Steely Dan Sunday, "Shanghai Confidential" (1988)

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<<< BACKWARD (“Century’s End”) ||| ONWARD (“Reflections”) >>>


“Century’s End” wasn’t just released as a part of a soundtrack, it was the A side to a Donald Fagen single. Thus, Fagen had to come up with another song and so he recorded a rare instrumental, “Shanghai Confidential.”

“Shanghai Confidential” sounds very much like the contemporary, “smooth” jazz The Yellowjackets were playing at that time, sans a sax player. That is to say, the melody occasionally goes off in interesting, unconventional directions, but the trendy pop production very much of its time tends to obscure all that. (A side note: Fagen did indeed write a song for the Yellowjackets, the title cut for their 1986 Shades LP that didn’t appear until the CD version came out later).

Another rarity here is that Fagen didn’t use an actual drummer, the beats were programmed but augmented by Manolo Badrena’s percussion. Marcus Miller’s unmistakable slap bass holds down the low end and one of Fagen’s favored guitarists in the 80’s since Gaucho, Steve Khan, is back again to help out on another Fagen number.

So why is producer Gary Katz’s photo at the top of this article? Because his involvement with the “Century’s End/Shanghai Confidential” single marked the end of his involvement with Steely Dan-related studio projects, recordings that covered a lot of classic sides. Becker and Fagen would generally handle the production chores on their recording projects from this point forward. Some people might say that they were pretty much in charge of the production all along, or that the true critical person behind the boards was engineer Roger Nichols. I can’t say just how much impact Katz had on those tracks since I wasn’t present at those sessions, but his role in getting Steely Dan signed and convincing Becker and Fagen to form a band in the first place are obviously the actions that made the difference from there being a Steely Dan and instead toiling as a little-known Brill Building songwriting partnership.

For those things alone, I am thankful.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, 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. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron
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