Reassessing Steely Dan's "Gaucho" (almost 37 years later)

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by johnny 99, Sep 11, 2017.

  1. johnny 99

    johnny 99 Down On Main Street Thread Starter

    After hearing of Walter Becker's passing last week (RIP), I dug out my "Citizen Steely Dan" box set to listen to some of it in tribute.

    I decided after years of not bothering with it at all, I'd give "Gaucho" a listen and see what I'd been missing all these years (I'd always said I didn't like it overall in the past)

    Well, I was wrong because it turns out it's not a bad album at all. I still prefer "Aja" to it, but I really like the songs "Gaucho", "Time Out Of Mind" (with Mark Knopfler!) and "Third World Man".

    I had warmed up a bit over the years to "Hey Nineteen" and "Babylon Sisters" because they were on one of the first CD's I ever heard ("A Decade Of Steely Dan")

    So, overall, I like "Gaucho" now; it only took 36 years or so...

    Anyone else have the same experience with this album; it left them cold at first but they warmed up to it eventually?

    Last edited: Sep 11, 2017
  2. Jackson

    Jackson Senior Member

    MA, USA
    It's a smoother/mellower album, and not close to being their best, but it's still Steely Dan, and a superb album in my opinion.
  3. libertycaps

    libertycaps Forum Resident

    Portland, OR, USA
    Incredulous if one loves Aja, but dislikes Gaucho.
  4. Siegmund

    Siegmund Vinyl Sceptic

    Britain, Europe
    It was the last of their 'gold run' albums and the last album of theirs I heard.

    I like it but can never remember much about it, apart from the two frequently anthologised tracks.
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  5. sekaer

    sekaer Forum Resident

    United States
    I wonder how different the album would have been if Becker wasn't battling drugs at the time
  6. PretzelLogic

    PretzelLogic I have just got out of prison.

    London, England
    I wouldn't call it a reassessment as much as a bout of common sense.
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  7. johnny 99

    johnny 99 Down On Main Street Thread Starter

    :laugh:Some things take time I guess...

    Listening to the song "My Rival", I couldn't help but think "what if a good DJ got a hold of this and fused it with Bowie's "Fame?"; it would work as they are in the same key and pretty much the same tempo...
  8. PhilBorder

    PhilBorder Forum Resident

    Sheboygan, WI
    The fundamental contradiction that informs and drives Steely Dan came to a head here, resulting in an uneven album. Their love for jazz, with its spontaneous expression vs their clinical obsession with audio and musical perfection. Like on AJA, it worked when at the service of a good song - the three on Gaucho I like are TOOM, Gaucho and Hey Nineteen. Glamour Profession is o.k. The other 3 songs I sort of actually dislike, although My Rival is an amazing study in interlocking rhythm. Unsure if Kulee Baba, or Second Arrangement would have made this record any better. They were chasing that obsession with perfection to its airless culmination.

    Thankfully, when they returned on TAN, they did something I thought they should always do: let a talent like Chris Potter just blow for a few minutes!
  9. zebop

    zebop Well Known Stranger

    I loved it when I first heard it, it blew and warped my mind and I haven't been the same since. I can get why people don't like it, it's a bit cold around the edges, "Wendel" is on it and there's an eerie vibe throughout. Me? I think it's perfect for the 80s in a way no other record was.
  10. nikosvault

    nikosvault Forum Resident

    3 great cuts (Babylon Sisters, Hey Nineteen and Time Out of Mind), but if I try to listen to the album start to finish I start feeling claustrophobic. It's slickness can be suffocating.
  11. Jackson

    Jackson Senior Member

    MA, USA
    One of my favorite Steely Dan songs, and there isn't one i don't like. I sometimes listen to it on repeat.
  12. cwd

    cwd Forum Resident

    Clarksville, TN
    I think disliking it was trendy but less so as time as passed. Compared against what came before-especially Aja the most immediate-it is a lesser album but nonetheless an excellent and enjoyable one
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  13. My favorite Dan album.
  14. kwadguy

    kwadguy Senior Member

    Cambridge, MA
    Hated it when it came out. Now I find it mostly uninteresting. Hate takes too much energy to sustain. It still doesn't command my concentration. Background music for too hip dinner parties, perhaps. Aja was the culmination of what Steely Dan had been moving towards and straddles the jazz pop line elegantly. Gaucho goes too far, and with considerably weaker songs.

    I consider Steely Dan to have a great run of six albums. Then there's Gaucho. And then there's the run of two studio albums years later which is another thing entirely.
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2017
  15. SonicBob

    SonicBob Forum Resident

    West Virginia
    Funny I should see this thread as I've been listening to Aja, Gaucho, Fagen"s Nightfly and Becker's 11 Tracks of Whack releases as of late. If Aja was Fagen and Becker's peak of sophisticated brilliance in meticulous composition, performance and production, Gaucho is practically its siamese twin, except the songs aren't quite as profound on a more consistent basis of depth and quality as its predecessor. And yet, still, there's much to enjoy on its 38 minutes of recording length with the solid and definitive opener in Babylon Sisters, the top 40 smooth pop/R&B/ jazz number Hey Nineteen and the upbeat and funky Time Out of Mind featuring Mark Knopfler. The title cut was a matter of contention and conflict when jazz artist Keith Jarrett made claims that Fagen and Becker neglected to offer him credit within the numbers' composition and that only added more friction and controversy to the creation, completion and release of the finished album.

    I've accessed youtube and discovered this for those that may not know of this existing. Pretty cool stuff

    But back to the Gaucho album itself, I think it reaches the point of Becker and Fagen's OCD behaviors and attitude towards their own crafts to the breaking point of overkill. According to wikipedia, the 50 seond fade out of Babylon Sisters took 55 tries on the part of Fagen, Becker, engineer Roger Nichols and producer Gary Katz to "get it". I could only imagine the aggravation of getting the proper mix of a track, but the last 50 seconds of it? That's quite insane. But then again, that's why they were Steely Dan and I wasn't! HAHA
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2017
  16. johnny 99

    johnny 99 Down On Main Street Thread Starter

    Good point; I remember everyone I knew at the time dumped on "Gaucho" for being 'slick' or 'tuneless' compared to their earlier work (although I remember a lot of guys I knew in 1977 dumped on "Aja" which I always loved); it didn't 'rock' or have a single on it that grabbed the public the way that "Peg" or "Josie" did...or it didn't have a great deep cut like "Deacon Blues"...

    Taken for what it is, I can accept it now as being a "good" album. I got a kick out of hearing Mark Knopfler's classic guitar runs all through "Time Out Of Mind" as I'd never noticed it before; I probably never even listened to the whole song before...
  17. Finchingfield

    Finchingfield Forum Resident

    Henrico, Va
    Gaucho is incredible. Here's what you need to do:

    --wait till the sun goes down
    --put it on
    --turn out the lights
    --sit back in your easy chair
    --sip on your favorite beverage
    --glide into a surreal listening experience
    --optional: fall asleep while listening to Third World Man
  18. Fullbug

    Fullbug Forum Resident

    Stalking the dread moray eel
  19. johnny 99

    johnny 99 Down On Main Street Thread Starter

    For years I felt this same way. Something last week made me throw away all of my preconceived notions regarding "Gaucho" and listen to it in a quiet environment on a good system with a nice stiff whiskey, ice and water.

    Somehow, for me it worked this time. I saw this album for what it is and tried not to let the past colour my judgement of it now.

    There is nothing cooler than re-discovering a record you didn't previously care for and you end up liking it (especially when it's currently in your collection!)

    Thanks for all the great comments; keep 'em coming...and have a drink for Walter!
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2017
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  20. poe_man

    poe_man Senior Member

    I love this album! Not my favorite SD album, but I still love it!
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  21. Nostaljack

    Nostaljack Resident R&B enthusiast

    Washington, DC
    Cold is right. Frigid might be even better. It also has very little energy. It's like Aja without the great ideas. There's little on it that needs to be heard, honestly. Also, I hate Wendel. It robbed them of groove. The search for perfect time for this kind of music needs to involve human drummers. His record is dripping in Wendel and it suffers greatly for it.

    ...and this is coming from a guy who loves the sound of drum machines when they make sense. Here, they don't.

  22. pocofan

    pocofan Forum Resident

    Toss up for my second favorite SD album. Can't Buy. Thrill being first. 2nd place is Aja tied with Gaucho.
  23. Roger Thornhill

    Roger Thornhill Forum Resident

    Ilford, Essex, UK
    I'm going to give it another spin when its time has come on the album by album thread.

    My thoughts at the time were that I was pretty unimpressed apart from "Third World Man."

    This probably had more to do with my changing tastes in the 2-3 years since Aja than maybe the album itself. Between Aja and Gaucho I had gotten into Wire. Magazine, Annette Peacock, This Heat. The Pop Group and a whole bunch of jazz guys - Mingus, Dolphy, Arthur Blythe, DeJohnette...and Gaucho just seemed...dull. And somewhat irrelevant in 1980.

    As I said, I'll give it another go when we reach Gaucho in a few weeks time.
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  24. Metralla

    Metralla Joined Jan 13, 2002

    San Jose, CA
    I am surprised that some Steely Dan fans don't like it, and don't like it with a great deal of enthusiasm. ;)

    I have a very soft spot for the album.
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  25. Roger Thornhill

    Roger Thornhill Forum Resident

    Ilford, Essex, UK
    Oh, and The Second Arrangement?

    Meh. It ain't that great despite its legendary status...

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