Ranking all the songs from Steely Dan's 'Pretzel Logic'

The album celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, so let's celebrate it by ranking each song.
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When one thinks of music from the 1970s, Steely Dan is a band that likely springs to mind immediately. Their blending of musical styles, extremely tight musicianship (thanks to a plethora of ace session players), pristine production methods, and the inimitable delivery of lead singer Donald Fagen make them a band that defined '70s “AOR.”

The band nary put a foot wrong throughout the decade, as each one of their albums are bona fide classics – though some are more “classic” than others. This year, the band’s 1974 album, Pretzel Logic, is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and what better way to celebrate it than by ranking each track on the album?

It must be noted that even the lowest-ranked song here is better than what many bands produce over the course of many years, and the Dan delivered an album a year from 1972 to 1977, culminating with their best album, Aja, which also happens to be one of the best albums of all time. Let’s dive into the ranking!

All the tracks from Steely Dan's Pretzel Logic are brilliant, but some are more brilliant than others

11. "With a Gun"

A fun “country/western” pastiche. Not the group’s strongest effort, but still a brisk and enjoyable track near the end of the album. Pretzel Logic served as the band’s attempt to include their trademark jazz-tinged compositions in the modern pop song format of sub-three-minute vignettes. This genre-traversing song certainly hits that mark.

10. "Charlie Freak"

Tragic lyrics underscore a rather histrionic, classical-sounding song with overdubbed guitars that sound like something that Queen’s Brian May would cook up for A Night at the Opera (though Pretzel Logic predates that classic album). Either guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter was bowing his strings (a la Jimmy Page) or using an EBow to get that ethereal, haunting tone underneath Fagen’s lyrics about a drug addict getting his final fix.

9. "Monkey in Your Soul"

Another short track at the tail end of side two of the album, this one is a bit stronger than the two preceding ones, as Baxter’s typically brilliant guitar work helps elevate it considerably. The main thrust of the song comes from bassist Walter Becker’s fuzzed-out, throbbing bass line. Like much of this album, this song is augmented by intricate and inventive horn lines.

8. "Through with Buzz"

The shortest song in the Steely Dan canon, this is still a fun little ditty with strong vocals from Fagen as well as an engaging melody line, especially in the verses.

7. "Barrytown"

A driving piano, guitar, and bass intro leads into a spirited vocal performance from Fagen. Keep an ear out for Baxter’s engaging pedal steel guitar work (more on that later) in the latter half of the song as well as for the tremendously tight harmonies during the bridge around the 1:48 mark.

6. "Parker’s Band"

Steely Dan has long worn their influences on their sleeves. In this case, the sleeves in question are their record sleeves! This song references legendary bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker (clearly an important figure for both Fagen and Becker) and implores listeners to “take a piece of Mr. Parker’s Band.” Catchy and rhythmic, much like Mr. Parker’s playing.

5. "Night By Night"

An early-album banger. Tasty guitar work from Baxter (as expected) helps buoy the second track on Pretzel Logic alongside intriguing horn trills and blasts. Fagen is in great voice, and the massed harmonized voices in the chorus and pre-chorus certainly keep listeners intrigued.

4. "Pretzel Logic"

Easily the best track on side two of the album, this slinky number is driven by smooth horns as well as a propulsive electric piano riff that underscores the entire song. Strong lyrics, a cracking solo from Baxter (again) and Fagen’s insouciant “oh yeah” at the end of the choruses make for a highly engaging listen. The Dan usually sound better when they’re able to stretch out on longer songs, and this song certainly attests to that.

3. "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo"

This might seem a bit high for an instrumental cover, but as a guitarist, this song absolutely blows me away. A cover of a Duke Ellington song, this is more or less a solo showcase for the titanic talents of Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. The two disparate tones Baxter wrings out of his guitar here are spectacular: The first is a talk box-aided, phased-out wah-wah solo that is meant to represent the muted trumpet from the original rendition. The second is a gorgeous pedal steel guitar solo (one of music’s finest sounds in this writer’s opinion), which serves as a substitute for the original’s trombone solo.

The song finishes with a “big band” finale featuring clarinets, brass elements as well as a cleaner guitar tone underneath it all. An absolute joy to listen to no matter what kind of music you like.

2. "Any Major Dude Will Tell You"

One of the gentler songs in the Dan’s oeuvre, this song sounds like it wouldn’t be too out of place on Al Stewart’s seminal Year of the Cat (a personal favorite of mine). A killer melody and layers and layers of overdubbed guitars help make this a real masterstroke. I personally love melody above all else in music, and this song features one of the band’s best. A true classic.

1. "Rikki Don’t Lose That Number "

Steely Dan’s highest-charting hit (number 4, Billboard US Hot 100) also manages to nab the top spot on this ranking. And with good reason. The flapamba interlude (percussion instrument with tuned wooden bars) leads into the two-note intro that’s doubled on bass and piano (borrowed from Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father”), which then glides into the first verse.

The song truly goes down smoothly, as the band’s trademark crystal-clear production provides a gorgeous sheen for flawless, Latin-tinged performances from the band as well as their stable of crack session players.  A stellar guitar solo from Baxter – who is the underrated star of this album – closes the song out and the harmonies throughout (a Steely Dan staple) are simply brilliant.

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