Steely Dan Sunday, “My Old School” (1973)

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One thing — actually, one of many things — I miss about early ’70s rock was all the rock bands with horn sections in them. There were a lot of them making memorable songs that got much radio airplay back then, and the horns gave their songs an added punch that filled out their sound without having to turn up amplifiers.

Along with the more obvious names like Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears, and Tower of Power, there were several one or two hit wonders like Ides of March and Lighthouse who gave us some pretty decent hits of the era, too. This was still a time where white music (rock) and black music (R&B) were still cross-pollinating and the addition of horns in rock bands struck me as kind of a nod to the genius of James Brown.

Steely Dan, of course, was never a full-time horn band, but after their first few albums, they used horn charts on about half the songs on each record. These charts tend to be jazzy ones, indeed, I think it’s a big component of their evolution from a rock band to a jazz-pop band. The horns on “My Old School” aren’t jazzy at all; it’s that boss, brassy Stax sound of the mid-’60s plopped right into a piano-driven hard shuffle, making this a fun, foot-stomping number that remains an FM classic rock radio and concert favorite to this day – despite it petering out at #No. 63 in Billboard’s Hot 100.

The mesh of raw rock ‘n’ roll and R&B was probably the closest Steely Dan sounded to Bruce Springsteen, although the E Street Band was still a regional act at the time. Maybe the blue-collar Springsteen wouldn’t have made this a song about college potheads, though.

“My Old School” is also one of a handful of tunes Becker and Fagen wrote about their days at Bard College, full of references to it (“Annandale,” “Wolverine,” etc), supposedly about a dope bust where both songwriters ended up in the pokey, courtesy of an overzealous county prosecutor “Daddy G,” aka, G. Gordon Liddy.

Whatever the facts are as related in the lyrics, it’s crystal clear that Steely Dan’s college days weren’t all full of fond memories. They did eventually go back to Bard, though.

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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