In an attempt at honouring the work of the late great Walter Becker, Reuben Klein attempts to establish the finest songs that he and Donald Fagen created. The Dan’s creations are too great of an opus to summarise at one fell swoop. This therefore is part one of three before we get down to the nitty and hopefully gritty and choose the best 10 tracks in the catalogue. Firstly, Steely Dan is not a band that suddenly lights up one’s conscience at first listen, it’s a band that you keep coming back to. Much like an addict who claims that he can stop when he wants to, Steely Dan fans can’t stop coming back to an addictive, unique and highly revered musical drug that was concocted by two unique dudes so long ago.
Becker and Fagen are not great musicians by any stretch of the imagination, they are provocateurs aided by amazing musicians who they chose to highlight their prodigious talent at combining lyrics, harmonies, rhythms and melodies.
Below is a list of my Best Of based on an addiction to their music that has lasted nigh on 45 years so far. It will be further distilled in to a 10 Best when I master the courage to murder musical darlings that are too near and dear.
Can’t Buy A Thrill
‘Fire In The Hole’ – Even snobs melt when they hear country rock with lyrics that start “I decline to walk the line, they tell me that I’m lazy”.
‘Brooklyn Owes The Charmer Under Me’ – an almost country song that’s one of the most beautiful ballads that Fagen and Becker ever composed.
Countdown To Ecstasy
On account of the name alone this is sarcasm of the highest pedigree!
‘Showbiz Kids’ – Profound and slightly self deprecating, this has a killer rhythm and a tune that manages to hold these words in line with the melody: “Showbiz kids making movies of themselves, you know they don’t give a fuck about anybody else”.
In my view this contains their most ingenious lyrics.
‘Any Major Dude’- achingly beautiful is not even remotely adequate to describe the tune that accompanies some amazingly apt lyrics about humanity “Any major dude with half a heart surely will tell you my friend, Any minor world that breaks apart falls together again”.
‘Pretzel Logic’ – This has wit that must have made Mose Alison cringe with jealousy: “I have never met Napoleon But I plan to find the time”.
For some a pinnacle, for me a classic with country rock blues and soul some amazing lyrics and increasingly obscure intellectual references.
‘Dr. Wu’ – “Katy tried, I was halfway crucified, I was on the other side Of no tomorrow You walked in And my life began again Just when I'd spent the last piaster I could borrow” all mixed up with jazzy soulful tune, merits a place in the top five.
‘Chain Lightning’ – Blues rock of the highest pedigree, a funky funky funky rock tune. You can see the grease in the hair of the subject of this song: “Hush brother, we cross the square Act natural like you don't care, Turn slowly and comb your hair Don't trouble the midnight air”.