[Review] Steely Dan: Katy Lied (1975)

Steely Dan keeps getting better as the world (through their eyes) keeps getting worse.

Kronomyth 4.0: Music for misanthropes.

Steely Dan were masters of innuendo but, more than that, they were the reigning monarchs of misanthropic misadventures. On Katy Lied, they assemble an impressive cast of anti-heroes: a rogue investor with an escape plan during a market run, a pervert showing pornographic films to children and the sort of men you’d expect to find waiting for the iceman. The precision of the playing and the sheer tunefulness of it all is the sugar coating of a band that had soured on the world but elevated their antisocial perspective to an art form.

If asked, I would tell you this is my favorite Steely Dan album, but I might give you the same answer for Aja or Countdown to Ecstasy. The Royal Scam is the most similar album in terms of its malignant misanthropy, just not as tuneful. Despite the ever-expanding cast of players, Walter Becker steps forward on this album as a lead guitarist. Black Friday and Bad Sneakers, perennial favorites among Dan fans, both feature solos from Becker, who concedes nothing to his esteemed colleagues. Rose Darling, a throwback to the sound of their first album, is one of those songs rich with innuendo. Who is Snake Mary and why is she in Detroit with lots of money in her hand? Daddy Don’t Live In That New York City No More is the album’s funkiest track, a song about a scoundrel who may have cleaned up his act or just cleared out of town. Side one ends with one of my favorite Steely Dan songs, Doctor Wu. It’s a maudlin masterpiece that just stays with you, like “Deacon Blues.”

The second side of music doesn’t contain any recognizable hits, which isn’t to say it doesn’t have its share of winners. Everyone’s Gone to the Movies is repulsive and irresistible at the same time. Your Gold Teeth II is a rare case of Dan revisiting an idea, this time giving it a much softer reading. Both Chain Lightning (which channels the blues) and Any World (That I’m Welcome To) are songs seeking a connection with the world. But it all ends with a scathing portrait of the marginal actor/musician on Throw Back The Little Ones.

I confess that I secretly delight in the way that Steely Dan can deliver such vitriol in pretty packages. They cut their characters down to size with a surgeon’s skill, until it feels like it’s just you and Steely Dan and a world of miserable miscreants. I secretly suspect that all Steely Dan fans are misanthropes at heart. A fraternity of people who hate people: just another Dan enigma.

Read more Steely Dan reviews

Original elpee version

A1. Black Friday (3:33)
A2. Bad Sneakers (3:16)
A3. Rose Darling (2:59)
A4. Daddy Don’t Live In That New York City No More (3:12)
A5. Doctor Wu (3:59)
B1. Everyone’s Gone to the Movies (3:41)
B2. Your Gold Teeth II (4:12)
B3. Chain Lightning (2:57)
B4. Any World (That I’m Welcome To) (3:56)
B5. Throw Back the Little Ones (3:11)

Music composed and arranged by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.

The Players

Walter Becker (bass, guitars), Donald Fagen (vocals, piano and various keyboards), Jeff Porcaro (drums and dorophone) with Hal Blaine (drums on B4), Larry Carlton (guitars), Rick Derringer (guitars), Denny Dias (guitars), Wilton Felder (bass), Victor Feldman (percussion and vibes), Jimmie Haskel (horn arrangement on B5), Myrna Matthews (backup vocals), Sherlie Matthews (backup vocals), Hugh McCracken (guitars), Mike McDonald (backup vocals on B1), Michael Omartian (piano and various keyboards), David Paich (piano and various keyboards), Dean Parks (guitars), Chuck Rainey (bass), Elliot Randall (guitars), Carolyn Willis (backup vocals), Phil Woods (alto saxophone solo on A5). Produced by Gary Katz; engineered by Roger “The Immortal” Nichols.

The Pictures

Cover photo by Dorothy White. Back photos by Walter Becker, Roger Nichols.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette in April 1975 in the US (ABC, ABCD-846), the UK (ABC, ABCL/CAB-5094), Japan (ABC, YW-8052-AB) and the Netherlands (ABC, ABC5C 062-96277) with innersleeve; reached #13 on the US charts (RIAA-certified platinum record) and #13 on the UK charts.

  1. Re-released on remastered elpee in 1978 in the US (Mobile Fidelity, MFS-1-007).
  2. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in 1984 in the US (MCA, MCA/MCAC-1594).
  3. Re-issued on elpee and compact disc in the UK (MCA, MCL/DMCL-1800).
  4. Re-released on remastered compact disc in 1999 worldwide (MCA, MCAD-11916).
  5. Re-issued on remastered compact disc in 2000 in Japan (MCA, UICY-3024).
  6. Re-packaged with The Royal Scam on 2-for-1 CD in 2000 in Russia (Matrix, KLSD-4929).
Katy Lied MCA album cover
MCA-1594 elpee cover

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