Steely Dan Sunday: “Midnite Cruiser” from Can’t Buy a Thrill (1972)

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Aside from the pre-Can’t Buy A Thrill promo single “Dallas,” here’s the only Steely Dan song drummer Jim Hodder sang lead on. It wasn’t the first and only time he took the lead mic on a recording, though: his prior band Bead Game make one record a couple of years earlier and he was the primary vocalist on all the tracks.

His middle-pitched, nasally warble is a bit of a contrast to Donald Fagen’s higher nasally warble, and while Hodder wasn’t going to scare even David Palmer, he’s a great fit for this song.

“Midnite Cruiser” is one of the better deep cuts on Steely Dan’s debut, combining the genteel stroll of country with a syncopated, piano-driven harmonic structure that’s sort of a folk-jazz hybrid. The frustration and anger from an opportunity lost seems to be the theme of this tune, and Hodder’s delivery does a decent job of conveying the feeling of disappointment and resignation.

Hodder also drums well on this song, and his tasteful licks were consistently good throughout his time in Steely Dan. Ultimately, that wasn’t enough for Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, who also wanted a drummer with more flair. As we’ll find later on, the drummer often had the toughest assignment in a Steely Dan recording.

Hodder stuck around through Pretzel Logic, but he wasn’t even asked to drum on any tracks on that record. He saw the handwriting on the wall and left the band soon after its release. From there, he did many session dates until he drowned in his swimming pool in 1990. He was only 42 at the time.

Fate wasn’t too kind to Steely Dan drummers in general, but that’s another story altogether. For this particular drummer, “Midnite Cruiser” remains the song he is most remembered by. And it’s a fine way to be remembered.

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