Why Steely Dan Are The Musical Anti-Heroes Of The 70s
via Hal Griffin/YouTube
They Were Far From Your Average Band
Since the early ’70s, Steely Dan enjoyed enormous success even after their breakup in 1981, they amassed thousands of fans that remain loyal and devoted to them until today. They had a string of hits, earned a Grammy Award, sold millions of albums, and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But what set them apart from the rest of their contemporaries? At a time when epic tunes and innovative bands were springing left and right, how did they stand out?
They Didn’t Follow The Rules
Steely Dan never conformed to whatever is conventional. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were two extremely talented men who sought perfection in everything that they did. They wrote songs that were too complex and required the heavy use of technology and sophisticated studio techniques. In 1974, tension was brewing because aside from Becker and Fagen, other members of the band wanted to tour. The two, however, preferred to focus on writing and recording instead of hitting the road.
On July 5, 1974, they did their last tour performance at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in California. In the next few years, they got their first hit in the UK thanks to The Royal Scam and Aja received Platinum Record status. Although Steely Dan planned a tour in support of Aja, it didn’t push through.
They Earned Their Status As Legends
Although they didn’t tour, that doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t work hard. On the contrary, they obsessed over studio production and spent countless hours going over and over the songs until they got what they wanted. All that paid off nicely in the end as they managed to churn out some of the grooviest and funkiest tunes of the decade.
They had a concept, an idea, and no matter how complicated or difficult it was to accomplish, they pulled it off. They had their share of ups and downs but they were one of the few units that pushed on to be better with every album. Perhaps the most accurate way of describing Steely Dan is with how William S. Burroughs talked about them:
“These people are too fancy, they’re too sophisticated. They’re doing too many things at once in a song.”
Yep, that’s how their songs stood the test of time too.