RIP Walter Becker!
Walter Becker, half of the iconic music group Steely Dan, has died.
Becker wasn’t at the recent band performance in Los Angles, and reports are that Becker had been very ill and underwent surgery last month.
Becker was 67.
I took a look at the band’s first album a while back, and wanted to share it again.
I was inspired to write this after a friend trashed the band as being faux hipsters. I was shocked, because to me, Steely Dan is one of the greatest bands of all time! And here is a LOT of great musical evidence why:
“Steely Dan” was the brainchild of the songwriting team of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, who met in the late 60’s. The band’s name comes from a dildo featured in the cult novel “Naked Lunch”…
“Can’t Buy A Thrill!”
They burst on the scene in 1972 with their first album, the brilliant “Can’t Buy A Thrill!” – with its colorful cover and great collection of rock songs with a slight jazz influence…
The album was an immediate hit, fueled by the singles “Do It Again” and “Reelin’ In The Years.”
Here is a great Steely Dan live performance – introduced by Bill Cosby! – on the classic TV show “Midnight Special” in 1973.
Thanks to “Valhalla…Your Music Jukebox”, for posting this on youtube.
Now you may be asking yourself: who is that guy singing in the video?
David Palmer sang lead vocals on two tracks from “Can’t Buy a Thrill”, provided backing vocals on three other tracks on that album, and did work on the follow-up album and some live performances. He left Steely Dan in the middle of 1973.
And now, Palmer is suing Steely Dan over digital royalties related to that music…if you are interested in more detail, you can click here to read the entire story…
In those early days, Steely Dan used many session singers, including Michael Macdonald, who would end up fronting The Doobie Brothers…but soon Donald Fagen and Walter Becker took on all of the singing duties themselves, resulting in this masterpiece:
One of the band’s biggest hits came from this album: “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”…but for me, the title track is the best song they’ve ever done…
“I Stepped Up On The Platform
The Man Gave Me The News
He Said, You must Be Joking Son
Where Did You Get Those Shoes?”
Here is a recent live performance of “Pretzel Logic:”
This is from Donald Fagen’s New York Rock and Soul Review, March, 1991.
Too Hip For The Room?
Pics like the one above have led to some calling Steely Dan “too hip for the room”, as their icy cold lyrics and ironic detachment to their music is off-putting to some…
Their album covers were “hip”, their titles like “Katy Lied” were ironic, and their music was “icy cool”…
Steely Dan’s Platinum Masterpiece!
After releasing five albums, Steely Dan had found a loyal fan base, but their biggest hit of all came when they released their latest album, the hypnotic “Aja”…
“Aja” was the band’s first platinum album, their first album to be Grammy nominated as Album Of The Year, and included the hits “Peg” and “Black Cow”…it is now remembered for the classic title track, performed here live a few years ago:
As the 70’s ended, Steely Dan’s popularity was at an all-time high, so they spent more than a year in the studio recording “Gaucho” – and even though it was an album of just seven songs, Becker and Fagen hired at least 42 studio musicians and 11 engineers to record it!
During the “Gaucho” sessions, Becker was hit by a car while walking home late one night in New York. He managed to push the woman he was with out of harm’s way, but sustained multiple fractures in one leg, a sprain in the other leg, as well as other injuries.
The album included the hit “Hey Nineteen”, which signaled the band’s continued move towards jazz fusion versus pop music.
The group disbanded in 1981, but twenty years later came back with “Two Against Nature” which won the Grammy for Album of the year…a heavily jazz-influenced album with flawless musicianship and icy cool lyrics…
Steely Dan have sold more than 40 million albums worldwide and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2001. They continue to release music as a group and as individual Artists, and are currently in the midst of another live tour…
“FM – No Static At All!”
One of Steely Dan’s biggest hits was never released on a Steely Dan album!
The classic hit “FM” was written for a 1978 movie. The soundtrack also included James Taylor, Boston, Jackson Browne and many other stars of that era.
Donald Fagen told “American Songwriter” in 2013 that the process of writing and recording the song was rather straightforward. He and Becker were in California finishing up “Aja” when the call came. “There was a film called FM and we were asked to do the title song,” he recalled. “And I said, ‘Does it have to have any specific words?’ And they said, ‘No, it just has to be about FM radio.'” It took a day or two to write!
Here is the classic Steely Dan song written for the movie:
While the 1978 film bombed, the song remains a classic.
RIP to the great Walter Becker…