“Reelin’ In The Years,” by Steely Dan is one of my all-time favorite tunes. It has great lyrics, excellent musicianship and incredible lead guitar work.
Steely Dan, led by keyboardist Donald Fagen and guitarist Walter Becker, is a band known for its polish. Each song is well-crafted and well-recorded. Fagen and Becker are notoriously meticulous about their albums and each track is scrutinized to a mind-numbing degree. Oddly, Fagen and Becker use a lot of outside help to perform instruments in the studio despite their seemingly obsessive nature.* On “Reelin’ In The Years,” they enlisted the help of a session guitarist named Elliott Randall.
A session guitarist is someone who is hired by a studio, band or record label to perform for a band during a recording session. They are hired guns, so to speak. They come in handy for artists like Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, whose collective musical vision is so broad that it exceeds their musicianship. They need help to recreate the songs as they see fit. In this case, they wanted a blistering solo that is both rocking and yet melodically complex enough to fit into Steely Dan’s jazzy vibe. Elliott Randall delivered.
Using a Stratocaster played through a distorted bass guitar amplifier, Randall played one of the best solos of all time on “Reelin’ In The Years.” I’m not the only one who feels that way. Guitar World Magazine named these solos to the number 40 spot on their top 50 solos list.
*If you’re interested in seeing Fagen and Becker’s obsessive nature in action and use of session musicians, take a look at this video about the making of another great Steely Dan song, “Peg.”
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