Steely Dan’s Best Song On Each Of Their Studio Albums

Steely Dan's Best Songs

Feature Photo: Bill Ragan / Shutterstock.com

We all have our favorite rock bands and artists. However, I would argue that for the majority of classic rock fans, Steely Dan is at least in everyone’s top 10. They are a unique group in rock and roll history. Fueled by witty lyrics, superior musicianship, production, and brilliant songwriting, Steely Dan released a catalog of albums that redefined what quality recording meant in the music business. There’s no filler, no nonsense. They merged the best of rock and roll and jazz into a sound that was original and inviting.

Can’t Buy a Thrill  – “Dirty Work”

Steely Dan’s debut album exploded onto the music scene in 1972, fueled by two very successful singles, “Reeling In The Years” and “Do It Again.” This is also a very different-sounding band from the group that would release the Aja and Gaucho albums only a few years later. While those classic songs already mentioned would be the easy choices, I have always loved the song “Dirty Work” sung by David Palmer.

Countdown to Ecstasy – “Your Gold Teeth”

I always thought Countdown To Ecstasy was kind of the lost Steely Dan album. It was sandwiched between Cant But A Thrill and Pretzel Logic, two albums containing massive hits. However, on their second album, we start to catch glimpse of Steely Dan Cool, which merges jazz and rock better than any band in history, along with groups like Chicago and Blood Sweat & Tears. No song on the album better depicts that description than “Your Gold Teeth.”

Pretzel Logic  -“Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”

While we went with some of the long shots on the first two albums, the chalk easily wins this one. Pretzel Logic was released in 1974. The lead single, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” peaked at number four on the Billboard Top 100. It would stand as the biggest hit of the band’s career from a charting perspective. I love this one. If I ever get the chance to interview Donald Fagan one of the first questions I would ask him was what was the intent behind taking the intro from Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father” for their song. And what was up with that Planet Of The Apes sound effect before that intro?

Katy Lied  – “Doctor Wu”

Katie Lied was sort of a transitional album between the early Steely Dan sound of their first group of albums and the heavily jazz-influenced trio of albums that would come next after then their initial run. This is my favorite of the first set of Steely Dan albums. One of the reasons for that is the album’s closing song “Doctor Wu.” This one is simply spectacular.

The Royal Scam (1976) – The Fez

I remember the critics going crazy over this album when it first came out. Steely Dan had taken their music to an entirely new level in songwriting, performance, and production. It’s hard to pick a favorite song from this album because every song is brilliant. In the end, “The Fez” gets the pick. The funky groove against the sinister string lines and dreamy piano made for a captivating tune. “Kid Charlemagne” ran a close second in the pick here.

Aja  -“Aja”

We are not just talking about the best Steely album here, but one of the greatest albums ever released. If there ever was an award for the perfect album, “Aja” should get the nod. “Deacon Blues” has always been a favorite, but in the end, the perfection of the song “Aja” and the mind-blowing drumming of Steve Gadd on the track places this one as the pick.

Gaucho – “Time Out Of Mind”

How does a group follow up on a perfect album? The answer is that they can’t. Yet, Steely Dan came pretty close because Gaucho is another sensational record. The fact that the band broke up after this is unbelievable. Look at the lineup on this track……Donald Fagen on lead vocals, electric piano, and synthesizer, Walter Becker on bass and guitar, Rob Mounsey on piano, Hugh McCracken on guitar, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits playing the guitar solo, Rick Marotta on drums, Randy Brecker on trumpet, Michael Brecker, Dave Tofani, David Sanborn, and Ronnie Cuber on saxophones and backing vocals by Michael McDonald, Lesley Miller, Patti Austin, and Valerie Simpson.

Two Against Nature – “Cousin Dupree”

After 20 years, Steely Dan returned with a new album. It’s something I never thought I would see. In the 20 years they were gone, the group’s legend just continued to grow as we never saw another band like them. It was unbelievable to get a new album from the group.  From a lyrical and musical standpoint, “Cousin Dupree” was the perfect Steely Dan comeback song. The entire album was just a joy to add to our CD collections.

Everything Must Go – “Blues Beach”

It’s hard to believe it’s been over twenty years again since the last Steely Dan album was released. I’m not sure if Donald Fagen will ever release another Steely Dan album. It would be hard to do without Walter Becker who passed away in 2017.  The pick here is the cool, grooving song “Blues Beach.” I love that piano riff.

Steely Dan’s Best Song On Each Of Their Studio Albums article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2024

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar Matt June 5, 2024
    • Avatar Brian Kachejian June 5, 2024

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