Steely Dan Sunday: “On The Dunes” (1993)

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On every Donald Fagen album, there’s inevitably a track or two that particularly brings to mind Steely Dan’s Aja and on Kamakiriad, that “Aja” track would be the smooth lounge-y jazz-pop number “On the Dunes.” It’s not a dead ringer for any certain song on that album but the sophisticated harmonic progression, tasteful piano and the richly euphonious rhythm guitar are some of the sonic markers that evoke the slick mystique of the classic Steely Dan record.

In an album full of action and/or optimism, “On the Dunes” is the dour moment of Kamakiriad, about a heartbreak, a “kind of homicide,” as our hero “stood and watched (his) happiness drift outwards with the tide.” The slow pace and minor chords match the sentiment of these lyrics, something that Fagen is probably even better at doing by himself than he is in collaboration with Steely Dan bandmate Walter Becker.

I like that darkened, piano-led chord progression that serves as the intro for the tune, it actually outshines the basic melody of the song. Fagen must have been pretty proud of it, too, as it also serves as the song’s coda … a very extended coda that presumably represents the sound of waves crashing against the beach and stretches out the track out past eight minutes long. That’s longer than it really needs to be but thankfully, Cornelius Bumpus’ soulful sax soloing makes it somewhat more bearable.

So, I’d like “On the Dunes” more if the length was tightened up. It still sounds good, though, and that’s a more critical test that it passes.

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 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. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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  • George Blair

    Actually, for me On The Dunes could go on for much longer. I love the ebb and flow, the tentative and multiple climaxes. The chord progression, the performance, the production, the compelling atmosphere all make this one of my favourite DF moments, right out of his amply-stuffed too drawer.

  • Marsha

    On the Dunes is very soulful, elegant and classy, (like Aja was elegant and classy), but the progressively dramatic chords in the intro and coda are what hit this song out of the ballpark for me. Ordinarily, I don’t like repetition, but I just couldn’t stop playing it.

  • Marsha

    You know, I almost wonder if the intro was all Fagen started with in some all-night jam session. Have you ever been in some all-night jam session and come across this amazing groove? So maybe that’s what he started with and then he built a song around it, and then the song began to write itself as everything came together???

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