I have been in musical love with Steely Dan forever. The group’s music is a wide swath of the soundtrack of my life, especially during my unmoored young adult years, when I wasn’t sure of where I was going or what I was doing, when I was unsure of my abilities, when I would write but not let anyone read my stuff.
Those years were difficult in so many ways, and it was then that I listened to my Steely Dan albums over and over and over again, soaking in the music, letting it settle, and then rolling it around in my brain. When I learned about the death of Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker on Sept. 3, I remembered those years like none had passed.
I saw Steely Dan open for Alice Cooper at Cobo Hall in Detroit when I was quite young. That night was a magical one of firsts in my life: My first concert. My first whiff of weed. The first time I felt grown up as I sat unchaperoned with friends in a concert venue full of all manner of Detroit humanity. Inside Cobo Hall, with the lights down and the music loud, it felt all at once exciting and inspiring and slightly dangerous. I loved how the music felt in my chest.
I am fuzzy on the date of that concert, however. I believe it was in the very early 1970s because I remember not being old enough to drive, though you can’t hold me to that. I did a search of various listings of concerts at Cobo Hall, but that particular lineup doesn’t show up. But it happened. You have to believe me on this.
It was an odd pairing of acts. While Alice Cooper was the hottest ticket in town — his shock-rock act grabbing headlines and inspiring outrage that made parents recoil and teens rejoice — what I remember most was Steely Dan as opening act with a long, sort of jazzy version of “Do It Again.” The song seemed to last a half hour. I can’t tell you what if anything else the band played.
In remembering those years, I realized, too, the lessons Steely Dan provided a young writer through its exacting and intricate musical pacing and tightly crafted lyrics. When the day comes that I write something as perfect as “Everyone’s Gone to the Movies,” or “Aja,” I will have to write no more.
With all that in mind, I give you my baker’s dozen of favorite Steely Dan songs. Feel free to add your own.
Any Major Dude Will Tell You – Pretzel Logic
Time Out of Mind – Gaucho
Bad Sneakers – Katie Lied
Everyone’s Gone to the Movies – Katie Lied
Aja – Aja
Pearl of the Quarter – Countdown to Ecstacy
Kid Charlemagne – The Royal Scam
I Got the News – Aja
Razor Boy – Countdown to Ecstacy
Pretzel Logic – Pretzel Logic
The Caves of Altamira – The Royal Scam
Chain Lightning – Katy Lied
Jack of Speed – Two Against Nature
And, as a bonus, I give you this from one of Walter Becker’s solo albums.
This Moody Bastard – “11 Tracks of Whack”
If you’ve not heard “11 Tracks of Whack,” I highly recommend it.