Joel Goldenberg: Steam, Steely Dan, and Steppenwolf

Donald Fagen of Steely Dan

Before we continue with the S list, a little thought:

Now that I have subscribed to the streaming services Spotify, Napster and YouTube Music, I pretty much have access to at least the vast majority of pretty much every song ever recorded on my phone. Spotify and Napster for what artists approve for release, or is in the public domain pre-1963, and YouTube Music for loads of music not approved for release, most notably countless Elvis Presley outtakes, concerts formerly only on bootlegs and variations on Beach Boys albums, the latter of which are frequently taken down by the BRI consortium, which owns the intellectual property rights of the band.

And now we launch the next installment of the super-smart and never smarmy S list.


Steam: This one-hit wonder group is best known for Na, Na, Hey, Hey Kiss Him Goodbye, which, of course, is very familiar to Montreal Canadiens fans who want to taunt a losing team.

I like the actual song quite a bit, it has a nice, murky mix with a heavy beat.


Steely Dan: This band seemed to have pioneered the 1970s genre of ultra-perfectionist musicianship, and with some results that landed in the audiophile category. Yes, this was one of those kinds of groups that the Sex Pistols and the Clash were created to counter, but sorry, they had plenty of classic songs.

Rikki Don't Lose That Number, which borrows from the jazz classic Song For My Father by Horace Silver, is their most approachable hit. And at this point, it is very tempting to cheat and recommend an album as a whole in the case of Aja, but I will just write for now that none of that album's Deacon Blues many minutes are wasted. It's one of the most perfect — in terms of hooks, hearttugging singing and musicianship — songs I've ever heard, along with The Who's Won't Get Fooled Again.

Another favourite is the also heart-tugging Hey Nineteen, which is from the stupendous sounding Gaucho album. Unfortunately, that album is nowhere near as striking as Aja songwise.

But my most favourite song of all was not sung by usual lead vocalist Donald Fagen. Dirty Work, from their first album, kind of sounds like The Band at their best, and is their hookiest song ever. The lead singer here was David Palmer, who had a very high-pitched voice.

I had the pleasure of seeing Steely Dan here in Montreal in concert several years ago, where they performed all of Aja. I wondered who would do Dirty Work, as Fagen doesn't have Palmer's range. They did do the song, and it was sung by a woman, which actually is a huge compliment to Palmer's vocal skills.

Why? Because when I used to go to karaoke sessions and people tried to sing the very difficult Don't Stop Believin' by Journey, only a woman was able to get even close to Steve Perry's range.


Steppenwolf: Normally, I would write the following. "Yes, I know Born to Be Wild is a rock classic and coined the term 'heavy metal.' But it's been on the radio endlessly, and used in too many movies with older guys experiencing mid-life crises by riding a motorcycle."

But, instead, I say, listen to the 45 RPM mono version of this song, It has a grunginess that makes the commonly heard stereo album version sound weak in comparison. Mono is the way it should be heard.

Next time: Cat Stevens and others.

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