Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Steely Dan - "Bad Sneakers" (1975)

Every day that I went to college, putting a Steely Dan album on the phonograph was virtually a regimen. I ran into many people who seemed to be fixated on a few groups, owned all their albums, and listened to them every day. Steely Dan was my habit.

So obsessive was this habit that I would listen to a different full album each day in chronological order, as if I was taking required vitamins.

Steely Dan was the archetypal band where music geeks like me would pore over the album credits. Especially these guys, who hired only the best studio musicians to perform every single part. This is where I learned about people like drummer Jeff Porcaro, bassist Chuck Rainey, drummer Bernard Purdie, guitarist Larry Carlton, and the slide work of Rick Derringer.

"Bad Sneakers" was my favorite song from my favorite Steely Dan album. It was very difficult to choose a top Steely Dan album but somehow this was always it because it seemed to be the ideal bridge between the rock songs of the first few albums and the much jazzier stuff that was to come with things like Aja and Gaucho.

"Bad Sneakers" seemed to capture the spirit of being a more independent soul being away at college and coming home. By the time I hit junior year, I lobbied the college paper, The Spectrum, to have my own music column and they let me have a test drive. I called it "Bad Sneakers" for really no good reason except I loved the song. I even had a friend of mine design a simple boxed logo for the column, which I don't even think lasted more than a couple of months. Somewhere in my attic, I have copies of these columns stored away.

The song was a rambling scenario of hanging out in mid-town Manhattan with your ratty clothes and acting stupid with your friends. When you are a fancy free college dude, it's hard not to share the spirit. It's got a slight rumba beat in A major for the verses, the very distinct Michael McDonald background vocals mixed prominently beginning with the second verse, and the key shift to C major for the chorus, which was actually a pretty simple little C-Am-Dm7 -G7 affair, especially for these guys who normally used fancy chords.

Bad sneakers and a pina colada
My friend
Stompin on the avenue
By Radio City with a
Transistor and a large
Sum of money to spend

Steely Dan's own Walter Becker does the searing guitar solo before the final bridge and chorus conclude this mere three minute and thirty second masterpiece.

When Steely Dan reunited in 1993 after many, many years off, they cut some great live stuff in the studio with their new band and turned it into a DVD. Below is their version of "Bad Sneakers." The band was known for its pristine audio engineering, so this must be one of the best sounding YouTube clips out there.



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