Steely Dan

When I was a wee lad my mother was going to medical school to become an RN. My father was working full time at a heavy machinery factory so subsequently my mother had to take me with her to college and I’d spend the day in day care. I was only three or four years old at the time and didn’t think much of it but one of the highlights of my day was the half hour plus commute with my mom. She’d always have cassettes in the car. At that time around 1980 cassette players in cars were kinda new and she was really stoked about having one. Much of my early exposure to different types of music happened on these drives. Some of the music she played I really didn’t care for but some I thoroughly enjoyed. One such band that I recall enjoying was Steely Dan.Gosh, Steely Dan looks cranky.

At it’s core Steely Dan is what we’d call now-a-days a pop rock band, not terribly descriptive a label. While they draw influences from all over the place their main delivery is through jazz influenced rock. Founded around 1972 their music is perhaps the best representation of the seventies jazzish sound that I know off. It’s a fun sound that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The instrumentation’s slow tempos are relaxed. The lyrics delivered in a calm manner. Sometimes when listening to Steely Dan I laugh at how seventies-ish they sound. It’s a good laugh though, you just don’t hear music like this much anymore.

Steely Dan’s core members are Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. The band has been comprised mostly of studio musicians for the majority of it’s life. You don’t hear of too many groups going that route. I think in this case it had something to do with Fagen’s stage fright. From what I understand he got over it eventually but I can’t think of any other reason why a band would miss out on the extra cash flow brought on by touring. They have utilized a ton of studio musicians in their day. On one particular EP they used over forty other musicians. That’s insane but goes to shows the types of perfectionists these two guys were. It really comes off in the tunes too. These are complicated songs boiled down to their core and that takes time and labor. All in all Steely Dan lasted from 1972 to 1981 when they went on indefinite hiatus. However due to a cult following(and probably a drought in their bank accounts) Steely Dan got back together in 1993 and even came out with a couple albums, receiving 4 Grammy Awards for the 2000 release “Two Against Nature”. They’ve also gone on a bunch of tours since reuniting. Kinda funny since they rarely toured back in their hay day.

My main exposure to Steely Dan has been through their compilation album “Gold”, that’s what my mom had. But since writing this article I’m gonna start picking up some of their studio albums, “Aja” looks pretty rad, then I think I’ll go for “Countdown to Ecstasy” that one sounds pretty good too.

1) Can’t Buy A Thrill [1972]
2) Countdown to Ecstasy [1973]
3) Pretzel Logic [1974]
4) Katy Lied [1975]
5) The Royal Scam [1976]
6) Aja [1977]
7) Gaucho [1980]
8) Two Against Nature [2000]
9) Everything Must Go [2003]

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