Steely Dan – Gaucho – Listening In Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Gaucho, the last of the Must Own Steely Dan albums. 

Of all the great albums Steely Dan made, and that means their seven original albums and nothing that came after, there are only three in our opinion that actually support their reputation as studio wizards and recording geniuses.

Chronologically they are Pretzel Logic, Aja, and Gaucho. Every sound captured on these albums is so carefully crafted and considered that it practically brings one to tears to contemplate what the defective DBX noise reduction system did to the work of genius that is Katy Lied, their best album and the worst sounding. (Those cymbal crashes can really mess with your mind if you let them. To get a better picture of the DBX sound just bang two trash can lids together as close to your head as possible.)

The first two albums can sound very good, as can Royal Scam, but none of those can compete with The Big Three mentioned above for sonics. A Hot Stamper copy of any of them would be a seriously good sounding record indeed.

Track Commentary

Side One

Babylon Sisters

The tom intro is a great test for transparency. On most copies those opening drums are flat and lackluster. When it’s done right, you can hear the room around the drums, and that’s a mighty fine sounding room!

Also, pay attention to the bell in the left channel at the beginning of the song – if it’s sharp and doesn’t really sustain, you’re probably dealing with the typical extension-challenged copy. If it’s shimmery with a natural sounding decay you may very well be in store for some great sound.

On most copies the saxophone that intermittently pokes its head out will get smoothed over, losing its bite and getting lost in the mix. Much the same can be said for the background singers — they can easily sound veiled and get lost in the mix.

From the time they start singing “Babylon sisters” until they reach the final “shake it!”, there should be a growing crescendo of volume and intensity.

Hey Nineteen

Probably the most memorable track on the album, and consistently the best sound as well. This track is a great test for low end and bass definition. The average copy is usually punchy but more often than not lacks any real weight.

Somewhat better copies may have a full low end but fall short in terms of definition on the bass guitar.

The best copies have it all going on: a meaty bottom with all the intricacies of Walter Becker’s bassline clearly audible.

Glamour Profession

Side Two

Gaucho

Another classic Fagen/Becker track with a powerful sax intro. Not unlike the aforementioned sax in “Babylon Sisters,” the standard copy fails to convey the horn’s texture and dynamic subtleties. If such is the case, it will come back to haunt you by the time the vocals come in, as they are often compressed and spitty.

Please note the piano right before the first verse starts. Our best copies allow it to be both delicate and full-bodied, as opposed to the usual honky tonk clanker some pressings present you with.

Time Out of Mind

Michael McDonald is the man! Just thought I’d throw that out there.

My Rival
Third World Man

Note that Larry Carlton’s signature sound is all over this track. He’s got that great high-gain, feedbacky guitar tone that works so well for this angular music. You may remember him from a record called Aja… Played a lot of the solos on Royal Scam too as I recall. I have a feeling we’ll be hearing from Larry again in the not-too-distant future…