In this day and age, bands and musicians defying genres seem to be a very welcome change. But modern-day intellectual hipsters with an avant-garde attitude toward music aren't the first of their kind. Geniuses such as Mozart were rewriting the rules of the game centuries ago. Since then, such greats in the field have lived and still live to this very day. Case and point: Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, better known as the pop/rock/jazz power musical duo, Steely Dan.
Bands like Steely Dan (which is directly taken out of William S. Burroughs' novel, "Naked Lunch") seem to only come around once in a lifetime. And while there were bands before them pushing the envelope as far as rock music was concerned, Fagen and Becker with their group of overly-talented musicians were a welcome change a somewhat stagnant market.
One thing about the power-house discography of songs by the group is its phenomenal ability to defy genres; as well as its apparent inability to stick to one style. Every album produces something unlike the last; Steely's debut album Can't Buy a Thrill sounds very experimental and pop-like, their sophomore record Countdown to Ecstasy was very much less so in addition to sounding more warm and jazzy.
In the fall of 1967, a piano player named Donald Fagen was walking down the hallway of upstate New York's Bard College when he heard somebody playing something along the lines of the jazz style he had admired since he was a lad. Sensing something from the person playing these notes, Fagen felt obligated to introduce himself to this individual. This person was freshman Walter Becker, who upon meeting Donald agreed with him to collaborate on musical projects from there on out.
Initially (and futilely) attempting to get their songs noticed as songwriters in Los Angelos's Brill Building, Fagen and Becker are picked up by Jay and the Americans and by 1970 are playing as backup musicians under the psuedonyms Tristan Fabriani and Gustav Mahler, respectively. The following year, producer Gary Katz recommended the duo are then hired as songwriters for ABC (now MCA) records. Upon which they recruited guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, drummer Jimmy Hodder and vocalist David Palmer to assemble the band Steely Dan and record their first album.
Despite the fact that the band preferred Palmer as the lead singer, Fagen himself sang to more of the tracks on the album; and those songs proved to be the most popular for the group. As such, for the second record, it was decided that Fagen sing all of the tracks albeit his initial lack of confidence in his own voice. Although a critical success, Countdown to Ecstasy was essentially a commercial failure. Tours didn't fare out that well either and after the near-dismal account of 1974's Pretzel Logic tour, Fagen and Becker decided to call touring quits.
By 1975 the band known as Steely Dan had become a studio-exclusive musical group with only Fagen and Becker being the consistent musicians within it. Jeff Baxter and former backup singer/keyboardist, Micheal McDonald had left to join the Doobie Brothers. From there up until 1980 the band produced four more albums, Katy Lied, The Royal Scam, Aja and the sup-par Gaucho.
In 1981 the duo disbanded entirely although Fagen was able to launch a fairly successful solo career upon the release of 1982's The Nightfly; a trilogy which included 1993's Kamakiriad and closed off with 2006's Morph the Cat.
However, as fate would have it Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, upon reuniting with one another in New York City, decide to go back on tour with new musicians in the band. By 1996 new songs were being written and a new album was in the works. The result of another four years of hard work by the band was 2000's Two Against Nature album, which won them four Grammy Awards including Album of the Year; beating out artists like Eminem.
What Donald Fagen, Walter Becker and their little brain-child known as Steely Dan has all but created their place in music history around the world. With a whole new generation listening and appreciating their talent in their chosen field. They have created nothing less than a legacy, and the world of music would be very different if they never came to be.
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