Steely Dan / Katy Lied – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2010

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for Katy Lied

This White Hot Stamper side one is an ABSOLUTE KNOCKOUT. Even our usual top grade of A Triple Plus was not enough to tell the story, so we awarded this side one the rare Four Plus (A++++) grade. The sound is HUGE — big, bold, dynamic, and lively. The clarity and transparency exceeded all our expectations; we felt as if we were hearing every last Steely Dan-sweated detail. The overall sound is natural, relaxed, and musical. The highs are as sweet as they come (which is not as sweet as they should have been, more about that later) and the bottom end has the weight and punch this music needs to rock.

(Although rocking is not quite what Steely Dan are up to here. Cameron Crowe calls it “…absolutely impeccable swing-pop”, a four word description that gets to the heart of the music far better than any combination of words containing the word “rock”. )

One quality this copy had that no other copy in our shootout managed to convey: on Chain Lightning the voices stretch from wall to wall and fill out the space between the speakers like we have never heard before! Wow. On this copy that song is a Demo Disc Quality Thrill like you will not believe.

A Tough Nut? You Better Believe It

This is one of the TOUGHEST NUTS TO CRACK in the entire Steely Dan catalog, if not THE toughest. We manage to do this album about once a year; it takes us at least that long to find a dozen or so clean, decent-sounding original copies. Most copies are beat and most copies don’t sound good anyway.

It’s easy to blame DBX for the bad sound of so many copies, but this is a cop-out. Most of the bad sound comes from ABC’s bad pressings. This music can sound awfully good; more than enough proof can be provided by simply playing this amazing side two.

Side Two

This side two earned an A++ grade. It was one of the few copies we played with real extension on the top end, a serious shortcoming on practically every copy we auditioned. The music on this side comes ALIVE like nobody’s business.

You will have no trouble hearing why we fell in love with this copy. The sound is so RICH and FULL. This is, more than anything else, what Katy Lied really gets right. The pianos and congas and toms have tremendous weight and body, along with plenty of rhythmic energy to drive the music. Everything is working so well you may find yourself singing along with abandon to classics like Everyone’s Gone to the Movies and Chain Lightning. We did.

Michael McDonald is a wonderful accompanist. His soaring harmonies on this album are breathtaking, even more so here than on Aja.

Of special note is Phil Woods’ sax solo on Doctor Wu. On most copies it is too thin, with not enough body, too much bite and sourness or hardness, but here it is smooth and natural — easy on the ears you might say.

The DBX Debacle

And now…. a warning. The top end of this recording is a bit problematic, meaning that even our best copies will never be as sweet and silky up there as we’d like. Pay special attention to the ride cymbal in the right channel during the fade out of Black Friday. That rock hard “banging on a garbage can” sound is no doubt the result of the defective DBX encoding system that almost caused Becker and Fagen to scrap the whole project. According to their web site, they never did listen to the final playback of the album.

Condition Alert

No copy in our shootout played better than Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus. There are some quiet passages on this album that reveal what ABC vinyl was like back in the day.

The MoFi and Japanese Pressings

The MoFi is a complete disaster, one of the Top Ten Worst Half-Speeds of All Time.

As for the Japanese pressings, the one we used to like the best was the 2000 Yen reissue, not the 1500 Yen original. It’s thin and compressed but not awful like the MoFi and certainly not the murky muckfest that most ABC pressings are. Let’s sum it up this way: With the Japanese pressing you could do a lot worse. With the MoFi you couldn’t do any worse.