Steely Dan is a jazz-rock duo (originally a full group) consisting of songwriters Donald Fagen (vocals, keyboards) and Walter Becker (guitar, bass). The band is named after a dildo in William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch. (There is an alternate story for where the name came from, however considering their reputation, and their site's content, it's a bit of a toss up as to which story is really true, and if you ask them, they'll probably just play along.)The band is known for a string of hit singles released from 1972 to 1980. The duo split in 1981, and reunited in the early 1990's, with the band releasing their first album in 20 years, Two Against Nature in 2000. That album won them four Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year.The band's studio album discography is as follows:
"Katie lies You can see it in her eyes But imagine my surprise when I saw you"
Alma Mater Song: Subverted; "My Old School" is actually about a grudge against their alma mater, Bard College, for being complicit in the wrongful arrest of some fifty students, including Fagen and Becker, by sheriff's deputies during a raid of the college's dorms in 1969. Fagen was so angry with the school, he refused to attend graduation a few weeks later.
The song claims that they won't go back to Annandale-On-Hudson — the college town in Upstate New York where Bard College is located — until "California tumbles into the sea". Fagen returned to Annandale in 1985 to accept, of all things, an honorary degree (as well as speak at commencement). He went back there again in 2001 for an Entertainment Weeklyarticle about the song. Still, twice is more than most people return to their alma mater, even those who don't write sneering songs about how much they hate the school.
Anti-Love Song: They wrote many of these. Among them: "Dirty Work", "Reelin' in the Years", "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" and "Hey Nineteen".
Call Back: Walter Becker's solo track Down In The Bottom includes the line "Down in the suburbs where it's hard to tell - if I got the bear or the bear got me". This is a reference to a Steely Dan outtake called "You Got The Bear" of which the chorus is "only time will tell, if you got the bear or the bear got you".
Their second album has a song called "Your Gold Teeth" and their fourth has a song called "Your Gold Teeth II". The songs are unrelated musically, but share a chorus of "throw out your gold teeth, see how they roll" (or a variation thereof).
Canon Discontinuity: The two songs the band released before Can't Buy A Thrill, "Dallas" and "Sail the Waterway". Aside from their original release as the two sides of their first single, they've been released on the Japanese compilation "Steely Dan" and the UK "Plus Fours" EP. But the band have never allowed them to be released on CD. Fagen and Becker are on record as calling the songs "stinko".
Demoted to Extra: David Palmer, the band's "original" lead singer (he only sang on three tracks on the first album, as well as in concerts) was bumped down to one of several backing vocalists for Countdown to Ecstasy. No surprise that he's gone by Pretzel Logic, since the band had abandoned touring.
Downer Ending: The title character of "Charlie Freak" pawns off his last possession, a gold ring, only to die from a drug overdose not long afterwards.
Drunken Song: Several of their songs mention some kind of alcoholic beverage, and even those that don't often sound like they were written by a very morose drunk, or are about the results of a bender.
"Your Gold Teeth II" opens with a fairly lengthy and definitely distinctive synth solo, on top of a chord progression which has little to do with the rest of the song.
"Reeling In The Years" and "The Boston Rag" have these as well.
Epic Rocking: "Aja," "Deacon Blues," "Your Gold Teeth," and "West of Hollywood."
They have never been ones to cut their songs short - roughly a quarter of their songs run 5 minutes or higher, surprisingly including some of their biggest radio hits ("Do It Again," "FM," "Hey Nineteen")
Other 6-minute or longer songs include "The Royal Scam," "Glamour Profession," and "Jack of Speed."
Forgotten Trope: The Haitian divorce of, well, "Haitian Divorce." Until the liberalization of US divorce law, East Coast Americans trying to divorce their spouses without that spouse's consent would travel to Haiti to get divorced, since Haitian law had long permitted unilateral divorce. This was the most common alternative to Nevada divorce for people on the East Coast, since Haiti was closer than Nevada; one reason you see it less in fiction is that unlike Nevada divorce—whose laws and decisions on marriage and divorce, being those of an American state, must be given "full faith and credit" by other states—Haitian divorce in the US is governed by the less-expansive law of "comity." Thus many state courts—e.g. New Jersey—refused to recognize Haitian divorces until the state legislature adopted no-fault divorce as well. However, New York did recognize Haitian divorces (bizarrely, because it long had the most restrictive divorce laws in the nation—they didn't adopt no-fault until 2010).
Incredibly Lame Pun: The covers to their albums Pretzel Logic (a pretzel cart) and Katy Lied (a katydid).
Kissing Cousins: Played with in "Cousin Dupree", where the title character hits on his sexy cousin Janine and promptly receives a thorough dressing-down for being creepy and incestuous... which doesn't bother him at all.
Limited Lyrics Song: "The Fez" repeats these four lines three times, with only minor syntax variations in the first two lines each time:
No I'm never gonna do it without the fez on, oh no
"Two Against Nature" is filled with seemingly Word Salad Lyrics, virtually all of them bearing some sort of reference to Voudoun religion. Erzulie is mentioned explicitly; Baron Samedi is alluded to:
Madame Erzulie she come last night Bang you silly but leave a nasty bite There on your nightstand much worse than that Panatela and old black derby hat
"Turn That Heartbeat Over Again" sounds upbeat, until you realize it's about a heist gone horribly wrong.
"Everyone's Gone To The Movies", which is even more upbeat sounding, is about a creepy neighborhood guy inviting teenagers to his house to watch porno movies. It's hinted that Mr. La Page is planning on filming the teens as well.
Not nearly as squicky but also notable is "Daddy Don't Live in that New York City No More", a very cheery and bouncy song about all of the various amoral activities that Daddy will no longer be involved in, now that he's died. The nonchalant delivery suggests that the singer thinks the world might be better off without Daddy in it. It's been posited that "Daddy" is a mob boss that the narrator didn't want around anymore.
Pretzel Logic sort of half qualifies, as they were in the process of ending the early "real band" phase of their career in favor of their later approach of putting together whatever studio musicians could best accompany them on each track. As a result you get material like "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" and "Barrytown", which seem like the same group that did the first two albums next to more experimental, esoteric stuff like the title track, "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" (both their only instrumental and only cover) and "With a Gun" (their only song based around an acoustic guitar part, which actually sounds downright folky)
Aja is much jazzier as a whole than their earlier albums, and abandons most of the pop-rock influences they had up to that point, to the point of having two tracks longer than seven minutes.
Step Up to the Microphone: "Slang of Ages" from Everything Must Go and "Book of Liars" from the band's one live album, Alive in America are Walter Becker's only lead vocal credits in the band's history. He also sings half of the lead vocal for "Turn That Heartbeat Over Again" on Can't Buy a Thrill.
"Midnite Cruiser" is sung by Jim Hodder, the band's drummer during the Can't Buy A Thrill "actual band" era. So is "Dallas", the A side of the band's first single.
Subverted by "Dirty Work", "Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)" and "Turn That Heartbeat Over Again", the three songs sung by David Palmer on Can't Buy A Thrill. As mentioned before, he was intended to be the singer for the band. Technically, the rest of Can't Buy A Thrill would have been a Step Up to the Microphone example for Donald Fagen if he and Becker didn't become unsatisfied with Palmer's live performances during the ensuing tour.
Several demo songs like "Undecided", "Soul Ram", "The Mock Turtle Song", "A Horse In Town", one version of "Sun Mountain" and "Brooklyn" are all sung by either David Palmer or Jim Hodder. With the sound quality it is sometime hard to tell.