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

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

  1. John Fell

    John Fell Forum Survivor

    I never cared much for Aja or Gaucho but I like the earlier albums.
  2. stonesfcr

    stonesfcr Forum Resident

    One of my favorite SD albums, "Third World Man" is one of my top 5 SD songs
    lukatherfan likes this.
  3. rjp

    rjp Senior Member

    absolutely my favorite steely dan album.

    not one single bad note on the entire record.

    a rare 'perfect' album
    serj and ultron9 like this.
  4. Phil Tate

    Phil Tate Miss you Indy x

    South Shields
    Loved Gaucho from the first time I heard it. It's always bewildered me why people don't rate it as highly as the previous albums. Also think the title track is one of their very best songs. I honestly don't think the album puts a foot wrong.
    serj, ultron9, johnod and 1 other person like this.
  5. blackstar

    blackstar Senior Member

    My favourite of theirs, it's the pinnacle IMO, because it's everything Steely Dan is about. It's perfectly recorded (you might say it sounds clinical and cold and it sure does, so what? It's what they always wanted to sound like, since Pretzel Logic anyway!) and the lyrics are all about sex and drugs. Seriously, what's not to like?

    Babylon sisters, shake it! :wiggle:

    "The Cuervo Gold, the fine Colombian
    Make tonight a wonderful thing"
  6. CirculationUnderflow

    CirculationUnderflow Well-Known Member

    dont go in the steely dan album by album thread, those folks will have a heart attack if you dont say everything by the DAN was the greatest most bestest music of all time.

    Someone nailed it earlier - Hey 19 - BS and TOOM are the only 3 here - the rest is forgettable
  7. Monosterio

    Monosterio Forum Resident

    South Florida
    First side is good, second side weak (though I do have a soft spot for "My Rival").
    zebop likes this.
  8. jon9091

    jon9091 Master Of Reality

    My initial reaction was that it was boring (and expensive as the price was jacked up on it). It took quite a while to sink in, and now I can appreciate it considerably more. But I still feel there is a sameness to the whole thing.
  9. I was a big Steely Dan, buying everything as it was released.

    Aja was an amazing triumph and evolution from The Royal Scam... The fact that my all time favourite sax player, Wayne Shorter, had a solo spot on the title track made it even better for me.

    After Aja, they released FM, and it had some elements of Aja, but felt like a progression again, plus the stellar Becker solo on the song's coda. Because of that song as an interlude in the three year gap between albums, my expectations were high.

    I thought that Gaucho was a step down in consistency compared to the string of albums preceding it. I really liked most songs but there were a couple that just didn't click for me.

    In any event, over time I have come to enjoy it more as an album than I did initially, and while some tracks are generally included on any compilations/playlists I have assembled over the years, it has never been a top favourite. This is likely due to how much I like the others.... they all can't be #1... :)
    Instant Dharma and Ginger Ale like this.
  10. Malcolm Crowne

    Malcolm Crowne Forum Habitue

    Portland OR
    Point of comparison should be to other great bands' "last" albums -- how many greats sort of peter out with the last lp? Gaucho seems thought out, a deliberate pinnacle and the logical conclusion to the landmark quality of Aja. Gaucho has the feeling of a final statement. Compare to the final studio releases from Zeppelin, the Beatles, etc, and how those fit in to the body of work preceding...
    ANALOGUE OR DEATH likes this.
  11. Raunchnroll

    Raunchnroll Senior Member

    It was a bleak period for new rock music. Gaucho, along with Moving Pictures and Empty Glass, kept me musically fit.
    ANALOGUE OR DEATH and Mad Dog like this.
  12. The truly great songs on this album are Time Out of Mind, Third World Man, and Gaucho. The title track, in particular, has become one of my all-time favorite Steely Dan songs. It's not as immediate as the others, and the melody and chord progression are elongated to become something fairly unusual. But once I got my head around it, it became like aural gold. (Au perhaps?)
    ultron9 and Phil Tate like this.
  13. ohnothimagen

    ohnothimagen "Live music is better!"

    I do hope you all chime in when we finally get round to discussing Gaucho in the Steely Dan album-by-album discussion I'm currently hosting:righton:
  14. kwadguy

    kwadguy Senior Member

    Cambridge, MA
    The thing about Gaucho is that in their quest for perfection, they made a quite soulless album. The essence of soul is the realness/depth that arises from imperfection. By insisting that every last note be in its proper place (and the use of a drum machine) they ripped the soul (and heart) out of the music. Together with a decidedly weaker set of tunes than before...THAT's what's wrong with Gaucho.
  15. PBo

    PBo Forum Resident

    New England
    I think Gaucho is a great album. It's musically polished, and maybe too much so for some people's taste, but there are some nice grooves on the majority of the tracks. Once you look past the musical gloss, it contains a pretty dark underbelly. Lyrically, you have a song about that the sadness of aging on "Hey Nineteen" and songs that both warn of the dangers of excessive living ("Babylon Sisters" , "Glamour Profession"), but on then also celebrating excess and hard drugs on "Time Out of Mind". It might be Steely Dan's bleakest album. It probably accurately represents where the band was at mentally at the end of the 70s. I've read they went through a pretty difficult period making the album.
    ohnothimagen and Instant Dharma like this.
  16. lucan_g

    lucan_g Forum Resident

    Steely Dan failing to initially credit Keith Jarrett always left a bad taste in my mouth.

    Not a big fan of this one.
  17. PBo

    PBo Forum Resident

    New England
    Also, wasn't Gaucho always considered a pretty great album? I just checked wikipedia and they mention that Rolling Stone originally gave it 4 1/2 stars out of five when it was initially released, and that the New York Times named it album of the year in 1980. I mean a band could do worse when it comes to critical reception.
  18. Roger Thornhill

    Roger Thornhill Forum Resident

    Ilford, Essex, UK
    Neither NME nor Melody Maker rated it - I'll post the reviews in the album-by-album thread when we reach that album.

    It's in none of the three major weeklies end of year lists either.
  19. smilin ed

    smilin ed Forum Resident

    My recollection too. I love it though I could live without Hey 19. I love the dirty little noir of My Rival but Third World Man, Babylon Sisters and the title track are outstanding.
  20. jon9091

    jon9091 Master Of Reality

    Steely Dan: Gaucho
    written on March 1, 1981 and archived in 1972-1982 category
    By Mitchell Cohen

    She stomped into the living room, as much as one can stomp in pink slippers and an extra-large Close Encounters t-shirt, and conspicuously clicked the “stop” button of the cassette machine.

    I continued to write.

    “Steely Dan,” she announced, “are a symptom of everything that is wrong with our relationship.”

    Conversations that start with sentences that include the words “our relationship” are invariably not fun. I put my Pilot Fineliner down.

    She continued, “Those noodle-headed pseuds take four years – ”


    “Three years to concoct their little jazzoid meanderings that any junked-up tenorman in 1954 could have spun in a three hour session. And you sit there and take notes on them. How can you even pay attention at a time like this?” She was visibly upset. The date was December 10, 1980, which accounts for a lot.

    “Sharon,” I said, “I’m as distressed as you are. I’ve had no sleep in two days. This is work. As in deadline.”

    “This is folderol for college juniors who are in poetry workshops and think that lines about ‘bodacious cowboys in spangled leather ponchos’ are profoundly something or other, and I’m aghast that you seriously consider Fagen and Becker hotshot songwriters.”

    “Wait a minute. You’re the one who puttered around the house for days singing ‘They call Alabama the Crimson Tide, call me Deacon Blues,’ and you think the NCAA is a black militant organization.”

    “I also sing ‘Catch that Pepsi spirit, drink it in, drink it in.’ Catchy little phrases, so what? Steely Dan haven’t made a decent record since Pretzel Logic. ‘Rikki Don’t LOSE That Number.’ There was a neat song. Gaucho tries so hard to be Duke Ellington 1980, and it’s more like Sergio Mendez with a headcold. Give me a break, kid.”

    “You talk like a rock cirtic.”

    “Heaven forbid.”

    I got off the couch, grabbed a pint of chocolate chocolate chip ice cream from the fridge, and turned on the TV. Geraldo Rivera. I turned off the TV. Sharon sat in the director’s chair next to the stereo and smoked a Camel Light.

    “The only reason you like Steely Dan is because you used to be a hippie. Maybe if I’d taken as much mescaline as you did in 1969, I’d find Fagen’s drippy little voice appealing. Enough hashish and, what’s that song where he keeps singing ‘jolly roger’?”

    “‘My Rival’.”

    “Yeah. Maybe that would make sense.”

    “Hey. That’s a cool song. Wait, Sharon, I’ll read some of the lyrics to you.”

    “Don’t Bother.”

    “No. Wait. Here: ‘I struck a match against the door/Of Anthony’s Bar and Grill/I was the whining stranger/A fool in love with time to kill’.”

    Wrong choice. Sharon was in hysterics. “Oh, perfect. Perfect! Of course. Springsteen on ludes. You would think whining fools are something to sing about. Dearest, when it comes to kvetching – ”

    “Look, Sharon, it’s only a record. Not as good as Aja, I guess, not as many memorable tunes, but – ”

    “We’re not talking about tunes here, bozo. We’re talking about you wallowing in narcissistic despair over your thirtieth birthday. We’re talking about ‘woe-is-me’ and ‘woe-are-us.’ Gaucho reminds me of Welcome To L.A. for goodness sake.”

    “I liked Welcome To L.A.


    “I like you.”

    “I know.”

    “What are we going to do?”

    “About what?”

    “Carrying on, finding a way to cope. I’ve been crying a lot lately. Even before this – ”

    “I noticed. I don’t know. I just don’t want to think that this album” – she reached over and hit the “play” button and ‘Glamour Profession’ came on – “has anything to say to you. Emptiness is not something to celebrate. Meticulousness is not rock ‘n’ roll. Well-placed notes are not going to wake you up.”

    “We have a difference of opinion.”

    “As always. Finish the piece, o.k.? Don’t let me influence you.” She smiled as she left the room.

    I poured some Jim Beam and wrote: Pessimism is appropriate. We play out our dramas in Chinese restaurants, on long-distance telephone calls from the beach, and it gets harder and harder to get a grip. The new Steely Dan album is so in control that, naturally, it sounds ready to snap. Beneath the precision, the effort to make it Right, is a recognition of how bizarre, how out of hand it’s all getting. Why do I like Steely Dan, and Gaucho? Because there are lyrics like “It’s hard times befallen/The sole survivors/She thinks I’m crazy/But I’m just growing old.” And because they’re in a hit single.
    kw21925, 905, tvstrategies and 6 others like this.
  21. chrisblower

    chrisblower Forum Resident

    Think this is the third discussion of this great album in the last year , elsewhere I attached a fantastic review by the late Ian Macdonald .. Gaucho is the template for the latter career of Donald Fagen...
    linclink and Celebrated Summer like this.
  22. jon9091

    jon9091 Master Of Reality

    ‘Gaucho’ Review
    written on February 5, 1981 and archived in 1972-1982 category
    [​IMG]By Ariel Swartley
    Rolling Stone

    The thing you begin to notice, listening to Steely Dan’s songs, is that no one ever answers anyone. For all the talk — and their latest album, Gaucho, is as compulsively chatty as dinnertime on death row — there’s no conversation. Whoever keeps asking, “Who is that gaucho, amigo?” might as well be talking to the wall.

    Even the melody of “Gaucho” just throws the singer’s questions back at him, jumping up the scale as his intonation rises, swooping down as his voice trails off in bewilderment, echoing and exaggerating his phrasing. Naturally, the guy gets a little hysterical as the game goes on, but not so much so that he can’t remember details — such as everything that freaky gaucho was wearing. To Steely Dan’s constantly talking heads, surfaces seem very clear. It’s only people who are indistinct: shadow figures, possibly hallucinations, always unknown quantities.

    But sometimes that’s a godsend. In “Hey Nineteen,” the satire is straightforward enough. Between a thirty-five-year-old’s nostalgia and a nineteen-year-old’s nonchalance, there’s not a lot of rapport (“No we can’t talk at all”). Yet the composition ends in a blessedly fuzzy epiphany, with the generation gap bridged by Cuervo Gold and fine Columbian. The labels are important — Steely Dan’s characters seem to know the world exclusively through brand names. These characters are the true “heads”: solitarily confined intelligences who’ve had to order all their experience from a catalog. But oh, with the right blurring agents, not knowing can be a beautiful thing.

    It’s always been a problem with Steely Dan to figure out who’s being ironic about whom: Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s cynicism blasts pretty indiscriminately. In the past, the saxophone used to give you a clue. On Katy Lied, it played the warm substance to Dr. Wu’s sinister shadow. On Aja, it was Deacon Blue’s salvation, and the LP’s as well. But the horns on Gaucho don’t cut loose — they lick at the melody.

    There is no release. Potentially passionate outbursts, like the guitars at the end of “Third World Man,” are damped down fast by cool, muted choruses. And whenever something wholly satisfying and seemingly spontaneous does slip out — e.g., the line about the Santa Ana winds in “Babylon Sisters” — you wait almost forever for it to be repeated.

    After years of hibernation in the studio, the metamorphosis that began with The Royal Scam is complete. Steely Dan have perfected the aesthetic of the tease. Their sound is as slippery as their irony. Are those the trumpets of angels near the end of the title tune? Could that slouching gaucho, the one denied a room in the singer’s high-rise inn, be the new messiah? On Gaucho, the melodies are questions, too — long-winded, probing, unresolved.

    There are people who will tell you that that’s not enough. That Steely Dan have fallen into the dread imitative fallacy, making a record as desolate as the self-absorbed paranoids they describe. But I don’t think so. For all their sneering sendups of the superficial, the current and the hip — their name-dropping characters, those Szechuan dumplings at Mr. Chow’s — they take a sensualist’s delight in names and surfaces. Donald Fagen’s tongue slithers over a phrase like “Brut and charisma,” tasting the syllables, appreciating the copywriter’s wit in the civilized machismo of the continental spelling. That appreciation of, and absorption in, detail lends substance to Steely Dan’s obsession with surfaces. And, accuracy being satire’s cutting edge, it also makes their songs funnier than their characters realize.

    Yet Gaucho is more than a good laugh or a twinge of recognition. If you leave a question hanging long enough, it becomes practically metaphysical. (Are you with me, Dr. Wu?) And that’s a loophole big enough to let the angels in. If, like Steely Dan’s characters, you’re not quite sure about what’s real, then you have no way of knowing what’s out of the question either. The water, as they sing in “Time Out of Mind,” “may change to cherry wine.”
  23. jon9091

    jon9091 Master Of Reality

    ‘Gaucho’: The Sardonic Style of Steely Dan
    written on January 18, 1981 and archived in 1972-1982 category
    By Stephen Holden
    New York Times

    Nearly three years in the making, Steely Dan’s Gaucho (MCA-6102) is as refined as pop music can get without becoming too esoteric for a mass audience. Though it consists of only two men, Steely Dan must be counted one of the most influential rock “groups” of the past decade.

    Founded by the songwriting team of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen eight years ago, they started out as a touring sextet. With Mr. Becker, the bassist, and Mr. Fagen, lead vocalist and keyboards, the group had a string of hits including “Do It Again,” “Reeling in the Years,” and “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.”

    After 1974, they stopped performing and made the recording studio their artistic base, using a shifting array of session musicians instead of fixed personnel. Over the course of seven albums, they’ve evolved an unusually subtle and literate brand of pop-rock that blends modal jazz harmonies, fusion instrumentation and funk-tinged polyrhythms within extended pop structures.

    Though other rock groups like Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago have enjoyed commercial success blending jazz and pop, none has come close to matching Steely Dan in sophistication and taste. They helped inspire rock singers like Joni Mitchell to explore jazz and paved the way for the Doobie Brothers’ brand of pop-funk. Even stylistically unrelated groups like the Eagles were influenced by Steely Dan’s carefully blocked arranging style.

    But more than their studio craftsmanship, what distinguishes Steely Dan is their songwriting. Mr. Becker’s and Mr. Fagen’s specialty is the cryptically sardonic vignette. Gaucho’s seven extended studio set pieces are also interrelated short stories. The main characters are would-be hipsters who define themselves in terms of style rather than feelings or ideas.

    Steely Dan’s sour-sweet pop-jazz style, with its modal harmonics and dips into polytonality, illustrates both the comedy and the pathos of trying to keep your cool in even the most dire circumstances. Though the melodies are always heading toward sentimental resolutions, somewhere along the way they get short-circuited. And the painstaking construction of the arrangements mirrors the characters’ desperate maintenance of appearances.

    Gaucho is a word for Latin-American cowboy, but Mr. Fagen and Mr. Becker also use it as a pun on the French word gauche. All seven songs on the new album puncture cultivated mystiques.

    The “bodacious cowboy” of the title song wears a spangled leather poncho and is a social embarrassment to the friend who brings him to a party at the mysterious “Custerdome.” The narrator of “Glamour Profession” is a cocaine dealer who wears Brut cologne and boasts about the telephone in his Chrysler. In “Hey, Nineteen,” a thirtyish man dating a teen-ager realizes that they have nothing in common beyond the booze and dope that will make the evening “wonderful.” “Babylon Sisters,” “Time Out of Mind,” “My Rival,” and “Third World Man,” look askance at swingers, gurus and sexual and political paranoia.

    Gaucho’s satire is so oblique that the songs avoid sounding snidely hip in the manner of Frank Zappa, one of Steely Dan’s obvious influences. Their humor is compassionate, for they see the struggle to stay cool as noble in addition to farcical. Instead of delivering broadsides, they sidle up to the scenes they describe and pick out oddly telling details.

    Their perspective is at once far-sighted and clinically fascinated. It’s also emotionally double-edged, for despite its coolness, the music is quite beautiful. With its crystalline keyboard textures and diaphanous group vocals, Gaucho contains the sweetest music Steely Dan has ever made.
    Gardo, Doc Diego, yohalfprice and 3 others like this.
  24. alexpop

    alexpop Power pop + other bad habits....

    Top two for me is Aja & Gaucho.
  25. pool_of_tears

    pool_of_tears Searching For Simplicity

    No, and no

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