Walter Becker Bud Scoppa - Essay

Bud Scoppa

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Steely Dan is the most improbable hit-singles band to emerge in ages. On its three albums, the group has developed an impressionistic approach to rock & roll that all but abandons many musical conventions and literal lyrics for an unpredictable, free-roving style…. Pretzel Logic is an attempt to make complete musical statements within the narrow borders of the three-minute pop-song format….

This band is never conventional, never bland.

And neither is its material. Despite the almost arrogant impenetrability of the lyrics …, the words create an emotionally charged atmosphere, and the best are quite affecting. While it's disconcerting to be stirred by language that resists comprehension, it's still difficult not to admire the open-ended ambiguity of the lyrics.

But along with Pretzel Logic's private-joke obscurities (like the made-up jargon on "Any Major Dude Will Tell You" and "Through With Buzz"), there are concessions to the literal: "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" makes sense as a conventional lover's plea, while "Barrytown" takes a satirical look at class prejudice. But each has an emotional cutting edge that can't be attributed directly to its viewpoint or story. As writers, Fagen and Becker may be calculating, but they aren't cold.

Bud Scoppa, "Stainless Steely Band," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1974; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 161, May 23, 1974, p. 73.