Track of the Week: “Reelin’ In The Years,” by Steely Dan

Track of the Week“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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9 responses to “Track of the Week: “Reelin’ In The Years,” by Steely Dan

  1. Fantastic commentary on one of my all time favorite pair of musicians. Steely Dan’s extensive use of sessions musicians prevented them from doing many live appearances. Funny how their popularity never suffered despite this fact. Remember that their golden years occurred before the MTV years. Kind of makes you wonder what it is that determines the ultimate greatness of recorded music, spontaneity, or is it the meticulous crafting of a song piece by piece, with no stone left unturned. I remember auditioning several pairs of loudspeakers, trying to decide which was more suited for my personal tastes, and my choice for music to play in order to compare the speakers was a Steely Dan CD. As I switched from one pair to another, I remember the salesperson commenting, “I could never understand why this band is so popular, I never liked their music.” I recall thinking at the time, that based on that statement, I could not make a final judgment on my loudspeaker purchase with his advice. He just didn’t get it. The devil is in the details! Steely Dan covers all the bases.It’s those subtle nuances that make music, and life great!

  2. Steely Dan. This music said perfection to this man growing up in the 70’s. In 1985 Walter Becker produced a recording by a group called “China Crisis” If you like music from the 80’s, and you have not heard this recording, I urge you to take a listen. It is one of my personal favorites, and the musicianship is first rate. Well worth the time to check out!

  3. I forgot to list the title of the recording:

    Flaunt The Imperfection……….CDV2342

    It’s on Virgin Records

  4. The refreshing thing about both Steely Dan and China Crisis, from a listener standpoint-their music was never overly compressed. Very dynamic!

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