STEELY DAN — Pretzel Logic

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STEELY DAN - Pretzel Logic cover
3.82 | 17 ratings | 4 reviews
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Album · 1974

Filed under RnB
By STEELY DAN

Tracklist

A1 Rikki Don't Lose That Number 4:30
A2 Night By Night 3:36
A3 Any Major Dude Will Tell You 3:05
A4 Barrytown 3:17
A5 East St. Louis Toodle-oo 2:45
B1 Parker's Band 2:36
B2 Through With Buzz 1:30
B3 Pretzel Logic 4:28
B4 With A Gun 2:15
B5 Charlie Freak 2:41
B6 Monkey In Your Soul 2:31

Total Time: 33:37

Line-up/Musicians

Bass – Chuck Rainey, Timothy B. Schmit, Wilton Felder
Bass, Guitar – Walter Becker
Drums – Jeff Porcaro, Jim Gordon, Jim Hodder
Guitar – Ben Benay, Denny Diaz , Jeff Baxter
Guitar, Banjo – Dean Parks
Keyboards – David Paich, Michael Omartian
Keyboards, Percussion – Victor Feldman
Orchestrated By – Jimmie Haskell
Saxophone – Ernie Watts, Jerome Richardson, Plas Johnson
Trumpet – Ollie Mitchell
Vocals, Keyboards – Donald Fagen

About this release

ABC Records – ABCD-808 (US)

Engineered at the Village Recorder, West Los Angeles

Thanks to snobb for the updates

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STEELY DAN PRETZEL LOGIC reviews

Specialists/collaborators reviews

Chicapah
In 1974 Steely Dan released "Pretzel Logic," their third album. It raced straight up the charts like a fairground skyrocket to peak at #8 and it seemed like the whole music community stood back en masse to ooh and ahh over it. I, frankly, thought it was okay but less than overwhelming. Considering the avalanche of momentum they had generated with the raw energy captured on "Countdown to Ecstasy" I expected to be blown away. I most assuredly didn't expect a breezy, laidback stroll along the shoreline of Hermosa Beach. I now know that co-leaders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker detested playing concerts to the point where they'd rather go hungry than tour while the other band members didn't share their starving bohemian aspirations. I also know that the constant pressure from the label fat cats to deliver another hot, steaming bowl of revenue-cultivating Top 40 hit singles along the lines of "Reeling in the Years" must have been maddening but there's barely over half an hour of music to digest here! It's almost as if their motto for this album was "shorter songs, less odd instrumentation." While there's not a sour or misplaced note to be found it was evident to my ears that something was amiss in Danland. Fagen and Becker are perfectionists. Nothing wrong with that at all. It comes in pretty handy inside the recording studio and the pristine engineering/production on "Pretzel Logic" takes a giant, high-fidelity bullfrog leap over their first two offerings. No one says otherwise. But one of the bugaboos about perfectionism is that it often leaves too much human emotion out of the art being created and that's what I think occurred here. Though the tunes definitely have that undeniable Steely Dan charm swirling about them, there's just very little to get excited about.

I'll put it this way. If you're enamored by the graceful tones and leisurely pace of the opener, "Rikki Don't Lose That Number," then you're going to love this collection of eleven tight tracks. It climbed up to the #4 spot on the singles chart and it's hard to argue with that level of success. It has a smooth, jazzy groove for swaying back and forth to and an unforgettable hook line that veers about as close to being a love song as Donald & Walter ever got to writing so what's not to like? (May I suggest the less-than-spontaneous guitar solo?) Moving right along, the next cut is the slick, R&B-styled "Night by Night" featuring a full, robust horn section and a large slice of big-band funk. Good dance number and the hot guitar break has a spicy kick to it but where, oh where are those mysterious play-on-word lyrics I've come to expect from these brainiacs? Has the corrupting Hollywood lifestyle robbed them of their rapier wit and their gift for the runaround?

Not entirely, as evidenced on "Any Major Dude Will Tell You." Acoustic guitar and piano dominate this disarming and simply-constructed tune where Fagen's charismatic voice reassures with lines like "any major dude with half a heart/surely will tell you, my friend/any minor world that breaks apart/falls together again/when the demon is at your door/in the morning it won't be there no more..." For a weary generation that was witnessing the unfurling deception that was Nixon's Watergate while trying to comfort the walking wounded returning home from the pointless Vietnam debacle, this was a message we needed to hear. A rock beat trotting under Donald's sprightly piano draws you up into "Barrytown," a compelling piece of social satire where the singer explains how he's not really the bigot he appears to be, he's just coming clean on how things are in the real world. "I'm not one to look behind/I know that times must change/but over there in Barrytown/they do things very strange/and though you're not my enemy/I like things how they used to be/and though you'd like some company/I'm standing by myself/go play with someone else" he sings. Racial integration's fine, just not in my neighborhood, bucko.

Then from straight out of left field comes an unexpected instrumental detour into the land of Duke Ellington and Bubber Miley as the ensemble gives their old-time "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" the full Steely Dan treatment. We may never know the full answer to "why?" but it hardly matters as the whole thing is over before you know it. The slinky steel guitar ride and the lively piano solo are both grin-inducing, though. "Parker's Band" is perky pop but lacking balls and lyrically lame. Their quirky sense of humor resurfaces in "Through With Buzz," an incredibly brief, off-beat song about a guy being in an unspecified state of denial about his relationship with a male acquaintance. I really like the clever string quartet score that dances around the melody.

I'm not big on the blues but by the time the soulful pitch and roll of "Pretzel Logic" arrives I'm more than ready to rock the joint and this one packs more punch than the rest of the album put together. The interesting chorus chord structure, an intense guitar ride and abstract lyrics about time travel keep it from being just another 12-bar snorer as Donald snarls "I have never met Napoleon/but I plan to find the time/'cause he looks so fine/upon that hill/they tell me he was lonely/he's lonely still." Primo stuff. "With A Gun" takes you on another surprising tangent and this time they fly off into a sort of folkish polka thing that seems to be aimed at the NRA. Hey, I like variety as well as the next jazzer but these tunes are all over the place. It's almost as if they were picked blindly out of a hat.

But the best and most curious song on the album saves the day. "Charlie Freak" is what brings me back to listen to this record time after time. Its simple but powerful instrumentation consisting mainly of rolling piano, bass, drums and another appearance by the string quartet coupled with an intriguing, humming, ambient guitar effect is awesome. The tune's dramatic story of a homeless drug addict who sells his last earthly possession, a golden ring, in order to score his final fix is sung with heartbreaking conviction by Fagen who portrays the buyer of said jewelry. He later goes to retrieve the body from the morgue and slips the ring back on the poor kid's finger singing "yes, Jack/I gave it back/the ring I could not own/now come, my friend/I'll take your hand/and lead you home." Its powerful imagery and slow build makes it one of my favorite Steely Dan cuts of all time. "Monkey in Your Soul" is the finale and yet another casual dip into the R&B pool for the boys. It's about the protagonist's dawning realization that his once-passionate infatuation with his significant other is waning and the time to say adios has arrived. Playful fun but it really never goes anywhere interesting.

If you think I don't like "Pretzel Logic" then you're wrong. When I'm in a contemporary, adult-oriented mood I put it on and happily sing right along from start to finish. Yet it's about as fusiony as a Randy Newman album and the jazz content (or lack of) is what I'm addressing in this review. If you have a hankering for eclectic little songs with stick-in-your-head melodies and a lite rock attitude then this will fill that prescription. But the inventive jaunts into unexplored Jazz/Rock Fusion territory that these boys took us all into on "Countdown to Ecstasy" just don't happen here and jazzers who are raring to go on those exciting journeys need to know that. It's very good, no doubt, but fusionistic just isn't one of the adjectives that apply to much of the music included here.

Matt
It was 1974 and the third Steely Dan album was upon us with jazz references all over it and even a Duke Ellington cover of his early classic East St Louis Toodle-Oo. Charlie Parker gets a mention with Parkers Band and a snip of a Horace Silver composition (Song For My Father) is used as the opening on Rikki Don't Lose That Number. Many a Blue Note influence can be heard throughout some of their later material.Comprising eleven tracks and not a poor one with plenty of variety and an old time jazz influence which is predominate throughout the album. The band has not changed from the previous album but there are no vibes as in the prevoius album "Countdown to Ectasy" but there are many extra session musicians on the album around 14 with the band, it was quite a big production. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are at the helm as usual with Gary Katz doing production. This would be the last album with the band in its entirety and after this they even stopped touring and became a studio band only.

The album commences with the single "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" with that Horace Silver influence and would have been the first time the band started to gain regular airplay in Australia. "Night by Night" follows and is one little nice rocker with" Any Major Dude" to follow which is a bit down tempo to the prevoius number. There are two other tracks on side one of the record with the Ellington number being the last but over the years I really have grown to like the other side of the album with the driving "Parkers Band" the quirky "Through With Buzz" to follow but the standout for me is the title track" Pretzel Logic" with that rolling melody underneath the tune. "With a Gun" the next track up is mainly accoustic driven but in a fairly quick time with a nice little story. It is not often that one says they like the 2nd last track on a record as usually they seem to be where the worst track is placed on many albums not so with poor unlucky in life "Charlie Freak". "Monkey in my Soul" finishes off proceedings.

This would be there last great record for a while but the next two albums even though they are nothing to sneeze at things really hit the mark for the band with this release and it put them right on the map.

Absolutely essential for anyone who likes good music and of course it's a masterpiece.

Members reviews

Warthur
Pretzel Logic found Steely Dan in a melancholic and contemplative mood, combining the world-weariness of Can't Buy a Thrill with the increased compositional and technical chops of Countdown to Ecstasy. Paying full tribute to their jazz influences with the Charlie Parker homage Parker's Band and the Duke Ellington cover East St. Louis Toodle-oo, Becker and Fagen with their wingmen trace a more depressing course through their unique jazz-rock universe than their previous two albums, paving the way for the outright cynicism of Katy Lied and The Royal Scam. Not on the absolute top tier of Steely Dan albums, but still another excellent release from an extremely consistent band.
Sean Trane
After the fairly different CTE, which was considered a disappointment in many circles and in the charts, Dan returned to the studios with a Damocles’ sword hanging over their heads: repeat the Thrill’s success or face our wrath. So the duo wrote another Thrill album as if it was the easiest thing to do. Which in sorts, it was since the Fagen/Becker duo had written tons of songs for a wide-spectrummed brochettes of artistes. This is exactly where I can never forget that SD was one of those evil-front-office music business sharks as well as being studio rats. I mean that with CTE, it was clear that SD could write an album that stood mostly together as a unit and have a general direction, which was the opposite of their debut album. And they’d achieve this with minimum time always in a hurry between the road and the studios. Sooo instead of going onwards with the CTE direction in mind, SD throw whatever revolt they might have felt and obliged the company with another Thrill-type of album, an aimless bunch of songs with no unity. They also knew perfectly well they were doing crappier things than CTE, and at least in this album, they kept their sell-out rather short, just over the half-hour. First line-up change: Hodder left the drum stool to a real studio rat Jeff Porcaro (future Toto), although he still appears on some tracks. Derek & Dominoes’ Jim Gordon also drums a bit on the album. The artwork is mostly reminiscent of their NY roots(or at least east coast), something that the album’s title hints as well.

Starting on the Rikki Don’t Loose That Number huge hit, there is no doubt that SD is playing between Do It Again and Reelin’ and it can’t be a miss chart-wise. Night by Night has the same horn section as Dirty work had, but the song works fine too and there is some sax work. But the album sinks into a comatose state with dumb and listless tracks like Any Major Dude Will Tell You, while the slightly stinky Barrytown is heavier in mood, but fails to convince it doesn’t mean bigotry business. One has to wonder what tracks like St Louis Toodle-oo is doing on such an album, except breaking the album’s canvas by being outside of the weft of the album. As brilliantly played as it is, it’s ridiculous on this album. Further down the album we go through the average Parker’s Band (and I mean really really average), the Country-Beatle-esque With a Gun (not this album’s worse song either) and the useless finale Monkey In Your Soul

Out of the morosity and monotony of the album, come out three tracks, the short string-quartet driven Through With Buzz and the second hit from this album, the title track, which again plays on the electric piano and multiple Dan-esque harmony vocals, but here there is a nice groove induced by the vast horn section and a very tight . Another highlight is the interesting Charlie Freak, with its hypnotic piano and almost Hackettian guitars – too bad it’s so short.

The “group” would come apart after this album, more out of distaste for the road for the brainchild than for the usual musical preferences/differences. Skunk Baxter left to infect the then-superb Doobie Brothers, only for him to induce that Country Rock and Dan-esque feel that started with their Stampede album and ended up in their disastrous Minute By Minute. With Pretzel Logic ends the “group’s group phase”, and they will simply refuse to tour from then-onwards, thus enforcing the studio rats image of the band. While the PL album is better than Thrill (I’d love to see/hear if they expanded a few songs of PL), it’s certainly far away from Countdown and what the band had shown us what they could do. Hence in that regard, although I say there are four tracks I like on PL, it’s still far from an essential album, not even clinching the good 3 stars level, since this is the kind of album they could write in a coma, without the slightest shred of effort.

Ratings only

  • Fant0mas
  • Phrank
  • aglasshouse
  • KK58
  • esset55
  • Lynx33
  • Vano
  • Rokukai
  • Pr0fundus
  • Drummer
  • Zarathustra
  • The Manticore
  • Tychovski

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