Steely Dan Sunday, "Deacon Blues" (1977)

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This is the song I would suppose most people would say has that classic Steely Dan sound, the epitome of the smooth, suave style they perfected on Aja and a hit song to boot (No. 19 and 8 weeks in the Top 40 during 1978). A narration in first person about a guy who lives in an alternate reality of a hipster world, but he’s really just a loser. It also had that some somewhat bizarre metaphor associating winners with the Alabama Crimson Tide and losers with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, which to be fair was an accurate characterization of these college football teams in the 70s.

Pete Christlieb was plucked from relative obscurity to handle the central sax solo when Becker and Fagen liked what they heard from Doc Severinson’s anonymous saxophone player on The Tonight Show and tracked him down. Christlieb pours his soul out on that solo (although he bested himself on “F.M.,” more on that in five weeks), and the crack sidemen on this recording included drummer Bernard Purdie and two of L.A.’s all-time session guitarist champs in Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour.

For all of those reasons, this a song I should probably like more than I do. Yet, I find it a tad plodding and even if it’s presented as a sarcastic take on the sentimental torch song, it still comes off like a torch song. That’s just a gut feeling about it, but there’s also a part about the song that is undeniably great, and that’s the nifty little figure used as the intro and again at during the instrumental break. Steely Dan consistently had a way of stringing together chords in a sequence that hadn’t been done before and leave a lasting impression, and that highly sophisticated segue is one of their very best examples.

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