Steely Dan: The Complete Guide to Their Music
by Brian Sweet
Donald Fagen and Walter Becker spent the better part of their musical careers reveling in riddles, producing quixotic, precisely executed music with sharply pointed (if sometimes cryptic) lyrics. For decades, interviews with hapless journalists yielded few clues to what they were up to as the duo preferred to use the press to obscure rather than to shed light on their intentions. Dan fetishist and author Brian Sweet has provided a slim but muscular volume in Steely Dan: The Complete Guide to Their Music, a companion to his biography Reeliní in the Years.
The rock press has often unfairly criticized Steely Dan for their lack of reverence for the rock and roll ethos, demonstrated by a commitment to extremely crafted production, polished musicianship, artfully complex songwriting and arrangements and lyrics that have more in common with Beat generation aesthetics than the latest ďbaby, baby, wanna rock you all night long.Ē In recent years, considerable legions of devoted fans and the changing times have forced some critics to reevaluate Fagen and Beckerís work as an unjustly underrated satirical and musical force that was, during its heyday, very much a reflection of its time, yet has aged well and has much to say to newer generations of listeners. Serious scrutiny of their work is long overdue. This book offers a quick reference guide to all things Dan.
Long kept secrets about personnel and subject matter of songs are peppered with a condensed biography of the entity known as Steely Dan, complete with an assortment of photographs, a track-by-track rundown and an utterly complete discography. Although itís clear that Sweet has a predilection for the bandís earlier work, by and large, editorial comment is fair and balanced.
For those fans who canít get enough information from the small stream that his trickled down over the years, this volume is a welcome addition to the bandís cannon of fact and folklore. For those who remain skeptical about Steely Danís relevance and impact, Sweetís book may provide some inklings of what theyíve been missing.
Read NT's review of Steely Dan's Everything Must Go.