They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!
“Don”. . . individualist. . . phys ed major . . . the thinker . . . journalist extraordinaire . . . jazz enthusiast . . . quotations for all occasions . . . “Harry the Horse.”
So said the 1965 South Brunswick High School yearbook (straight outta Monmouth Junction, NJ) about Donald Fagen. Over half a century later, it’s remarkable to see how much they got right. As half of Steely Dan, Fagen’s nonconformist ways were so counter to the culture that he couldn’t help building up a huge following of Others. His cerebral lyrics captured life moments in puzzling but definitive ways, and his jazz leanings put those musings across to the masses. And while his jock leanings and “Guys and Dolls” fandom may have taken a backseat, he’ll be quoted long after he’s gone, both by fans who don’t play music and fans who do.
As we celebrate Fagen’s 69th birthday, let’s hear from some of those fans singing some of those quotations…
Rickie Lee Jones – Show Biz Kids (Steely Dan cover)
If there’s one word for Rickie Lee Jones’s cover of “Show Biz Kids,” that word would be badass. She opened her 2000 cover album It’s Like This with this track, turning it from a groover into a spare lurker. The song’s NSFW key line gets repeated three times here, gathering in intensity and no longer just a tossed-off note, but a not-so-vague threat.
Waylon Jennings – Do It Again (Steely Dan cover)
“In the mornin’ you go gunnin’ for the man who stole your water / And you fire till he is done in but they catch you at the border…” It’s only after you read the lyrics to “Do It Again” that you can see the strain of outlaw country running through the song. Kudos to Waylon Jennings for spotting that strain and recording a version that does the song a wholly new type of justice.
Sara Isaksson & Rebecka Tornqvist – Barrytown (Steely Dan cover)
Sara Isaksson & Rebecka Tornqvist are Swedish vocalists who teamed up in 2006 to release Fire in the Hole, a piano-based collection of Steely Dan covers. The whole album is a nice supplement for any Steely Dan fan – consider “Barrytown” just one example of what the duo can do.
Ivy – Only a Fool Would Say That (Steely Dan cover)
Me, Myself & Irene, the Farrelly brothers’ followup to their smash There’s Something About Mary, got fair to middling reviews; one of its more notable features was a soundtrack that was more than half-full of Steely Dan covers. One of the nicer ones was Ivy’s version of “Only a Fool Would Say That,” which fit their electro-chill-pop sound like the proverbial glove.
Ice – The Fez (Steely Dan cover)
The Lafayette Afro Rock Band figured early ’70s America was a little too funky for them to stand out, so they became free men in Paris, their music unfettered and alive. Today they’re considered true funk pioneers, much respected and much sampled. They also recorded under the name Ice, which is how they’re credited for their version of the Steely Dan ode to safe sex, “The Fez.”
BONUS COVER: Tom Wopat – Deacon Blues (Steely Dan cover)
Excuse me? Luke Duke, the top-billed star of The Dukes of Hazzard – THAT Tom Wopat? Yes, and not only that, he covers “Deacon Blues” in a bossa nova fashion. He probably would have been booed (and booted) out of the Boar’s Nest for singing this, but it serves as a highlight on his 2011 album Consider It Swung.
Emininent Hipsters, Donald Fagen’s memoir, is available from Amazon.