Steely Dan Albums Ranked

Steely Dan is an American rock duo founded in 1972 by core members Walter Becker (guitars, bass, backing vocals) and Donald Fagen (keyboards, lead vocals). Blending rock, jazz, Latin music, reggae, traditional pop, R&B, blues, and sophisticated studio production with cryptic and ironic lyrics, the band enjoyed critical and commercial success starting from the early 1970s until breaking up in 1981. Throughout their career, the duo recorded with a revolving cast of session musicians, and in 1974 retired from live performances to become a studio-only band. Rolling Stone has called them “the perfect musical antiheroes for the Seventies”. After the group disbanded in 1981, Becker and Fagen were less active throughout most of the next decade, though a cult following remained devoted to the group. Since reuniting in 1993, Steely Dan has toured steadily and released two albums of new material, the first of which, Two Against Nature, earned a Grammy Award for Album of the Year. They have sold more than 40 million albums worldwide and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2001. VH1 ranked Steely Dan at #82 on their list of the 100 greatest musical artists of all time. Founding member Walter Becker died on September 3, 2017, leaving Fagen as the sole official member. Here are all Steely Dan albums ranked.

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10. Sun Mountain (1996)

“The reason to listen to this record is to realize that even our heroes of perfection are not perfect, that every great work had to go through rough drafts. The point is that artistic greatness is not out of your reach. Even the most perfectly presented artists were not always perfect. You too can achieve greatness with your limited flawed human ability, and you can verify that by listening to this album. Similar to Beatles demo tapes, if the greatest artists ever are actually only human, jut like you and me, then we too can dare to reach for greatness in our own lives.”

9. Everything Must Go (2003)

“Some of the tunes are so catchy and funky that you would have to be dead not to start moving around. The sidemen are all absolutely ace musicians. The tunes themselves are imaginative, memorable, and highly musical. And there is “that sound” that only Steely Dan has. You know what I mean, and if you don’t, you are in for a musical discovery when you hear this band for the first time. This album is so great from beginning to end that I can’t pick a favorite track. My initial hearings put this it in the same class as anything else they’ve done, at least to these ears. Probably most stylistically similar to “Gaucho” and “The Nightfly” if I had to pick, but with it’s own distinctive flavor.”

8. Two Against Nature (2000)

“”Two Against Nature” features a dynamic, percolating beat and an equally active bass line. “Cousin Dupree” has a good beat too, strong and driving. “Jack Of Speed” and “Negative Girl” are a bit mellow, more exploratory and less structured. The last track, “West Of Hollywood”, is a fugue of 8:21, busy, all over the place. It synthesizes Steely Dan’s stylistic elements, as the final movement of a symphony would synthesize what came before. The lyrics are mostly about relationships, a couple of them good, the majority flawed. “Gaslighting Abbie” opens with “One plush summer you came to me ripe and ready/And bad through and through.” That’s a promising start, and the rest of the song seems to describe a rather surreal vacation at “…a big old place…One summer by the sea.”

7. Gaucho (1980)

“What impressed me about Gaucho was its relaxed feel. It was something that I played before going to sleep and I mean that in the most complimentary way. Anyway, I lost the tape but there was something about it that got inder my skin and Gaucho sat on my mental list of ‘music to purchase for ages.
Since early 1980’s I have heard other Dan stuff (can’t claim to be a Dan ‘head’ but loved Can’t buy a thrill, esp. Elliott Randall’ssuperb guitar work on reelin…. and ‘kings,’ and also loved other bits and pieces like ‘Black Friday’ Show Biz Kids’ Rikki… etc, and by the same token there was a fair bit that I Wasn’t too crazy about (most of ‘aja’ for example…..and I hope some crazed Dan fan doesn’t accuse me of blasphemy!!)……….that’s my ‘Dan’ experience in a larger than intended nutshell”

6. Countdown to Ecstasy (1973)

“COUNTDOWN TO ECSTASY is a masterpiece. It’s Steely Dan’s best album, I’ve always thought, (Donald Fagen agrees with me!) and one of the best pop/rock albums of all time. “Bodhisattva” — what needs to be said? It leads off like a rocket, and you’re in another world, faster, shinier, smarter. “Razor Boy” — a supernaturally clever arrangement, samba with castanets and xylophone, and a dreamy bridge between each of three sets of verse and the chorus:”

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5. Katy Lied (1975)

“”Katy Lied” is up there with “Aja” and “Royal Scam” as my favorite Steely Dan Albums. Excellent production, catchy tunes,weird lyrics, and as always great musicians…you know.. a typical Steely Dan album. Unlike any other group, my favorite Steely Dan song changes all the time (so does my favorite album. Currently, it’s “Dr. Wu”. But, so was “Bad Sneakers” and “Black Friday” off this album.”

4. Can’t Buy A Thrill (1972)

” Without a doubt, though, Can’t Buy a Thrill is my favorite Dan album. It’s just the most fun, in my opinion. While Countdown has some great songs, I’m not going to deny that I have to be a certain mindset to listen to it in its entirety. Thrill probably isn’t the most daring album on their discography, but it makes for pleasant, easy listening in any mood. Every song on this album could have its own review, it’s genuinely hard for me to pick a favorite. From the poppy Do It Again to the soulful Dirty Work and all the way over to Kings, Midnite Cruiser, Only a Fool Would Say That, Reelin’ in the Years, Brooklyn Owes The Charmer, Change of the Guard, Fire in the Hole, and Turn That Heartbeat Over Again, the album never ceases to just be plain old fun to listen to.”

3. Pretzel Logic (1974)

“Pretzel Logic was a huge hit when it was released, but today it tends to be overshadowed by their more musically sophisticated albums like “Aja.” Certainly Becker and Fagen have become a lot more sophisticated in both their playing and arranging since this disc was cut, and the level of musicianship overall has risen, owing to their perfectionism and their use of the finest studio players on both coasts. But there’s something very fresh and exciting about the playing and the songs here. It was the last album they did as a group, with guitarists Jeff Baxter and Denny Dias, and you can hear the sound of the group in transition from the more rock-oriented songs from previous albums, like “Reelin’ In The Years” into their more sophisticated, bop-influenced songs like “Rikki,” which opens with the famous homage to Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father.”.”

2. The Royal Scam (1976)

“Delightful album. While the reviewers said they broke no new ground I say that this album has no B sides. It’s one of the world’s few albums I can play start to finish and not want to by-pass a single track. It’s filled with social commentary, politics and recent events. It has great session players and loads of great keyboard and guitar tracks. If you liked Aja you probably won’t like this much. Aja was way too smooth jazz for my taste while this album is more aggressive rock and other flavors. It exposes jealousy, racism, unsafe sex(? say some about Fez) and good King Richard (?the Title cut as some say it was)”

1. Aja (1977)

“This is without doubt one of the most impressively produced albums of all time,a lavish and succinct demonstration of a band that has found its sound,hits its stride and mastered the studio techno-craft to such an extent that its almost rude! Whilst the Dan may not be everybody’s fave cup of super-snark it cannot be doubted what an achievement of hi-Fi high-pointing this really is,like Floyd’s Dark Side or Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue-you might like other albums more (I personally prefer Dan’s Countdown to ecstasy more) but you will always return to these stereo wet-dreams of pure production perfection.”