Stowing Away The Time: Walter Becker’s Five Greatest Riffs

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By Jack

The death of 1/2 of Steely Dan hit us pretty hard here, given our namesake and everything. However rather than dwell on the circumstances of Becker’s death it seems more appropriate to remember how special he was. Walter Becker may be one of the most under-appreciated guitarists of the 20th century, and these five great riffs remind us what an incomparable talent he was.

For the record ‘Kid Charlemagne’, ‘Reelin’ In The Years’ (Jimmy Page’s favourite riff) and ‘Do It Again’ with its epic sitar solo, would all be on here; however Becker did not perform them, even if his fingerprints were all over all three.

5. Chain Lightning (1975)

A remarkably simple song by Dan standards, even though it’s jazzy swing was far beyond the grasp of pop at the time. With just two verses the track is dominated by Becker’s instrumentals, which lope between a restrained groove and fiery experimentation.

As for the what the song is about? The general view puts ‘Chain Lightning’ as a song protesting hero worhsip. For me though, as with so many Dan songs, it must be about drugs – ‘chain lightning’ here being heroine moving through the veins.

4. Josie (1977)

The song that ends Steely Dan’s greatest album, the balmy Aja. ‘Josie’ is a song about NY motorcycle gangs but is infused with West Coast cool; the solo particularly sees Becker doff his cap to South Central acts like Sly and the Family Stone and Santana.

3. Black Friday (1975)

Walter Becker’s baby, or rather his Frankenstein’s monster. A bruised, twisted amalgamation of jazz, pop and funk, delivered with appropriate paranoia. The track itself may sound a little dated, the echoed vocals especially (up there with Billy Joel’s ‘Goodnight Saigon’). But Becker once again proves his unique place between pop, rock and jazz.

2. Night By Night (1973)

Despite Pretzel Logic being a hodge-podge of styles and influences that suggested a band in a state of disarray, ‘Night by Night’ remains one of the band’s finest tracks. This is Becker going from toasted by the hard rock crowd to exemplifying it; the playing here is as ferocious and precise as anything on The Brown Bomber.

1. Midnite Cruiser (1972)

Despite being one of the poppiest tracks on Steely Dan’s poppiest album Can’t Buy A Thrill, ‘Midnite Cruiser’ has an enormous solo in the bridge. As is so common with Becker riffs, he is able to slowly embellish the smooth groove at the heart of the track, before injecting some grit and experimentation. The track demonstrates the fascinating dichotomy at the heart of the Steely Dan sound, where smooth parlour pop combines with fierce, hard rock noodling.

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