Courtesy Guitar Player Magazine (April 1999)
A favorite in clubs and frat houses, and a staple of classic-rock radio, Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ In The Years” has it all. There’s the hooky intro (dig those chromatic pull-offs and hammer-ons that jump start the song), great lyrics and vocals, sing-along choruses, and tightly arranged, harmonized guitar interludes-courtesy of Denny Dias, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter; and New York session ace Elliott Randall. Best of all are Randall’s fat, squawky solos.
The intro, chorus, interlude, and solo sections are built on shifting G-to-A triads. These chords create an A Mixolydian tonality, hence the relative D major key signature. Randall’s opening solo-guitar 1-is flanked by guitar 2’s rhythm figure, which uses single notes to outline G and A. A clean guitar 3 enters and exits with each verse, paraphrasing Donald Fagen’s piano – a high A, pedal-tone figure. (Check out the bluesy turnaround (A7/5, Ebdim7, Dm, A/C#) that drops in halfway through the verses.
Though sprinkled with a few tasty whines, Randall’s killer solo relies more on jazzy phrasing and chromaticism than bluesy bending. Exhibiting masterful control of time, touch, and tone, Randall plays off the changes, and also derives lines from A Mixolydian and A Dorian.
Following a third verse and chorus, the guitars begin their second interlude, harmonized in thirds. Randall’s outro solo commences with a simple, four-note motif, which he displaces rhythmically before whipping up a sax-like frenzy of legato hammers and pulls. His bends are intensified by their previous absence, and you’ll want to crank the volume on the fade out to catch his sly octave work.