Book review: ON TRACK…Toto/The Solo Beatles/Steely Dan (“Every album, every song”)


Sonicbond Pubishing [Publication date January/February 2020]

Liked and loathed in equal measures by the music press in the 1970s and 1980s, ultimately the band may have had the last laugh.  As author Jacob Holm-Lupp reiterates, their latest offering – XIV in 2015 – is one of their best and widely applauded.

Reading through the 142 pages of this analysis – On Track… Toto – you realise that sadly there’ll never be another Toto.  They were born out of a vibrant session scene in an era when labels could invest heavily and rock radio was louder.

The musicians earned their spurs with Boz Scaggs’ ‘Silk Degrees’ live band.  They also had good industry connections.  And whilst a separate life developed for Toto they continued (either collectively or individually) to contribute to any number of artist sessions including Michael Jackson, Steely Dan and even Kiki Dee.

This book dissects each of the band’s studio albums.  As ever, the views given are somewhat subjective although Holm-Lupp is also a musician so can add in that perspective.

With all the On Track books the reader will agree to disagree with some of the opinions expressed, die-hard fans in particular will have their own favourite albums,  songs, and viewpoint.  There is no doubt that Toto’s output can be patchy but I think the author is a little harsh, in particular, on ‘Kingdom Of Desire’.

Again, the lack of an index severely weakens this book, and the series in general, as a serious work of reference.  More for dipping in, and for reassurance (or otherwise) that the album that stares out at you in the racks might be worth your investment.  ***1/2

Strangely there is almost an index in Andrew Wild’s survey of the Fab Four solo output- On Track… The Solo Beatles – an A-Z of songs at the back.  Surely it wouldn’t have been too much trouble to add page numbers for ease of reference?

Andrew Wild’s companion volume listing the Beatles albums until their split was a great piece of aggregation and a welcome contribution to Beatle historiography.  This latest volume allows the reader to investigate or recall the various strands of their solo careers up until Lennon’s ‘Double Fantasy’ in 1980.  Wild includes a short “epilogue” to bring the solo story up to date which suggests that we may not get a final, more extensive, volume.  ****

The On Track… series is illustrated mainly with video screen grabs and album covers rather than wholly original photographic material and whilst there are various quotations from the rock press there are no original contributions from either the artist or those associated with them.

On Track…Steely Dan by Jez Rowden is a comprehensive guide to not only the core studio albums but early recordings and solo output.

The band never toured in the UK extensively and, like this reviewer, the author saw “Steely Dan” live for the first time in February 2019 when Donald Fagen continued the legacy playing UK dates.

The original band (with Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, guitarists Denny Dias, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter  and drummer Jim Hodder) germinated in 1971. They really hit their stride with the second album ‘Countdown To Ecstasy’ with Fagen fully taking on vocal duties.  However Steely Dan was characterised throughout its lifetime by the large number of contributions from session players such as Larry Carlton and Elliot Randall.

With Steely Dan on hiatus for at least a decade (1982-1993) the author has space to include the various solo output and gives us the chance to re-evaluate Becker’s  two solo and often overlooked albums.  He also emphasises the great contribution of engineer Roger Nicholls to all the Steely Dan albums.

Rowden’s narrative follows the twists and turns of band history whilst commenting on the songs “a timeless body of work that wll hopefully mesmerise and seduce for generations to come.”  ****

Review by David Randall

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