Thursday, November 13, 2014

Steely Dan, The #57 Artist of the Seventies*

The principal members behind this group, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, met in 1968 when Fagen passed by a cafĂ© in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.  Fagen heard Becker playing guitar and was impressed.  The two struck up a conversation and soon, they were writing songs together.

The pair played in local groups--one, called the Bad Rock Group, also included future comedian Chevy Chase on drums.  When Fagen graduated from college in 1969, he and Becker moved to Brooklyn.  They joined the touring band of Jay and the Americans for a year-and-a-half.  Fagen and Becker's songs weren't widely accepted, although Barbra Streisand did record the song "I Mean To Shine" in 1971.  

Shortly afterwards, the two flew to Los Angeles to become staff songwriters for ABC Records.  Producer Gary Katz soon realized the arrangements were too complex for other artists at ABC, so he suggested that Fagen and Becker form their own group.  Donald and Walter brought in guitarists Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and Denny Dias, drummer Jim Hodder, and singer David Palmer, and Katz signed them to ABC.  They named themselves Steely Dan.

In 1972, the group released the single "Dallas", but it went nowhere.  Steely Dan kept recording though, and released the album Can't Buy a Thrill.  The band came up with a winner called "Do It Again", which they released.  "Do It Again" sent Steely Dan on its way, reaching #6.


The next single, "Reeling In The Years", only reached #11, making it one of The Top Unknown/Underrated Songs of the Rock Era*.


The album eventually went Platinum, and it also contained this Top Track* from Steely Dan--"Dirty Work".


The following year, Palmer left the group as Fagan was getting more comfortable singing his songs live.  The group released the album Countdown to Ecstacy.  Although it did not contain any hits, the album included another Top Track*--"My Old School".

Countdown to Ecstacy went Gold.  Steely Dan added singer/keyboardist Michael McDonald, drummer Jeff Porcaro, formerly with Sonny & Cher, and vocalist-percussionist Royce Jones.  Steely Dan increasingly brought in session musicians, including Rick Derringer, and Porcaro and McDonald were significant factors in the 1974 album Pretzel Logic.

Rikki Don't Lose That Number by Steely Dan on Grooveshark
Steely Dan released the single "Rikki Don't Lose That Number".  It became one of their biggest career hits, reaching #4.

Perfectionists in the studio, Becker and Fagen would sometimes ask the other musicians to record as many as 40 takes of each song.  This led to disagreement among Steely Dan's members, as the rest of them wanted to tour, while Becker and Fagen wanted to concentrate on writing and recording.

Steely Dan's last tour performance in 1974 was at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in California.  Becker and Fagen recruited several session players for their next album, including David Paich, keyboardist Michael Omartian, and guitarist Larry Carlton.  McDonald and Porcaro also contributed to the project.

The other original members eventually left, with Baxter and McDonald joining the Doobie Brothers, and Paich and Porcaro forming Toto in a few years.

Black Friday by Steely Dan on Grooveshark
Steely Dan released the album Katy Lied in 1975 with Dias, Becker, and Fagen as the only original members.  We'll include "Black Friday" (peak of #37) as the top song on the album.


Katy Lied eventually went Gold, and Steely Dan released the album The Royal Scam in 1976.  "Kid Charlemagne" is a featured song on that LP.


In 1978, Steely Dan released their all-time classic album, Aja.  It raced up to the Top Five on the Album chart within three weeks.  The first single was "Peg" which stopped at #11.


Aja went to Platinum status for Steely Dan.  A highly underrated song was cued up next.  "Deacon Blues" only hit #17.


The group released the quality single "Josie" next, which reached #26.


Steely Dan at this point was pretty much Becker and Fagan, with studio greats such as Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour on guitar, bassist Chuck Rainey, Tom Scott, Wayne Shorter, and Pete Christlieb on saxophone, Michael Omartian on piano, and numerous other session veterans.  We also want to feature the title track from Aja.


Becker and Fagan were asked to write the title song for the movie FM.  The movie did horrible at the box office, but the single reached #22.

Steely Dan recorded the album Gaucho in 1980, and reunited for albums and tours in the 21st century.

Steely Dan had 13 hits with two Top 10's in the decade, and sold over 7.5 million albums in the U.S. alone.

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