There’s really no telling how many great Steely Dan recordings fell to the cutting room floor, as Becker and Fagen were notoriously picky about what songs made it onto their albums. So, it’s not hard to imagine that for a “all killer/no filler” record like Aja there might be a pretty good song or two that got left out.
We could have gone back and talked about a lot of these tracks as we went along on this song-by-song dissection of the Steely Dan catalog, but a lot of the demos are just too rough to get much of a sense of the song. “You Got The Bear,” alternately known as “The Bear,” is an exception that needs its own week in the sun for a couple of reasons.
First of all…even in rough form, it’s a damned fine song. Again beginning with an otherwordly intro figure that’s repeated in the instrumental break, the song launches into a mid-tempo shuffle complemented by a funky combination of rhythm guitar, Rhodes and clavinet. In that time-honored Steely Dan game of guessing who plays what, my own conjecture is that it’s Larry Carlton on guitar, Joe Sample on clavinet, Victor Feldman on Rhodes, Chuck Rainey on bass and Fagen himself handling the piano solo. This being a demo, the drums aren’t distinctive at all so that one’s more of a crapshoot than the other instruments. I’m going to go with Rick Moratta, because Bernard Purdie is unlikely to keep an unadorned beat even for a demo. And that opening figure? More than anything they’ve done on Aja proper, this reaches back to the golden age of jazz, a descending minor chord progression straight out of the Billy Strayhorn playbook, as elegant as anything Steely Dan has done. The Rhodes play this figure in the beginning and the piano repeats it in the break, providing a nice demonstration of how these two identically played instruments can create such widely diverging harmonics.
The second reason for going a little off the script today is because Steely Dan had decided to pull this song out of obscurity by performing it live for some of their gigs during their last tour, in 2011. So I guess they thought it was a pretty good song, too. Maybe not good enough to put on an album, but good enough to trot out in front of an audience. Below is a video from one of those performances of the song last year, which features the piano at the intro and is joined by a sax and Becker’s guitar during solo time. Fagan’s voice is a little shot that night, but it otherwise comes off well on stage:
2011 live version
They say that some bands’ chaff would be wheat for other bands. If “The Bear” is any indication of the chaff Becker and Fagen left behind in their silo, you could bake a mighty nice loaf of bread with it.
Next week, it’s back to our regularly scheduled programming…