Steely Dan Sunday, "The Second Arrangement" (1979, unreleased)

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*** STEELY DAN SUNDAY INDEX ***

“Just when I say:
‘Boy we can’t miss,
you are golden’ …
Then you do this.”

Steely Dan rolled into 1979 with a big head of steam, having established themselves as consistent hitmakers as well as pulling in the critical kudos. That earned them enough swag already to clinch them immortality in the Rock ‘n’Roll Hall Of Fame, in which they were inducted in 2001. After taking much of 1978 off and moving back to home sweet home New York, Becker and Fagen looked forward to creating another Aja, free from their ABC Records contract and on to a much more lucrative one with Warners.

That Aja followup Gaucho was a commercial success following its November 1980 release, going platinum and reaching the Top Ten in the U.S. Hot 100 album chart. “Hey Nineteen” became a top ten single, too, and “Time Out Of Mind” was another hit song for them. The achievements were capped by yet another Grammy for “Best Non-Classical Engineered Recording.” But everything else about Gaucho was disastrous for the pair.

The first sign of trouble occurred in March, 1979 when MCA gobbled up ailing ABC Records and promptly shut down the label. They looked at Steely Dan’s old ABC contract and determined they were owed one more album, and had the resources to wage that battle with the band and with Warner Brothers. A fight ensued, but MCA prevailed.

It was also during this time when Walter Becker went through a real rough patch in his personal life. The nasty narcotics habit he picked up on the West Coast was affecting his work, and in January 1980, his girlfriend was found dead in their apartment from a drug overdose, prompting a lawsuit slapped on Becker from her family. Just a few months after the overdose, Becker suffered serious injuries when a cab struck him as he was crossing a street in NYC. It took six months to recover, which happened during the time the album entered into the crucial mixing phase. The sonic similarity between Gaucho and Fagen’s Nightfly from two years later suggests to me, at least, that Gaucho lacked much of Becker’s usual artistic input.

Speaking of lawsuits, the duo got sued by because the melody on one of their songs followed too closely to a song by a notable jazz musician. More on this when we reach that song in this series.

Moreover, the obsession over studio perfection reached its apex during the recording of this album. With so many of of rock’s finest drumming moments scattered among their first six albums, they sought even greater heights on Gaucho, heavily using click tracks and running through countless hours of takes with full bands just to get the drum track nailed down (sometimes, the best parts of the various drum takes were spliced together). They brought in up to a half dozen different rhythm sections to record a song, disposing of endless hours of takes by entire ensembles in search of the best take. All-world guitarists like Mark Knopfler and Rick Derringer were barely noticed on the finished album after nearly all of their contributions were edited out. Little wonder that Gaucho is a very sterile recording; its greatest strength is also its biggest weakness.

So, yes, it was extremely hard to get a track that passed muster with the Becker and Fagen, along with producer Gary Katz and engineer Roger Nichols. One track that did — and one that Katz and Nichols were particularly excited about — was a song called “The Second Arrangement.” But this track didn’t see release on Gaucho, or anywhere else. Why? Good question, and there’s a simple explanation for that: in late December, 1979, a junior engineer accidentally erased about 75% of the track. There were attempts to re-record it but none of those takes were satisfactory to Becker and Fagen, so they abandoned the song altogether.

Some demos of it survive, and, I’ve read, so did the 25% of the finished track that didn’t get erased. The version rendered in the YouTube below provides a pretty clear picture of what the final product must have sounded like. “The Second Arrangement” was apparently a polished, groove-oriented dancefloor number that would have fit in perfectly with Gaucho‘s vibe. It comes off as an improved “The Glamour Profession,” the track that would have likely been left off had “Arrangement” had not been unintentionally executed, since the two are most similar in style. (Edit: “Third World Man,” a leftover from the Aja sessions, became the stand-in track).

There are stories of all sorts of great Steely Dan tracks that got left off of their albums, but “The Second Arrangement” is very likely the only one of these that was deemed good enough for release by Steely Dan themselves. If not for a young man’s goof, Gaucho might have had a third hit.

1979 demo:

Live version from September, 2011:

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.

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  • http://larywallace.com Lary Wallace

    Okay, this one I actually knew about, because it’s mentioned by Brian Sweet in his book. But I don’t think it’s nearly as strong as the lost track you wrote about a few weeks ago (“(You Got) The Bear”), which nobody would ever say sounds like anything. And anyway, “Glamour Profession”‘s a pretty great song, so if putting this song on _Gaucho_ would mean doing so at the expense of “Glamour Profession”….

    Well, I’m just glad we at least have the version of “The Second Arrangement” we have, and let me leave it at that.

  • Doc Mu

    The song that replaced the Second Arrangement was Third World Man, which was originally from the Aja or Royal Scam sections with different lyrics and entitled “Were You Blind That Day.” It would be nice to have both and a CD version potentially could have.

    The full demo version that survived used WENDEL and Steve Gadd for the drum samples. The original sounds like Jeff Porcaro on the kit. There’s literally 14 sec that survived, and it had a lot more organic potential.