Steely Dan – The Royal Scam – Larry Carlton Stretches Out

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  • Stunning sound from start to finish: Triple Plus (A+++) or close to it on both sides
  • This is a killer Shootout Winning copy of The Dan’s hard-rockin’ classic from 1976 – HERE is the right sound for this music
  • These two sides give you what you need for The Royal Scam – rich, meaty, with powerful rhythmic energy and not too bright
  • “Drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie lashes out the rolling grooves on most of the nine tracks, establishing the album’s anxious feel, and Larry Carlton’s jaw-dropping guitar work provides a running commentary to Fagen’s strangulated vocals… These are not the sort of Steely Dan songs favored by smooth-jazz stations.”

One of the best copies from our last shootout. The life and energy are off the charts here, and the edge and grit that ruin the typical pressing are virtually nowhere to be heard.

It’s an absolute monster, and if you love this album like we do you are doing to flip when you hear it. And side two of this album is KILLER for this group of Steely Dan Classics: Green Earrings, Haitian Divorce, Everything You Did, and of course, The Royal Scam.

What do the best Hot Stamper pressings like this one give you?

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks for the horns and drums, not the smear and thickness so common to most LPs, including those by the incomparable team of Becker and Fagen.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Roger Nichols and Elliot Scheiner in this case — would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

The best copies of Royal Scam manage to combine richness and fullness with transparency and clarity. Rich but clear, a tough combination to find on any album, most especially this one.

Extensive Track Commentary Provided

We really spent some quality time on the track commentary for this one (check the tabs above), so make sure you refer to it while comparing what we are saying to what you are hearing at home, using whatever copy you own. We really went overboard with the track by track commentary for this one. We want you to be able to compare in detail what we are saying to what you are hearing at home, using whatever copy you own.

If you end up with one of our Hot Stampers, listen carefully for the effects we describe. This is a very tough record to reproduce — everything has to be working in tip-top form to even begin to get this complicated music sounding the way it should — but if you’ve done your homework and gotten your system really cooking, you are in for the time of your Steely Dan life.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Kid Charlemagne

By far the most sonically aggressive track on this album, Kid Charlemagne is a quick indicator of what you can expect from the rest of the side. The typical copy is an overly-compressed sonic assault on the ears. The glaring upper midrange and tizzy grit that passes for highs will have you jumping out of your easy chair to turn down the volume. Even my younger employees who grew up playing in loud punk rock bands were cringing at the sound.

However, the good copies take this aggressive energy and turn it into pure excitement. The boys are ready to rock, and they’ve got the pulsing bass, hammering drums, and screaming guitars to do it.

Without the grit and tizz and radio EQ, which could have been added during mastering or caused by the sound of some bad ABC vinyl, who can say which, the sound is actually quite good on the best of the best copies. It’s one of the toughest tests for side one. Sad to say, most copies earn a failing grade right out of the gate on this album.

The Caves of Altamira

This is the best test for side one. There are sweet cymbals at the beginning, and Fagen’s double tracked voice should be silky and smooth, but on the really hot copies it’s also big and alive. When I was first doing these shootouts, I noted that the high hat is front and center in the mix of this song, and when that high hat sounds grainy or aggressive it’s positively unlistenable. That high hat needs to sound silky and sweet or this song is going to give you a headache, at least at the volume I play it at: GOOD and LOUD.

Don’t Take Me Alive

The vocal chorus on this track can be irritating on the typical copy. ABC pressed out millions of these, and when they did a bad job, or used grainy vinyl, the result is edgy and unpleasant. This is probably why I and many others liked the Japanese version. They used good vinyl, not the grainy garbage ABC did, so even their sub-generation copy tape ended up making a more listenable LP.

But when you hear the real thing, pressed right, from a better tape.. man, it’s awesome!

Sign in Stranger

Love the piano work on this track. Another one of my favorite Steely Dan songs of all time.

The Fez

Side Two

Green Earrings

The first two tracks on this side tell you everything you need to know about the sound. Most copies are going to be aggressive. There’s an edge to Fagen’s vocals. It’ll become especially apparent when the backing vocals come in on the line, “The rings of rare design”. If it sounds midrangy and edgy, you do not have a good copy. You will probably not find the experience particularly enjoyable. Rather than finding yourself lost in the music, you may find yourself wondering what the fuss was all about when this album came out.

On a musical note, it’s songs like this one and the two that follow that make me realize how ENERGETIC an album this is. It’s actually the last high energy Steely Dan album, second only in that respect to Countdown To Ecstasy.

Haitian Divorce

Lovely, delicate cymbals open this song, with deep, funky bass coming in right after them. (Some copies have hollow sounding bass on this track, and many copies are light in the bass here as well, which just kills the magic.)

But the key to this track is the voice box guitar. On the typically aggressive copy, that sound is irritating as hell. On the good ones, that guitar sounds JUST RIGHT. You know it when you hear it. It ain’t rocket science. There’s nothing fancy about good sound. It’s just CORRECT.

Like I say, that grainy ABC vinyl wreaks havoc with the amount of high frequency information on this recording. Without a good pressing, there’s just too much of that edgy, dry, grainy quality added to the (admittedly) processed vocals and upfront percussion. (The high hat is actually mixed louder than the vocals half the time!)

Everything You Did

Another All Time Top Steely Dan song, which continues the energy of this side.

The Royal Scam

5 Star Rolling Stone Review

When they concocted The Royal Scam in 1976, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were under the influence of “a seemingly inexhaustible supply of whatever” (as they put it in their notes to the 1999 reissue), which surely helped them summon the on-the-edge characters who populate the album. “Kid Charlemagne,” which describes the misadventures of a San Francisco acid dealer who has run out of customers and time, introduces a song cycle on which making a getaway is high on the agenda of practically every one of the protagonists.

These urban desperadoes are captured by Fagen and Becker in vignettes as sharply focused and unromanticized as Diane Arbus photos — such as the conjugal combatants of “Everything You Did,” one of whom interrupts the hurling of recriminations to civily suggest, “Turn up the Eagles/The neighbors are listening.”

The individual performances seem to rise out of the narrative itself, thanks to the rarefied capabilites of the hired studio help; having dispensed with their original lineup three years earlier, Fagen and Becker assembled a talent pool composed primarily of jazz specialists who showed they could rock and swing all at once when so inspired.

Drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie lashes out the rolling grooves on most of the nine tracks, establishing the album’s anxious feel, and Larry Carlton’s jaw-dropping guitar work provides a running commentary to Fagen’s strangulated vocals, notably on the noir rocker “Don’t Take Me Alive,” in which the howling, jagged opening riff brutally articulates the psyche of a bookkeeper’s son gone wild.

On “Haitian Divorce,” Dean Parks’ extended guitar solo is transformed by Becker’s talk-box manipulation into the quintessence of henpecking. These are not the sort of Steely Dan songs favored by smooth-jazz stations.

The Royal Scam vividly encapsulates that post-Watergate/pre-punk/coked-up moment when you could trust no one, least of all yourself. * * * * * [Five Stars]

– Bud Scoppa, Rolling Stone, 10/14/04.

Condition

Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of later pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful originals.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.