Now here were a couple of guys who knew, like Ray Charles before them, how to use heroin in a semi-responsible manner. Oh, sure; Walter Becker's girlfriend, Karen Stanley, died of an overdose which got him in a little hot water, but let's get past that and look at the music these guys made when they were not staring at their big toes.

In the beginning, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker would put out one album each year, starting in 1972. The first was Can't Buy a Thrill, which had the radio hit, "Do It Again." (I always associate this with America's lame song, "A Horse With No Name". It seemed as if you couldn't turn on the radio without hearing these two back to back.) The best songs on this album were actually "Kings," "Reelin' in the Years," "Turn That Heartbeat Over Again," and, my personal favorite, "Only a Fool Would Say That." "Kings" had the best guitar line in the whole album, and that would become Steely Dan's trademark; a very hot guitar line that was actually the hook in the song. "Reelin' in the Years" had a great guitar solo which, along with the keyboard accompaniment, still stands as a musical milestone.

1973. Countdown to Ecstasy. The best songs here were "My Old School," "Razor Boy," and "Pearl of the Quarter." However, one senses the noodle creeping into this album.

1974. Pretzel Logic. The title song was marvelous, but "Rikki Don't Lose that Number" and "Any Major Dude Will Tell You" were the better songs on this effort, I thought.

1975. Katy Lied. The boys were really beginning to get it by this time. There were no bad songs on this album, even though they felt as if they got screwed by the mix. Donald Fagen, in particular, felt as if the sound they got from this pressing was sub-par at best. "Dr. Wu" is one of the greatest songs ever written about addiction. And "Bad Sneakers" is the only great song ever written with the mention of the pina colada drink.

1976. The Royal Scam. A dark effort which included the hilarious "Haitian Divorce." The sick side of addiction began to prevail in songs such as "Green Earrings" and "Don't Take Me Alive." "Kid Charlemagne" is not much cheerier; a song about a drug dealer who is so well known that his clients keep his phone number written on the wall of their a-frames. It's actually about what do you do when you are no longer the golden child.

1977. Aja. The addiction reaches a softer point with numbers such as "Black Cow," "Deacon Blues," "Peg," and the title track, which has the best drum solo in the history of rock.

1980. This is the first time the boys took more than a year to put out a new album. One could have sensed the beginning of the end. It was a moody piece called Gaucho. It did contain the radio hit, "Hey Nineteen," which told of the sordid romance with a guy (probably Becker) who was dating a girl who did not know who Aretha Franklin was. But the title song, about some sort of gay lovers' quarrel, and "Third World Man," about the end of the world as we know it, were standouts.

Here's the bottom line. If you want to know how good these two guys are in the studio, find a copy of their demos. It's easily done if you look hard enough. My copy is titled, "Sun Mountain." Then you'll hear what they would have sounded like had they not had the help of Gary Katz in the studio. Larry Carlton on guitar didn't hurt. Nor did Steven Gadd on drums. But the list of supremely talented folks who contributed to this effort would be a long one, indeed.

As an addition to what followed in the twenty years after their last studio album:

Two Against Nature

The title of Steely Dan's first studio album in 20 years. What took Walter Becker and Donald Fagen so long? Fagen was busy with two solo albums, The Nightfly and Kamakiriad(produced by Walter Becker). Fagen was also involved with projects such as the New York Rock & Soul Revue, featuring artists like Boz Scaggs, Phoebe Snow and Michael McDonald.

In the mean time, Becker cleaned up from a heroin addiction, moved to Hawaii, and produced artists as China Crisis and Ricky Lee Jones. Becker also made a solo album called 11 Tracks of Whack, co-produced and featuring Becker's partner in crime, Donald Fagen. This is the first time that we hear Becker sing.

Other than the incidental compilation album, and collaboration between Becker and Fagen in the 80's, there were no real Steely Dan projects until the New York Rock & Soul Revue project. During one of these performances, Becker was present, and was called on stage by Fagen to play along some of their songs. They enjoyed playing live so much that it resulted in a tour, and a live album (Alive in America, 1995). They toured again in 1996 and even played some new songs that they were working on e.g."Jack of Speed." This created an enormous anticipation for the release of a new studio album (Two Against Nature), that was released in the spring of 2000, followed by a Japanese, US and European tour.


Update: February 22, 2001

Yesterday, Steely Dan's album Two Against Nature won four Grammys:


Mary is strapping on a rubber penis: "Steely Dan III from Yokohama," she says, caressing the shaft. Milk spurts across the room.

"Be sure that milk is pasteurized. Don't go giving me some kinda awful cow disease like anthrax or glanders or aftosa..."

"When I was a transvestite Liz in Chi used to work as an exterminator. Make advances to pretty boys for the thrill of being beaten as a man. Later I catch this one kid, overpower him with some supersonic judo I learned from an old Lesbian Zen monk. I tie him up, strip off his clothes with a razor and fuck him with Steely Dan I. He is so relieved I don't castrate him that he come all over my bedbug spray."

"What happen to Steely Dan I?"

"He was torn in two by a bull dyke. Most terrific vaginal grip I ever experienced. She could cave in a lead pipe. It was one of her parlor tricks."

"And Steely Dan II?"

"Chewed to bits by a famished candiru in the Upper Baboonasshole. And don't say 'Wheeeeeee!' this time."

"Why not? It's real boyish."


From Naked Lunch
© 1959, William S. Burroughs

The following required by law:
The fact of the matter is that there's really nothing more to say about this, but apparently, I must expound at great length upon it to satisfy the demands of that fickle maiden 'fair use'. The portion of this writeup below the horizontal line is my obligatory endeavor to do so.

My task is complicated by the fact that this is the Steely Dan node, not the William S. Burroughs node. I have loads of stuff to say about Burroughs, but the only thing I really have to say about Steely Dan here is that this is the snippet of literature from which they got their name. You already knew that. It's rather likely that you knew it coming in to this node, but even if you didn't, it's pretty obvious from the excerpt.

"Why even have this writeup then?", you ask. A fair question. So fair that I don't really relish having to answer it. The writeup as it existed before this exegesis was just a footnote - piece of useful documentation, but polished to a fine glint by the ultrafine grit of Burroughs' prose. In that form, it needed no excuse. In this form, I still need one hundred seventy-five more words to bring it into compliance. Make that 162.

This is not to be taken as a criticism of E2 or its copyright policy. The policy is fair, logical, and probably quite necessary. The strange unintended consequence to be found in this writeup is an outflow of current miserable state of Copyright Law and the litigeousness that accompanies it.

If this were a William Burroughs writeup, I could probably make some ironic point about that, but alas, it is a Steely Dan writeup, and there's really nothing more to say, as I have said before. And, I would point out, as I shall say again and again, until I have fulfilled my obligation under the law to make the use of Burroughs' copyrighted work 'fair'.

If you have read this far in expectation of some payoff at the end, I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you. I really don't have anything more to say on this subject. Only fourteen words left, though, so the agony is nearly over. One more: Sorry.

What's weird about going to the same school as Becker and Fagen is noting over the years how little they've changed. Every time they pop up--where do these guys GO between records?--I get to say to myself: "Yup, there they are. They haven't changed. Christ I hope I don't look that bad."

They had an amazing talent for just turning up in the old days. You'd be walking from Tewksbury up the hill to the coffee shop and there they'd be: Always together. Sorta edgy. Generally pretty spaced, though how could you tell, really, considering that we were all of us tripping on the same music and the sex and the readily-available study-aids and so forth.

I never saw them with any girls, oddly, and I never saw them apart, but I do remember hearing them play one time back then. Chevy Chase sat in on drums. I was struck by their seriousness, all the more-so because Chase was always a goofball. Becker and Fagan loved music, that's for damned sure. If any two guys could give a shit less about a Grammy I don't know who they'd be.

When I first moved to L.A., I was in a supermarket in the Valley about two o'clock in the morning, buying beer with some new friends who became best friends. We were all into Steely Dan big time, he worked in the music business, and as I turned the corner, Boinnnggg--there they were, Becker and Fagen, looking the same, arms fulla munchies. It was just like old times. We stared at each other with that "...yeah...right..." look you reserve for people you've seen around. I wasn't about to go gushing congrats on two of the coolest dudes I've ever known, but my friend was very impressed.

And then I was in an up-scale gunshop in Santa Monica, looking to pick up some protection during a difficult time. Very chic place, BMW's and Benzes out front, all the latest Glocks and PPK's.

Becker was buying an Uzi, and who could blame him, really. For a while there we were all third world men.

I love those guys. I'm glad they're back together.

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