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Steely Dan: Reelin' in the Years [Paperback]

Brian Sweet


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Book Description

August 1994
A biography of the group Steely Dan, the American jazz rock band who have sold over 50 million albums during a career lasting over 20 years. It tells of how Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, a couple of cynical New York jazz fans wormed their way into a record contract and astonished critics with their first album "Can't Buy a Thrill" in 1973. Nine albums later, after "Aja", had topped charts everywhere, they were among the biggest selling acts in the world. Then they quit, only to reform in 1993. Steely Dan were different from the rest of rock's super-sellers. They rarely gave interviews. After some early bad experiences on the road, they refused to tour. They didn't have their photographs taken so few people knew what they looked like. Steely Dan wasn't even a proper group; it was two musicoans and a producer, yet every top notch player in the world lined up to appear on their albums. In this book the author, who is the editor and publisher of "Metal Leg", the UK based Steely Dan fanzine, finally draws back the veil of secrecy that has surrounded Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. Here is the story of how they made their music and lived their lives.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Omnibus Pr (August 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0711935513
  • ISBN-13: 978-0711935518
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 15.6 x 2.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 440 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #228,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sloppy, Obsessive account of great American Band June 16 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Steely Dan are noted for their exacting and meticulous recording style. Unfortunately 'Reeling In The Years' by Brian Sweet is written in almost the complete opposite of Steely Dan's style. Long on gossip and hazy recollections by Steely Dan alumni Sweet's account never gives us what we want: Steely Dan!
After informing us that he could not get any interviews with either of Steely Dan's principals Walter Becker or Donald Fagen in his preface, ("for reasons best known only to themselves, Becker and Fagen, declined to be interviewed despite several earnest requests."),Sweet then spends the next 36 pages detailing Fagen's childhood (but not Becker's), the songwriters school days at Bard College and then a long study of a terrible film the duo wrote the score for in 1971 ('You Gotta Walk It, Like You Talk It'..so bad that it's never been aired on tv).
One of the things that die hard 'Dan fans hoped for before this book came out was a detailed account of how and when the group came into being when they were signed by ABC Dunhill Records in 1971. Despite lots of details and a plethora of non-source credited quotes (in fact none of the quotes in the entire book are sourced!)the reader will still come away somewhat confused as to how the original group (which toured for three years) was first assembled. Sweet himself seems confused, on p. 40 he states that Denny Dias, a longtime guitarist for the band, was the first to join the band. Five pages later he states that the group had already recorded and released their first songs before Dias had "yet to arrive in California."
Aside from compiling a sloppy chronology Sweet gives off obsessive tones with comments like "What more do they want?" as he demands they release a new album in his introduction. Later he takes on the roll of psychologist with, "Fagen seemed to be blaming his parents and the American lifestyles in the Fifties for his thirtysomething creative problems." What lifestyles of the 1950's were a! ffecting Fagen some 30 years later one can only guess but Sweet seems confident in telling us the true psyche of this person he's never interviewed.
Now I don't blame all of these faults with the book on the writer..... But what you get is a half baked account, slapped together (complete with a picture of Donald Fagen in kindergarten)for a quick buck....maybe Fagen and Becker are saving their version of the Steely Dan story for Hollywood!....I can see it 'Steely Dan: The Trip We Made To Hollywood..(and back)!
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Steely Dan: Gosssip, a history but no Fagen or Becker Aug. 5 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
While British author Brian Sweet should be commended for compiling the first ever account of Steely Dan in book form, the publishers should have realized that Sweet was not a first rate author. Or a writer in the usual sense..he was the creator of a sloppy fanzine that even to diehard Steely Dan fans was both obsessive and idiotic. Omnibus perhaps should have subtitled this 'A Britsh fans' view of Steely Dan' for it is quite ironic that Steely Dan, perhaps the most American of all the great 1970's bands, has yet to be recognized by the US rock historians. While Sweet does fill in some of the holes in the early Steely saga he spends too much time on banal trivia, is it really important that we know what color tie Fagen & Becker's first manager was wearing when he met them? Did we really need a picture of Donny Fagen age 12? The publishers should have realized that they had hired an adoring
fan of the composers and not a writer or researcher. My father said that you can always
judge a book by its index and bibliography...this book has neither...no index + no bibliography= sloppy writing...Steely Dan deserve better.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great info, poorly written Feb. 14 2000
By Hock - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This biography of Walter Becker and Donald Fagan is loaded with interesting information about the lives and near maniacal recording practices of Steely Dan. I believe this is the pretty much the only biography of Steeley Dan available and as a huge fan I could not put the book down. Note, however, that great literature this is not. The book is extremly poorly written, bordering on offensive at times, but the content more than makes up for it.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Reelin' in where Real isn't: The Mystery of Steely Dan" May 14 1996
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Guessing a book's ambitions for itself typically is a matter
of reading its forward. Despite his catchy title, Brian
Sweet's forward does and, alas, MUST stipulate that he could
not convince Steely Dan's key members to participate in the
the production of "Steely Dan: Reelin' in the Years." As we
are soon to learn, the characteristic retiscence with,
occasional manipulation of, and general disdain for popular
media by Mr.s Fagen and Becker are an essential part of the
exposition of this "band." If J.D. Salinger has a musical
counterpart, it is Donald Fagen, and perhaps Walter Becker is
a psychedelic Hemingway. In either case, the deliberate, if
uncalculated, mystery of Steely Dan is Sweet's most obvious
"take" on the Fagen/Becker collaboration. Anyone who has an
abiding interest in the work of either of these figures knows
this full well, but one cannot blame Sweet for thematizing it.
As a result, Sweet must rely on an assemblage of extant press
accounts and interviews, which really turns the book into a
second order cut and paste job. This said, however,
what "Reelin' in the Years" does successfully is lay out some
basic facts about the band in chronological order, using an
apt phrase or song title to characterize each period. This
presentation is satisfactory, but perhaps avoids the most
difficult interpretive work to be done here: Namely, to do
some enjoyable figuring on just what the hell is going on with
the music. It is true that "Only a Fool" would pretend to get
at anything like an "essence" here, if for no other reason
than there ain't one to get. Nevertheless, as unprecendently
postmodern and ironist as Steely Dan was (and, incidentally,
the solo Donald Fagen of "Nightfly" and "Kamakiriad" was
certainly not), there are chunks of coherency and discernible
irreverency in the lyrics and particularly the music of Steely
Dan that is there for the taking, the surface of which Sweet
really does not limn. Incidentally, if you want a coherent,
third order, take on the history of the band, listen to
"Kamakiriad" with Sweet's account in mind--the clues are
everywhere--Fagen denials notwithstanding. For example, the
fact that Becker lives in Hawaii and Fagen in NYC is not
entirely inconsistent with "Kamakiriad's" first cut about a
"Trans-Island Skyway." But even though it is intriguing to
think about "Kamakiriad" as a Freudian prelude to Steely Dan's
"rebirth," this is not an objective exam and will not be
graded. This is another way of saying that I wish Sweet had
done less to try to "find" a coherency in what were highly
contingent, accident-ridden, and thoroughly brilliant years of
songwriting and studio sessions. Instead, I'd like to see
what he makes of what Becker and Fagen assembled. This said,
I think Sweet has skillfully begun excavation on a site where
the artifacts are never quite stable in shape or location.
"Steely Dan: Reelin' in the Years" whets the appetite and
makes me look forward to the next dig.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This book is thorough but poorly written. May 30 1998
By Doron Ben-Ami artist@freewwweb.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It is ironic that an account of the Steely Dan phenomenon is documented by someone whose writing skills are negligable. Becker and Fagen, two contemporary literary masters by most standards, would find it strangely fitting, I suppose. Sweet's saving grace is his penchant for detail. His tome has the stories for which every avid Dan fan hungers. Recording sessions, writing sessions, band reformulations, personal melodramas, etc. These elements make it enjoyable reading, especially when accompanied by revisitations to the legendary recordings. Listening to the CD's while making one's chronological journey through this book, is distictly thrilling, as well as eye(ear)-opening. The lack of an index and of footnotes limits this volume's usefulness as a reference source however. It would be nice to see a similar effort made by a writer who posesses a similar creative energy, quirkiness and skill to that of Becker and Fagen themselves.

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