Steely Dan was Thee Consummate anti-garage band of the seventies. Steely Dan’s Walter Becker and Donald Fagen didn’t just polish their LPs; they buffed, burnished, lacquered, and airbrushed them until they were as perfect as Andy Gibbs’ coif. The Kings of Studio Sheen were perfect examples of what could be done if you were willing to spend 4,000 hours creating LPs as high gloss as a Lamborghini just off the assembly line. They produced the most waxed wax this side of insane perfectionist Tom Scholz of Boston, who has been known to spend a good decade spiffing up an LP before it meets his impossibly exacting standards.
Lots of people hate Steely Dan for this—I myself, a big Dan fan, want nothing to do with anything they released after 1976’s The Royal Scam, because they finally took the whole 50,000 coats of lacquer shtick a bit too far, while also moving towards a smooth jazz/pop fusion that left me cold—but I’ll stand by their earlier LPs to the end. Over the course of four years they released five albums that boasted great melodies, brilliant lyrics, and the best studio musicians money could buy, including guitarists Rick “All-American Boy” Derringer, Elliott “Total Fucking Genius” Randall, and Larry Carlton, which is why you’ll search in vain for a mediocre guitar solo on a Steely Dan record. They had impeccable tastes in ringers.
The Steely Dan story is familiar to most; Becker and Fagen met at ultra-liberal arts Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York (where I once spent a weekend so dissipated that when I left my pal Dan, a Bard student, was pissing blood), formed a band they named after a dildo from William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, and in 1972 put out debut Can’t Buy a Thrill, which turned them into overnight sensations thanks to its songs “Do It Again” and “Reelin’ in the Years.” (I remember my eighth grade English teacher, a young and pretty flower child type, playing them for the class as examples of the “groovy new poetry” being “dug” by young people).