Steely Dan Songs 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 songs ranked.

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20. Doctor Wu (Katy Lied, 1975)

“Doctor Wu is one of my favorite songs by them, but the rest of the album just kinda falls flat. While it is extremely disappointing to me, as is their previous album Pretzel Logic, it was followed by one of my favorite albums, the redeeming The Royal Scam.”

19. Dirty Work (Rainbow (Live), 2013)

“Dirty Work” is their best song and maybe it’s because they had someone else sing. “Reelin’ In The Years” is just not all that impressive to my ears. The lyrics are plain and straightforward, the melody and playing are warm and dulcet

18. Don’t Take Me Alive (The Royal Scam, 1976)

“Don’t Take Me Alive” has the same bleak sound as the weaker stuff, but it’s bolstered by such a strong chorus and such invigorated performances – that’s part of the thing, “Green Earrings” and “Everything You Did” sound downright lifeless to me – that it makes the others redundant.”

17. Bodhisattva (Countdown to Ecstasy, 1973)

“Although the Dan had smoothed out their sound to its fullest extent by this point, they keep their acrid sense of humor intact, penning a smooth margarita-sippin’ yacht-pop classic that just happens to actually be a bit of sarcastic commentary about intergenerational emotional disconnect and hard drugs. If this song were a person, it wouldn’t walk, it would glide across surfaces like an ice-skater.”

See more: Steely Dan Albums Ranked

16. The Caves of Altamira (The Royal Scam, 1976)

“”The Caves of Altamira” is downright sweet and nostalgic, with a great chorus and the kind of elaborate horn chart that would’ve added a little coloring to something like “The Fez.”

15. My Old School (Countdown to Ecstasy, 1973)

“The song is about a man that does not want to go back to his last school and they made it catchy. They were like we cant go back to that place, but we can make some great songs about it.”

14. The Fez (The Royal Scam, 1976)

“So beautiful, I could listen to this song non stop… So full of heart, so full of love and so full of soul. Amazing! It stops my heart every single time”

13. Haitian Divorce (The Royal Scam, 1976)

“The talk-box’d guitar sure makes “Haitian Divorce” stand out on The Royal Scam, but at its heart the song is truly and utterly Steely Dan. The lyrics read like a checklist: an unhappy relationship, alcohol, infidelity; arbitrary order. But the minutiae are, as always with our two master class songwriters, elegantly constructed and intriguing.”

12. Peg (Aja, 1977)

““Peg” is Steely Dan in less inscrutable mode with a fairly easy to follow lyric which can read as a fan-letter to a would-be movie starlet. Then again, those of us with an interest in tales of Old Hollywood might superimpose the sad story of Peg Entwistle, a celebrated stage actress of the 20’s whose first Hollywood film appearance so disappointed her that she took her own life by throwing herself from the top of the “H” in the famous Hollywood sign itself.”

11. Any Major Dude Will Tell You (Pretzel Logic, 1974)

“Classy tune from Steely Dan, with a lyric that for once you don’t need a nerd’s dictionary to understand. The production is classy, even if it lacks the mysterious flapamba introduction on the album version, with the jazz-chords piano, Jeff Baxter’s runaround guitar solo plus I particularly like the sheen of the little bursts of marimba which are dropped in.”

10. Black Cow (Aja, 1977)

“Pretty good tune, but the hooks aren’t quite as strong as their best work. Also, the opening jazzy bit (which is repeated near the end) seems spliced in from a different song.”

9. FM (FM, 1978)

“I like the music here, it reminds me of the good parts of the job. Sometimes the best thing to come out of a movie is the soundtrack. That is the case here. Long live the music of FM radio.”

8. Rikki Don’t Lose that Number (Pretzel Logic, 1974)

“Here’s one of those songs I know I’m supposed to like. I mean, it’s pop but done by really smart guys, complete with intelligent lyrics and a lot intricate stuff going on, so what more could you ask for, Karnie? “

See more: Todd Rundgren Albums Ranked

7. Aja (Aja, 1977)

“Blissful fusion of A.O.R. and contemporary jazz, featuring a chopsticks-type interlude and climaxing with drummer Steve Gadd demonstrating his chops with his sticks. It’s a cool, quiet, drizzly September Sunday.  This song sounds great today.  I don’t care for it much the other day/month/weather combinations though.”

6. Hey Nineteen (Gaucho, 1980)

“Hey Nineteen is one of the Gaucho album’s more self-aware characters in that he at least obliquely acknowledges that he’s pathetically out of his element hitting on barely-legal girls but, this being a Steely Dan song, he just shrugs and figures he might as well try and entice her with drugs and alcohol and hope for the best.”

5. Kid Charlemagne (The Royal Scam, 1976)

“I always loved this song and had a rough idea of what the song was about. The opening bars of the song capture the danger and excitement of making and dealing in drugs brilliantly. I really like the song for the exquisite melody and harmony it contains. Larry Carlton’s solo is rightly regarded as one of the greatest ever. I never get tired of listening to it.”

4. The Royal Scam (The Royal Scam, 1976)

“”The Royal Scam” is more guitar-lumbered than their past and successive entries, and such work enhances the vitriolic subject matter. Nearly all of the songs are applicable today in spite of their 1976 carbon date….an ostracized counter-cultural icon, a brain-snapped sniper who murders a relative and proceeds to hold off a SWAT team, a warning regarding safe sex and immigrants coming to America and ending up on skid row.”

3. Reelin’ in the Years (Can’t Buy a Thrill, 1972)

“Clever lyrics, great guitar playing. A lot of the songs from the “Aja” album are good, but this one is still my favorite. This is one song that always makes me cry.”

2. Deacon Blues (Aja, 1977)

“The music is ace, from the descending keyboard intro, which always suggests to me going down the steps to a favourite, secret night club, the desultory acoustic guitar melody and right on cue a smoky sax solo, this is the H.M.S. Britannia of yacht rock.”

1. Do It Again (Can’t Buy a Thrill, 1972)

“The arty, jazzy Steely Dan might not have appealed to angry, alienated youth, but their best songs combine lush soundscapes with insightful lyrics. Far from being boring, Do It Again is unusually elegant and poised- a thoroughly addictive song about the myriad forms of human addiction. And it’s all set to a cha-cha rhythm.”