We’ve been bopping around in power pop as we continue our rundown of feelgood music but today’s song is probably pop, but not power at all:
Steely Dan often sounded mellow, but were perhaps one of the most consistently misanthropic pop acts ever, to the degree that they were a pop act at all. FM in the ’70s still had room for some artists who were a law unto themselves, and this gang — later pair — of snarky liberal arts majors took full advantage of it. And they got better as they aged, a rare thing: One of Bridey’s Laws of Rock ‘n’ Roll is that 99 artists out of 100 develop in the least interesting available direction.
“Any Major Dude Will Tell You” comes from 1974′s Pretzel Logic, the last time Steely Dan pretended to be other than a duo and home to “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” an engaging enough song that was for no particular reason their biggest hit. “Any Major Dude” is a considerably less innocuous song than that, and did get some airplay in its day.
After a gentle guitar opening, and in the vaguely “street” language SD were so fond of in their early years, the singer sympathizes with a friend who is feeling overwhelmed:
Never seen you looking so bad,
My funky one
You tell me that your superfine mind
Has come undone
And provides reassurance in the rather lovely chorus:
Any major dude with half a heart
Surely will tell you, my friend
Any minor world that breaks apart
Falls together again
When the demon is at your door,
In the morning it won’t be there no more
Any major dude will tell you
But there’s a short bridge that’s a little less reassuring, as the signer tells the friend with the “superfine mind” that he or she has to deal with the real problem: “You can try to run/But you can’t hide from what’s inside of you.”
Even with that, the song is positively sweet, by Steely standards, and Fagen’s vocal is more expressive than usual. This could even be mistaken for a mild bit of folk rock, and it presents little obvious reason to anticipate the remarkable Aja would be released only three years later. But some of the signs are there.
After that acoustic opening, the vocal is introduced by a harplike keyboard chord, and it’s the keyboard that subtly draws you into and through the song, winding around and responding to the vocal, echoing the occasional bass fill and building a frame around Jeff Baxter’s sweetly melodic fills on the guitar. Those fills are actually as long as the 10-second guitar solo that begins at 2:03, and they set it up so neatly that I bet most people remember that little solo as being much longer than it is. This gentle, accessible little pop tune is as precisely assembled as a Rolex watch.
SD’s style and lyrics would soon grow more sophisticated, but their notorious perfectionism was obviously already well in place, and “Any Major Dude” is a little gem of pristine production. And more to the point, it is perhaps the only Steely Dan song guaranteed to make you feel good. “Any minor world that breaks apart fall together again.”