The solos and riffs etc that are transcribed in the tablature format books are usually fairly accurate, but I often find that the chord shapes given in either PVG or tablature format books are not very satisfying. The better songbooks have chords that are either acceptable or close to sounding right, but "close" is often not good enough. Getting the right voicing of the right chord is a critical part of reproducing the "Steely Dan sound", and this is where I think the songbooks have their main weakness.
NB: many songbooks have "Authentic tabs" or "Note for note transcriptions" on the cover, but this does not mean they are guaranteed to be accurate. These labels just indicate that the transcriber has attempted to write down exactly what is played in the song (as opposed to doing a simplified or partial transcription). How successful this attempt was is up to you to judge.
I've included some links to Amazon, for those wishing to purchase any of the Steely Dan songbooks.
Songs covered: Blues Beach, Everything Must Go, Godwhacker, Green Book, Lunch With Gina, Pixeleen, Slang Of Ages, The Last Mall, Things I Miss The Most
Other details: published by Cherry Lane, 64 pages, ISBN: 1-57560-673-9
The songbook for "Everything Must Go" is one of the usual PVG layout books with a simplified keyboard arrangement written out on two staves, vocal line on a third stave, and guitar chord shapes placed above the vocal part.
The keyboard arrangements in this book are (like most keyboard parts in PVG format books) too simplified. They always double the melody in the right hand, which severely limits the freedom of the part to act as an accompaniment to the vocal line (which is nearly always its actual role in the song). The harmonies that are filled in are fairly near the mark, but it's not hard to find chords that are suspect - where either the voicing or the chord itself is wrong. The left-hand keyboard part nearly always follows the bass part - again, with reasonable but not complete accuracy.
Maybe it's just me, but the net result is a keyboard part that I'm simply not interested in learning or playing. If the right hand was freed from having to slavishly follow the melody, and was allowed to find the right harmonic and rhythmic contrasts to support the melody I would be much more interested. I doubt that many people actually enjoy playing these over-simplified PVG keyboard parts; aren't most people more interested in learning something close to the actual keyboard parts?
OK, on to the guitar chords...
The suggested chords are mostly OK - the accuracy is well above the level you find in a "typical" PVG songbook. The chord names are derived from the keyboard part, so where there are errors in the keyboard arrangement, these filter through to the guitar part and you end up with chords that are not right. This doesn't happen too often though. What is more of a problem (my usual complaint with nearly every Steely Dan guitar songbook) is the choice of chord shape, i.e. chord voicing. This can be very good at times, where the keyboard part is accurate and a guitar chord shape is found that gives the right voicing. More often, you end up with guitar chord shapes that don't give the right sound. This is particularly noticeable in some of the important chord sequences, where there the "logic" and voice-leading aspects of the original changes are hopelessly lost in the guitar part. At other times, the choices just seem to be inappropriate (e.g. the lush, 6-string 7sus4 shapes used in "Lunch With Gina" - what's actually needed here is a tight, compact shape).
Overall, this songbook does a fair job of capturing those elusive Steely Dan harmonies, but you'll need to watch out for wrong chords, and you'd be well advised to try and work out more suitable guitar voicings.
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Songs covered: Gaslighting Abbie, What A Shame About Me, Two Against Nature, Janie Runaway, Almost Gothic, Jack Of Speed, Cousin Dupree, Negative Girl, West Of Hollywood
Other details: published by Cherry Lane, 64 pages, ISBN: 1-57560-374-8
As PVG books go, this is one of the better ones. An effort has been made to find the right chords, and the accuracy (in terms of chord names) is reasonable but not brilliant. The chord voicings and shapes that are chosen are not so good, so if you get this book, it's worth trying to work out your own shapes for some chords (looking at the piano parts may help here).
Some songs certainly work better than others - the chord shapes for Janie Runaway work pretty well, whereas those for Two Against Nature are more questionable (Ab7#9 for the entire verse?).
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Songs covered: Any World That Im Welcome To, Bad Sneakers, Black Friday, The Boston Rag, Deacon Blues, Doctor Wu, FM, Green Earrings, Kid Charlemagne, Night by Night, Parkers Band, Peg, Rikki Dont Lose That Number, Third World Man, Time out of Mind.
Other details: published by Cherry Lane, 112 pages, ISBN: 1-57560-315-2
Pretty good transcriptions - this book covers 15 songs and is worth a look. One negative point is that much of the material (10 of the 15 transcriptions) is identical to the Best of Steely Dan - guitar recorded versions songbook (recycling/repackaging of the same arrangements in different books seems relatively common in the printed music business). This means only five of the 15 transcriptions in this book are "new", i.e not available in the other "Best of Steely Dan" book. These five new songs are: Any World That I'm Welcome To, Boston Rag, Dr Wu, FM and Third World Man.
Because of the similar transcriptions, this book shares some of the chord shape problems that the Best of Steely Dan - guitar recorded versions book has (missing chord shapes, minimal chord spellings with no root etc). See the comments about this book below.
Overall, it's one of the better guitar songbooks and is worth checking out.
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Songs covered: Aja, Bad Sneakers, Black Friday, Bodhisattva, Chain Lightning, Deacon Blues, Don't Take Me Alive, Gaucho, Green Earrings, Hey Nineteen, Josie, Kid Charlemagne, My Old School, Night By Night, Parker's Band, Peg, Pretzel Logic, Reelin' In The Years, Rikki Don't Lose That Number, Time Out Of Mind
Other details: published by Warner Brothers, 159 pages, ISBN: 0-7935-3906-4
This is a pretty good book that covers 20 songs (NB. half of the transcriptions are identical to the Best of Steely Dan Cherry Lane songbook above). Transcriptions are reasonably accurate, and the book covers a nice range of material. The guitar parts are written out in tablature and standard notation, with chord names written above. Chord shapes are given at the start of each song, though one of the oddities of this book is that for several songs the chord shapes are omitted completely. Oops! A few songs have only a handful of shapes written out (e.g Night by Night has just three shapes), and other songs do not have shapes for all of the chords used. You can get often get clues for the missing chord shapes from the tablature, but this doesn't always work - it would be much better to have all the necessary shapes written out explicitly.
The chord names given are fairly accurate though the chord voicings are not always that good. Often, rather minimal voicings that omit the root note are given, which is fine if you're playing with a bass or keyboard player who can fill in the extra notes, but not so good if you're playing on your own and expect to hear the right chords. My approach to working out guitar arrangements of Steely Dan songs is to get playable chord shapes that capture as many of the essential harmony notes as possible. That way, you can get the essence of the song in a single guitar part. This doesn't seem to be the approach taken by this book, so if you want nice single-guitar arrangements you'll probably have to piece together bits and pieces from the tablature and chord shapes.
If you're mainly interested in the solos and riffs, the book gives you all these. To my ears, these are not all 100% accurate, but they're pretty close. As with all songbooks, treat the transcriptions as a good starting point from which to improve. If a chord or riff from the book doesn't sound quite right, trust your ears and try to figure out what's wrong.
Overall, despite the flaws, this is probably one of the songbooks that guitarists will find most useful.
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Songs covered: Aja, Black Friday, Deacon Blues, Do It Again, Hey Nineteen, Kid Charlemagne, My Old School, Peg, Reelin' In The Years, Rikki Don't Lose That Number
Other details: published by Warner Brothers
This book covers 10 songs and has scores for many instrumental parts (including piano/keyboards, vocals, bass, guitar, horns, drums). The transcriptions are detailed and their quality is generally good. Most parts are written out "note for note" for the whole song, though there are some simplifications (e.g a bass or keyboard groove is written out for a couple of bars, then the marking sim. indicates that you are supposed to follow the chords for the rest of the song using a similar pattern).
Solo lines (sax, guitar etc) are written out, though they can be a little wooden in places. Important slurs, grace notes or subtle rhythmic touches are sometimes missed out, but if you're prepared to work out a few of the finer details yourself, what you get here is a very good starting point.
The transcriptions are good, especially considering that detailed parts for 8 or so instruments are given for each song. Having said that, I've found quite a few parts that don't sound right to me. There are a few very quirky notes (probably typos), but rather more areas where the harmonies are not quite right. Again, if you are prepared to do a little work yourself, this songbook gives you a very good starting point.
The guitar music is usually written out using a single stave. This covers the solos and main riffs/fills, but may also include rhythm guitar figures. Some songs (e.g Aja, Reelin' in The Years) use separate staves for rhythm and lead guitar. Chord names are given throughout, though there are no chord shapes. The chord names are not always accurate, but if you scan the keyboard parts as well and "borrow" some notes, you'll end up with decent sounding chords.
This songbook is well worth considering. Especially useful for keyboard, bass and horn players, it's also useful for guitarists who are happy to work from standard notation and chord names.
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Songs covered: Aja, Bad Sneakers, Bodhisattva, The Boston Rag, Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More, Haitian Divorce, Josie, Peg, Reelin' In The Years, Rikki Don't Lose That Number, Turn That Heartbeat Over Again, Your Gold Teeth II
Other details: published by Warner Brothers.
Avoid this book! Only worth considering for humour value as you attempt play Steely Dan songs using only the chords D, Bm, Em, G and C7.
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Songs covered: Everything upto and including Gaucho (not sure if it has FM, Here at The Western World)
Other details: published by Warner Brothers, 260 pages
I've only glanced through this book a couple of times when I've come across it in music shops, so these comments are based on what I remember about it. On the positive side, this book has chords for every song from the albums up to and including Gaucho. On the negative side, the chords given are not that accurate. They'll give you something that sounds kind of similar to the original song, but not very close. With many groups this might be OK, but with Steely Dan each chord, and more particularly the voicings chosen for each chord, have to be spot on for the song to sound right. Some songs are in the wrong key, which is inexcusable (Josie in Fm? Aja in C?). If you want to play something that is "in the ballpark", try this book. If you want to play things that sound right, then look elsewhere.
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Songs covered: Extracts from Reeling in the Years, Bodhisattva, Rikki Don't Lose That Number, Black Friday, Kid Charlemagne, Don't Take Me Alive, Aja, Peg, Josie, Gaucho, Time Out of Mind.
Other details: published by Cherry Lane, 88 pages, ISBN 1-57560-307-1
This book is a little different as it comes with a "play-along" CD. The book has transcribed examples (guitar tab and standard notation) from 11 different songs, and the CD has recordings of how the transcribed sections should sound. The CD has some "full band" tracks, where drums, bass, keyboard and guitar play together, and other tracks where just the main guitar part is heard on its own. All guitar solo sections are played twice - once at normal speed and then once at half speed, making it easier to follow some of the faster parts.
The quality of the music on the CD is pretty good considering the complexity of the original songs. Personally, I prefer to get to know the guitar parts by playing along with the original recordings, though I'm sure some players will find the half-speed renditions of the guitar solos a useful way to practise the parts.
In terms of the guitar tablature, the transcriptions in this book are identical to the guitar tab in many of the other Steely Dan songbooks. Again, this is sadly the way these songbooks are produced - the same tablature and chords are repackaged many times to produce apparently "new" books.
Note that the tablature in this book only covers the main riffs and solos - you don't get transcriptions of the complete songs. This means that if you already own other Steely Dan songbooks with guitar tab for the songs covered in this "Inside Look" songbook, there's no point buying the book if all you're interested are the transcriptions - you will be buying the same guitar tablature again! What this book does offer however, in addition to the play-along examples on the CD, is a little information on suitable gear for reproducing those Steely Dan guitar sounds. It also has a few paragraphs on some of the key Steely Dan guitarists, and it offers some guidelines for playing the transcribed examples on a track-by-track basis. These performance notes are a useful addition and they are a feature that I think should be included much more often with guitar songbooks. Having said that, I don't know if it's really worth paying the money for this book just for these playing tips, the CD and the information on players and guitar gear.
Because the transcriptions are identical to those in some of the other songbooks, many of the same comments on transcription accuracy apply. The guitar tab is pretty good overall, but there are many details that are wrong and there are a few areas where the transcriptions are particularly poor (the tablature for the Peg guitar solo is a long way off).
The performance notes are good, sometimes giving info on how to tackle particular sections of the music, and sometimes giving background information on the playing style or harmonic ideas being used. One weakness of the performance notes is the occasional mistake when attributing a player to a guitar part. For a songbook claiming to offer an "inside look", it really should check these details more carefully. For example, it fails to mention how Denny Dias and Walter Becker play alternating solo sections in Aja - the book assumes all guitar solo parts are played by Dias.
The transcriptions often fail to highlight where guitar parts were recorded as multi-track parts, and unfortunately the performance notes fail to pick up on this. For example, the interlude sections in both Josie and Aja were recorded as three separate single-note parts, not as a single guitar part as the book suggests. There are subtle but crucial differences in tone that result from this, and the book should have pointed out that the parts can be approximated on a single guitar but they won't sound the same.
Overall, this songbook has some useful plus points. The performance notes are good and many guitarists will find the "play along" CD with half-speed versions of the solos helpful. The transcriptions are good but not note perfect (as with all Steely Dan guitar tab books). If you want complete transcriptions of the songs, this is not the book for you.
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Songs covered: (extracts, not complete transcriptions): Parker's Band, Green Earrings, Time Out Of Mind, Gaucho, Babylon Sisters, Glamour Profession, My Rival, Black Cow, Sign In Stranger, Home At Last, I Got The News, Josie, Gaslighting Abbie, What A Shame About Me, Two Against Nature, Cousin Dupree, Black Friday, Bodhisattva, Deacon Blues, Do It Again, Kid Charlemagne, Reeling In The Years, Rikki Don't Lose That Number, Bad Sneakers, The Boston Rag, Your Gold Teeth II
Other details: Published by Cherry Lane, 40 pages, ISBN: 1-57560-310-1
This book contains transcribed examples from many Steely Dan songs, covering all albums from "Can't Buy a Thrill" upto and including "Two Against Nature". As the songbook title suggests, the transcriptions are for just the piano/keyboard parts, and only short examples are written out - you don't get complete piano transcriptions for any of the songs. All the transcriptions are in standard music notation.
The examples highlight various riffs (e.g. the opening sections to Black Friday, Kid Charlemagne, Green Earrings), sections of chordal work (e.g. the intro to Your Gold Teeth II, the instrumental break in Time Out of Mind), solos (Do It Again, Glamour Profession) or other moments where the piano or keyboard feature. There's a nice variety of choices in terms of both the songs featured and the examples taken from these songs.
For each transcribed example there are a few lines of text that describe points of interest. These sometimes highlight stylistic or rhythmic features, harmonic structure, or give some general background to the solo or piece (e.g. "Donald salutes Charlie Parker with the accented syncopation and bluesy grace notes..."). These bits of text help to make sense of the transcribed examples, and they give a lot of added value to the songbook.
However, one criticism is that throughout the songbook Donald is the only keyboard player named, and many parts played by other musicians are wrongly attributed to him. Since Steely Dan's use of session musicians is well known, this is a bit surprising (or careless). It would have been nice for the individual players to get due recognition for their contributions, for example Victor Feldman's sublime playing in "I Got The News" and "Black Cow", Michael Omartian's work on "Your Gold Teeth II" and Rob Mounsey's solo on "Glamour Profession".
The accuracy of the transcriptions is on a par with the best of the official songbooks - generally very good, but with some errors. These mistakes are usually in the small details of the songs, in the chord voicings (e.g. 3-note chords in the intro to Home at last) or fast melodic lines (e.g. the riff at the end of the Josie intro). Occasionally the transcriptions errors are such that the transcription just doesn't do justice to the song - for me, this is true of the transcribed intro to Gaucho where, despite the text talking about a gospel "funky amen" sound, the transcription doesn't pick up the disguised IV-I sound that is the key to this part. Overall however, given the complexity of the music, the transcription accuracy is very good.
This is a songbook that gives some nice insights into some of the great keyboard and piano moments from Steely Dan songs. Some of the material requires high levels of keyboard technique in order to be able to do it justice when playing it, but there is plenty of more manageable material as well.
There's a small risk that the examples here might whet your appetite and leave you wanting complete piano transcriptions for the songs, but if you can live with that then you may well get a lot of enjoyment from this book.
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Songs covered: Do It Again, Reelin' In The Years, Bodhisattva, My Old School, Rikki Don't Lose That Number, East St. Louis Toodle-Oo, Pretzel Logic, Black Friday, Kid Charlemagne, Aja, Peg, Babylon Sisters, Hey Nineteen, Gaucho, Time Out Of Mind
Other details: Published by Shinko music publishing (Japan), 95 pages, ISBN 4-401-01248.
Note: this Japanese publication will not be as easy to get hold of as other songbooks listed on this page, but if you hunt around at places like Ebay or specialist book stores you might be able to track it down. This songbook was on sale at some of the Steely Dan concerts in Japan (e.g. the concert in Osaka in May 2000), so that could also be an option for some, assuming Steely Dan play some live gigs outside of the US in the future.
Chris Lincoln, who alerted me to the existence of this book, kindly sent in some of his thoughts about the transcriptions in this book. His comments below are, as he explained, from his standpoint as "one man with a piano and no expectation to ever sit down and use these charts in a band setup".
For a keyboard player, the first hope is that any chart will accompany a singer, not duplicate the
melody in the right hand. Piano Collection: Steely Dan accomplishes that. A piano player might be happier with the 15 songs chosen. Some (Reelin', Kid Charlemagne) have significant guitar parts. What you do when there are guitar solos is an open question. I would have preferred Fire in the Hole, Bad Sneakers, and Dr. Wu over some songs in here because the piano parts are better.
Hey 19 plays pretty well all the way through. Peg, because of those rich chords, especially through the introduction, is enjoyable to play - until the guitar solo. Gaucho sounds fine... but without the other parts, it's hard to get a feel because of the quirky time.
Babylon Sisters is playable all the way through, and sounds more like the demos of that song available on the internet. Time Out of Mind is another quite satisfying song to play. The feel is there and the keyboard part is rythmic enough to carry it. Same for My Old School. A lot of it sounds pretty close and if you can forget about the horns and guitars, no problem. Maybe piano fills for guitar fills instead ?
Reelin' gives you a pretty true rendering of the main piano part during the verse. Some tunes (Black Friday/Prezel Logic) are fine for what they are, but there are no revelations. No secret code is unlocked in discovering how these are played. Now, if I had Michael Omartian's piano break in Bad Sneakers...
I haven't yet played through all of the transcriptions in this songbook, but my impression is that the transcriptions are good. One very welcome feature is, as Chris notes above, the fact that the vocal melodies are not routinely doubled in the right-hand piano part. This melody doubling is done as standard in almost all Piano-Vocal-Guitar format songbooks, and I find the transcribed piano parts always suffer as a result. In this Japanese songbook, they take the much more sensible and satisfying approach of writing the vocal melody as a separate part, so that the two piano staves contain their transcription of the original keyboard part. This reason alone already makes this songbook much more interesting than many similar Steely Dan songbooks.
The piano transcriptions do however incorporate key riffs, phrases and solos from other instruments into the parts. So, for example, the guitar phrases played in octaves in the introduction to "Do It Again" are merged with the basic keyboard figure, based on moving fourths, to form a composite piano part. Similarly, the opening guitar solo from "Reelin' In The Years" dominates the piano right-hand during the introduction.
This approach of merging different instruments into the piano part can sometimes lead to unusual piano parts, but does give a good representation of the complete song. It also means that you don't always get note-for-note transcriptions of the keyboard parts for all sections of a song, but in most cases the verse and chorus parts transcribed are based only on the original piano/keyboard part.
Overall the accuracy is good, and the piano parts will be much more authentic and enjoyable than those in other PVG songbooks. As with most songbooks, there are parts and chords that to my ear aren't 100% accurate, but overall the transcriptions do a good job of the songs.
Thanks to Chris Lincoln for his review comments and for his help in providing the information about this songbook.
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Although this is just a guess, I'd expect that quite a few of the transcriptions from the books listed below are the same as those found in one or other of the books listed above.
Songs covered: Green Earrings, Time Out Of Mind, Gaucho, Aja, Babylon Sisters, Third World Man, Any World (That I'm Welcome To), Doctor Wu, Rose Darling, Throw Back The Little Ones, Everyone's Gone To The Movies, Black Cow, FM, Josie, Big Noise New York, Book Of Liars, Here At The Western World, What A Shame About Me, Black Friday, Bodhisattva, Deacon Blues, Do It Again, Hey Nineteen, Kid Charlemagne, My Old School, Peg, Reeling In The Years, Rikki Don't Lose That Number, Green Flower Street, Bad Sneakers, I.G.Y. (What A Beautiful World)
Other details: Published by Cherry Lane, 144 pages
Songs covered (20): Aja, Bad Sneakers, Black Friday, Bodhisattva, Chain Lightning, Deacon Blues, Don't Take Me Alive, Gaucho, Green Earrings, Hey Nineteen, Josie, Kid Charlemagne, My Old School, Night By Night, Parker's Band, Peg, Pretzel Logic, Reelin' In The Years, Rikki Don't Lose That Number, Time Out Of Mind
Other details: Published by Warner Brothers, 164 pages.
Note that the list of songs covered by this book is identical to the songs in the "Best of Steely Dan - guitar recorded versions" songbook.
I originally thought that the transcriptions were also likely to be identical, and I've since been told that this is indeed true. So, if you have one of these books there's no point buying the other!
If you have neither songbook, then you may want to consider buying this "Anthology" book (or the "Best of Steely Dan - guitar recorded versions" songbook if you prefer the green cover!). In any case, refer to the review of the "Best of" songbook.
Songs covered: Bad Sneakers, Black Friday, The Boston Rag, Deacon Blues, FM, Hey Nineteen, Josie, Kid Charlemagne, King of the World, Peg, Reeling in the Years, Rikki Don't Lose That Number
Other details: Published by Cherry Lane, 32 pages, riffs/excerpts from songs
Songs covered: Pretzel Logic, Chain Lightning, Don't Take Me Alive, Gaucho, Aja, Throw Back The Little Ones, Everyone's Gone To The Movies, Sign In Stranger, Josie, Bodhisattva, Hey Nineteen, My Old School, Reeling In The Years, Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More, Haitian Divorce
Other details: Published by Cherry Lane, 136 pages
Songs covered: Gaucho, Babylon Sisters, FM, Josie, Here At The Western World, Cousin Dupree, Deacon Blues, Do It Again, Hey Nineteen, Kid Charlemagne, My Old School, Peg, Reeling In The Years, Rikki Don't Lose That Number, Bad Sneakers, I.G.Y. (What A Beautiful World)
Other details: Published by Cherry Lane, 72 pages
Songs covered: Aja, Babylon Sisters, Deacon Blues, Doctor Wu, Gaucho, Haitian Divorce, Hey Nineteen, Kid Charlemagne, Peg, Rikki Dont Lose That Number, Third World Man
Other details: Published by Cherry Lane, 40 pages, ISBN: 1-57560-317-9
Songs covered (extracts, not complete transcriptions): Parker's Band, Green Earrings, Time Out Of Mind, Gaucho, Aja, Babylon Sisters, Glamour Profession, My Rival, Third World Man, Doctor Wu, Black Cow, Sign In Stranger, Home At Last, I Got The News, Fm, Josie, Here At The Western World, Gaslighting Abbie, What A Shame About Me, Two Against Nature, Cousin Dupree, Black Friday, Bodhisattva, Deacon Blues, Hey Nineteen, Kid Charlemagne, My Old School, Peg, Reeling In The Years, Rikki Don't Lose That Number, Bad Sneakers, Your Gold Teeth II, Negative Girl, Janie Runaway, Almost Gothic, Jack Of Speed, West Of Hollywood, Do It Again
Other details: Published by Cherry Lane, 80 pages, ISBN: 1-57560-320-9
Last updated: February 2011
All reviews © copyright Howard Wright 2002-2020