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Steely Dan

(1972-)
Steely Dan
Donald Fagen
Walter Becker

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They're named after a dildo from the William Burroughs novel Naked Lunch.
When they were all attending Bard College in the late '60s, Chevy Chase was a drummer in one of Fagen and Becker's early bands, Bad Rock Group.
Becker and Fagen met while they were students at Bard College in upstate New York. You can hear references to these times in their song "My Old School."
They were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2001, 4 years after they were eligible.
In 1981, they stopped recording. They got back together in 2000 and released Two Against Nature, which won the Grammy for Album Of The Year.
In 2001, they received honorary degrees from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where their music is a large part of the curriculum.
The name of their first album came from their dismay with Los Angeles. Becker once said to Fagen, "You can't buy a thrill in California."
Donald Fagen grew up in South Brunswick, NJ - he hated it there. In his time it was all soy bean and potato fields and there was nothing to do. Now it's very developed and there's still nothing to do. (thanks, Mike - South Brunswick, NJ)
Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, who played guitar on many of their records, is a self-taught expert on mobile missile defense systems. He wrote a paper on the topic in the early 1990s which caught the eye of conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill. He has subsequently testified before Congress and is a consultant to the Pentagon. (thanks, Mark - Falls Church, VA)
Jeff Porcaro was a drummer for Steely Dan, and later left to form Toto. Micheal McDonald was a keyboard player and did background vocals, and later he and Skunk Baxter joined the Doobie Brothers. Mark Knopfler, from Dire Straights, plays guitar on "Time Out Of Mind." Legendary sax player Wayne Shorter even played with them. (thanks, Joshua - Seattle, WA)
Steely Dan released seven studio (non compilation) albums from 1972-1980. Over 100 session musicians contributed to their songs. Other than Donald Fagan and Walter Becker, the duo that is Steely Dan, the only musician who played on all seven albums was the late Victor Feldman. Feldman was a British Jazz legend who actually played with the Glenn Miller Orchestra when he was 13 years old. (thanks, david - san diego, CA)
They entered the corporate music world in the Brill Building, where they briefly became members of Jay and The Americans and recorded some songs that group member Kenny Vance produced. Kenny told us: "They were just two guys that had a band that were steeped in jazz and Duke Ellington. Becker always had a book with him, and, you know, drugs were around. They were different. But then as time went by, at some point I discovered the depth that was contained there, and I always believed that they were going to be huge."

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Comments:

Listen everyone, Rikki don't lose that number is about a marijuana cigarette. Back in the 60's and 70's, a number was code for joint. Steely Dan did have a book out in the late 90's and they explained the thought process and coded references in their songs. YOU MIGHT USE IT WHEN YOU FEEL BETTER, WHEN YOU GET HOME. My father whoo is now 65 told me that he used to mail a joint or two across the country to friends, family, etc. He also said that it was sort of a traditional hippie thing toi have asome smoke come in the mail for when you most need it. Send it off in a letter to yourself...
- James, Minneapolis, MN
Soul Ram is the Becker/Fagan song with 'steely dan' in the lyrics.
"Never knew she doth the heavy stuff
Steely Dan
Plays it rough
Backdoor man"
- Skip, Boston, MA
Saw The Dan on an ill fated tour opening for Sha-Na-Na in late '72 or early '73 in El Paso. TX. The other opening act was Mason Profitt. One of the best shows I'd seen til the time Sha-Na-Na came on. Messrs Fagan and Becker and friends really drove home what a collection of posers Sha-Na-na was.

They had a lead singer then (his name may have been Michael Hodder?) but they didn't need him. Baxter spent as much time on the congas as he did on the guitar. Dias' Strat solo on 'Do It Again' was spectacular. So was Donald's keyboard solo on the same song playing what appeared to be a toy. Walter played bass.

Saw the boys again in '03 at Hershey Park. Better than the first time they were!!

Drove big trucks OTR for thirty years. Started with a cassette player the graduated to CDs. Like to have a penny for every Dan song I listened to over those years.

If I was asked to choose my favorite Dan song or album... I couldn't do it. The only Dan song that doesn't make me groove is "Everyone's Gone To The Movies".

Thanks Walter and Donald.
- Bill, El Paso, TX
Arguing about the "best" or "most talented" band can be a pretty big waste of time, given subjectivity and personal taste. Nevertheless, I can't think of a more talented duo than Becker and Fagen. The tightness and perfection of their music is matched only by the intelligence and spirit of their lyrics. Not only have they always demanded the highest quality of themselves, they consistently surrounded themselves with the best studio and guest artists, and their efforts show it. It's hard to say which of their albums is the best, as each contains great songs. For me, however, "Aja" will always be my favorite album of all time. I've been listening to it, and many other artists' work, since "Aja" was released, and I've never found anything to compare with it. The label "genuis" gets thrown around far too easily these days. These fellows actually qualify.
- Paul, dallas, TX
Hey Jay, to my knowledge, "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" is about as straight-forward a love song as you're gonna get outta Don & Walter. He's hoping his woman who's leaving will have a "change of heart" and call him to reconcile.
- Brian, Queens, NY
"Rikki" of Rikki Don't Lose that Number" refers to the women, Rikki Ducornet who garduated Bard before Don. Her father was a professor @ Bard. One of the world's most descriptive writers has written 7 brilliant novels. This song described his unrequited love for her. She currently resides as a professor @ Univ. of Denver teaching writing with her husband psychiatrist John Cohen.
- craig, middletown, CT
There is a very small percentage of people who will ever fully understand the musical superiority of Steely Dan -- even amongst self-acclaimed fans. Perhaps that is the mark of true greatness...
- citizensage, khatru, Other
all their albums are great. Countdown to Ecstacy is awesome, Aja is, well...trust me, it's all just a matter of personal taste, but from Can't Buy a Thrill to 2 Against Nature you can't go wrong. These guys are great story-tellers.
- Kevin, Omaha, NE
With out a doubt, the most under rated band of all time. Due to their high intellect, the lyrics are often misunderstood and as a result some people never really tried to get to know the band and listen to what they are all about. The lyrics are of a street smart nature, derived from real life experiences that every one can relate to in one way or another.
- Ryan, Detroit, MI
Rikki Don't Lose That Number is not about Rickie Lee Jones. It is about a teacher that Donald had a crush on when he was in college. There was an interview in Entertainment Weekly about this last year.
- John, Wilmington, NC
At one time I was very critical of the recording industry and music media for not putting Steely Dan at the forefront of the art. It took decades for Steely Dan to receive a Grammy, in spite of the fact that several hip-hop artists were readily sampling their arrangements.

I stopped all criticism when I looked at the big picture: these days, commercial success does not equate to quality product.

My belief is that Steely Dan is so ahead of their time, the average music fan may not understand them for years to come.

My father used to play their music when I was a kid and initially, I didn't like the sound. One night, when I was pulling an all-nighter to write an independent study research paper, I popped in Aja (a gift from my dad) and 10 years later a day doesn't go by where I haven't listened to a Steely Dan track.

Peg, Third World Man, Gaucho, Any Major Dude Will Tell You, and Babylon Sisters are high on my favorite Steely Dan songs list.
- Adrian, Los Angeles, CA
I have never understood why Steely Dan is not more popular. Everyone I talk to who enjoys music of the period seems to appreciate them, but the widespread acclaim is not there. Oh well, I've quit trying to convert people, instead just enjoying their music as a figurative "buried treasure."
- Jacob, St. Louis, MO
Nothing can beat "Gaucho" but "Can't Buy a Thrill" is right behind.
- Drew, Jackson, MT
I haven't really been able to figure out what most of their songs ARE about... I was most curious about The Last Mall? What the heck does that mean? Sometime in the future we will have no more malls? I can't see that happening... :) And it has lyrics that include "beneath the blood orange sky." I live in Irvine a city pretty near L.A. and there are malls on EVERY CORNER. As a result of L.A. lights, the sky looks orange at night. It describes my city exactly!
- Jeanette, Irvine, CA
If I have a daughter her name will be Aja! I love this band! I can't believe they're not more well known! They're so much better than the usual crap put out in 2005!
- Jeanette, Irvine, CA
In response to earlier post, I heard a rumour that Rikki Don't Lose That Number might be about Rickie Lee Jones. Who know, baby; who know?
- Benjamin, London, England
Does anyone know what the song "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" is about? I'm thinking it might be about angst over an abortion(?)
- Jay, beverly shores, IN
A little known fact, Chevy Chase played drums for them way back before they were all famous. He described them as a "Bad blues band."
- Steve, Chino Hills, CA
Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are some strange characters. Together they have made some excellent music. Best albums; "Royal Scam" "Can't Buy a Thrill." "Pretzel Logic" and "Two against Nature" is dam good.
- Don, Pittsburgh, PA
A brilliant band, "Gaucho" being probably their best known album.
- janet, perth, Australia
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