Since Donald Fagen and Walter Becker first set out to be a songwriting team and only started a band when it became evident this was was going to be the only way to get their songs recorded in any meaningful way, they had a nice, ready stash of original compositions to tap from whenever they needed to decide which songs to put on their albums. Pretzel Logic in particular had a lot of songs written pre-Steely Dan, and they continued to draw from this reserve all the way up to at least their fifth album, Royal Scam.
“The Caves Of Altamira” is one such pre-historic song the duo decided to commit to wax. It’s pre-historic in subject matter, too, about the famous caverns in Spain where some of the earliest works of art by man…some cave drawings…have been discovered. The lyrics could be seen as a bit autobiographical: “the busy world was not for me so I went and found my own” lines up with Becker and Fagen’s immersion in literature, art and music early in their lives, shutting out the real, “busy world.” It seems to make the point that man has had these tendencies of artistry inside of them from the very beginning.
Musically, this is one another one of their masteries of harmonically complex melodies made into a radio-ready tune. The arrangement, like “Throw Back The Little Ones” is horn-heavy and ornamented with Ellington-type flourishes grafted into a rock song. Toss in a willowy sax solo by John Klemmer in the instrumental break and you’ve got an old song that’s done up so well, it never gets old with me.