Steely Dan's third album, Pretzel Logic, was released to considerable acclaim in 1974. Looser than the preceding Countdown to Ecstasy and more varied than their debut Can't Buy a Thrill, it demonstrated clearly the consummate craftsmanship of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. Never ones to make straightforward rock-and-roll, they filled the album with jazzy licks and poppy harmonies, creating songs with both polished, seamless surfaces and interesting depths.

  1. Rikki Don't Lose That Number (4:08)
    The album begins with a rolling jazz piano line leading directly into the flowing verse. Calm and collected, the song recounts a sincere request for the singer's lover to come back once she figures a few things out. The relaxed feel of the song intensifies a bit for the chorus, with vocal harmonies and electric guitar thickening the song. The guitar solo is pure Steely Dan, a jazzy, unhurried little noodle that nevertheless sounds very hot. This song was a major hit when it was released, with good reason.
  2. Night By Night (3:40)
    Saxophones and horns join up for this song, which shuffles through its three and a half minutes without much distinction. Mostly, it forms a stylistic bridge between the active Rikki Don't Lose That Number and the reflective Any Major Dude Will Tell You, and livens up the tempo to hook the rock listeners back in for the rest of the ride.
  3. Any Major Dude Will Tell You (3:08)
    A clean guitar and Rhodes piano back up the gentle, beautiful vocals of this song. Donald Fagen is at his most sincere here, and the wordy wordplay that makes up his lyric is Steely Dan's songwriting pros at their most sympathetic and kind. Its quiet assurance makes a foil for the calm pleading of the opener, and the clean arrangement makes it stand out like a flag from the rest of this busy album.
  4. Barrytown (3:22)
    This affectionate Dylan pastiche finishes off its bouncy piano line with humourously oversung vocals, exemplified by the hook "I can SEE by what you CAAR-ry that you come from BAARRY-town." Its socially-conscious description of discrimination also recalls Dylan, whom both Becker and Fagan consider a major influence on their songwriting. This kind of parody could easily become malicious, but Steely Dan manage to pull it off with their trademark class.
  5. East St. Louis Toodle-Oo (2:49)
    A cover of a Duke Ellington instrumental, it is played a tribute to the Dan's jazz forbears. The lead, muted trumpet line is replaced by a heavily flanged and wah'd guitar, to great effect. The showmanship of the piece is very enjoyable, and a nice contrast to the controlled focus of Becker and Fagan's compositions.
  6. Parker's Band (2:45)
    The tribute is furthered by this excited, jazzy song describing the musical craziness and innovation surrounding legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker. The lyrics give the impression that, for the musicians described, anything was possible and the sky was the limit. Full, punchy drumming fills the song with energy, and every instrument gets its instant in the sun. Maybe it's true for these musicians, too.
  7. Through With Buzz (1:34)
    This severe-sounding piano and string song has a dramatic, film-score quality to it. The listener is presented with a number of reasons why the titular Buzz was shown the door, and one gets the impression that they mean all of of them.
  8. Pretzel Logic (4:32)
    The title track's cryptic lyrics are the source of much speculation, with their themes of the passage of time and disorientation, their dwelling on Napoleon, and other quirks. Some people claim it's about Hitler. All of this discussion misses one thing, though; the music is good enough that the lyrics could have been about anything. In turns both bluesy and jazzy, it maintains one of the solidest grooves in Steely Dan's oeuvre. The horn arrangements colour the mix and and provide a solid response to the guitar lines, which grow more and more rapid and insistent throughout the song.
  9. With A Gun (2:18)
    Acoustic guitar opens this delightful Western-sounding song. The lyrics showcase Donald Fagen's most deadpan sarcasm, placing the phrase "with a gun" in the most outrageously apt places, almost in the manner of adding "in bed" to fortune cookies. The interplay of electric lead and acoustic rhythm guitar here is very entertaining, and the song seems longer than a mere two minutes.
  10. Charlie Freak (2:45)
    The most explicit 'story' song on the album, it tells the tale of a down-on-his-luck junkie who sells his prize posession (a gold ring) to the narrator and subsequently overdoses. Walking minor-key piano lines slowly intensify over the course of the song, first imperceptibly, then clearly. The sarcasm comes in in the narrator's "wisdom" in paying a pittance for the ring, and then his returning it, after Charlie's death.
  11. Monkey In Your Soul (2:33)
    The closer doesn't match the emotional intensity of much of the album; its staccato guitar chords and nonsensical lyrics lighten the mood considerably before finally winding out.

Pretzel Logic is generally considered a classic, and many consider it to be Steely Dan's greatest album. The album itself certainly shows this; its makers loved what they were doing, and it shows. Its relatively short songs seem long by virtue of their enjoyability, a quality shared by several other classic albums such as the Pixies' Doolittle. Few albums have the mix of simple and sophisticated pleasures that are put into this music.

This writeup is copyright 2005 D.G. Roberge and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial licence. Details can be found at .

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