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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

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music holds up does not sound dated!!
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lockwoodian4
Aja is the best album ever recorded. Hands down.
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Don't. Lose. That. ###
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Black. Cow!!
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Can't do it without the BUZZ on....
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Graduated H.S. 1972, the senior class skipped school and went down to the Jersey Shore, drank beer and listened to Can't buy a thrill 8-track all day. More I could write but %^^((**9, WOW GREAT MEMORIES!!
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cyacos
ridiculouus, awesome.
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Aja expression Spanish for I gat you doing something you have denied !
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Steely Dan has always been my favorite band. Tight, jazzy rifes, with the best musicians in the world playing with them, I've seen them many times, and love every minute of it.
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Just another great band out Boston
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Innovators!! !
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Said before!-They were the first one to remix MICHEAL JACKSON with their songs!-
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aja was their last great album in a line of legendary albums
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We named our cat Aja.
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alabastervil l i s 0
ive come to learn that if you dont know what something means, it indicates that your old, as am i and usually the true meaning of something is less intriging then the mystery of not knowing
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Does anybody know what that means
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Ultimate spinach
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I met a girl who cashiered at a convenience store. She said her name was Aja. I asked her if the country or the song. She said her parents named her after the Steely Dan song. I told her I fell asleep to her every night on my IPod.
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AJA- One of the best albums ever! Did I say ever?
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nicko252008
Where's countdown to ecstasy?? GREAT album, all of them are great.
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One of my all time favorites!!! Their music is so lush and rich I still pop in their greatest hits CD and just drive..... Simply amazing!!!
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Aja
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mrefatboy
that's why I have all the vynle my wife loves that all the lyrics
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sr20071
Sure would love to see the lyrics like last time I was on Pandora and looked them up. My wife loves my. Steely Dan (albums)!
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Mr. Fagen is a genius!!
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Skunk Baxter. All I have to say.
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No static at all...
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chefpeterlev i n e
drink your big black cow and get outta here..
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Jeff Porcaro- Dr. Wu- Did the Katy Lied album when he was 19 years old, Bernard Purdie- the hitmaker, Jim Keltner- Josie, Steve Gadd- AJA- Modern Drummer Performance of the year- 1977- 7 minutes of drumming, Jim Gordon, Ed Greene, Rick Marotta- Peg, Hey Nineteen, Some of the best drummers in the world played for SD. As they say about the AJA album- It didn't sound like anything at the time. Still doesn't. Just awesome! I will be at my 14th SD concert this summer. Keith Carlock behind the kit. No
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matratus
Aja.
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flyn2lax
Vino Robles Amphitheatre , Paso Robles, CA..... this Tues., taking me back.....70' s ! .
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Drink scotch whiskey all night long...and die behind the wheel
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woot! I'm seeing them on the 15th! can't wait!
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Love Steely Dan! Grew up listening to them!
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Love steely Dan !!!
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johnmargie6
Walter Becker Donald Fagen...need I say more.....
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I luv this junt!
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Do It Again: I love Steely Dan's music
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And when you smile for the camera, I'll know I'll love you better...man , LOVE IT!!! : )
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♪♪ I am another gentleman loser...♪♪
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Hey Nineteen
No we got nothing in common
No we can't talk at all
Please take me along
When you slide on down

The Cuervo Gold
The fine Colombian
Make tonight a wonderful thing

No we can't dance together
No we can't talk at all
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Do It Again! !!!!
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Got 2 love those jazz rips from Steely Dan!!!
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kkimbro6
totally awesome seen them 4 times or so on the rare occasion when Fagen interacts with the audience he always has some witty comment you need to be cerebral to understand them but man what a group still can't believe people of their era dont know their songs i mean come on peg plays in the grocery store for gods sake
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Walter is my from my HS alma mater! Yes SD is great!
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Last call, it seems if we do not purge the liberals and socialist Americans and restore our Republic.... y e a h , I said it.
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July 13th show at the Hollywood Bowl. Two items off my bucket list in one shot.
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When all my dime dancing is through, I run to you.
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ravensfan070 5
Agents of the law. Luckless pedestrians. . . . . .
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Nice
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