This year, Elliott Randall celebrates his 70th birthday. And celebrating its 45th birthday this year is Steely Dan’s debut album, Can’t Buy a Thrill. If you’re like me, the name Elliott Randall brings nothing to mind, while the name Can’t Buy a Thrill brings back a flood of memories.
So why bring up Elliott Randall and Can’t Buy a Thrill in the same context? Because Elliott Randall is perhaps best known for playing the guitar solo in Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years.” And yes, you did the math right – he was twenty five years old when he played what Jimmy Page reportedly named his favorite guitar solo.
When Steely Dan hit the scene with Can’t Buy a Thrill, they caused quite a stir. Their music didn’t conform to the Rock ‘n’ Roll norm of the day. Sure, the genre was beginning to change, branching out into blended-genres and sub-genres, but no one had heard anything quite like this.
I have a friend who is not a fan of Steely Dan, claiming – and still claims – that it isn’t Rock ‘n’ Roll. But most others disagreed and the album fared quite well, peaking at number 8 on the charts.
Lyrically, Steely Dan got their message across in a more subtle manner than the mainstream groups of the day, setting up the framework of a story and letting the listener fill in the details.
Music critics held the band in even higher esteem than did the charts. Reviews touted “tight construction” and genre-atypical chord progressions. Not being a musician myself, I’ll simply describe the sound as a Rock/Jazz fusion.
Which brings us back to Elliott Randall and that guitar solo – a perfect example of that Steely Dan blend. According to Randall, the guitar was a Fender Stratocaster: a proven and familiar staple of the day’s Rock ‘n’ Roll. Yet it was the playing that captivated. Notes emanating at a furious pace, but so smooth and effortless, deliberately staying just this side of that screaming Johnny B. Goode sound, but balanced with a more delicate touch.
Like the saxophone solo from Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” or the piano introduction to Cat Stevens’ “Morning has Broken,” “Reelin’ in The Years” is a great song in so very many ways. But it will always be remembered for that guitar solo.
- Steely Dan’s founding members, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, asked Randall to join the group as a permanent member, but he declined the invitation.
- This was the first of many declined invitations over the course of his career – always preferring to collaborate and consult with various other musicians. A musical nomad pioneer?
- In an interview with Guitar World magazine, Randall claims that when asked to complete the song with the guitar part, he did so in one take, without ever writing a note on paper.
- I once saw “Reelin’ in The Years” on a list of Best Songs Not on Guitar Hero But Should Be
- I owned this album on cassette tape. Not a store-bought tape, but one of those cheap record-club cassettes. It’s been gone many years now…
Here is Randall Elliott’s Wikipedia page – a pretty interesting read.
Here is Can’t Buy a Thrill on Spotify