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STEELY DAN

Jazz Rock/Fusion • United States


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Steely Dan biography
Induction Year: 2001
Induction Category: Performer

Inductees: Walter Becker (bass, guitar; born February 20, 1950) and Donald Fagen (keyboards, vocals; born January 10, 1948)

"Steely Dan has been more of a conceptual framework for inventive music-making than a typical rock band. Spearheaded by a pair of resourceful musical auteurs - Donald Fagen and Walter Becker - they have done nothing by the books since launching Steely Dan in 1972. The band's very name is a scatological reference from a novel by Beat Generation anti-hero William Burroughs. Though Steely Dan recorded prolifically for much of the Seventies, they toured for only a brief spell early in that decade, deciding they much preferred the studio to the road. This allowed them to craft a wry, nuanced and hyper-literate series of albums - seven in all, released from 1972 to 1980 - that are highly regarded by connoisseurs of pop hooks, jazz harmony and desiccating wit.

Beneath the highly polished surface of Steely Dan's music, astute listeners could hear a visceral love of and identification with the very soul of jazz. Fagen and Becker referenced Duke Ellington, Stan Getz and Horace Silver at least as much as any rock-oriented source material. Even so, there was a certain accessible quality to songs like "Reelin' in the Years," "Do It Again" and "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" that allowed Steely Dan to connect with rock fans, especially those who were college-aged and -educated"

from Steely Dan's Induction Ceremony in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

In the year of our Lord, 1967, at the esteemed institution of higher learning known as Bard College located in Annandale-On Hudson New York, two jazz loving musicians met and decided to form a musical partnership that would cast a long shadow over American music over the 1970's and whose reputation and stature has only grown over time with new generations discovering their music and appreciating their unique and uncompromising way of making music. Never associated with progressive rock... yet.. as progressive as any group asssociated with progressive rock. Music made with crytic, highly intellectual lyrics grounded not in mythology or sword and sorcery but in the experience of living in 1970's America. Full of dark humour, social commentary delivered with a biting sarcasm by one of rock's greatest unappreciated lyricists. The music itself was a highly demanding unique treatment of the jazz-rock fusion that was so fre...
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Steely Dan official website

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Buy STEELY DAN Music


Very Best of Steely DanVery Best of Steely Dan
Import
101 DISTRIBUTION 2009
Audio CD$5.41
$5.42 (used)
Aja (Remastered)Aja (Remastered)
Remastered
MCA Records 1999
Audio CD$2.37
$2.04 (used)
Can't Buy A ThrillCan't Buy A Thrill
Remastered
Geffen 1998
Audio CD$2.92
$2.75 (used)
The Royal ScamThe Royal Scam
Remastered
Geffen 1999
Audio CD$2.44
$2.01 (used)
Green Flower Street: Radio Broadcast 1993Green Flower Street: Radio Broadcast 1993
Blueline 2015
Audio CD$10.36
$10.35 (used)
Pretzel Logic (Remastered)Pretzel Logic (Remastered)
Remastered
Geffen 1999
Audio CD$2.18
$0.99 (used)
Katy LiedKaty Lied
Remastered
Geffen 1999
Audio CD$2.34
$0.71 (used)
Gaucho (Remastered)Gaucho (Remastered)
Remastered
Geffen 2000
Audio CD$2.38
$0.23 (used)
Steely Dan Countdown To EcstasySteely Dan Countdown To Ecstasy
Remastered
Geffen 1998
Audio CD$2.34
$2.33 (used)
The Definitive CollectionThe Definitive Collection
Remastered
Geffen 2006
Audio CD$3.51
$3.50 (used)
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17h 53m
STEELY DAN Alive In America CD 1995 Walter Becker Donald Fagen Book Of Liars USD $5.39 Buy It Now 17h 55m
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More places to buy STEELY DAN music online Buy STEELY DAN & Prog Rock Digital Music online:
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STEELY DAN shows & tickets


  • Steely Dan + Elvis Costello at Susquehanna Bank Center, Camden on 3 Aug 2015
  • Steely Dan + Elvis Costello & The Imposters at Jiffy Lube Live, Bristow on 5 Aug 2015
  • Steely Dan + Elvis Costello at Ascend Amphitheater, Nashville TN on 8 Aug 2015
  • Steely Dan + Elvis Costello at Midflorida Credit Union Amphitheatre At The Florida State Fairgrounds, Tampa on 11 Aug 2015
  • Steely Dan: Greatest Hits on 7 Oct 2015
  • Steely Dan: Gaucho (Plus Selected Hits) on 9 Oct 2015
  • Steely Dan: The Royal Scam & Hits on 10 Oct 2015
  • Steely Dan: Aja (Plus Selected Hits) on 13 Oct 2015

STEELY DAN discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

STEELY DAN top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.50 | 127 ratings
Can't Buy a Thrill
1972
3.99 | 135 ratings
Countdown To Ecstasy
1973
3.66 | 117 ratings
Pretzel Logic
1974
3.60 | 98 ratings
Katy Lied
1975
3.71 | 119 ratings
The Royal Scam
1976
4.12 | 199 ratings
Aja
1977
3.64 | 109 ratings
Gaucho
1980
3.21 | 58 ratings
Two Against Nature
2000
2.96 | 46 ratings
Everything Must Go
2003

STEELY DAN Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.74 | 25 ratings
Alive in America
1993
4.00 | 4 ratings
In Concert
2008
3.00 | 1 ratings
Going Mobile
2013

STEELY DAN Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

3.23 | 7 ratings
Classic Albums: Aja
2000
3.54 | 12 ratings
Two Against Nature
2000
0.00 | 0 ratings
Dilectus
2012

STEELY DAN Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

5.00 | 1 ratings
Steely Dan
1978
3.50 | 11 ratings
Greatest Hits
1979
0.00 | 0 ratings
The Very Best Of
1979
0.00 | 0 ratings
Steely Dan
1981
3.69 | 15 ratings
A Decade of Steely Dan
1985
0.00 | 0 ratings
The Very Best of Steely Dan: Reelin' In the Years
1987
3.11 | 8 ratings
Gold ( Expanded Edition)
1991
4.00 | 4 ratings
Then And Now - The Best of Steely Dan
1993
3.34 | 19 ratings
Citizen Steely Dan
1993
4.00 | 6 ratings
Showbiz Kids: The Steely Dan Story 1972-1980
2000
4.00 | 1 ratings
The Definitive Collection
2006
0.00 | 0 ratings
The Best Of
2007
0.00 | 0 ratings
The Very Best Of
2009

STEELY DAN Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

3.00 | 2 ratings
Dallas
1972
3.50 | 2 ratings
Reeling In The Years
1972
3.00 | 2 ratings
Dirty Work
1973
3.00 | 2 ratings
Show Biz Kids
1973
3.50 | 2 ratings
Pretzel Logic
1974
3.50 | 2 ratings
Bad Sneakers
1975
3.00 | 2 ratings
Haitian Divorce
1976
3.50 | 2 ratings
Kid Charlemagne
1976
3.50 | 2 ratings
Black Friday
1976
3.50 | 2 ratings
Josie
1977
2.50 | 2 ratings
Four Tracks From Steely Dan
1977
3.50 | 2 ratings
FM
1978
3.50 | 2 ratings
Do It Again
1978
2.00 | 1 ratings
Do It Again (Hazlo Otra Vez)
1978
3.50 | 2 ratings
Peg
1978
3.83 | 4 ratings
Rikki Don't Loose That Number
1979
3.50 | 2 ratings
Hey Nineteen
1980
3.50 | 2 ratings
Time Out Of Mind
1980
3.50 | 2 ratings
Reelin' In The Years
1982
2.00 | 1 ratings
Remastered: A Sample of Steely Dan
1993
2.00 | 1 ratings
Sampler
2000
3.50 | 2 ratings
Cousin Dupree
2000

STEELY DAN Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Countdown To Ecstasy by STEELY DAN album cover Studio Album, 1973
3.99 | 135 ratings

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Countdown To Ecstasy
Steely Dan Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by cfergmusic1

4 stars Two things happened after Steely Dan released their previous album, "Can't Buy a Thrill" in 1972: First, upon completion of the record, Becker and Fagen discovered that, to their great displeasure, they actually had to go out on tour to support the record (shock! horror!), which they did, enduring all that went on during these tours with commendable patience (mostly). The second thing was that lead vocalist David Palmer was fired from the band in the midst of these road gigs, after doing certain things that did not exactly endear himself to the rest of the band (some of these actions would qualify as "too much information" and will not be repeated here). As a result, "Countdown to Ecstasy" would be the only Steely Dan album specifically written for a working band, mostly because sessions for the album had to be done in between gigs.

I should mention (in case you don't know) that chief songwriters Walter Becker and Donald Fagen share a love of jazz music and have been incorporating their influences into their songs even from the beginning. The reason I didn't mention it in my review of "Can't Buy a Thrill" is because it really seems more appropriate when discussing this album, one of very few SD albums wherein they just "stretch out" and go on extended jams for most of the album's length. Perhaps because of all this, Donald Fagen himself claims this to be his favorite Steely Dan album ever. I'm not sure I agree with that entirely, but it does represent an artistic growth for the band after their solid, yet slightly inconsistent, debut.

"Bodhisattva" gets things started with a quasi-jump-swing drum beat by Jim Hodder, after which comes the extended multi-tracked guitar intro. Fagen (now the full-time lead singer) claims to want to be in touch with higher planes of religion, although given the tone of the song, one suspects his motives are just a tad misguided. Denny Dias has the first guitar solo, a burnin', jazzy romp through the altered blues changes. Jeff "Skunk" Baxter trades licks with Fagen's synth (an ARP Odyssey which he allegedly destroyed immediately after recording this track) and rides the outro vamp in another guitar solo that comes to a crashing end, proof that the song was built more for live performance than anything else. Because of the pseudo-jazz nature of the tune, it has been covered by Brian Setzer, Toto, and other less reputable individuals. (Also check out the drastic change in tempo at the start of Dias' solo--something that somehow managed to slip by the studio perfectionists Becker and Fagen.)

"Razor Boy" is a breezy, Latin tune that, apparently, was originally written as a reggae(?). This song is probably the most interesting in terms of rhythmic feel and instrumentation: there is Latin percussion and vibraphone, contrasting with countrified steel guitar from Baxter and string bass by jazz great Ray Brown. The lyrics, which seem to be about reflecting on one's last days, somehow don't get in the way of the good feel of the music. A real sleeper track.

"The Boston Rag" is a more direct, although slower, rock tune beginning with another proggy moment in the intro: Denny's guitar line is played in unison and harmonized with Fagen's piano. The real highlight of the track is Baxter's guitar solo played over a start-stop rhythm for the first 12 bars, then with the full band for the second half of the solo. I've always loved this one, even if the lyrics are a bit over my head (although part of it seems to be about one of Fagen's roommates at Bard College).

"Your Gold Teeth" is the longest tune on the record (seven minutes) and also the one that feels the most like a jam session. Between the two bridges, we are treated to a great Wurlitzer solo by Fagen (who needs studio cats when you can play that good?), and Denny Dias is featured on guitar at about twice his regular volume. It's basically only one chord for most of the tune, but Steely Dan makes the most out of that one chord. Check the outro groove, where Fagen has another go at the electric piano and even Hodder gets some good licks in.

Speaking of one chord, "Show Biz Kids" is literally one huge one-chord vamp, fashioned out of a four-bar tape loop, put together in the studio through the use of a special apparatus that extended the tape out of the studio and back in again. Honestly, it's a miracle that this track is able to keep me engaged throughout its length, considering it's just five minutes of the same thing. (Although the slide guitar solo by Rick Derringer probably helps out a lot.) Walter Becker plays a bit of harmonica over a rabble of spoken-word in the outro (which references the band's search for a lead singer, as Fagen was still uncomfortable with the idea). My favorite line and the one that almost got me in trouble when I first heard it at 8 years old: "Show business kids making movies of themselves/You know they don't give a f*** about anybody else."

"My Old School" was the big hit of the album (albeit after the fact). The lyrics, autobiographical or not, touch on the subject of leaving school and not considering going back (something I can relate to very well). Baxter gets off probably his Skunkiest solo ever on a guitar he had only finished making three hours before the session, backed by a sax quartet arranged by Jimmie Haskell. (The first time I heard it, I thought it was a brass section--a testament to how Haskell can make certain instruments sound like nothing else.) Although released as a single, it was ignored at the time but has become something of a fan favorite in the past 30 or so years (certainly one of mine).

"Pearl of the Quarter" shows us (not for the first or last time) that yes, Steely Dan could do full-on country when they wanted to. Remember, their first single (not released on an album) was basically a country tune--"Dallas"--and the steel guitar break here even references the break on that song! (Who says the Dan didn't have conceptual continuity?) Lyrically, the song is about a man who falls in love with a hooker in New Orleans, something that probably wouldn't fly in Nashville (when was the last time you heard a George Strait song about prostitution?). Hardcore prog fans may not like this song too much, but I love it because I grew up on country music (and still like some of it today).

"King of the World" is the finale of this album, and it is fitting that it is about a man who is the last person on Earth after a nuclear attack (Becker and Fagen apparently wrote this song after seeing a movie about that very subject). Baxter contributes a recurring guitar line fed through an Echoplex while Dias fills over those lines in the verses. Another "prog" moment for the Dan comes in the instrumental section with synth lead and more voices with echo (which apparently was just Becker screwing around in the echo chamber). This section repeats for the outro under one of Dias' best solos.

It is rather curious that in the adventurous 70s, this album didn't do that well in spite of positive critical opinion. The two singles ("Show Biz Kids" and "My Old School") didn't make much of a mark, mainly because radio stations didn't know quite what to make of them. Over time, however, the legacy of "Countdown" continues to grow because of the aforementioned covers of "Bodhisattva" and the increasing popularity of "My Old School." This was probably the most diverse album the band ever made; they certainly never did any country stuff after Baxter left (more on that in another review). The spirit of musical freedom permeates every minute of this record, and if that appeals to you as a listener, I definitely recommend this album. 4.5 stars out of 5.

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 Can't Buy a Thrill by STEELY DAN album cover Studio Album, 1972
3.50 | 127 ratings

BUY
Can't Buy a Thrill
Steely Dan Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by cfergmusic1

4 stars For my first reviews on ProgArchives, I thought I might do well to start off with my favorite band of all time, Steely Dan. People tend to think of them as a jazzy "cool pop" group (especially the later material), but to my ears, they had just as much prog credentials as anyone else back then, even if they weren't designated as such (although it took me a while to agree with that sentiment, and even Fagen and Becker would probably still cringe at the idea). Whatever the case, Steely Dan is a band that is very special to me, and as long as they're on the site, I may as well commit myself to saying a few words about them.

The first incarnation of the band (exhibited here) was, well, an actual band rather than the collection of studio musicians it would become (although there are hints of that even on this album). The group consisted of main songwriters Donald Fagen and Walter Becker on keyboards/lead vocals and bass guitar, respectively; Denny Dias and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter on guitars; Jim Hodder on drums and occasional lead vocals; and David Palmer on occasional lead and background vocals. The reason for the "occasional" lead singers is that Fagen was very apprehensive at first about being a front-man and singer, and only did so out of necessity later on (so he says). The album is also graced by the appearances of percussionist Victor Feldman (who played piano with jazz saxophonist "Cannonball" Adderley's group) and guitarist Elliot Randall, among others.

We start off with "Do It Again," the first (although not the only) big hit for the band. Lyrically, it's something of an Old West "murder, failed hanging, get cheated on by your lover and find another one who also screws you over, and go to Vegas to gamble what little you have left" kind of story. (Not your typical "single" material, but hey, things were different in 1972.) The track rides a groovy carpet of Latin percussion throughout, bolstered by solos from Dias on electric sitar (the one and only time he ever played the instrument) and Fagen on Yamaha electone organ. (The glisses on that solo come from a felt strip on the keyboard and not from a pitch-bend wheel.) One of the defining moments of the band for sure.

"Dirty Work" is more on the softer side of things, being somewhat reminiscent of Three Dog Night who were Steely Dan's stablemates on the ABC Dunhill label at the time. David Palmer makes one of two recorded appearances on the record and for the band in general (although he handled all the lead vocals in concert). A gentle tune with somewhat dark lyrics and cool extensions just before every chorus. The track is helped out by two LA studio horn players, Jerome Richardson on sax (who has the solo) and flugelhornist Snooky Young.

"Kings" is claimed to have "no political significance" by the composers, although it seems to be about medieval royalty (good kings "Richard" and "John"). If it is based on an actual historical event, I don't know which one. No matter, as the real highlight of the track is a scorching, overdubbed guitar solo from Elliot Randall, to my ears maybe his best with SD (which is saying something considering he also soloed on "Reelin' In the Years"). The bright production/mixing on this track seems to give it a sunnier vibe than the lyrics would suggest (which is the case with the album in general).

"Midnite Cruiser" features one of only two Jim Hodder lead vocals with the Dan (the other was on "Dallas," a country-flavored non-album single). Prior to joining this group, Hodder drummed and sang lead for a Boston-based prog band called Bead Game (which I hope to review sometime in the future). Interestingly, he sounds somewhat like a cross between Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel (both of Genesis at the time). Not one of SD's better-regarded tracks (although I love it dearly), but it is helped out by Baxter's rockin' guitar solo, as well as the vague reference to jazz pianist Thelonious Monk in the very first line ("Felonius, my old friend...").

"Only a Fool Would Say That" is another Latin jazz-flavored portrait to close out side one. One of the remarkable things about Steely Dan is how the dark, somewhat pessimistic lyrics contrast with the sunny-side-up nature of the music, exemplified brilliantly by this song ("a world where all is free... only a fool would say that"). Dias' guitar solo is reminiscent of Wes Montgomery here, and Baxter gets in some spoken-word Spanish at the tail end (which apparently came from a beer commercial the band was working on at the time).

"Reelin' in the Years" kicks off side two and is probably the most well-known of the earlier material (excepting maybe "Rikki Don't Lose That Number"). I'm not sure I agree with the "classic" status of the song, maybe due to overexposure, but it's still great fun to listen to and those vocal harmonies in the chorus are amazing. Randall gets off another solo here, this time spread out over pretty much the entire song (except for the verses). If you can track down the Quadraphonic mix of this album, you have the benefit of hearing more guitar fills behind the choruses if you're into that sort of thing.

"Fire in the Hole" is probably the strangest one yet, built on a slow, somewhat slick half-time groove with lumbering piano. (Not sure what the lyrics are supposed to refer to: Vietnam maybe?) Fagen has the only actual piano solo on the record, a gem of understated brilliance. Baxter rides a pedal-steel solo over the fade-out, not the last time we'd hear him on that particular axe. I was always more into the "deep cuts" from the band's early days, and if I had any inclination to make a "top 5 SD songs" list, this would have been on it for sure (of course the order would have changed from day to day).

"Brooklyn" is a holdout from the Becker and Fagen demo tapes, retooled significantly for this album (the demo is at a slower tempo and sounds a lot like a Bob Dylan track from that time). Palmer sings lead on this tale about a blue- collar worker and his wife who live out their existence in some hole-in-the-wall apartment in the titular borough of New York City and feel that they are entitled to a better way of living. Baxter is featured on steel guitar throughout, lending the track a country-rock flavor (although with just a bit more sophistication than the contemporaneous Eagles).

"Change of the Guard" shows how much Becker and Fagen wanted to find an audience for their material when they came to LA from New York (this was one of their first demos on the left coast). The lyrics are about as cheerful and optimistic as the band would ever get (right down to the "la-la-la"s in the chorus), and Baxter has another solo on the six-stringed axe, a flash that points to later solos like on "My Old School" (uncharacteristically for the band, the solo ends with a pick scrape on the lower strings that takes full advantage of the stereo mix).

"Turn That Heartbeat Over Again" is undoubtedly the album's most complex track (although not overly so) and probably the one I would point to when describing the band's "prog" status. The track is peppered with strong chord changes and transitions throughout, most notably in the verses and the instrumental section. The latter is possibly the highlight of the record, featuring a beautiful melody doubled by Baxter's guitar and Fagen's organ from "Do It Again" (identified as a "plastic organ" in the album credits). The song closes with a jolt of harmony vocals by Fagen, Becker and Palmer followed by wind chimes (?) over the last chord, and so ends "Can't Buy a Thrill".

I think this is a solid record and if it's not the best debut album ever, it comes very close. I still get a great deal of satisfaction and nostalgia when listening to any Steely Dan record, and even if "Do It Again" and "Reelin'" are a bit overplayed, they're still objectively great songs. The discerning listener will find much to enjoy in the other tracks as well, and if you're looking for jazz-infused rock with a sarcastic, biting lyrical bent (or if you're already into these guys and you just want more of the same), I recommend this album highly. 4 stars out of 5.

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 Katy Lied by STEELY DAN album cover Studio Album, 1975
3.60 | 98 ratings

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Katy Lied
Steely Dan Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

4 stars I have to say that I absolutely hated this album for quite a long time. However, for whatever reason, I kept playing it when I accidentally bought it looking for tracks similar to what was then my favorite Steely Dan song "Black Friday". Of course, there is only one similar to that song on here and that is the excellent "Chain Lightning". Everything else on here is a pop/jazz fusion.

A few years later, "Aja", the almost perfect album, came out. I fell in love with the amazing title track on that one almost immediately. The other tracks were excellent too. Suddenly, a new light was shed on this album, which now I think is the closest album to "Aja" that Steely Dan recorded.

So, I called this music a kind of pop/jazz fusion. I hate pop music, unless there is some semblance of originality to it, which there is with this music. There are so many beautiful jazz elements in this music, that I wonder how I missed it at first. The guitar is usually understated, but listen to it closely, especially the solos. You'll notice that the guitar is not always mixed to the front, so it's not always obvious how excellent the guitar work is here. The piano/keyboards are also genius. The music is so simple, yet it's so complex. When I listen to this album, I think about how tough the sessions must have been, because everything is so perfect here, and the guests musicians were plenty, and they were top notch also. The music sounds perfected almost. That is usually a turn off for me, but it sounds so good here. Every note, every sound has it's perfect place throughout the album. It's almost too perfect, which works against it somewhat. But you can really hear how the masterpiece "Aja" would emerge from this kind of music. That album would also have the perfect sound, but all the problems would be worked out and the songs on that album would be allowed to breath a lot more, while the songs on here are not allowed to develop so much, probably in an attempt to win over some radio airplay.

Fagen and Becker put a lot of effort into this album and they were disappointed when the sound wasn't what they expected because they were using new technology at the time. Some of the problems were worked out, but they refused to listen to this album for quite some time. Newer issues of this album have resulted in a cleaner, crisper sound, and the music is so good here that those reissues should be purchased over the original. The original recording was way too soft and the intricacies that make this album so excellent are not as pronounced as they should be, but that problem is worked out in the reissues.

Fans of "Aja" should check this out for music that is similar to that album. Give it time and you'll find the jewels that are abundant in this album, which tends to get ignored by a lot of fans because it moved away from the harder rock sound of their other albums. But to me, it is what gave birth to their masterpiece and what would become their true signature sound. Excellent album.

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 Going Mobile by STEELY DAN album cover Live, 2013
3.00 | 1 ratings

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Going Mobile
Steely Dan Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by Suedevanshoe

— First review of this album —
3 stars A terrific document of the incarnation that got this crew up and running, with the addition of Michael McDonald's smooth croon and gutbucket piano and Jeff Porcaro on an additional kit. Sound is mehhh but the excitement generated easily envelops the listener. Since live Dan is poorly documented, one wishes there were more songs, but "Boston Rag" "Do It Again" and "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" lend themselves well to the live treatment. The last three songs are the highlight for me, with "Mobile Home" being a weird curiosity in the Dan catalog. Going back to the "You Gotta Walk it Like You Talk It" era, sometimes the band extended this 14+ minutes.

Good for the Steely Dan fan, I'd say poor for your average progressive rock fan, I'll go with a middle rating for this site's purposes.

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 Rikki Don't Loose That Number by STEELY DAN album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1979
3.83 | 4 ratings

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Rikki Don't Loose That Number
Steely Dan Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by Matti
Collaborator Neo-Prog Team

4 stars I have enjoyed the music of STEELY DAN since my teenage years (80's) without ever having considered them a prog or fusion band. I'd rather call it intelligent, jazzy pop. This doesn't mean I'd have anything in the world against them being in the Archives, and I know they are usually very highly respected by prog listeners. But there may be a difference in my Steely Dan liking compared to the proggers in general; I'm not so fond of their earliest, edgier albums such as Can't Buy a Thrill (1972) or Countdown to Ecstasy (1973), instead I prefer the poppier and lighter sounding albums that came after Pretzel Logic (1974), e.g. The Royal Scam, Aja and Gaucho, which many proggers probably find too commercial and easy.

That said, it comes as no surprise that 'Rikki Don't Lose That Number' is one of my favourite SD songs. It's very catchy on the chorus and it makes you feel happy, but it's oh so clever and charming. Somehow the certain soft sounds in this song make me think of the Peanuts animation films...?

It's originally the opening track of Pretzel Logic, and from the same album comes also the less catchy and less melodic 'Any Major Dude Will Tell You' that's put on the B-side of this single. (I don't know why in 1979 they released five years old material.)

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 Pretzel Logic by STEELY DAN album cover Studio Album, 1974
3.66 | 117 ratings

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Pretzel Logic
Steely Dan Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by DrömmarenAdrian

4 stars The world of music is a bottomless well. All attempts to get a fair overview will fail. You will always miss important stuff. I have avoided Steely Dan for a while because its name is too close to Steeleye Span's, one of my favourite bands. Steely Dan was established 1972 in Los Angeles and they made seven studio records during the classic rock age. Because I right now am structuring my reviewing around the celebrated year 1974 I picked Steely Dan's third album "Pretzel Logic" which is their fourth highest ranked album here. I like the cover very much where we can se a man selling things you can eat. The album features a lot of instrumentalists, twenty to be precise but only Donald Fagan(keyboards, saxophone, lead vocals), Walter Becker(bass, guitar, vocals), Jeff Baxter(guitar), Denny Bias(guitar) and Jim Hodder(vocals) were listed as the band. But there are a lot of drummers, guitarists and brass people listed as musicians too. Together they created a fine and amazing prog jazz pop record with quality each second.

I wonder if it's possible to listen to this music without smiling. It's so cozy and lovely. Perhaps too cozy for some progers. The little touch of jazz is present all the time and makes the music so intresting. Other influences could be noticed as well such as blues and old-style american brass music. It feels like the music has so many intertexts that it is some American music history in it. Every song except "Moneky in your soul"(6/10) are very good and interesting. "Rikki don't lose that number" and "Any major dude will tell you" do I classify masterpieces. They are both very catchy and intelectual. "Night by night", "East St Louis Toodle Oo" och "Through with buzz"(9/10) are also very unique and very close to perfection. The five other songs are also great and shows just how amazing this musical world of ours is. My average rating ends at 4.23 which becomes four stars! "Pretzel Logic" is highly recommended.

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 Countdown To Ecstasy by STEELY DAN album cover Studio Album, 1973
3.99 | 135 ratings

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Countdown To Ecstasy
Steely Dan Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by thwok

4 stars Have you ever avoided listening to a release by one of your favorite bands, for fear that it would not meet up to your expectations? Steely Dan has been one of my favorites for decades, but I've always avoided Countdown to Ecstasy. I think it has to do with the fact that the album is lesser known and the songs are relatively unfamiliar. Might be an interesting forum discussion, if it hasn't been done already. Why would you avoid particular releases, even by a band you like?. I never listened to Countdown to Ecstasy in full until just recently, and I definitely waited too long! This is a 4 star release in my book. This is a major step up from Can't Buy A Thrill. SD's first album has some great songs, and a few that are mediocre. Countdown to Ecstasy shows a lot of progress (isn't that the point?) in songwriting and the combination of elements that makes Steely Dan great. There isn't a bad song here; they're all good to great. I wonder if Becker and Fagen were keeping their brilliance under wraps for their first album, or if they actually progressed so far between Can't Buy a Thrill and the current release. My personal favorites are "Bodhisattva", "My Old School", and "King of the World". "My Old School", in particular, has some of the best guitar soloing ever. I don't know why Becker/Dias/Baxter (since individual solos aren't listed) aren't considered some of the best guitar players in rock music. I think Pretzel Logic/Aja/Katy Lied are Steely Dan's masterpieces. However, I should know that our friends Becker and Fagen would never steer me wrong! Countdown to Ecstasy gets a full four stars from me.

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 Aja by STEELY DAN album cover Studio Album, 1977
4.12 | 199 ratings

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Aja
Steely Dan Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by rogerthat
Collaborator Crossover Team

5 stars Whether or not you like Aja, or just don't like it as much as Steely Dan fans typically do, you can't deny that it is the album that Donald Fagen and Walter Becker tirelessly strove to make, the logical culmination of their style and approach to music. The duo have all but admitted as much and in any event, the lyrics of songs like Deacon Blues bear it out. Perhaps fighting a nagging feeling that they hadn't quite got to where they should have with their talent, Fagen and Becker made a last ditch effort at writing a masterpiece and, BOOM!, they came back with one for the ages. Aja is to Steely Dan as Paranoid is to Black Sabbath or Moving Pictures to Rush. You may argue that there are better albums to showcase these bands' greatness from a hardcore fan's point of view but they are, for better or worse, the albums by which the popular image of these bands has been defined and the ones that will ensure the bands themselves are remembered for a long time by rock listeners.

That being the case, it cannot be said that this was just another Steely Dan album that the press whimsically talked up for the 'gullible' record-buying public to faithfully lap up. While the essential Steely Dan style is very much in evidence here, there are also significant, even drastic, differences on Aja as opposed to their previous work.

Up to this point, Steely Dan tended to play the West Coast doppelgangers of Sparks, i.e, nerdy, playfully misogynist and daring but not emotional in the conventional sense of the word. I say West Coast to emphasise the difference between them and Sparks. Dan stuck to jazz-rock/pop and kept the basic formula safe and appealing, putting all the adventure in the chords while Sparks were outrageous even at a superficial level. Such music does appeal to, well, nerdy left-brained listeners who have grown tired of the myriad cliches reprised by pop to express a very narrow band of emotions (three words in fact: love, love, love). But perhaps there may be listeners who are not necessarily addicted to cookie cutter pop but not so nerdy as to prefer music without the emotions. They may still want to hear some pain, yearning, warmth in the music and both bands shut themselves out of that market with their approach.

I am not sure that Fagen or Becker have ever admitted to wanting to consciously change that with Aja. It may have been an outcome of their sheer confidence in their songwriting skills at the point combined with their desperation to break through. Whatever it was, for the first time (and possibly the last?), Steely Dan dropped their guard and let go on Aja. Gradually, feelings of love, longing and rebellion began to pour out from their music. But hold it, they were still very much the calculating LA cats (New York in point of fact) so they controlled the flow, resulting in subtly beautiful rather than cathartic music.

A case in point is in the title track. If you feel inclined to pass a jaded judgment on its lengthy interludes, just try listening to Aja on a cool, rainy evening. Preferably gentle rain, not a downpour. Chances are you finally make sense of the song or, rather, connect with its emotions. The sounds almost do seem to gently hit the speakers like little raindrops. Nowhere else does this parallel make more sense to me than Steve Gadd's incredible coda. He is playing complex and furious patterns but the sound is very beautiful and...atmospheric. Steely Dan have never been this expansive and contemplative. As they remark on the Classic Albums documentary (a must watch while we are on that), they were feeling really lucky that day and decided to go with the flow and get a bit more ambitious.

A few cliched ideas seep in on Deacon Blues but Donald Fagen sings it with a lot of heart. He is not meant to sound so melodic but he tries really hard anyhow and with a little help from their army of sessions musicians, pulls it off. The duo reveal on the documentary that it is almost an autobiographical song. Steely Dan plead that they would just like to be famous losers if they cannot make it. In the event, that was fortunately not required but the song reveals a mix of despair and defiance ("Sue me if I play too long").

Just in case you thought they really ought to be sued for playing too long, Steely Dan make it short and sweet again, but with their newfound depth of feeling, on Home At Last. It is often said to be their best song and it is hard to disagree. Beautiful guitar leads and horns bring up the jazz element, but it's all underpinned by a very bluesy riff. If Aja is the culmination of Steely Dan's musical philosophy, Home At Last in itself is the culmination of Aja. It maintains the unhurried, relaxed feeling that envelopes the album but with nary a note too many.

The other tracks are excellent but fall a bit short of the unusual introspection and awareness that the above three possess. Let's just say the smart cats hedged their bets anyway and put in some of the stuff that is bound to work for Steely Dan loyalists. Peg, Josie and I Got The News all have great guitar leads and Black Cow has some exquisite piano. Crucially, they balance the return to snide lyrics by maintaining the relaxed, atmospheric flavour of the album (especially Black Cow).

As an overall experience, Aja is sumptuously consistent and leaves you with the distinct feeling of having had a wonderful, memorable time and longing for some more. As alluded to earlier, Steely Dan achieved this with not a little bit of support from their fantastic session musicians. I repeat myself but do check out that documentary to get an insight into what they brought to the table; they weren't just robots blindly obeying the instructions of the masters, far from it.

At the time, it perhaps seemed like a new beginning. Having battled to earn their own place in the crowd of arena-oriented rock with fret-strutting guitar Gods, Steely Dan had finally triumphed with Aja. It could have heralded a new wave of popularity for studio cats working with brilliant sessions musicians. Instead, Steely Dan themselves ushered in the computer age with Gaucho (never mind that they utilised many sessions musicians for that one too) and musicians could put together the music they wanted on the computer without even having to depend on sessions musicians.

In hindsight, Aja wound up as a strange corporate rock swan song for prog and all that it stood for. It brought curtains down on an era of expensive recordings involving the best musicians and technicians (consider that some prog rock bands utilised an orchestra for some of their recordings). The age of obsessive perfectionism and excess in rock was over and there hasn't really been a revival. Maybe because an album like Aja is so hard to top. Five stars.

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 Can't Buy a Thrill by STEELY DAN album cover Studio Album, 1972
3.50 | 127 ratings

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Can't Buy a Thrill
Steely Dan Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by thwok

4 stars This first album by Steely Dan has grown in stature for me over the years. Steely Dan is one of my top ten bands, without a doubt, and Can't Buy A Thrill has only a couple of weak songs. On that basis, I give Can't Buy A Thrill 4 stars. It's great, but not their best.

It's impressive what fine songwriters Becker and Fagen already were at this point. Becker was born in February of 1950, which would make him 22 at this point. "Dirty Work" is one of my favorite songs, by any musical group, ever. "Do It Again" takes the image of the Old West and turns it into a lyrically brilliant song. Later albums would become jazzier and more diverse; Aja is a perfect example. However, I believe few "bands" had a clearer concept of what they wanted to sound like from the beginning than Steely Dan. "Reelin In The Years" includes the first of many astounding guitar solos from Steely Dan.

There are reasons that Can't Buy A Thrill doesn't get the final star from me. As I stated, later albums fuse Steely Dan's jazz, R & B, and rock influences better than this one. I think "Only A Fool Would Say That" and, especially "Turn That Heartbeat Over Again", are weak songs. "Turn That Heartbeat Over Again" is so slick you could skate on it. I have to assume that Fagen's being ironic here - I know, not much of a stretch. If that's the case, I'm not getting the joke. However, the other eight songs on Can't Buy A Thrill are good - to - great. This four star album was to be followed by masterpieces in short order.

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 Aja by STEELY DAN album cover Studio Album, 1977
4.12 | 199 ratings

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Aja
Steely Dan Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by thwok

5 stars We should use 5 star ratings very sparingly in our reviews. A masterpiece should be a rare thing, otherwise the term begins to lose its meaning and effectiveness. There are perhaps a dozen bands/artists listed on Progarchives which are deserving of a 5 star rating. The fact that I give two Steely Dan albums the highest honor demonstrates the high regard in which SD should be held. This introduction brings us to Aja. Aja, along with Pretzel Logic, represents the pinnacle of the Steely Dan mountain. They both get 5 stars.

I think Aja is Steely Dan at their jazziest and most progressive. There is more time dedicated to instrumentals than on just about any other SD record. This is especially true of "Aja" and "Deacon Blues", which are also the longest songs that SD ever recorded. The evidence is there in the drumming on "Aja" and the saxophone solos on "Deacon Blues".

If you forced me at gunpoint to pick a song I like less than the others, I would have to pick "I Got the News". It just doesn't strike me as much as the others do. But that's splitting extremely hairs. "Peg" and "Josie", on the other hand, are as catchy as anything Becker and Fagen have written. Pretzel Logic and Aja are essential albums, for their own reasons. Under the extremely broad progressive rock banner, it doesn't get any better than Aja.

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Thanks to micky for the artist addition. and to Snow Dog for the last updates

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