The Steely Dan 64 Project, Song 4

[NOTE: The Steely Dan 64 Project represents my ranking, in order of my personal preference, of the 64 songs released by Steely Dan during their “classic” period (1972-80). These links will connect you to a detailed introduction to the project, as well as notes on the songs I’ve numbered 64 through 57; songs 56 through 49; songs 48 through 41; songs 40 through 33; songs 32 through 25; songs 24 through 17; songs 16 through 13]; songs 12 through 9; songs 8 and 7; and songs 6 and 5.]

Thanks (but no thanks) to COVID-19, the NCAA has no March Madness this year. Here at the Steely Dan 64 Project, however, we’re plunging ahead with our own Final Four. It starts here.

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4. FM (No Static At All) (FM Soundtrack)
Give her some funked-up Muzak, she treats you nice
Feed her some hungry reggae, she’ll love you twice
The girls don’t seem to care tonight
As long as the mood is right

As you’ve surmised by now, there are some Steely Dan tracks that I’ve lived with rather deeply. There are, however, few that I’ve lived with to the degree that I’ve lived with “FM.”

I’ve mentioned here before that, for the better part of two years, I worked at a college radio station in Malibu. Over the course of that time, I wore a number of hats: traffic manager (the person who organizes the schedule and identifies when commercials run); associate music director; baseball play-by-play broadcaster; and chief engineer for sports broadcasts. In and around all of the above, I was a disc jockey — originally on Saturday nights, then mid-mornings a couple of days per week. Plus, I filled in often when other on-air talent didn’t show. (We’re talking about college kids here, so that happened a lot.)

Unlike many college stations, which lean into alternative music genres that don’t get played much on commercial radio, our station’s daytime format corresponded to what most radio stations called “adult contemporary” or “light pop-rock.” Quite a few local businesses used our feed as background noise, so we couldn’t play anything too loud or aggressive in tone during daylight hours. And thus, whenever I went on the air in the morning, I kicked off my shift with Steely Dan’s “FM.”

To this day, I can still improvise a DJ break that exactly fills the 26 seconds of this track’s instrumental intro, and land the station ID a hair’s breadth before Donald Fagen’s vocal kicks in. The Pirate Queen — like a major dude — will tell you. I do it in the car every time “FM” comes on the radio.

“FM” occupies an unusual place in the Steely Dan catalog. It’s the only Dan single that didn’t come from one of their albums; it was recorded during the Aja sessions — and is stylistically similar to the material on that album — but was not included on that release. It’s the only official Steely Dan song recorded specifically for a movie soundtrack; Becker and Fagen produced the music for an independent film, You’ve Got to Walk It Like You Talk It, but that happened before the band’s formation. It’s the only track from the Dan’s classic period on which Becker (guitars and bass) and Fagen (piano) play most of the primary instruments (frequent collaborator Jeff Porcaro plays drums, while Pete Christleib adds the saxophone solo). It’s also one of only two Dan tracks that uses strings (“Through With Buzz,” on Pretzel Logic, is the other).

Worthy of note: three members of the Eagles — Timothy Schmit (who made guest appearances on several other Dan tracks), Don Henley, and Glenn Frey — chime in with backing vocals here. We’ve noted previously that Becker and Fagen name-checked that legendary SoCal band in “Everything You Did” on The Royal Scam, only to receive a callback in the Eagles’ “Hotel California.” The two groups shared common management, and I shudder to imagine what else.

I always enjoyed spinning “FM” on my strictly formatted FM station precisely because the lyrics torpedo the blandness of that era and style of radio, and I knew that almost no one else would get the joke.

So far as was ever communicated to me, no one in the station hierarchy ever did.

Next up: Song #3.

Explore posts in the same categories: Listology, Reminiscing, Soundtrack of My Life, Steely Dan 64 Project, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

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