21 STEELY DAN
THE LAST GAUCHO
Recorded 1979, New York
“Writing was hard, recording was hard, everything about it was like pulling teeth…” So said Donald Fagen of Gaucho, finally released in November 1980 after a litany of problems that included label spats, endless re-takes and a $150,000 bespoke-built drum machine called Wendel. There was tragedy, too: Walter Becker’s girlfriend died of an overdose in January 1980; Becker broke his leg in a hit-and-run three months later and phoned in contributions from a hospital bed. Becker and Fagen ditched numerous songs for good during these protracted sessions – all collected on this excellent boot – including “Kind Spirit”, “The Bear”, “Talkin’ About My Home” and “Kulee Baba”, each perfect examples of the Dan’s distinctive brand of decadent jazz-rock. But the jewel here is the re-recorded “The Second Arrangement” – a jaded come-down epic once earmarked by the duo as Gaucho’s centrepiece, but abandoned after an assistant engineer accidentally wiped the track during playback. And because the Dan never made back-up copies – the sound quality suffered, apparently – all the cuts on The Last Gaucho sound great, and are appended with numerous outtakes and alternate versions.
Sound quality: Very good, if rougher and looser than the final Gaucho. And Wendel can be a little erratic…
See also: Live At The Record Plant, 3/20/1974 – an astonishing show from just before they quit touring
THE ELLIOT MAZER DEMOS
Recorded 1983, San Francisco
On November 9, 1983, REM entered San Francisco’s Rhythmic Studios with sometime Neil Young producer Elliot Mazer to demo songs for their second album, Reckoning. Present were fully realised numbers that would eventually be recut at Mitch Easter’s Drive-In Studio. Yet “Harbourcoat” and “Seven Chinese Brothers” to name but two, represent fascinating, subtle shifts of tone and vocal inflection, while “Pale Blue Eyes,” one of two fine Velvets covers, is resplendent with its countrified arrangement. Most intriguing are those tunes left off Reckoning: “All The Right Friends” hinges on its dark chorus, and “Skank (Marble Table)” shows the band at their most stretched-out. Then there’s the whimsy – an OTT “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, the surf-goof “Windout” and “Cushy Tush” – a mock toilet-tissue ad, and proof this most revered of underground bands wasn’t taking itself too seriously. “Your family deserves the best in asswipe,” Stipe deadpans.
Sound quality: Fair to good. The master tape is lost, one reason why this material didn’t make the Reckoning deluxe
See also: The still-unreleased MTV Unplugged, 1991