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Steely Dan

Most rock & roll bands are a tightly wound unit that developed their music through years of playing in garages and clubs around their hometown. Steely Dan never subscribed to that aesthetic. As the vehicle for the songwriting of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, Steely Dan defied all rock & roll conventions. Becker and Fagen never truly enjoyed rock -- with their ironic humor and cryptic lyrics, their eclectic body of work shows some debt to Bob Dylan -- preferring jazz, traditional pop, blues, and R&B. Steely Dan created a sophisticated, distinctive sound with accessible melodic hooks, complex harmonies and time signatures, and a devotion to the recording studio. With producer Gary Katz, Becker and Fagen gradually changed Steely Dan from a performing band to a studio project, hiring professional musicians to record their compositions. Though the band didn't perform live after 1974, Steely Dan's popularity continued to grow throughout the decade, as their albums became critical favorites and their singles became staples of AOR and pop radio stations. Even after the group disbanded in the early '80s, their records retained a cult following, as proven by the massive success of their unlikely return to the stage in the early '90s.

Walter Becker (bass) and Donald Fagen (vocals, keyboards) were the core members of Steely Dan throughout its variety of incarnations. The two met at Bard College in New York in 1967 and began playing in bands together shortly afterward. The duo played in a number of groups -- including the Bad Rock Group, which featured future comedic actor Chevy Chase on drums -- which ranged from jazz to progressive rock. Eventually, Becker and Fagen began composing songs together, hoping to become professional songwriters in the tradition of the Brill Building. In 1970, the pair joined Jay & the Americans' backing band, performing under pseudonyms; Becker chose Gustav Mahler, while Fagen used Tristan Fabriani. They stayed with Jay & the Americans until halfway through 1971, when they recorded the soundtrack for the low-budget film You Gotta Walk It Like You Talk It, which was produced by the Americans' Kenny Vance. Following the recording of the soundtrack, Becker and Fagen attempted to start a band with Denny Dias, but the venture was unsuccessful. Barbra Streisand recorded the Fagen/Becker composition ‘I Mean to Shine’ on her album Barbra Joan Streisand, released in August 1971, and the duo met producer Gary Katz, who hired them as staff songwriters for ABC/Dunhill in Los Angeles, where he had just become a staff producer. Katz suggested that Becker and Fagen form a band as a way to record their songs, and Steely Dan -- who took their name from a dildo in William Burroughs' Naked Lunch -- was formed shortly afterward.

Recruiting guitarists Denny Dias and Skunk Baxter, drummer Jim Hodder, and keyboardist/vocalist David Palmer, Becker and Fagen officially formed Steely Dan in 1972, releasing their debut, Can't Buy a Thrill, shortly afterward. Palmer and Fagen shared lead vocals on the album, but the record's two hit singles -- the Top Ten "Do It Again" and "Reeling in the Years" -- were sung by Fagen. Can't Buy a Thrill was a critical and commercial success, but its supporting tour was a disaster, hampered by an under-rehearsed band and unappreciative audiences. Palmer left the band following the tour. Countdown to Ecstasy, released in 1973, was a critical hit, but it failed to generate a hit single, even though the band supported it with a tour.

Steely Dan replaced Hodder with Jeff Porcaro and added keyboardist/backup vocalist Michael McDonald prior to recording their third album, Pretzel Logic. Released in the spring of 1974, Pretzel Logic returned Steely Dan to the Top Ten on the strength of the single "Rikki Don't Lose That Number." After completing the supporting tour for Pretzel Logic, Becker and Fagen decided to retire from live performances and make Steely Dan a studio-based band. For their next album, 1975's Katy Lied, the duo hired a variety of studio musicians -- including Dias, Porcaro, guitarist Elliot Randall, saxophonists Phil Woods, bassist Wilton Felder, percussionist Victor Feldman, keyboardist Michael Omartian, and guitarist Larry Carlton -- as supporting musicians. Katy Lied was another hit, as was 1976's The Royal Scam, which continued in the vein of its predecessor. On 1977's Aja, Steely Dan's sound became more polished and jazzy, as they hired jazz fusion artists like Wayne Shorter, Lee Ritenour, and the Crusaders as support. Aja became their biggest hit, reaching the Top Five within three weeks of release and becoming one of the first albums to be certified platinum. Aja also gained the respect of many jazz musicians, as evidenced by Woody Herman recording an album of Becker/Fagen songs in 1978.

Following the release of Aja, ABC was bought out by MCA Records, resulting in a contractual dispute with the label that delayed until 1980 the release of their follow-up album. During the interim, the group had a hit with the theme song for the film FM in 1978. Steely Dan finally released Gaucho, the follow-up to Aja, in late 1980, and it became another Top Ten hit for the group. During the summer of 1981, Becker and Fagen announced that they were parting ways. The following year, Fagen released his solo debut, The Nightfly, which became a critical and commercial hit.

Fagen didn't record another album until 1993, when he reunited with Becker, who produced Kamakiriad. The album was promoted by the first Steely Dan tour in nearly 20 years, and while the record failed to sell, the concerts were very popular. In 1994, Becker released his solo debut, 11 Tracks of Whack, which was produced by Fagen. The following year, Steely Dan mounted another reunion tour, and in early 2000 the duo issued Two Against Nature, their first new studio album in two decades. It won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. Steely Dan followed it in 2003 with Everything Must Go. Fagan’s solo album Morph the Cat was released in 2006, and Becker released Circus Money in 2008 as Steely Dan embarked on another tour. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

Great BAND!
kwsierrasojo u r n e r
Coolness
bevbevan
I cannot conceive how any reviewer would link Steely Dan with America. America was okay to good but not even close to the talent The Dan brought to the table, even though the band - after Pretzel Logic - was Fagen and Becker with a supporting cast.
LOVE.LOVE.LO V E . L O V E THESE GUYS!
anjsmommy27
Don't read this because it actually works. You will be kissed on the nearest Friday by the love of your life. Tomorrow will be the best day of your life. However if you don't post this you will die in the next 2 days. Now you've started reading this so don't stop. This is so scary put this on 5 songs in the next 143 minutes. When done press f6 and your lovers name will appear on the screen in BIG letters this is so scary cud it actually works!
croudy62
Can't Buy A Thrill!!! Killer album with some great tunes!!!!
The best
Loved 'em forever. Got to see them in a rare 70's tour and in 2000 in Hartford. Will cherish my Y2K Steely Dan t-shirt until I get a new one.
easlaw1234
I was 23. I had my first date with a beautiful lady of 21 years. I picked her up in my '79 Nissan 280ZX. I had the CD containing Babylon Sisters qued up to start as we began to drive. We both remained quiet listening to the song. Until the first chorus of Babylon Sisters. She joined in with her voice so strong, so pure, matching the vocals as if she was recording her voice on the track. It was spectacular. I've never forgotten it.
weddington17 5
In the Bay Area driving to Napa Valley top down my baby by my side Babylon Sister on the radio. Wow!!! What a great day it was
Wow, this stirs up some memories. Good Stuff.
There's a nice band from 70's
mojoh2929
They still hold up more than nicely. Guacho IMO one the best albums ever.
My brother gave me Aja for my 15th birthday. I have loved Steely Dan's music ever since...I daily play greatest hits. Sorry I missed them this past August...tic k e t s went FAST!!!
Bring back the Boston Rag....
Every Steely Dan sings directly to me. The subtle drums, the singing guitar riffs, the sax solos, the mystical and colorful lyrics, the unique memorable vocals. I find something new every time I listen to a song of SD, and I've listened to each countless times. I wish they would keep producing forever. Does anyone else feel as I do?
jaynlewis09
The Cuervo Gold, the fine Columbia make tonight a wonderful thing ... best line ever!
I play drums in a steely dan tribute couldn't ask 4 a better job !
johnmargie6
Drink scotch whiskey all night long.......
Dirty Work is fantastic... . .
debraleezing g 0
My all time favorite band of all time. Hati an Divorce. ...
I'm 19 and my folks raised me on these guys and last year I got to see them at hard rock cafe in orlando. My fave songs are bad sneakers and kid Charlemagne
Deacon blues for sure .
I still know every word in this song as in many their greatest works of artistry. Tops to you all for making me feel good. Linda
Do it again, Steely..
ellenclark1
Deacon Blues....tak e me away.....
robertsavage 8 3 0 8
Great drinking /bar/sleepin g / a l l around relaxing music, AWESOME, thanks Becker/Fagan ! ! ! ! ! ! !
and I am solarsteam1 not 15
timeless amazement and genius ness the ole dan is
Im thank full that the guys that write the Biographies don't do public speaking. They would love to hear themselves. But then again, maybe he are forced to ad filler.
jakobpelleti e r
I saw them play live in 1993 or 94, they were outstanding.
Can't Buy a Thrill was a critical and commercial success, but its supporting tour was a disaster, hampered by an under-rehear s e d band and unappreciati v e audiences.
I saw them at Tampa Stadium (old sombero) and they opened for CHICAGO, came out wearing old White Sox uniforms- RDBru
this the beginnings of aja album.... could fit nicely on that record
This song bring back good times when I hang around with my best friend.
gthomerson
Check out The Dukes of September DVD. Very cool.
just a great song
The song peg brings back a lot of memories
Saw them in concert in Fort Wayne, IN last year. Great concert. Having been a fan since the '70s, it allowed me to check one off of my bucket list.
These guys are incredible and Brilliant musicians.
Love these guys! Grew up w/ them so have tons of memories w/ them in the background.
No
fixie1950
Love all their stuff. Don't know if they ever made a clunker. The 30 second guitar solo on Bad Sneakers I could put on a continuous loop and I still don't think I'd ever tire of it. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
mikepascarel l o
Your Gold Teeth - Awesome, pure genius!
One of favorite groups- Aja a great album.
I probably don't know how, but still can't find out the year produced , on an album, 70's please Pandora and your magic box let me know when these songs were on the radio or playing on my turntable long time ago
neelyii
All hail The Dan !
Easily my favorite album of all time. Will make a bad day much better....an d a good day even greater.
....., I want a name when I lose,....... . Call me DBlues!
johnmargie6
Their music or lyrics will never be forgotten... . . . a l l are my favorites
Some of the best songs in our lifetime
♫ ....make tonight a wonderful thing
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