It’s Kabluwe, your DJ of the Deep, spinning you more soulful Songs To Game To.
Next up is one of the more obscure cuts from the catalog of a very cool cat. Donald Fagen is perhaps best known for his partnership with the late Walter Becker—the great Steely Dan. Fans simply call them “The Dan.”
This band tore up the radio waves in the 70s with such hits as “Do It Again” and “Ricky Don’t Lose That Number,” but later became famous for their dedication to studio perfection. Throughout their careers, Becker and Fagen called on an endless cavalcade of musicians to play on their albums, sometimes flying them across the country only to play a few bars of a solo… which they ultimately leave out of the final cut!
Though Steely Dan officially broke up in the early 1980s, Fagen and Becker frequently reunited on albums and tours right up until Becker’s death in 2017. Donald Fagen continues to tour as Steely Dan, but his solo works of the 80s, 90s and early 2000s are often overlooked. This is one such song.
“Shanghai Confidential” debuted in 1988 as the B-side to “Century’s End”, Which Fagen wrote with Timothy Meher for the soundtack to Bright Lights, Big City, a lack-luster, yuppies-in-distress flick starring the man of the hour: Michael J. Fox. Both songs feature searing synth chords, simple drum licks and a bass line reminiscent of the theme song for Seinfeld, which began its famous run just a year later.
But while “Century’s End” includes Fagen’s characteristic lyrical puzzles that Dan fans love to break their brains analyzing, “Shanghai Confidential” is purely instrumental. And that instrument, for the most part, is a big ol’ 80’s synthesizer. Compared against his entire body of work, this tune is definitely a B-side cut for Fagen that most fans will quickly discard. But IMHO it’s grade “A” solid gold for gamers like us.
The live musicians on the track—Marcus Miller on bass, Steve Kahn on guitar, and Manolo Badrena
providing some percussion accents—are almost totally subsumed by Fagen’s rich tapestry of synth voices. The melody at various times is held aloft by a dreamy pan flute voice, searing jet-engine keyboard chords, and Kahn’s bubbling jazz guitar riff.
Verses seem to trip over one another, giving the song a feeling of constant, if faltering, momentum. Throw in some digital hand claps, an eerie musical saw effect and liberal use of the pitch shifter, and you got a song that is tailor-made for gaming.
This tune pairs nicely with big, friendly open-world maps. I particularly like to play this jam while I’m tooling around the lakes and rivers of Minecraft in my rowboat. I could also imaging “Shanghai Confidential” playing behind some more tranquil parts of Red Dead Redemption 2 and No Man’s Sky.
The slow-but-steady movement of the piece would also suit a low-intensity side-scroller or driving game as well. Give it a spin and let me know if you’re in.