Friday Night Jazz: Steely Dan


I’m a huge fan of what the BBC once called "one of the most important and intelligent bands the US has produced: Steely Dan.

Saw ’em live a few times, most recently on Wednesday night at the Beacon Theater. If you ever get a chance to see a concert in a small venue with large artists, its a very interesting experience (3rd row center doesn’t hurt either).

Their music is characterized by "complex jazz-influenced structures
and harmonies, literate and sometimes obscure or ambiguous lyrics,
filled with dark sarcasm." They are known for their "adroit musicianship
and studio perfectionism." (Wiki)

I was trying to figure out the best way to recommend material from The Dan — which albums you must own — but I simply cannot offer up anything better than the 4 CD box set.

The 4 CD box set
itself is the first six 7 of the Dan’s studio releases on 4 discs for the bargain price of $36.

Steely_dan_boxed_setSteely Dan are justly famous for their use of "chord sequences
and harmonies that explore the area of musical tension between
traditional pop music sounds and jazz." These 4 CDs reveal a musical dynamism that is unmatched in modern
music.  The lyrics are sardonic,
engaging and humorous. Indeed, it is one of the greatest catalogues in the annals of
pop/jazz music history. That’s one reason why Steely Dan makes my short list of greatest American Rock and Roll bands. (Note that on Rolling Stone’s top 500 albums, Pretzel Logic is #385 and Can’t Buy a Thrill is #238.

Also of note: Citizen Steely Dan: 1972-1980  contains what may very well be the best Amazon review I have ever come across.

Your other option is to grab a few single discs. If I had to cut it down to just 3 CDs, here’s how I would roll: Surely, you can pick any of the five early Dan CDs — all are great — but my favorite is 1975’s Katy Lied ($7.97). The album saw took otherwise classic rock style songs, and arranged and played them in a jazz idiom. With Michael McDonald’s background vocals, the Dan infused a smoky Soul flavor. It was complex mashup of styles that worked wonderfully.

My second disc choice has to be the great Aja, a groundbreaking 1977 CD. It was a favorite of audiophiles, stunned recording engineers, oh, and  dominated FM radio for a year. Aja was even more heavily jazz-influenced than Katy Lied, and was graced with  top-notch jazz musicians: Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Wayne Shorter and Chuck Rainey.

Aja won numerous awards, shot into the Top Five in the U.S. charts within three weeks of release, and was one of the first American LPs to be certified ‘platinum’ for sales of over 1 million albums. It was that good. Aja is #145 on Rolling Stone’s top 500 albums. If I have any complaint about this slick disc, it was that the radio play was so overwhelming it became a bit played out way back when.

Last year, I mentioned the making of Steely Dan’ Peg (off of Aja) that I randomly discovered on YouTube. It was simply terrific. If you are any type of Dan fan, you must go order this right now.

The third selection is Donald Fagen’s solo disc, The Nightfly (a previous Friday Night Jazz selection). Even if you get the Dan box set, you have to add this CD to the mix. The WSJ called The Nightfly "one of pop music’s sneakiest masterpieces" and I think that moniker fits well. The key to this is the music’s timeless quality. It was retro back in
1982, and over the years, has never grown to sound tired or even of a specific era. It remains fresh, even 25 years later.

Not only did the CD win critical acclaim amongst the jazz and pop
reviewers, but the disc delighted audiophiles of all stripes. You see, The Nightfly was one of the first fully digital recordings of popular music. Add to that the usual crisp, sleek production The Dan were famous for, and you have a recipe for a phenomenal recording.

Any of the above provides a rewarding aural experience. These are amongst the best music from the  1970s/80s era, and indeed of all time.


Before we jump to the videos, one little bit of trivia: Since both Becker & Fagen were avid readers of 1950’s "Beat" literature, they decided to name the band "Steely Dan" after a dildo in William Burroughs’ "Naked Lunch" . . .


videos after the jump.

Black Friday

New Frontier

Making of Peg

Friday Night Jazz: The NightFly

The Making of Steely Dan’s Aja

Greatest American Rock and Roll Band?

The Nightfly’ Still Lives at 25
WSJ, January 9, 2008; Page D8

The Nightfly (Wikipedia)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. george commented on Jun 20

    When Black Friday comes
    I’ll stand down by the door
    And catch the grey men when they
    Dive from the fourteenth floor.
    When Black Friday comes
    I’ll collect everything I’m owed,
    And before my friends find out
    I’ll be on the road.

  2. Jim commented on Jun 20


    How many weeks have you been waiting for an appopriate day to post “Black Friday”?

    Anyway, with all the dreadful things this nation has brought to the world over the years, it’s soothing to consider that some intelligent and beautiful things have come from here, too.

    I good way to end the week.

  3. Kevin Crawford commented on Jun 20

    Another chance to dis the even better Kamkiriad…….the shame of it all…..

  4. wilson commented on Jun 20

    Katy Lied is a true masterpiece of seventies fusion as defined by Steely Dan. Most of the great fusion material was jazz lead, Mahavishnu, Zappa, even early Santana. But Steely Dan brought it in from swing/rock. Pretzel Logic actually had the strongest classic jazz influence, but Katy Lied brought the blues rock elements forward.

    Beyond the music though, it’s the lyrics that showcase this erudite band. Chain Lightning, Black Friday, Any World are all examples of story telling, scene setting, and allusion at its best.

    But of all ironies, Steely Dan, the postmodernist of post modern, ahead of their time, ironic rock – actually hit home with their sincerity. Dr. Wu and Rose Darling inhabit the twisted worlds of Daddy and Everyones Gone To The Movies.

    So join us wizened war horses of the seventies as today’s economy begins to resemble “…that fearsome excavation
    On Magnolia Boulevard” and let’s plan to go “…stompin’ on the avenue by Radio City with a transistor and a large sum of money to spend.”


  5. Greg0658 commented on Jun 20

    the great Aja, a groundbreaking 1977 CD
    (a great vinyl LP)
    and the box set I have as cassettes

  6. leftback commented on Jun 20

    Thanks BR, this is what makes TBP more than just another econ blog. Black Friday always comes in the end.. Fed or no Fed.

  7. Kiff Gallagher commented on Jun 20

    Hey Barry,

    I’m a fan of yours and steely dan’s. i paid for a little indie career (2 albums, some touring over a 5 yr period) by trading stocks. now i’m trying to launch a music national service movement — a musical peace corps ( hey, you should help me out! just starting to get some traction now. thanks for the systems thinking and for keeping me in front of this market. i’m with ya. and i’m short s&p. kiff

  8. deacon blues commented on Jun 20

    Aaahhh………Forgotten Treasures.

    I had the first 6 on vinyl. They weren’t classics, they were masterpieces. I gotta have that box set. Wonder where I can find a bean-bag chair.

    They got a name for the winners in the world.
    I want a name when I lose.
    They call Alabama the Crimson Tide….

  9. Erasmus commented on Jun 20

    Thanks Barry for showing us that there are things more relevant.

    Jazz musicians are the seeds of everything!

  10. VJ commented on Jun 20

    Hey Nineteen…

  11. GawainsGhost commented on Jun 21

    Katy Lied is also my favorite Steely Album, but I have a special fondness for The Royal Scam. Pretzel Logic is very good also.

  12. teraflop commented on Jun 21

    My gosh, the memories just the album covers evokes, let alone the music: days when I should have been studying I just listened and imagined.

    Alas, the only Steely Dan vinyl I have is Aja, from when it first came out however. The prior ones I practically memorized from my friends collections.


  13. drey commented on Jun 21

    Great band – OK, collaboration. Not a single dog among their many albums and the evolution of their sound was a joy to behold, as were the sardonic lyrics.

    The Asia album notes read like a who’s who of crack jazz musicians of the time. In addition to Larry Carlton and Wayne Shorter there are contributions by the great Joe Sample and Tom Scott who arranged the horns.

    Good Dan trivia: the only studio musician to be credited on every album through the first five or six was guitarist Denny Dias.

    Boddhisatva has to be the best song ever. Can’t pick a favorite album – it’s like choosing between your kids…

  14. rockitz commented on Jun 21

    Not only was I born in the IGY (1958), but I’m a real life rocket scientist. I’ve been a Dan Fan for over 3 decades now and saw them numerous times in the 90s when they came out of hibernation. I would only add that I also liked the second of Donald Fagan’s solo efforts “”Karmakiriad” although “Nightfly” is my fave. My favorite Dan albumn has gotta be “Gaucho” although “Katy Lied” and “Royal Scam” also rate high on my list.

  15. raybo commented on Jun 21

    The catalog was remastered between 1998 and 2000 and these single CDs have much better sound than the earlier box set.

  16. Bob commented on Jun 21

    (Barry, I hope this is not too commercial for your blog guidleines, if so, just remove it…)

    If anyone here still listens to vinyl, this version of Aja sounds absolutely wonderous, better than any of the digital releases (including the version on Citizen Dan).

  17. druce commented on Jun 21

    (correction, David Palmer)

    BTW Denny Dias, who plays that guitar solo on Reelin’ In The Years video, later left the band and was one of the guys who wrote Clipper, the MS-DOS clone of dBase II. Hooked up with Donald and Walter after putting an ad in the Village Voice : ‘Looking for keyboardist and bassist. Must have jazz chops! A**holes need not apply’

  18. Richard commented on Jun 21

    I don’t want to do your dirty work no more.

  19. mark mchugh commented on Jun 21

    Identify this verse:

    The world that we used to know,
    people tell me it don’t turn no more.

    The places we used to go,
    familiar faces that ain’t smilin’ like before.

    The time of our time has come, and gone.
    I fear we’ve been waiting too long.

  20. felonius commented on Jun 21

    Midnight Cruiser – great lyric.

    Tremendous show last night at the Beacon. Nothing can beat a summer Friday night in NYC and the Dan. In the great tradition of Basie and Ellington, Since they’ve actively started touring in the 90’s Becker and Fagan have put together a contemporary orchestra of leading musicians- in the tradition of Sinatra, Basie and Ellington – playing one of the greatest popular songbooks ever composed. No small feat.

  21. kiff gallagher commented on Jun 21

    always loved those michael mcdonald back up vox on Peg, the funky funky green earings and so much more. i’m afraid i’m going to miss them at the greek theater in berkeley this summer…did i already?

  22. dave c. commented on Jun 21

    The boxed set also has “Here at the Western World”, a classic Dan song which, unbelievably, did not make the cut for “Royal Scam”, which is my personal favorite Dan album. dc.

  23. Matthew Huff commented on Jun 23

    That’s too funny. I was at the Beacon on Wednesday night also. My uncle is a roadie for Steely and I got to go backstage (actually downstairs) aftwards. Didn’t get to meet Becker or Faggin, but had a chance to talk to the drummer. He must loose 10lbs of water each performance. I was told they had to rig a special support for the drumset because he kept breaking it.

  24. Gina/Mizar5 commented on Jun 26

    hi, found this when googling and made a link in today’s Mizar5 entry….

    we got some more Steely Dan goodies on Mizar5, you know…


  25. DJ LoKey commented on Jul 6

    I agree. This song accomplishes what many have tried and failed at.

  26. online music community commented on Aug 8

    friday night jazz is my favorite lisening to old school bbking and lazy floyd on the sax

Posted Under