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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Steely Dan "Kid Charlemagne" Instrumental Track

Love them or hate them, Steely Dan songs are as state-of-the-art as you can get thanks to the relentless search for perfection by Donal Fagen and Walter Becker. The men have been known to cut a song many times over with different players until they get what they want performance-wise. The same can be said for the engineering, with the late Roger Nichols handling the tracking and Barney Perkins on the mix.

Here's a look inside the basic rhythm section of "Kid Charlemagne" (from their Royal Scam album) stripped of vocals, solos and sweetening. Some things to listen for include:

1. The precision of the playing is fantastic. There's enough room for the players to stretch out slightly (bass player Chuck Rainey stretches a lot), yet they're so tight on all the hits while not sounding quantized. Listen especially for the turnarounds between sections.

2. Listen to Larry Carlton's guitar on the left side. He's playing along with the Rhodes piano, yet the releases of both instruments are fairly loose.

3. Check out the clavinet on the right side. That's often buried in the mix, but it's quite apparent here. It meshes great with the other instruments without getting in the way, considering how busy the playing is.

4. Drummer Bernard Purdie is playing a version of his famous shuffle, but listen to the unusual pattern on the high hat.

If you liked this track, you also might like my Deconstructed Hits series of books that provide an inside look to hits from all different genres.


Nichole said...

Thanks for including this one Bobby.Intriguing to hear most everyone instrumental and "not quantized :)

I think it was Ralph Lauren who alluded to (it's the person the eye is drawn to when wearing the clothes, not the clothes themselves) and that was what he had hoped to achieve. The same with Sound.

Rand said...

I've only ever liked a few of Steely Dan's songs/hits but you're correct in that one would have to be completely tone-deaf not to appreciate and respect such high-quality musicianship.

Even if it's just these backing tracks and not the more prominent 'sugar on top' of vocals/melody line and instrumental solos a song is typically known for.


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