Steely Dan was an American jazz-rock/pop band that released six studio albums on ABC between 1972 and 1977, followed by an eighth on MCA in 1980. After a 20-year break in recording, they issued two discs of new material during the early 2000s. Debuting as a six-piece, the lineup trimmed by 1975 to the duo of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Musically, the band is noted for its sophisticated chordal patterns, slick instrumental passages, and oblique lyrical metaphors.
Members: Donald Fagen (vocals, keyboards), Walter Becker (bass, guitar, vocals, 1972-2017), Denny Dias (guitar, electric sitar, 1972-77), Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (guitar, pedal steel, 1972-74), Jim Hodder (drums, percussion, vocals, 1972-74), David Palmer (vocals, 1972)
Background and Formation
Keyboardist/singer Donald Fagen and guitarist/bassist Walter Becker met in 1967 while the two were enrolled at Bard College. As students, they roomed with aspiring singer/songwriter Terence Boylan (soon to emerge in Appletree Theatre) and played in the jazz band Leather Canary with then-drummer/future-comedian Chevy Chase (soon to record with Boston psychsters Chamaeleon Church).
The pair shopped their song’s at New York’s Brill Building, where singer/composer Kenny Vance offered them slots in the backing band of his group, Jay & the Americans. Through this liaison, the pair recorded soundtrack music for the 1971 comedy-drama You’ve Got to Walk It Like You Talk It or You’ll Lose That Beat. Though their songs attracted few buyers, Barbra Streisand recorded the Fagen/Becker composition “I Mean To Shine” for her 1971 release Barbra Joan Streisand. The pair also cut numerous demos during this time, a few of which (“Caves of ,” “Brooklyn,” “Barrytown”) were later re-cut by Steely Dan.
In 1971, Vance-associate Gary Katz moved to Los Angeles to produce records for ABC Records. He hired Fagen and Becker as in-house songwriters, so they followed him West. Realizing that their songs were too idiosyncratic for other artists on the label, Katz encouraged them to form a band. The pair enlisted drummer/singer Jim Hodder (Bead Game) and guitarists Denny Dias and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (Ultimate Spinach). They also brought in a second singer, David Palmer, to provide more conventional vocals on select tracks. The band christened itself Steely Dan, taken from the name of a steam-powered dildo in William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch.
In early 1972, Steely Dan issued its debut single “Dallas” (b/w “Sail the Waterway”) on ABC. It was produced by Katz (credited here as Kannon) who would produce the band’s first seven albums with engineer Roger Nichols. The single was pressed in small quantities and has never been reissued in any format, though the a-side was covered by Poco on their 1975 release Head Over Heels.
1972–1974 (Original Band): Can’t Buy a Thrill, Countdown to Ecstasy, Pretzel Logic
Steely Dan released their debut album, Can’t Buy a Thrill, in November 1972.
Steely Dan’s second album, Countdown to Ecstasy, hit stored in July 1973. It features eight songs, mostly in the five-minute range, including
That October, Steely Dan entered LA’s Village Recorder to lay tracks for Pretzel Logic, released the following February. It features 10 short numbers, including
Katy Lied hit the market. It marks the transformation of Steely Dan into a studio group centered on the creative team of Fagen and Becker and their cast of hired hands. The album features five songs per side, including the vibe-laced
Steely Dan released its fifth album, The Royal Scam, in May 1976. It was recorded over a five-month period at LA’s ABC Studios and Manhattan’s A&R Studios. The pair embrace funk and reggae on this release. The former is evident on
Fagen, Becker, and Katz spent the first half of 1977 recording tracks for Aja, released that September. The first side features three medium-length songs: “Black Cow,” and the title-track. Side two is book-ended by the Steely Dan signatures
Two Against Nature was released in February 2000 on Warner’s Giant subsidiary. It features nine new Fagen/Becker originals, including
Everything Must Go was released on Reprise in June 2003. The 45-minute disc contains nine songs, including
- Can’t Buy a Thrill (1972)
- Countdown to Ecstasy (1973)
- Pretzel Logic (1974)
- Katy Lied (1975)
- The Royal Scam (1976)
- Aja (1977)
- Gaucho (1980)
- Two Against Nature (2000)
- Everything Must Go (2003)
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