Thursday, March 31, 2016

Re/Again: Do It Again


Steely Dan, at their commercial and artistic peak, were a trio of Donald Fagen, Walter Becker, and producer Gary Katz, ably supported by a large cast of top notch studio musicians. They were a studio-only band, focused on the painstaking creation of recordings that were rich in musical and lyrical detail. But Steely Dan began as an actual band that split its time between recording and playing live. Do It Again is one of the standout tracks from this early period. This band recorded two albums, Countdown to Ecstacy and Can’t Buy a Thrill. Becker and Fagen were writing complex harmonies and long songs from the beginning, but these early albums have a stripped down feel compared to what would come later. There is also an immediacy in these early albums that would be replaced in the later work by a glittering sheen of artifice that gave albums like Aja its perfect pop sound. I love both periods of Steely Dan, but I can hear a random track and tell you which period it belongs to.

Do It Again is one of Steely Dan’s most direct lyrics. In one word, this is a song about recidivism. The song could be about one person, but I hear it as being addressed to people in general. It says that we cannot overcome the worst aspects of our natures. It identifies crime or violence, love, and gambling as bad habits that we are destined to return to once we have tried them. The song can be taken as a warning or an excuse, but it also serves as a template for the characters who inhabit most of Steely Dan’s songs. You may not ever want to meet such people in person, but you will keep coming back to Steely Dan’s music to learn more about them. For the rest of the 1970s and into the 80s, that is just what music fans did.

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