog)

2020 Album Draft- Round 4- Pick 6- Eclectic Music Lover-selects- Elton John- Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Eclectic Music Lover’s blog can be found at- https://eclecticmusiclover.com/ My pick for Round 4 is the monumental double album “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John. And while I don’t feel it qualifies as a true masterpiece, I think […]

via 2020 ALBUM DRAFT- ROUND 4- PICK 6- ECLECTIC MUSIC LOVER SELECTS- ELTON JOHN- GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD — slicethelife

*Great post, this brings back so many memories of Elton John and the early 70s.

American Presidents Quotes — Big Sky Buckeye (Reblog)

Andrew Johnson I feel incompetent to perform duties . . . which have been so unexpectedly thrown upon me. Ulysses S. Grant It was my fortune, or misfortune, to be called to the office of Chief Executive without any previous political training. Both of these American Presidents faced challenging times during their tenure […]

via American Presidents Quotes — Big Sky Buckeye

*Quite fitting during election year.

2020 ALBUM DRAFT- ROUND 4 PICK 1- INTROGROOVE SELECTS- JONI MITCHELL- BLUE — slicethelife (Reblog)

2020 Album Draft- Round 4- Pick 1- Introgroove selects- Joni Mitchell- Blue Introgroove’s blog can be found at – https://introgroove.com/ Judge: “Introgroove, you are accused of musical acculturation in the first degree. How do you plead?” Me: “Guilty as charged…” We’re now into the fourth round, and I realize I could fill my top 50 […]

via 2020 ALBUM DRAFT- ROUND 4 PICK 1- INTROGROOVE SELECTS- JONI MITCHELL- BLUE — slicethelife

Neil Young : Helpless [Songs Of Childhood Nostalgia] [reblog] — Marina Kanavaki

from Oannes Songs Of Childhood Nostalgia #1 Θα ακούσουμε μερικά τραγούδια νοσταλγίας για την παιδική ηλικία, γραμμένα από γνωστούς, ή όχι τόσο, καλλιτέχνες.Ξεκινάμε με ένα από τα πιο αγαπημένα μου τραγούδια του Neil Young. ✻ We will hear some songs of childhood nostalgia, written by well-known artists, or not very much so.We start with one […]

via Neil Young : Helpless [Songs Of Childhood Nostalgia] [reblog] — Marina Kanavaki

The 1960s Cultural Revolution – Part 2: Endemic Revolution

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In part one of this topic I commented on the social and cultural changes instigated around the mid 1960s, breaking off my narrative around the end of 1965 with the supremacy of The Beatles. I argued that the deep, fundamental astrological influence of the outer planets, most particularly the conjunction of Uranus and Pluto in 1965/6 was symbolic of these changes.

The first meeting of Uranus and Pluto was in October 1965, followed by two more conjunctions on April 6 and June 30 1966. The changes were truly worldwide, seemingly polarised in nature, all enhanced by media manipulation and/or the growing promotion of drugs like LSD. The latter is symbolised by Neptune’s positive sextile aspect to the other two outer planets at this time. Even sex was liberalised with the introduction of the pill, pushing the idea that women could be as ‘free’ as men.

At the same time we may have viewed the Cultural Revolution in China as being the opposite of the ‘liberation’ going on the ‘West’, perhaps seen in ‘reactionary’ Saturn being in opposition to the Uranus Pluto synod.

Yet when we analyse the rather divergent political systems, the actual processes were the same – revolution fostered by a saturation of propaganda, all to gain maximum power and control. Uranus upturns, Pluto grabs the reins, with Neptune providing a little deceitful cover in the form of film and other media propaganda as a way to persuade and ultimately deceive.

Pivotal London

China aside, just like the Uranus Pluto conjunctions of 1850/1, London and England once again seemed to be pivotal to the cultural changes, with the so called ‘British Invasion‘ and London becoming the hub of the new fashion scene, epitomised by such manifestations as Carnaby Street.

Interestingly the Beatles landmark album ‘Revolver’ (that is, revolution) was released in August 1966, a summation in music of what was going on. It was indeed a very revolutionary catalogue of songs, utilising unusual, highly sophisticated writing and recording techniques. This was truly one of the cultural icons of the age, symbolising innovation and change (Uranus) in music (Neptune), to instigate a change in the guard (Pluto).

Back in September 1966 Jimi Hendrix, arguably the most brilliant and influential guitarist ever, was brought to England, a step which was to propel him to superstardom at rocket speed within weeks. Although he would be dead within four years, Hendrix typifies the period of sudden change and vast, worldwide influence – a meteoric career indeed. Yet his star still burns bright in the minds of many today.

’68 – Year of Revolution

If 1966 really was the pivotal year, it led directly to the ‘Summer of Love‘ in 1967 and the explosion of creativity in art and culture, transcendental meditation et al. Accepted paradigms were being questioned, which in turn led to the 1968 year of revolution, which came very close to bringing down the French government, for example.

1968 was probably the most tense and tragic year of the decade. The Vietnam War was at its height, as were the protests against it. The call for change, positive or otherwise, was reaching a crescendo. Political leaders who might have been able to bring about such change, such as Martin Luther King Jr and Senator Robert Kennedy, were assassinated in the melee of confusion and hate.

Trying to assess the situation is difficult because of its complexity and the benefit of hindsight is indeed a valuable thing. It does not appear to be a simple case of left versus right, or even right and wrong.

Collective Uranus

Astrologically, Uranus has often been seen as ‘right wing’, but I disagree. I think Uranus simply represents the force for change, revolution, literally turning things over, as in the name ‘Revolver’. I therefore see Uranus as more what we might call ‘left wing’.

Pluto is fundamental, often the hidden power behind the scenes. As I have said, Neptune working in tandem provided the medium (music, art, film)  through which such changes could be started in that 1965/6 period.

Yet behind the passion play which was the 1960s narrative, was another, the so called ‘Space Race’, ultimately won by the USA when America landed a spacecraft visibly on a lunar surface.

Race to Oblivion?

The date was July 20 1969. Intriguingly, on this very day Uranus, planet of change and breaking barriers, was exactly conjunct the Greater Benefic Jupiter at 0 degrees Libra. To me this symbolised a conquest, not merely through the fact of the news headlines which followed, but in the long term reconfiguring of humanity at a global level. The lunar missions would peter out by the end of 1972 in a climate of disinterest: few would have predicted that.

Uranus is often credited in creating ‘individual’ tendencies when strong by position or aspect; it can manifest in individual personalities in traits like eccentricity. Nevertheless, Uranus is ultimately trans-personal and collective.

Continual Revolution – and Disillusion

It is no surprise all three outer planets were ‘discovered’ at times of great, revolutionary change; 1781, 1846 and 1930. The political manifesto most associated with all three the outer planets is socialism, a collective philosophy which has now spread to the entire world in various forms.

The 1960s began as an era of much promise, with a young American president taking office. The mid 1960s witnessed a vast cultural revolution, manifesting in various ways, depending on the political milieu of each country, though the same radical tactics were used. These were based on disruption and chaos (Uranus), confusion and deception through promotion of drugs and media (Neptune in aspect to both) and surreptitious power grabs (Pluto).

It is a sobering thought that the 1960s symbolically ended with the tragedy of the Altamont Festival on December 6. What had it all been for? Yet we are still living with the effects of the 1965/6 synod of Uranus and Pluto. The opposition will not be for a couple of decades. What kind of world will it be by then?

Copyright Francis Barker 2020

The unappreciated greatness of Steely Dan — Why Evolution Is True (Reblob)

The article below just appeared in the Boston Globe, written by Ty Burr, and it’s about how some young people are coming to appreciate the music of their elders, which they call “dad rock”. Oy! Click on the screenshot to read: The intro: One of the more satisfying cheap thrills that comes with getting old […]

via The unappreciated greatness of Steely Dan — Why Evolution Is True

2020 ALBUM DRAFT: ROUND 3: PICK 2: APHORISTICAL SELECTS JONI MITCHELL: COURT AND SPARK — reblog from slicethelife

University was a great time for learning about new music. I studied in a bigger city with better record shops, and I had a part-time job and a bigger record buying budget. I found lots of favourite records in second hand bins, bargain bins, and most especially second hand bargain bins. Of all the additions […]

via 2020 ALBUM DRAFT: ROUND 3: PICK 2: APHORISTICAL SELECTS JONI MITCHELL: COURT AND SPARK — slicethelife

The 1960s Cultural Revolution – Love Is All We Need? Part 1: The Dissonance of Neptune

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Photo by Mike from Pexels

Of course, the mid 1960s cultural revolution is the stuff of legend. I am just about old enough to remember significant parts of it.

I started school in January 1964, less than two months after the Kennedy Assassination, a matter of weeks before the Beatles made their first iconic appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in the United States in February.

The world really was changing and although few may have suspected it at the time, we had just got on board a big roller coaster. By the end of the decade the world really was a very different place.

Shaking Up

As someone who has had a long standing interest in astrology, I thought it was about time I had a look as to what was happening during this period.

Better astrologers than me, such as the great Dane Rudhyar, were assessing the situation with true vision around the time of the mid 1960s. They realised the significance of the Uranus Pluto conjunction in Virgo of 1965/6, that human culture and society was about to be seriously shaken up.

I have recently posted a couple of other pieces in regard to the important 127 years Uranus Pluto cycle, and in particular the conjunction. I believe that this has encapsulated symbolically the vast cultural changes of humanity, particularly since 1710-11 and most especially with the 1850-1 and 1965-6 cycle inceptions.

Generational Influence

The power of the outer planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto have emerged significantly into human consciousness since the discovery of Uranus 1781. I think they represent concepts which can be ‘utilised’ for generational effect.

Uranus brings the idea of thinking differently, revolution, turning things upside down, often for the sake of it. Neptune brings new beliefs, new ways to ‘unite’, concepts but also accompanying delusion, confusion. Pluto is fundamental power which is often hidden and all the potential danger that can bring.

The two planets Uranus and Pluto were drawing relatively close by late 1963. The shock of the Kennedy Assassination on November 22 1963 cast a long shadow over the entire world, but particularly in the United States of course, the most powerful country militarily and culturally.

Counter Culture

This awful event acted almost like a psychological primer for the emergence of the so-called Swinging Sixties and counter culture. Maybe here was evidence of the foreshadowing effect of the Uranus Pluto conjunction, the urge for change merges with fundamental power – a cultural revolution fostered at all levels of society.

I think we should also briefly examine the sign in which the conjunction was to occur, namely Virgo, the mutable earth sign. Virgo and the sixth house represent many totally practical facets of everyday life, our efficiency, work and health. In other words, this conjunction was potentially going to turn upside down all of that, it would be felt by everyone in their everyday lives.

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Photo by Sebastian Ervi from Pexels

You Say You Want a Revolution?

And certainly from early 1964, with the cultural phenomenon that was the Beatles, the ensuing ‘British Invasion’ and everything that went with it, to important events like the true beginning of the Vietnam War in August with the Gulf of Tonkin incident, began to set the scene for the rampant cultural dichotomy of the period.

Very interestingly, Uranus Pluto were first exactly conjunct on John Lennon’s twenty fifth birthday, on October 9 1965. By this time the Beatles had virtually conquered the world through their music and films.

The conjunction in Virgo was roughly opposed by Saturn in Pisces, but was in easy aspect to Neptune in Scorpio. I think this is highly significant. Saturn represents the conservative (often religious) reaction to the societal changes, whilst Neptune essentially being in step with both from watery Scorpio cast an other worldly veneer over all of the growing melee.

Although I contend that the three outer planets do not rule any signs, and do not have personal influence – unless they are brought into the equation either through being angular or in strong aspect – I think they do have a transpersonal effect which needs to be carefully examined, even warned against.

Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll

Although drink and drug abuse are often associated with this planet, I think Neptune also has much to do with music, particularly modern, sometimes formless, chaotic music. Neptune in Scorpio could be said to epitomise that ‘sex, drugs and rock n roll’ culture which developed at this crazy time.

Neptune’s transition through Scorpio from 1957 to 1970 witnessed this whole period of world in transformation and the planet’s sextile (60 degree) aspect to the Uranus Pluto conjunction in the mid 1960s particularly allowed mediums like music and also art to manipulate the masses into general acceptance. Music, after all, has a profound effect on the emotions.

Perhaps it was almost like an escape valve in which we were all invited, through the words of Timothy Leary, to ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’ – all very ‘druggy’ and Neptunian.

It was a concept which was to mushroom with all the power of a nuclear explosion in the ensuing years, encapsulated astrologically and symbolically by the transformative meeting of Uranus and Pluto in Virgo. The changes instigated at that time have only cast stronger ripples in our world since then.

Part 2 will follow soon.

Copyright Francis Barker 2020