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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Music from the ground up

My favorite music is Steely Dan. Over the next two weeks I will have four flights of 8+ hours each and five short flights. When I board, out come my Bose QC15 headphones — the single best investment a frequent flyer can ever make — and on clicks my old-school MP3 player loaded with about 100 Steely Dan, Donald Fagen, and Walter Becker tunes. I've listened those tunes hundreds, perhaps thousands of times and when I listen carefully, I still hear new things. They're that good.

Steely Dan music is built from the bottom up. Besides the vocals, the lead guitar, the horns, and so forth, almost every Steely Dan tune has interesting, precise groove with a complex bass line. If you ignore the top end, just the drum and bass are fun to listen to. Don't try that with most groups whose bass and drum lines will bore you to tears.

Example one: in the song Peg, here is the drum groove. Note that the bass, hi-hat, and two hands are all different. Here is the bass line with a melody of its own.

Example two: in the song Josie, follow this inventive bass line also performed by the expert Chuck Rainey. So cool.

If you're interested in one of the distinctive elements of music theory underneath the Steely Dan sound, go here.

By the way, Pharrell Williams gets it, too. See you at 37,000.