What’s In a Name?

Walter Becker died on September 3, 2017, from esophageal cancer. Now Donald Fagen is suing his estate. [Update: Becker’s estate responds.]

The issue, it seems, is the name “Steely Dan.” Or whatever that is.

The two had signed what is known as a “Buy/Sell Agreement” after the band formed in 1972, which essentially lets one member to buy the shares of the other, on behalf of “Steely Dan,” should there be a departure or death. The Becker estate wants Becker’s widow to have the shares.

It is worth taking a look back at the band, such as it was, as one could say that it has always been a duo with an array of supporting musicians.

The first album, Can’t Buy a Thrill, was released in 1972. It was followed with a series of annual releases: Countdown to Ecstasy, ’73; Pretzel Logic, ’74; Katy Lied, ’75; The Royal Scam, ’76; and Aja, ’77. There was a short break, as Gaucho didn’t appear until 1980.

In 1995 Alive in America was released. The next studio album was Two Against Nature, 2000, the same year another live album was released, Plush TV Jazz-Rock Party.

The final Steely Dan album was released in 2003, Everything Must Go.

Fagen had four solo albums: The Nightfly, ’82; Kamakiriad, ’93; Morph the Cat, ’06; Sunken Condos, ’12.

Becker had two: 11 Tracks of Whack, ’94; Circus Money, ’08.

According to steelydan.com, in 1973, “The band in various configurations tours the U.S. and Britain.”

Then there was something of a touring hiatus, it seems.

The site notes that in 1980 “Becker and Fagen go their separate ways.”

So the first tour had an assortment of musicians and seven years later, after that flurry of annual albums and then Gaucho, that was it.

Continue reading What’s In a Name?

New Sleigh Bells video: And Saints

Video: Sleigh Bells – “And Saints”

Sleigh Bells – And Saints

From Kid Kruschev, out now on Torn Clean.

This is spooky. Norwegian black metal bands, cheerleaders with skull masks, bloody tears, grim reapers. It’s the worst pep assembly ever.

And the song is just as creepy, with a narrator so strung out even the pizza man notices.

My mom keeps calling me
My friends keep texting me
So sorry guys, whatever it takes
Delivery guy wants to know if I’m okay
Nah, man, but thanks

Yikes. Hope they feel better, but it’s not looking very likely…

Sleigh Bells: web, twitter, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

50 Year Ago: A Letter to My Teenage Son

Audio: Victor Lundberg – “An Open Letter to My Teenage Son”


There’s been a lot of talk recently about the 50th anniversary of the first issue of Rolling Stone magazine, dated November 9, 1967. The interviews and reviews of early Stone are rightly celebrated, but I like flipping through for the ads and weird news items.

The second issue came out two weeks later and featured Tina Turner on the cover. It was 20 pages long, with 3 full-page ads, and featured an interview with Donovan and a big Jon Landau piece on Aretha Franklin. The thing that caught my eye, however, was an article on page 8 by Bob O’Lear titled, “USA’s Hottest New 45 RPM: Letter to a Teenage Son.”

The hottest record in the country — not the Monkees, not “Incense and Peppermint,” not the “San Francisco Sound” nor even the Beatles — is a non-musical offering by two middle-aged advertising executives from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The song, if you haven’t heard it, is a slice of the reactionary doublespeak for which my hometown of Grand Rapids is notorious (Amway, Betsy Devos, et al). “Some of my generation judges people by their race, their belief, or the color of their skin and this is no more right than saying all teenagers are drunken dope addicts or glue sniffers.” Of course, by the end, the narrator threatens to disown his son if he refuses to fight in the Vietnam war. “Your mother will love you no matter what you do because she is a woman.”

Fifty years later it’s kind of hilarious, but still pretty sad because it’s based on an actual letter the dude wrote to his 17-year-old son. This was the state of the world in 1967. Imagine having to make that choice as a teenager. “If you decide to burn your draft card, then burn your birth certificate at the same time.”

O’Lear plays it straight. No moralizing, barely any condescension, just straight reporting. He interviews the songwriters, the record label, and a radio program director, and he quotes a big chunk of the narration. This is O’Lear’s only byline in the Stone.

A little googling uncovered a “promotion man” named Bob O’Lear who worked for labels affiliated with Liberty Records in 1967. So was this article essentially a press release? Native advertising? Had Jann Wenner already sold out by the second issue? Or was he just willing to publish whatever content he could get?

“An Open Letter to My Teenage Son” spent six weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at #10.

Continue reading 50 Year Ago: A Letter to My Teenage Son

Taylor breaks a million for the fourth time

Three years ago this month, we reminded everybody that Selling a Million Albums in a Week is a Big Deal after Taylor Swift released 1989 and sold 1.287 million. At that time only 18 other albums had hit that mark since Soundscan began tracking sales in 1991.

Before Swift’s new album, Reputation, sold 1.216 million last week, only one more album had sold more than a million: Adele’s 25. And 25 crushed all sales records, selling 3.378 million copies in its debut week, 1.112 million in its second week, and 1.157 million in its fifth (Christmas). Which was historically bonkers. Since then, nobody’s come close and nobody probably ever will.

But 1.216 million is still a lot of albums. And those are sales. In just the United States. 709,000 digital albums and 507,000 CDs (no vinyl yet). As Billboard points out, that’s the “10th-largest sales week for any album since Nielsen Music began electronically tracking sales.” In fact, it sold 1.05 million copies in the first four days. That is a dedicated fanbase.

If you factor in streaming and track downloads, it moved 1.238 million equivalent album units (not much more because she’s holding it off streaming services for now).

Continue reading Taylor breaks a million for the fourth time

New Bjork video: Blissing Me

Video: Björk – “Blissing Me”

björk: blissing me

From Utopia, out November 24 on One Little Indian.

Bjork sure is a funny little fairy, isn’t she? Look at her flitting around all ethereally while singing about “excess texting” and “sending each other mp3s.” You have to love her. She might look like an anime princess but don’t let that distract you from what is ultimately a beautiful love song about “two music nerds obsessing” and “falling in love to a song.” Dreamy!

Makeup by Hungry.

Bjork: web, twitter, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

Continue reading New Bjork video: Blissing Me

New Yungblud video: I Love You, Will You Marry Me

Video: YUNGBLUD – “I Love You, Will You Marry Me”

YUNGBLUD – I Love You, Will You Marry Me

Single out now on Locomotion/Geffen.

I heard this on satellite radio this weekend and of course I found it irresistible. My first inclination, of course, judging solely on the spelling and stylization of the name YUNGBLUD was to change the channel before I even got the chance to hear it. We all have our implicit biases and this is (one of) mine.

Turns out the young blood is indeed a teenager named Dominic Harrison from Northern England (Doncaster in Yorkshire) and the NME has seen “the future” in him. If that’s the case then the future sounds an awful lot like the Arctic Monkeys. Which is fine. The Arctic Monkeys used to be a really fun band before they started taking themselves so seriously.

Yungblud: fb, twitter, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

New Starcrawler video: I Love LA

Video: Starcrawler – “I Love LA”

Starcrawler – I Love LA

From Starcrawler, out January 19 on Rough Trade.

I hate L.A. I hate what the city does to the people who move there. I hate the type of people who choose to move there. I hate Los Angeles’ clichéd idea of “rock and roll” with all the dudes with tattoos and eyeliner and spiky black hair. You know exactly what I mean. It’s gross.

It’s always been gross. If you think this Harvey Weinstein business is anything new, then you should look into Louis B. Mayer and the shit that was perpetrated on the likes of Shirley Temple and Judy Garland. Read The Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West.

But maybe if you grow up there it’s different. Starcrawler doesn’t look like the cliché. They look like a bunch of delinquent teenagers. The band formed in 2015 when 18-year-old lead vocalist Arrow de Wilde met guitarist Henri Cash at their Echo Park high school. Their debut album was recorded by Ryan Adams on analog tape at his Pax-Am studio in Hollywood.

This video was directed by Arrow’s mom, Autumn de Wilde.

Starcrawler: web, twitter, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

New Escape-ism video: Walking in the Dark

Video: Escape-ism – “Walking in the Dark”

Escape-ism – Walking in the Dark (Official Music Video)

From Introduction to Escape-ism, out now on Merge.

Escape-ism is Ian Svenonius. I first heard him way back in 1999 when downloading songs from the Internet was brand new and Svenonius had a band called the Make Up. I probably read something about them in a Greil Marcus column on Salon and then navigated over to listen.com to see if they had any free MP3s available. A couple of those songs ended up on mix discs I made for pals over the next couple of years. That’s how it worked back then, bubba.

Fast forward to the summer of 2016 when I went to see the Black Lips at a local club and an unknown (to me) band called Chain + the Gang opened up for them. The singer was none other than Ian Svenonius and they blew me away with their minimalist, soulful punk rock.

And now Svenonius has a new project, Escape-ism, and a new album on Merge. I’m sure in his mind there are major differences between all his bands, but I dunno. The same raw coolness that caught my attention almost 20 years ago is still in effect today.

Escape-ism: bandcamp, fb, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

New Dream Wife video: Let’s Make Out

Video: Dream Wife – “Let’s Make Out”

Dream Wife – Let's Make Out

From Dream Wife, out January 26 on Lucky Number.

Meet me by the car
Cause it’s not parked very far
We’re spending time
And we’re wasting our youth

I like Rakel Mjöll’s phrasing, how she crams a bunch of words into the end of each line in the verse. And the video is way more fun than any formal dance I ever attended. Then again, my prom was held in an era when teenagers were taught that sex could kill you and it was a girl’s responsibility to fend off a boy’s natural impulses. Seems like kids are having a better time of it these days.

London-based and British/Icelandic-born Dream Wife explains the video: “Let’s Make Out is a lighthearted celebration of sexuality. Women are and have a right to be sexual beings. The video is silly, hedonistic and really fun. There is no shame in sexuality, there is no shame in fun. But remember; consent is key.”

Lights out.

Dream Wife: web, twitter, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

New Werewolf Diskdrive video: Beepers & Beepers

Video: Werewolf Diskdrive – “Beepers & Beepers”

Werewolf Diskdrive — Beepers & Beepers

From Werewolf Diskdrive, out now on Werewolf Diskdrive.

This is stupid but it’s good. There’s apparently a backstory about finding a hard drive in dumpster, but who cares? Just listen. If you dug Beck’s Mellow Gold-era b-sides, you’ll appreciate “Beepers & Beepers.”

Werewolf Diskdrive is the new project from Say Hi (To Your Mom)’s Eric Elbogen. The album has “just been released worldwide digitally (and on hand-burned artisanal compact disc).” Reminds me a bit — not musically — of our experience of receiving Deepgrave min og dog’s CD-R in the old P.O. box back in 2003. I hope more bands produce “hand-burned artisanal compact discs.” Way cooler than the godforsaken cassette revival.

Werewolf Diskdrive: web, twitter, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

Rock and roll can change your life.