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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

I just found out that Chevy Chase, was there drumm back in the 70's before they made it big.
vet0602
Still good after all these years!! Just saw them again in Kansas City. Love the Danette's!!
Your lyrics are so amazing in this. Song.... Love you STELLY DAN!!!!!!! You are grand!!!!! Amazing ..... Love it all!!!!!!!
yes timeless,,,a l w a y s sounds fresh, new and inventive
hey steely a co-worker just retired after 30 years of service and his cake read steely dan, how about that.
Steely Dan music is timeless. Listening to Third World Man right now. The most beautiful song. The guitar is absolutely amazing and Donald Fagen's voice is magic! I will never tire of their music. Saw them in L.A. What an incredible show. I didn't want it to end!
July 23, in Tulsa, Steely Dan was magic. An incredibly tight & solid band made The Old Lady on Brady a wonderful and glorious evening. Agree with Deke, The music was perfection and grace.
linda772
just a couple of weeks away from enjoying these guys play at the Biltmore House here in Asheville. What a great way to celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary -NEVER thought I'd see these guys in concert!
Saw them July 9th in Saratoga CA. The music was perfection and grace.
nickbennett
This is so undefinable, that must be what I love about it. The bass line still just kills me after all these years.
I saw them in Bend July 3 also. Really great concert and I am now a Steely Dan fan, they are still hot
I saw them in Bend July 3 also, really great concert and I am not a Steely Dan fan
Bend, Oregon July 3rd they gave us what we came for-please come back! You played to a sold out crowd-jackie
Love me some Steely Dan!!!!
Got tix to forum show can't wait !!!!!! SD....you still got it ..you reel in the years like no other !!! Thank You !!!!
Favorite of mine
making no mistake,,,,, o n e of a kind forever,,,,s o many great distinctive hits
mattgraphics 7
Ridiculous that this Bio doesn't mention their career spanning dedication to sound quality thanks to the engineering genius of 8 time Grammy winner, Roger, The Immortal Nichols. Nichols would win three Grammy Awards (Best Engineered Recording — Non-Classica l ) for his late 70's-early 80's meticulous studio work with the band on Aja, FM (No Static at All) and Gaucho and won three additional Grammys, including the notable achievement 'Album Of The Year' for his efforts on the Steely Dan.
Jazz rock at its brightest here with Steely!!
johnmargie6
and then there is Steely Dan.....enjo y . .
vmcneace
hearing this song brings back some great teenage memories. ..my brother rocked our home..awesom e ! !
My name is really Dan



So funny
I totally love this guy! (kidding;))
I just adore this band.
I have been a fan from the start, and I just got to see them for the first time last fall. Wonderful show--everyt h i n g I had hoped it would be. The memories so thick to brush them away from .
Saw them live many times never get old.
Don't take me alive......a w e s o m e solo...
I love the sound of Steely Dan. Brings back memories and makes me happy!!!
smply2dvyn
I love them so very much!!!��
SD is the best!!!!!!!! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
The Cuervo Gold, the fine Columbian. Make tonight a wonderfull thing ;)
canning.joan
Steely Dan is Classic. Love the Vibe
Love their music, oh, man so awesome!!!!! !
Ditto, Tom. The ultimate insult for adultery..dr i n k your big black cow!!!
tomman30
great song!
bscks
Simply awesome !
lucinda.dehn e r
Fell head over heals in love with SD's style the instant I first heard it. Loved it then and love it now! What a BLESSING to receive! such a special talent. May God bless u always Super Steely Dan. Great artist! @-)-----
my best song is PEG cool cut.
i admit i wasn't mature enough to enjoy their music when it came out ..now i own their whole catalogue
Steely Dan........a kid that grew up with your music
Needs more cowbell !!!
Respect the Dan!
turn it up please (-:
Cryptic lyrics and amazing music. This band helped turn me on to the jazz.
Hey nineteen.... a n d black cow..amonst others...Aja
Bring this music back! Plz
Love the Dan!!!
munz.joe
Love the guitar solo in Kid Charlemagne
munz.joe
Katy lies, you can see it in her eyes
cleveto7
Just got tickets to concert on beach of Lake Erie in August
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