Monday, 4 September 2017

My Top Ten Steely Dan Songs

RIP Walter Becker (right), one half of Steely Dan, pictured with the other half, Mr. Donald Fagen, above. Over the past five years or so, pretty much since I turned 40, Steely Dan have become one of my favourite bands. I long since resigned myself to never seeing them play live, but they are the only band I've ever paid money to watch a tribute act for (Nearly Dan: brilliant). To put that into perspective, I never got to see The Smiths live either... but I've never had a hankering to see a Morrissey & Marr tribute act.

Ten plus years ago, a former colleague of mine tried to persuade me of the greatness of Steely Dan, but I think I was just too young. He was a huge Springsteen fan and liked a lot of the bands I liked at the time (then again, he was also a huge Rod Stewart fan) and couldn't understand why I didn't dig the Dan. I didn't hate them. The tracks I knew - FM, Rikki, Reeling In The Years - I thought were perfectly good pop songs. But the albums... I just didn't have the time.

A few years later, I gave them another go, starting with Can't Buy A Thrill: surely one of the greatest debut albums ever recorded. Since then, rarely a week has gone by without Steely Dan cropping up on my headphones at least once.

I firmly believe Steely Dan are a band you have to grow into. Maybe in the 70s, a bunch of teenagers were really into them... but even then, I doubt it. I reckon their prime audience has always been made up of beardy middle-aged musos... and I'm now severely guilty on two of those scores. Never fancied a beard.

Steely Dan were witty, mysterious, a little bit mental, jazzy in all the wrong ways... they're the least rock 'n' roll band you'll ever hear, which you could argue makes them the most rock 'n' roll bad you'll ever hear. Since such definitions really mean nothing. Donald Fagen understood that, and so does Walter Becker. But man, they could play.

They were also an albums band - never a singles band. And with the deepest respect to Led Zeppelin and Yes, they must be the greatest albums band ever. Which makes picking a Top Ten Steely Dan tracks impossible... and pointless. The songs below are all brilliant, but they're so much better when you hear them in their original context, in the albums that made them brilliant. And each of those albums contains eight or nine other brilliant tracks as well.

For Walter Becker then, ten of my favourite Steely Dan tracks. Not numbered, because I find them impossible to rank...

Dirty Work


  1. High praise - and well deserved - from yourself about one of my favourite bands. I have all their albums. Bought their glorious 1st in 1972 when I was 21 (so not an old beardy!) and have stuck with them ever since. I could never pin down my favourite songs of theirs, but your top 10 is a fine list and I wouldn't change it one bit.

  2. Sad news about Walter Becker. I'm only familiar with their debut album, Dirty Work is a great, great song that still hits home.

    "They were also an albums band - never a singles band." Makes me eager to listen to the rest of their discography

  3. A fine selection, Rol, that makes me want to explore the back catalogue more.

    Oh, Smiths tribute acts. I know what you mean but do see The Smyths if you get a chance.

  4. Never a fan Rol but sad to hear of his passing
    I saw a Steely Dan tribute band in Dublin but not sure if they were the same one
    All I can remember is that the audience were not allowed to cross a certain line on the floor!

  5. Great list and kind of glad you didn't include Haitian Divorce as that's the one I went for. Looking like a couple of school teachers in that picture (no offence!) but back it the day he had pretty impressive long hair - Ironically I just discovered what he looked like then recently as it was all radio in those days with few visuals. RIP Walter - Too young to go.


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