Song of the Week – Third World Man, Steely Dan

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Today is the 40th anniversary of the release of Steely Dan’s album GauchoGaucho is perhaps my least favorite Dan disc – a little too “yacht rocky” for me – but by the standards of other artists, it’s a damn fine record.

Gaucho was not an easy album to make.  Multiple personal issues caused major distractions.  Walter Becker was deep into his heroin addiction at the time.  Add to that a freak car accident while walking back to his apartment in New York that resulted in a broken foot that laid him up for six months!  If that wasn’t enough, his then girlfriend died of an overdose in his home which led to a multi-million-dollar lawsuit by her family that he eventually won.

Then there was the technical snafu.  The band worked for weeks on a song called “Second Arrangement” that they felt was one of their best songs ever.  That was until an assistant engineer accidentally erased most of the master.  (Something similar happened years earlier when the masters for Katy Lied were damaged due to an equipment malfunction.)  They tried to recreate it but when the new takes didn’t live up to the standard of the erased mix, they abandoned the song.  (It’s no wonder that the band stopped recording for some 20 years after they finished Gaucho.)

The “Second Arrangement” debacle left the album light one track.  So, Donald Fagan went back to the vaults from earlier album sessions and found the tapes for a song called “Were You Blind That Day.”  The lyrics were changed and the new track, “Third World Man,” was added to the album, and is today’s SotW.

Some Steely Dan fans think “Were You Blind That Day” was an Aja outtake.  But Larry Carlton, who played the song’s outstanding guitar solo has been quoted as saying it was a leftover from The Royal Scam sessions.  Experts agree that Carlton’s solo is the best of any Steely Dan recording.  It is less busy than his typical solos but perfectly complements the feel of the unusually slow Dan song.

As is typical for Steely Dan songs, the lyrics to “Third World Man” are ambiguous and can be interpreted in multiple ways.

Johnny’s playroom
Is a bunker filled with sand
He’s become a third world man
Smoky Sunday
He’s been mobilized since dawn
Now he’s crouching on the lawn
He’s a third world man

Soon you’ll throw down your disguise
We’ll see behind those bright eyes
By and by
When the sidewalks are safe
For the little guy

I saw the fireworks
I believed that I was dreaming
Till the neighbors came out screaming
He’s a third world man

Soon you’ll throw down your disguise
We’ll see behind those bright eyes
By and by
When the sidewalks are safe
For the little guys

When he’s crying out
I just sing that Ghana Rondo
E l’era del terzo mondo

He’s a third world man

Is Johnny a child playing Army?  Is he a real soldier that was deployed to a hostile country?  Are the fireworks real or the consequence of PTSD?

In 2005, Joni Mitchell released a covers CD album that was only available through Starbucks coffee shops.  Artist’s Choice – Music That Matters to Her included “Third World Man.”  It should be no surprise that Mitchell is so fond of that song for two reasons.  Firstly, since she is such an accomplished writer herself, it is no wonder she would be attracted to “Third World Man’s” sophisticated lyrics.  Then there’s her affection for guitarist Carlton’s work.  He has played on many of her albums, including Court and Spark, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, and the awesome Hejira.

Happy anniversary, Gaucho!  “I just sing that Ghana Rondo e l’era del terzo mondo.”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – American Lovers, Thomas Jefferson Kaye

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Have you ever heard of Thomas Jefferson Kaye?

I didn’t think so.  But you should know about him because he had a very successful career in the music biz.

First of all, he was the producer on Gene Clark’s best solo album (IMHO), No Other.  If that was his only accomplishment, he would be noteworthy.  But there is so much more!

In the late 50s, while still a teenager, he hooked up with Scepter/Wand records.  Through the early 60s there, he wrote and produced material for The Shirelles and several notable soul artists.  He also produced ? and the Mysterians; possibly even on their big hit “96 Tears”, though that has been a subject of debate.

In the 70s he worked with Clark, produced “Dead Skunk” for Loudon Wainwright III, co-wrote the Three Dog night hit “One Man Band”, and produced the Dr. John, Mike Bloomfield, John Hammond Jr. super session called Triumvirate.

Of special interest to me is his association with all of the cats at ABC/Dunhill records that were producing (Gary Katz) and playing on Steely Dan records – including Donald Fagen and Walter Becker.

This led Kaye to release two solo albums in the early 70s that allowed him full access to those great artists.  The first eponymous disc is almost a Steely Dan backed record.  Becker, Fagen, David Palmer, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and, Victor Feldman all make contributions, with Katz producing.

His second solo release, First Grade, even included two Becker/Fagen penned obscurities that they never recorded for Steely Dan.  “American Lovers” is today’s SotW.

“American Lovers” was recorded around the time that Steely Dan was working on Pretzel Logic.  While I wouldn’t claim that Becker and Fagen gave away their best song, it has the chord structure and lyrical intelligence we’ve come to expect from the boys.

Becker plays bass on this number and Jim Gordon pounds the traps.  Backing vocals are provided by Dusty Springfield, Clydie King and Shirley Matthews!

Kaye died in 1994 in Warwick, NY, just a few miles from my hometown of Newburgh.

So the next time someone asks if you’ve ever heard of Thomas Jefferson Kaye you’ll say – “Hell yes!”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Doctor Wu & Chain Lightning, Steely Dan

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

As an amateur sax player, I always take notice when great players pass on from this earth. In September we lost two important jazz sax greats – Wilton Felder (September 27th) and Phil Woods (September 4th).

As I thought about their work, it occurred to me that both men played on Steely Dan albums. I couldn’t recall of the top of my head which songs they played on so I did a little research and was reminded that Felder played bass (not sax) on “Chain Lightning” and Woods was on “Doctor Wu” – both from Katy Lied (1975). Now that’s a pretty strange coincidence!

p13032t7y42Felder is most well known as a founding member of The Jazz Crusaders. In that band he was known as a tenor sax player. Check out his work on Carole King’s “So Far Away” from the live album Scratch, where he holds a near one minute long note toward the end. The audience is whooping encouragement at first. As the tension builds, some guy shouts “stop” and there’s some nervous laughter to break it. It’s a marvelous moment caught on tape.

But Felder was also was an “in demand” session bass player on recordings for many popular music artists. He played bass on the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” and Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” to mention just a few of the hits. He also played bass on albums by Randy Newman and Joni Mitchell.

weather09240481443647101Woods was known as the “New Bird” in tribute to his influence, Charlie Parker. (He later married Parker’s widow.) The bulk of his career remained close to his bebop roots. He played with many of the greats including Dizzy and Monk.

But he also made some advances into popular music. He can be heard on Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are,” and Paul Simon’s “Have a Good Time.”

Sometimes, like this week, the SotW writes itself!

Enjoy… until next week.