Donald Fagen / Dan of Steel


Been going through Fagen’s solo catalogue after finding out that Steely Dan is one of a very few bands, popular or not, whose stuff I’m able to enjoy. tbh finding out that I like some of Steely Dan’s stuff has been pretty gratifying just bc it’s allowed me to earnestly connect with some family members over music, since the music I tend to listen to is just uhhh too outside of most’s people’s taste range

Idk what anyone else here thinks about 'em or Fagen in particular, although I am expecting some condescension, judging by an awful Pitchfork review. I guess the band is seen as being the preference of impotent aged hipsters or something. Who even knows. It was interesting listening to Aja last year and realizing I’d heard a couple of songs from it years ago, probably on some smooth jazz station, and was struck then by the harmonies. In fact, I think I recorded ‘Peg’ on a cassette tape (and it then was also interesting to watch the video below explicating the song’s chords and compositionally identify very strongly with some of Fagen’s voicings).

^Lovely DX7 harmonica, really just a great FM SOUNDSHOCK track + vocals

Apparently Gaucho had a very problematic recording history for various reasons and a bunch of songs were cut. If they had been included I think the album would’ve been far and away their best.


The Nightfly is a really fantastic album, but I haven’t been able to get into his other stuff or Steely Dan. The whole 80’s yuppie yacht jazz thing is a bit much for me, but it’s restrained enough on Nightfly that I can get into it.

IMO Thomas Dolby’s album The Flat Earth does everything Nightfly does but better, with a much deeper and weirder atmosphere.


The Nightfly, widely regarded for its early digital recording sophistication has just been re-issued in arguably the world’s most lavish vinyl format MFSL’s UltraDisc One-Step 45rpm for $99.99.

Reelin’ In the Years lead guitar work is absolute GOAT cat. stuff, though not the work of either of the Steely boys. Gotta be some of the most satisfying first couple seconds of a song. Great song in general, so fun. :guitar::musical_keyboard::microphone:

Aja is a real cool record.


The kind of people that would say Steely Dan is music for impotent aged hipsters are the kinds of people who grew up with trust funds and have never experienced a legitimate emotional connection or any hardship in their life.


See, I don’t know what this means, but I assume it’s attached to the sort of listener-damning criticism I have seen of the band by way of its listenership. I guess I’d need some explication to understand the description.

I will listen to the album you linked. Should note that I think the lyrical content of Nightfly is very plain, imo, hardly worth remarking upon – ‘Ruby Baby’ is a song I feel comfortable never listening to again – and that I find personal value in it musically. I also really like Fagen’s singing voice as a sound. Don’t care for most singing voices.


Steely Dan is my favorite band. I went to see them a couple years ago, it was awesome. They played Bodhisattva for like half an hour.

Also I think that calling Steely Dan ‘music for impotent aged hipsters’ is like calling Against Me ‘music for white right-wing cis males’. Just listen to Deacon Blues, it was literally about a middle aged idiot wishing he could be a part of the “cool” underground druglord sleazebag circuit. Bodhisattva was about hipsters selling their entire lives to chase some kind of malformed ideal of eastern religion. Their work DRIPPED with scathing anti-hipsterism.

Also Peg is one of the best songs ever recorded.


What I meant by “80’s yuppie yacht jazz” is that sometimes for me this music feels like it’s very much coded as white upper-class in a way that I find sort of off-putting. I have to admit that I haven’t spent a huge amount of time with Steely Dan so this is definitely a surface-level impression, and it probably is inflected by the fact that most of the Steely Dan fans I know are old conservative men. I probably shouldn’t let my impression of the fans affect how I evaluate the music, I admit.


I think that trying to figure out who music is “for” and then judging it based on that is a really, really superficial effort. And yeah, people do seem to tend to pick up on the slickness of Steely Dan tracks, and it generally tends to go either in the direction of “It’s good because it’s ironic” or “It’s bad because slick production is, like, anti-musical, man”, whereas for myself I enjoy the mixing because it enhances the audible depth and detail of the songs.


Well, it’s not just about who the music is for, it’s also about whether or not I can relate to it. I wasn’t able to relate to it when I tried. I sort of have been meaning to try getting into Steely Dan again sometime though, because I really do like The Nightfly a lot.

Slick production can be awesome, people who have a problem with that are narrowing their tastes for no good reason.


Steely Dan is the quintessential intellectual high-budget studio recording act, directly assuming the mantle the Beatles created for themselves and the world in '67. They are the indulgent American media 70s crystallized.

Maybe not technically yacht rock but they did graduate two members to the Doobie Brothers…:thinking:


So is it yacht jazz or yacht rock


I don’t think people throw around the term yacht jazz in high numbers but if they did I think Steely Dan is prob the first thing a human would think of. I think you boil it down yacht rock is just negative slang for AOR.


I think it’s an incredibly vague term, but I don’t hang around yachts, so I don’t know what the general listening habits of yacht-goers are. Anyway, this is approaching a tone of contempt for partial listenership or ostensible intended audience masquerading as musical criticism, which is why that Pitchfork review is awful. You only have to pursue this line of thinking for a minute and it leads to some absurd places; like, should I like J S Bach less because I don’t care for dogmatic Lutheranism or conservative concert-going elites


It’s just a joke genre label for ha ha laughs.


Right, when I called it yacht jazz I was having a bit of fun with a hot take. I don’t have anything against Steely Dan, and I think it’s obvious there’s a lot of value in their music. I haven’t been able to connect with it myself though.

And… I do like Supertramp so I may not be altogether intellectually consistent on this one.


So my natural/intuitive/preferred approach to music is generally prioritizing the musical over the lyrical – I know that lyrics have a musical aspect, but you probably get what I mean, feel free to supplant the term with “instrumental” – and so I’m engaged by the stuff of Steely Dan’s that I do like on that musical basis. I don’t really “connect” with the lyrics myself, although I can poetically interpret them into something somewhat coherent and thematic, but they are largely worded sounds whose aural quality I enjoy and some of which I remember. I don’t know if this is atypical, but maybe it will help to explain my own perspective here somewhat.


Also, as for the “ironic” aspect

I do like how you could interpret this song as sounding like a looped 70s/maybe 80s sitcom intro, however one may understand that in an ironic sense, but I also genuinely like how this song sounds. I like the composition and I like the instrumentation, even while knowing that it could be analyzed as self-conscious kitsch.


There’s no doubt in my mind that, first and foemost, Steely Dan’s music was “for” Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.


After years of listening to him/them, nowadays I only really get in the mood for their first three albums. Especially countdown to ecstasy, they were just casually tossing off really great songs in those days:

Re: their intended audience, their first three albums definitely feel catered to the rock counterculture, so there was this sort of interesting aesthetic friction between that sensibility and their jazzier, yachtier side. Once they lost the rock aspect (coincidentally around the time they became a studio band) there was nothing to prop up their “ironic” tendencies, and the music became kind of lame/soulless:

This is my take! I’m definitely in the minority…people seem to love Aja & Gaucho. That outtake from Gaucho you posted a while ago was pretty good @diplo , do you remember what song that was?


It was one of the songs I linked in the OP, either “The Second Arrangement” or “Kulee Baba.” You can find every outtake/demo in a single upload by searching for “the lost gaucho” on YT.