In addition to being America’s only rock ’n’ roll magazine, CREEM happens to be the world’s best rock ’n’ roll magazine—and, it could be argued, the world’s most masturbatory. Because we like ourselves a little too much, every now and again, we’re going to review past CREEM reviews in a series called CREEMAINS. Expect the most deliciously spoiled CREEM, like in our take on Joe Goldberg’s 1976 review of Steely Dan’s The Royal Scam. A lot has changed in 46 years. Lap it up! And read more about Steely Dan in the CREEM Archive, here.
The August 1, 1976 issue of CREEM (with Paul McCartney on the cover) contains a review of Steely Dan’s fifth studio album, The Royal Scam, written by Joe Goldberg. The same review column has write-ups for Elton John, the Runaways, and the debut album by the Ramones. The winds of popular music were blowing, as they say, all higgledy-piggledy.
I’m not trying to brag, but I might be the only Steely Dan fan who truly, at my core, doesn’t care about musicianship. Or at least I’m the Steely Dan fan who cares about musicianship the least. I fully realize that this is not something a music critic should necessarily brag about, but I’m not exaggerating. All of my friends avoid me because I will go to my grave arguing that everything the Replacements did after “I Hate Music,” and its refrain of “I hate music/it’s got too many notes,” was a betrayal of a reasonably unreasonable critique. Not to say that all the songs Paul Westerberg recorded after learning a fourth chord were bad. Certainly, “Here Comes a Regular” wouldn't be such a peach of a song, and it wouldn’t have had such a terrible influence on pseudo-alcoholic regional rockists to this day, if the song’s proto-Sheryl Crowian bar-bar boo-hoo hadn’t been sung so sweetly. I’m just saying that if the Replacements had never moved past thrashing out Chuck Berry riffs (and never kicked out Bob Stinson), that’d be alright too. At very least, we all would have been spared the Goo-Goo Dolls.
I might be the only Steely Dan fan who truly, at my core, doesn’t care about musicianship.
Unlike Mr. Westberg, I’ve never had a specific, principled, problem with a shit-ton of notes. It’s more that I consume music the same way I consume chocolate cake. Chocolate cake is either one: delicious, two: not great but still cake, or three: it’s stale and gross and made from rat feces or razor blades or aquafaba or what have you. Either way, I can’t tell the exact motions of the cooks’ oceans. And even if you explained the process to me, it wouldn't change my feelings about what I just put in my mouth.
All this is to say that I intellectually understand the craftsmanship and studio preciousness involved in making a Steely Dan album, but I don’t understand how anyone attaches any moral meaning—in the positive or negative—to the skills at play. To me, fetishizing the endless apocrypha about Donald Fagen and Walter Becker’s studio antics is a high school math teacher psyop; it is society conspiring against me (again), trying to gaslight me into thinking that counting to ten isn’t anything to be proud of unless I show the work. Sensualist that I am, my fingers and toes beg to differ. That is, I take Steely Dan and the Ramones in the exact same way: greedily, grubbily, and on whatever medication is most appropriate to the age I’m at while listening.