Steely Dan Sunday: “Paging Audrey [Demo]” (2008)

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I had to take a break from Steely Dan. After the last “Reelin’ in the Chips” show in Las Vegas in 2017 (a show I’ll never forget), and a pair of Donald Fagen solo concerts, I was in a good place in my Steely Dan journey. That changed dramatically with the passing of co-founder Walter Becker. I may never see Steely Dan again, preferring to have the Vegas show as my last live experience, but I’m very open to new Steely Dan-affiliated releases.

The estate of the late guitarist and bassist have been extremely accommodating in the new music department over the last several months. One of the latest finds from is “Paging Audrey (Demo).”

The original song, which appears on 2008’s stellar Circus Money, incorporates some of Walter Becker’s best bass playing, with sly rhythm guitar by Steely Dan stalwart Jon Herington, funky clavinet and keyboard playing from Jim Beard, and a remarkable tenor sax solo by Chris Potter. S. Victor Aaron called the song Becker’s most Steely Dan-ish song, and with good reason.

This demo, even stripped of its sublime Larry Klein production, is still a gem. The Becker/Klein writing team had a melodic flair which is immediately present in the song’s Fender Rhodes-like keyboard hook. “Paging Audrey (Demo)” is dark and brooding, yet inviting. Walter Becker’s voice is equally dark and, as a narrator of this tale, perfectly attuned. Becker did desolation well, and with Klein, honed this story to a fine edge.

[STEELY DAN SUNDAY: Something Else! explores the amazing musical legacy of Steely Dan in a track-by-track series that takes in group recordings, solo albums and their very best live performances.]

The chorus and bridge work perfectly, with an economy and directness. Had I not heard the original guitar solo (which sounds like an uncredited Becker), I would have thought this earlier instrumental break was the way “Paging Audrey” should sound. The second verse builds the narrative. Becker’s vocals on the demo seem even more raw and pleading. The lack of the finished take’s female vocal chorus is obvious, but that ultimately exposes this surprising tenderness.

With the heart of the song revealed by the demo, it’s even easier to see the true lyrical and melodic genius of Walter Becker, what a huge loss the music world suffered with his death, and how truly great Becker’s musical legacy is. Hopefully, will keep these undiscovered revelations coming – and maybe similar Steely Dan rarities will see the light day.

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