Sevens :: Steely Dan: Reelin’ in the Years


(Sevens, a new feature on Aquarium Drunkard, pays tribute to the art of the individual song.)

Let me begin by saying that when the genre of yacht rock is finally sunk forever by the churning ocean of history and good taste, I’ll be one of the last to call SOS. There’s always been something grating about the entire style — two guys; usually mustachioed; playing lite, jazzy, half-rock for the lunchbreak set. And, really, “Reelin’ in the Years” is no different: Elliot Randall’s guitar crunches like ice in a glass and the piano and bass come straight from a 70’s sitcom, while Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s harmonies are period-perfect.

But I can’t get enough of it. For four minutes and thirty-seven seconds, the Dan do a power-lunch ‘n’ roll all over a classically nonsensical lyric. I can trace the beginning of my appreciation for “Reelin’ in the Years” all the way down to my childhood and the bizarre, almost grating quality of Randall’s guitar tone. I can still remember thinking that it sounded like a knife cutting through frozen broccoli: that sharp crunch is hookier than any vocal melody Fagen and Becker ever could have come up with. And when he seesaws into that last, climbing solo? Forget it.

Of course, Becker and Fagen are no slouches, and their arrangement only serves to turn up the broilers. The band chug away behind Randall’s guitar — which shines new light on the term “lead” — and when they build to the chugging, handclapping bridge, it’s nearly impossible to not bob your head along. And in my mind, that’s what the Dan looked like while they were recording “Reelin’ in the Years.” I can see it: all loosened ties and pushed-up sleeves in the big city, they’re nodding their heads and watching the clock, grinning from under their mustaches. And then, as the song fades out, Becker stands up, pushes up his glasses, and says, “Alright men, back to work.” words/marty garner

MP3: Steely Dan :: Reelin’ In The Years

9 thoughts on “Sevens :: Steely Dan: Reelin’ in the Years

  1. Kudos is warranted to anyone who says something positive about Steely Dan. “Reelin” got killed by corporate radio, like most of their singles, but I anticipate a renaissance of SD album cuts someday.

  2. i recently read that randall’s work on “riy” has jimmy page’s fave guitar solo ever

  3. The guitar definitely makes the song, but I think that SD really came through in their arch lyrics with this one. “You’ve been telling me you were a genius since you were 17. In all the time I’ve known you I still don’t know what you mean” is great, as is ‘The weekend at the college didn’t turn out like you planned. ” And since this is a song about being dumped, the line “The things you think are useless I can’t understand” is a great subtle confession of lack being in a state of confusion.

  4. Well said. For many, liking Steely Dan defies logic. It could be the fact that they do lunch n’ roll so much better than anyone else that you have to like it. That and the fact that Steely Dan is clever in the true sense of the word. Every drum beat, guitar note, piano note, and lyric is thought through backwards and forwards. In some ways these guys become their own category.

  5. you know, I actually like most of the yacht rock stuff out of some
    kitche quality. I mean “What a fool believes” is probably one of
    the greatest songs ever written… but steely dan is king.

  6. Recently I bought the DVD for 1973 of the old Midnight Special show. The main reason is it boasts a live performance of Reeling in the Years. Jeff Baxter plays the main lead and it is really great to see this done live. Unfortunately the camera work isn’t the greatest. Sometimes they focus on the other guitarist (i think its Denny Dias if I remember correctly) when Jeff Baxter is playing a solo. Still a great thing to get to see and then hit replay again. Sound quality isn’t great but to me that doesn’t really matter when you get to watch them play the song. I am not sure but it would also appear that David Palmer is fronting the band in the performance.

  7. I don’t care what Howard Stern says, this is my favorite Steely Dan song. There may be some that are better, but I still like this one the best. The tone on the lead guitar is wonderful and the the way the rhythm section grooves is so dead on it catches my ear every time — especially the piano and drums.

  8. I was at a Club Med in Buccaneer’s Creek in Martinique in the fall of 1979. Elliott Randall was there with a rock photographer, Richard Aaron. They barely got any kind of tan since they hardly ever left their room while the sun was up. They also drank champagne like they were bringing prohibition to the island. At the end of the week they had a guest talent show and Elliott played with the club band and a woman who sang Reelin’ In The Years. He did a pretty good note for note renditon of all of the lead parts even though he was probably pretty wasted. The funniest part was when he cranked up the solo and the band members turned their heads in shock. I guess a talent show guest had never played like that. Elliott and the woman singer finished in third place in the competition though.

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