Steely Dan Sunday: The Five Best Steely Dan Covers, Part 2

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In our prior Steely Dan Sunday installment, S. Victor Aaron and Preston Frazier called their shots on their five favorite Steely Dan covers. This time, John Lawler continues our look at Steely Dan songs perform by others. His selections just might surprise you, and in a good way, too. …

5. Love Will Make it Right – Diana Ross, from Ross (1983): “Love Will Make it Right” is a heavily stylized and jazzy dance of forbidden love between two married friends. How long can they hide the fire, but in a sly Fagen post-modern twist, is it even real? There’s a kewl vamp lifted a decade later as the “Theme from ER,” a very crafty bridge tethering verse to chorus with a very tasty chord progression. The production’s a little icy, but Fagen mines deep into sophistico Bacharach and Porter, and really brings the heat to Diana Ross as the muse.

4. Lazy Nina – Monkey House, from Welcome To The Club (1992): Don Breithaupt has a thing for Donald Fagen’s music. Breithaupt and Monkey House have unabashedly drawn inspiration from the Steely Dan and Fagen catalog in their work, including the brilliant album Headquarters. Monkey House covers the Fagen song “Lazy Nina” with great enthusiasm. The arrangements are similar to the Greg Phillinganes original, but with features blues synth harp and bright horn chart. Harmonies are a trademark of Monkey House productions, and Nina does not disappoint. This lady cooks and swings.

3. King of the World – Joe Jackson, from Summer in the City: Live in New York (2000): Capturing the spirit of Donald Fagen’s snarky attitude and sneer offer a challenge for artists who dare try. Enter Joe Jackson, whose sarcastic lyrics pepper his albums. There is no one with better chops and vinegar to cover a world after a cataclysmic nuclear event. Jackson’s King of the World is forthright, raw, yet clean, and spot on target. It captures the spirit of the Steely Dan tune, while the piano, voice, and sound are also unmistakably Joe Jackson. Bravo.

2. FM – Nathan Haines featuring Gorillaz, from Various Artists: Maestros of Cool (2006): A very faithful, precise, yet understated homage to arguably the finest Steely Dan single of them all is worth multiple and close listens. Nathan Haines, an accomplished jazz saxophonist, really gets the harmonies of the tune, and the layered vocals “the girls don’t seem to care” are impressively emotive and coy at a chillax level. It’s just so damned cool.

1. Kid Charlemagne – Don Braden, from Various Artists: Maestros of Cool (2006): There have been some very tasty jazz covers, including the marvelous Joe Rostiano homage album. I picked tenor saxophonist’s Don Braden cover of Kid Charlemagne because it illustrates that the center of a great Becker and Fagen tune is the ability to swing. Braden’s experience with Wynton Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard, and the Mingus pays great dividends in his remarkable dissection of Kid Charlemagne. It snaps, crackles, pops.

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