Steely Dan: Peg
I’m sure that I am older than many of my readers. I first heard Steely Dan’s song Peg when the album came out. Peg was one of the hits that you couldn’t escape on the radio that year. I didn’t like it. Peg, and indeed everything off of Aja sounded overproduced to me. It sounded like the rest of the big productions that surrounded it on the airwaves. But, over time, my bias against overproduction began to waver. And Peg endured. Maybe as much as ten years later, it would still come up sometimes on the radio. At that point, I came to understand that Steely Dan was not like those other big acts of the 1970s. Intricate arrangements did not have to mean overproduction. And I started to realize that Steely Dan’s songs were not about the things that insipid pop songs of the 79s were about.
Peg is as close to a love song as Steely Dan ever created. The lyric is brief, and it describes feelings of adoration for a movie star. There isn’t really a twist in the subject, as there so often is in Steely Dan’s songs. But once you find subversion in their lyrics, you start to look for it in other places. Steely Dan gave their music a pop sheen that they perfected on the Aja album, but it masked jazz sensibilities. Listen to the chorus of Peg, and you will here a nice tune that you can almost sing along with. But then something goes horribly wrong on the words “in 3-D”. I first bought the album on vinyl, and the first time I heard that chord, I stopped the record and took it off the turntable, and inspected it closely. It looked OK, so I put the needle back on Peg, and it did it again. Again I stopped the record to inspect it, and again I found nothing. For those who may be unaware, vinyl albums can sometimes get warped. The surface can bend ever so slightly, and it causes horrible changes in the notes of the music. That’s what I thought happened. But it was strange, because the rest of the album was unaffected. Of course, the record wasn’t warped; that’s just a really weird chord in the vocals. I’m told that it is a jazz chord, and that given that, it makes perfect musical sense. If anyone can explain the theory behind this, please feel free to comment.