Having examined the Steely Dan catalog to near exhaustion, it’s a good time for us to glance back and pick our all-time favorites tracks, starting with our most beloved singles.
As admired and respected as Steely Dan might be today, there are only ten Steely Dan hits if ‘hits’ are defined as peaking in the Top 40, and only three made it into the top ten. Thusly, we expanded the pool of songs these lists were chosen from to include any track that was released as a single, regardless of its highest chart position. That puts the number up to about two dozen, a pretty decent size and includes many songs that few people even know were issued as singles.
Hardcore Dan Fans are more apt to prefer to see a listing of best tracks from Steely Dan’s rich catalog of deep cuts (heck, we consider nearly every SD non-single a deep cut), but that list is for another Sunday. Steely Dan Sunday contributors S. Victor Aaron and Preston Frazier sort through the stack of 45s, make their choices and rank ’em, 5 to 1. Click on the song titles to go back and read the official, full take on these numbers.
S. VICTOR AARON
5. Pretzel Logic: Steely Dan has always been just as much blues-based as they’ve been jazz-based. The title cut from one of their most beloved albums exemplifies their brilliance in taking a rustic music form with humble beginnings and turn it into a model of subtle sophistication.
4. Josie: Like “Pretzel Logic,” Josie is a blues modified with complex chords inserted at key points, and once again features a mint solo guitar by Becker. But this one is also a bring-the-house-down party tune.
3. Kid Charlemagne: An uberfunky nugget propelled by the Chuck Rainey/Bernard Purdie rhythm section juggernaut, Becker and Fagen’s tale inspired by real-life LSD mogul Owsley “Bear” Stanley is full of memorable lines (“is there gas in the car?”) and a memorable lead by guitar god Larry Carlton.
2. Do It Again: Steely Dan’s first hit was one of their most hypnotic sounding ones. A Latin groove with Fagen’s spine-tingling organ and Denny Dias’ rousing electric sitar make a fine song even better.
1. FM (No Static At All): What’s so great about this song? Everything: the prowling intro full of anticipation, the Jeff Porcaro-led slinky groove, the swaggering lyrics and killer asides by Becker and “Deacon Blues” sax man Pete Christlieb.
5. Cousin Dupree: How can you not like a song about incest which gallops along, has a tasty Walter Becker guitar solo and bass part and has a chorus which goes “ooh ah, ooh wee, how about a kiss for your Cousin Dupree!” The song won a Grammy, too; you can’t say that about any song from Aja.
4. Pretzel Logic: A great altered blues shuffle lead by Jim Gordon on drums, Walter Becker on bass and Walter Becker on solo guitar, who delivers one of his bluesiest and best solos. Lyrically strong, singles don’t get much better than this one.
3. Dallas: The non-album single met to introduce the world to the new Steely Dan. It didn’t succeed, but is still a classic. Jim Hodder, the late drummer delivers an earnest and pleading vocal and keeps solid time. Jeff Baxter gives us an earthy, simple of his pedal steel guitar prowess. The song is a great hint of things to come. No wonder it wasn’t a hit!
2. Bad Sneakers: Sad, tragic and ultimately gripping, the song covers topics near and dear to Becker and Fagen’s hearts: isolation, drug addition, refection and New York City. Somehow the duo with producer Gary Katz and record mixer Denny Dias create a song which stands the test of time, and the outstanding musicianship from everyone involved transforms a great composition to one of their very best.
1. Deacon Blues: “Deacon Blues” isn’t performed much in Steely Dan concerts I suspect because it’s a tough number to play with its multiple chord changes and a horn chart from hell. The original is graced with stellar sax solos from Pete Christlieb and a floating bass part by Becker locked in with a solid drum part by Bernard Purdie. Even in its edited form the song seems too long for pop radio yet it still made the top 20 and is a fan favorite and in this case, the fans are right.