I feel like Steely Dan has been around forever. They first became popular when I was in high school (where William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, from which the band’s name was taken, became popular all of a sudden), and have been around ever since. (That’s over forty years now. Yikes….) Known for their music that mixes rock, jazz, R&B, and pop, complex harmony, and smart-ass lyrics, the core members of the band are Donald Fagen on keyboards and Walter Becker on guitar and bass.
They did the first album, 1972’s Can’t Buy A Thrill, with Denny Dias and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (as I recall, he earned his nickname because he never changed his socks) on guitars, Becker on bass, Fagen on keyboards and vocals, Jim Hodder on drums, and David Palmer on some vocals. Their first hits, “Do It Again” and “Reelin’ In The Years,” were on that album. Here is the latter tune, from a 1973 performance on Burt Sugarman’s Midnight Special, introduced by Bill Cosby. (I remember this performance. I can walk into a room and not remember why I’m there, but I can remember things like this.)
In all the band recorded seven albums through 1980, gradually becoming a recording band where Fagen and Becker worked with LA-based studio musicians. 1980’s Gaucho saw them working with New York-based musicians, who were less than enthusiastic about Fagen and Becker’s constant remixing and remastering. After the album was released, Keith Jarrett sued Fagen and Becker for a writing credit on the album’s title track. Here is that title track.
Steely Dan didn’t release another album of original material until 2000’s Two Against Nature. They’ve toured regularly since 2005, including last year’s “Mood Swings” tour, and Fagen and Becker have released a number of solo projects in between. Fagen’s Facebook page mentions that The Dukes of September, a project he did with Boz Scaggs and Steely Dan alum Michael McDonald, will be issued on Blu-Ray and DVD next month to coincide with an appearance the three will make on PBS’ Great Performances. Becker’s most recent solo project was 2008’s Circus Money. There’s much more at their website; click on the “Siteguide” link to get the most out of your visit.
Steely Dan, your Two for Tuesday, February 25, 2014.