Steely Dan Sunday, "Your Gold Teeth II" (1975)

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Steely Dan is famously known for performing rock with a heaping dose of jazz elements, but those songs would rarely swing, as jazz does. Here’s a notable exception.

“Your Gold Teeth II”, the obvious followup to “Your Gold Teeth,” is only connected to the earlier version lyrics-wise..some reference to a William S. Burroughs novel, I believe, but musically it’s much different. “II” is up to this point the most sophisticated song they had attempted, and another harbinger of the style they perfected later on with Aja.

Much of that complexity comes from the rhythms: though the base time signature is your standard 3/4 jazz waltz, there are bars in 3/8, 6/8, and 9/8. The intro goes at a quickened pace with an esoteric chord progression that seems to be searching for a portal out to the main melody. The piano and vibes are soon joined by some cheesy synth noodling (the only flaw in the song, but forgivable). It’s only after several listens that you realize that this is the same chord progression slowed down that’s used during the guitar solo part later on in the song.

The opening passage makes way for the jazz waltz and Fagen begins singing prose seemingly taken from classic poetry:

Who are these children
Who scheme and run wild
Who speak with their wings
And the way that they smile
What are the secrets
They trace in the sky
And why do you tremble
Each time they ride by

The chorus is enriched by harmonies that sounds a bit country—on paper strange for a jazzy tune but it sounds just right in practice. However, the best performances are provided by Jeff Porcaro and Denny Dias. Porcaro had to not only pilot through shifting rhythms but had to give it that right feel. On Fagen’s suggestion, he took home and listened to a Charles Mingus record with drummer Dannie Richmond on it to get the particular drumming style Fagen wanted in this song. As a teen, Fagen used to take a bus into NYC to watch Mingus’ band perform, and he was looking for the drum performance he remembered seeing from Richmond back then. Porcaro returned a couple of days later and nailed it, shuffling with the mastery of an Elvin Jones, never mind Richmond.

Dias was incredible on this song, too. Though he often played in the shadow of Jeff Baxter, Denny was the guy Becker and Fagen went to when liquid jazz phrasings and dense note patterns over intricate chord and rhythmic changes were called for. That was one area that Dias excelled in, even over Skunk. That ability is on full display here and ranks as one of the best (and unheralded) of all the great Steely Dan guitar solos.

Steely Dan is a rock band that was capable of doing things most rock band can’t even comprehend, much less carry out. “Your Gold Teeth II,” one of my top two favorite SD cuts overall, is one of those cuts that clearly sets them apart from the pack.

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