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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

matratus
My Old School Rockalicious . . . . .
Love this band! Just takes me down great memory lane. ��
☆☆☆
SD is one of the premier entertainers EVER! Takes me back to my youth.
Please excuse me
Can't buy a Thrill, the best SD album!
SD- Had some of the greatest drummers of All Time- Porcaro, Gadd, Keltner, Purdie, Marotta, Gordon, et al on their albums. Imagine being Jeffrey Porcaro at 19 years old and playing on Katy Lied. That would be a huge rush! From below- a lot of Boz's songs were actually written by his back up band members that would become TOTO- Paich, Porcaro, Lukathur, etc. Great stuff!
amye45
I didn't know Chevy Chase was a drummer but I did know that Phil Hartman designed album covers for a few bands in the 70's including the logo for CSNY. RIP-Phil Hartman
.
Walter Becker played guitar, not bass!
Not enough DAN, on THE STEELY
DAN Station. MORE OF THE NEW STUFF. ..LOVE "ROYAL SCAM!!"
FM: Please, Pandora, play the version with Walter Becker's guitar solo! One the best solos of all time!
Yes dodea48, they also wrote a few songs about cradle robbing and the good ole' days. I've seen Steely Dan half a dozen times in the last 25 years, including Donald's Dukes of September group - which is amazing. Fagen is about as brilliant as they come in the music world.
alohakghi
These gentlemen are the quintessenti a l studio artists of the 20th century. Their work, in many cases, cannot be duplicated live. The AOR radio format suited them perfectly. After the revolution of the 60's, the teens in the 70s (the ones paying attention), developed a more refined listening ear. The popularity of Steely Dan is one of the examples of this. No image packaging here, just pure talent.
1632mcadam
Saw Steely Dan in Phoenix this summer. Best concert ever!
dodea48
Did they ever write any songs that are not about hookers, drugs, and drinking
johnmargie6
When I'm earthed..... . j u s t by chance you crossed the diamond with the pearl....get along, get along Kid Charlemagne. . . . . . . Y e s , there's gas in the car....They are the best song writers...be s i d e s Boz Scaggs!!
Donald Fagan was one of the best of the change in music same as some bridge of sighs.... fly like an eagle... now some of Lamb of God. Help me; it keeps progressing. Not to belittle steely Dan.

(Smoothee) bless his a##. Aja ; Badass.

Ozzie classic as well.
This guy's tunes are true classic.

He is strange yet cool as s###.
Awesome man. DEACON BLUES!!!!!!! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
Hammer 721.....Brin g s me way back!!
stevenmorell a 9 4
Great question. . Would you be now without love???
Saw them in Gilford NH. Timeless to say the least. If you have not seen them yet, go and do so. WHAT A SHOW!!!!!!!
metalmasters m i k e
some of the finest music you will ever hear
Love them!
dfoote76
They still have it (saw them 09/16/14) though Fagan's voice was shot by end of concert...an d at the end of a long tour too. Hot band, hot backup singers, Steely Dan staples. Favorite concert of the season that also included Hall & Oates and CSN.
dina11363
Saw them live last night, unbelievably awesome!
johnmargie6
Home at last!! What great music to my ears. Love Steely Dan!!
I love you Steely Dan from way back to now
Great
I luvs The Dan!
lordanhms
Good stuff, music back in the day.
Just saw Steely Dan at Saratoga NY ... After all the years the music is still fresh , the band tight, Fagan's vocals haunting. ... Just amazing
we're pregnant
Hall Oates vs Steely Dan are my favorite 70's groups but song for song it's a tie only beautiful music is winner that no group like that anymore that stood the test of time
krouton59
How fortunate to have Steely Dan in our lives. They drive the music and the music drives me. Thank You with all my heart and soul.
vhlep
Listened to them for years. Always love to return to Bodhisattva, Aja and Deacon's Blues to name a few. Sophisto, jazz, rock salad unique to rock the same way Lyle Lovett is to country.
anderdog
Saw them outdoors at Interlochen in Michigan's great up north. They were phenominal! The drummer was off the charts, and all were tight and in tune.
Don't read this because it actually works. You will be kissed on the nearest Friday by the love of your life. Tomorow will be the best day of your life however if you don't post this you will die in two days. Now you started reading this so don't stop . This is so scary put this on at least 5songs 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 because it actually works.
Sweet and juicy.da sax rocks the soul.honey for the soul.constan l l y amazes.
Deacon blues
The bio commits a mortal sin if omission by neglecting to mention the guitar solo in "Reelin' in the Years" by Elliott Randall, hailed by Jimmy Page as his favorite guitar solo ever.
These guys play music that would make me jump off of a mountain if done by someone else, yet, not only does it make me want to shout it from the mountain top but, It is so perfect I don't know how anyone else could be within sight of the same plane. Incredible!
omenukwa
I love Steely it reminds me of rode trips
jones.st.cro i x
in a cookie cutter world it is essential to have Fagan & Becker -- it's that road not taken nearly enough
Oh! I love it.
hvandewater0 0 1
yup.....its the best....
Love this song I wanna chase the Dragon
Love this group. Lots of good memories growing up with them.
jhjarvis44
Why is there no peace in the Middle East? No Steely Dan there.
Aside from that they are one a** kicking band.
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