Steely Dan Sunday: "Sign In Stranger" (1976)

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Both Walter Becker and Donald Fagen have an affinity for reggae music, one that’s most notably borne out on Becker’s Jamaican-styled Circus Money CD from 2008. You can find strands of reggae that’s made its way on several of Steely Dan tunes, too, but it was on Royal Scam where they wore their appreciation of the music form on their sleeves, with three cuts that are overtly played in that style. Of those songs, “Sign In Stranger” is their best rendering.

That’s because of some exceptional work by a guitarist and a pianist. Elliot Randall, in another follow-up to that signature moment called “Reelin’ In The Years,” trades in commanding, direct lines for delectable counterpoints to each of Fagen’s lines of lyrics. The star performance, though, belongs to pianist Paul Griffin. Griffin, who was Bob Dylan’s keyboardist on Highway 61, Revisited, might have had his most recognizable work on Don McLean’s “American Pie,” where his sensitive trickling on the ivories nearly stole the show from McLean’s famous lyrics. On “Sign In Stranger,” as on that song, his touch even as he’s running his right hand rapidly across the keys is deft and light. Always keen on riding the hot hand, Becker and Fagen gave him a piano solo that was essentially just a continuation of the busy comping he was doing throughout the entire song.

Griffin is sadly no longer with us; he passed in 2000 at 62 years old. Fortunately he left behind some memorable recordings, and like so many other legends who made a stop in a studio where Steely Dan was cutting a record, he put in a performance worthy of his legacy.

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