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

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Jeff “Skunk” Baxter not only made his mark with some memorable guitar leads for Steely Dan. He was also very adept at working the pedal steel guitar into rock, not making it sound hick in the least.

Just put an ear on the Doobie Brothers’ “South City Midnight Lady” sometime to understand how he can add a subtle mood to a song and make it deeper. He first picked up this instrument (a Fender 400) while in Ultimate Spinach in the late ’60s and brought that skill with him into Steely Dan.

I would argue that Steely Dan got better overall after Skunk left it in ’74, but that was in spite of his departure – not because of it. When he played the steel guitar for couple of tracks on each of their first three albums, it brought out the folk/country elements in Walter Becker’s and Donald Fagen’s songs. In retrospect, those songs were surprisingly well developed by guys who obviously knew the stuff inside and out.

When they got into that mode, you could tell that the Boys from Bard weren’t just listening to Charles Mingus and Sonny Rollins records in their formative years. After Skunk, that part of Steely Dan died. Baxter’s pedal steel first appeared for the band on “Fire In the Hole,” which I turned into a requiem for engineer Roger Nichols last week. Now it’s time to give the droopy ‘stached dude his due.

I never really understood the lyrics (“Brooklyn owes the charmer under me”?) nor do I need to, but this time I have to give the guy who sang them – David Palmer – his due, too. That smooth, unforced croon didn’t have a whole lot of R&B soul to it, but its easygoing manner was better suited for country music, and Steely Dan’s “Brooklyn” is an easygoing, country type tune. I couldn’t see Donald Fagen pull it off nearly this well, and even he would have to concede that point: After David Palmer left the band, others like percussionist Royce Mills sang it in concerts.

I don’t know how many people who are Steely Dan fans are also country music fans, but “Brooklyn” is one of those early songs where two seemingly opposed passions co-existed quite nicely.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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  • Bill

    Just discovered this series and plan to read it all when I get a chance. I have been a huge SD fan since the 70s myself.

    As you may have learned since you wrote this, “Brooklyn” was about a grouchy old geezer who lived below one of the songwriters and was always complaining about the Mets and life in general. The boys thought Brooklyn owed him better.

    Fagen did sing the original demo version which had an additional verse. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fx1xIv6E6B4

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