Why Don’t I Like Steely Dan?

Stay with me here:

 

Music is my life. Always has been. In high school, I was the guy with over 200 tapes. By college, I was always having to buy more blank cassettes, walking down the dorm hallways copying everything I could get my hands on. Today I can’t leave the house without 3,441 of my favorite songs on my iPod. I fall in love with new (or “new to me”) songs on a regular basis, and I’m always desperately looking for songs to fall in love with, artists to collect, catalogs to complete.

 

So why don’t I like Steely Dan? If you looked at my music collection, you’d expect to see them. They have much of what I like: impeccable musicianship, sophisticated and complicated (but not too complicated) songs and structures, a more intellectual bent than standard 70s rock fare. I definitely should like them, but… I don’t. I respect them, I completely understand that the quality of their stuff is first-rate, but… well…. I’m not sure if they leave me cold, or if I find them pretentious (imagine that), or what, but I don’t care for them. I’ll even say it: they suck.

And I don’t enjoy saying that. It makes me suspect that I am the one missing the boat. Their stuff is so high-brow, so universally lauded, that something must be wrong with me. Right? And yet, there it is: they suck.

This kind of bugs me. I give them every opportunity. Last night I finished – after three attempts – watching a Tivo’d episode of “Classic Albums” on their landmark “Aja” record from 1977. I wanted to finally find the last piece of the puzzle, find that missing “something” that I had been overlooking all those years. I wasn’t “getting” them, that must be it, so I’d let the “experts” take me by the hand and lead me through the process and explain to me why Steely Dan was as great as everybody has always said they are.

Looking up from the new Harry Potter book, Michelle didn’t know how to respond to this. “Steely Dan? I thought you hated them?” she said. “I don’t hate them,” I replied. “Yes, you do,” she said, “you say they suck.” “Well, yeah, I mean I do hate them,” I replied, “but, you know, they’re great.”

She went back to her book and I kept watching. And waiting. And guess what? There was no “missing piece.” Nothing I had overlooked. I did “get them,” but I still don’t like them. They still suck.

But not really. I mean, they’re good but I don’t like them. More precisely, I don’t love them, and that’s what I think I’m getting at here. There is plenty for me to respect and admire in Steely Dan, plenty for me to like, but, try as I have all these years, I never find anything there to love. I have never found anything to emotionally connect to with in Steely Dan. And, until recently, that has never been a requirement for me. But somehow, somewhere in there, it became one. A big one. Somewhere in there my tastes, my reason for listening to music or seeing movies or looking at art, went from an intellectual interest to learn about stuff to a need to emotionally engage with something, to fall in love. It is fine to respect and admire something, but that is not enough anymore. My response to Random Question #3 notwithstanding, it appears that I may have changed. Possibly.

Why am I thinking about this? After having this realization I looked back on the stuff I have written as well as the stuff I am writing now. I can clearly see some stuff that is fine and interesting and maybe even respectable, but which gives us nothing to fall in love with. And when I think of the stuff I am most proud of and ask myself WHY it is I am proud of it, and I can’t really explain, I think that is what it comes to: I am in love with it, and more importantly other people have fallen in love with it too. There is an emotional attachment there.

But how do you get that thing in there, how do you make that thing that people will fall in love with and put it in your work? How do I make Dead Guy a more engaging and satisfying experience than Steely Dan? Now there is much more at stake than “getting the story to work.” Suddenly the only thing that matters is that emotional attachment.

But emotional attachment… to what? The easy answer is “the characters” but that’s not really it. It’s part of it, yes, but not the whole thing. There are movies I love, but not because the characters are sympathetic or easy for me to identify with, or any of those things you find in screenwriting bibles. The story and the theme are important too, but again, not the whole answer. It’s like falling in love with a person – appearance, yes, intelligence, yes, personality, definitely – but you don’t fall in love with everyone you meet that has all three. We’ve all had people that were “perfect” for us, that friends and family couldn’t believe we weren’t crazy about, that we just weren’t that interested in. Like Steely Dan.

So… what exactly do I do with these new revelations? Beats me. But the one thing I cannot do is forget them.

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50 Responses to Why Don’t I Like Steely Dan?

  1. Kristen says:

    I haven’t checked out Steely Dan, but I’ve seen indications that I *might* like them. Someday maybe.

    Recently I’ve dabbled back into early Genesis actually. Netflix has documentaries with critical commentary and vintage performance footage. It’s wild to see them so young. I would totally hang out with cool people like that. And Gabriel is so pretty! I bought both “Inside Genesis” DVDs- 1970-5 and 1975-80.

    Oh man, Eraserhead just came up on my Recommendations in Netflix. Wow. Does that make it mainstream now? 😉

  2. Jay says:

    Steely is good. You suck. Admit it.

  3. Robb says:

    How much Steely Dan do you own? My guess is zero, sucka.

  4. seehoweasy says:

    I hated them for years. But they’ve been one of my all-time favorite bands for about a decade now. I was reading about them in the Los Angeles Times in 1994, and the article quoted “Only A Fool Would Say That.” I hadn’t heard the song, but the lyric was “everybody on the street has murder in their eyes.” Spoke to me. I did a deep investigation and discovered that almost everything they say is sarcastic. From their own book, REELING IN THE YEARS: “If, upon finishing a song, we didn’t return to the hotel and roar with laughter, there was a failure somewhere.” This I liked.

    I could go on and on, but I won’t Except to say I know what it feels like to HATE them. And to LOVE them. I’m glad I love them now. Makes life more enjoyable. And happily, Steely Dan doesn’t care too much about what you and I think.

  5. Mikjel says:

    You must be the first person i know of who has given a respectable answer to why not like steely dan. Usualy people just don’t get it, they either don’t listen closely and stapels them as lame and cheesy, or they just don’t get the great lyrical and musical happenings in each and every song (or should i say masterpiece?).
    I, myself am steely dan fan untill death do us apart… but though i can not seem to understand what you miss in their music, i fully respect it (as peoples conscious and sub-conscious decisions are diverse and complex).

    (not that i think there is much chance that you will see this; and in that case, give a rat’s molested ass about what som Norwegian kid thinks about all this)

  6. Robb says:

    Mikjel – I read all the comments. Thanks for posting!

  7. The Bink says:

    I never understand why someone goes to the length of saying an artist sucks, blows, stinks, and so forth. I’m not defending anyone in particular. And it’s not a matter of hurt feelings or anything like that. It’s just that when a piece of art is created from the heart and/or mind how could some truly have license to deem that it sucks? It either speaks to you or it doesn’t and you move on. This is like a Red Sox fan screaming about how bad the Yankees suck (there’s that word again), when in reality this fan is probably incapable of ever playing major league baseball himself. Ya buys ya ticket…. ya takes ya chances.

  8. richardrw says:

    I have all their albums and have much admired the Dan from the start. Their excellence in songwriting and musicianship can’t be denied, and their first few were undoubtedly glorious albums. But a band who shunned live performance, and who hired session musicians as soon as their second album were always headed into oveproduction, where the connection at an emotional level is lost. They lost it for me from Aja onwards when I thought they became slick and soulless. Also I entirely agree with Robb that it is often hard to make an emotional connection to the music. The subject matter, the world weary, impenetrable lyrics and the general cynicism, which is referred to by seehoweasy above, make the listening often less than rewarding. Also, to tell the truth Donald Fagen’s voice always grated with me. It’s too nasal and smart-alec in tone for my taste.

  9. amera says:

    I don’t know how to musically explain it; I just like Steely Dan. I liked the sound of Steely Dan way before I knew the back-story to their situation or owned their records OR even completely linked all the pieces to the same band. To me, it sounds good, like something that would tear me away from a conversation just to listen more closely – every time. Which is all why, with all due respect, I don’t/can’t understand your position. ???

  10. D says:

    Listen to something like Razor Boy or Dirty Work. I appreciate and love music just as much as you, but I fail to see how someone who seems to have such a rich musical background can’t love those songs (or the majority of Steely Dan’s other work).
    Anyways, they certainly do not “suck”. Just because you don’t find them appealing doesn’t mean they suck. They are brilliant musicians and songwriters. They are complete perfectionists in the studio.
    Hopefully you’ll see my point, but if not, we’re all friends here 🙂
    Keep loving music 😛

  11. Jay says:

    I totally agree with you Robb. I have always disliked the music of Steely Dan immensely. The only song I liked, somewhat, was “Reelin’ in the Years”, because I thought it was a Thin Lizzy song until I was old enough to know better. Even then, I thought it the worst Thin Lizzy song of all.

    The relative indifference I felt for them turned to disrespect when they accused Owen Wilson of ripping off a character from their song “Cousin Dupree” for use in the movie “You, Me, & Dupree” (ref: http://www.steelydan.com/heyluke.html). Pretentious douchebags. It’s a completely different medium, and hardly the same character. At the most, it was an homage. They should really get over themselves.

  12. Darryl says:

    You are right. Steely Dan does suck. I can’t figure it out, either. They belong in the same column as Todd Rundgren that way. Great musicianship, well-crafted songs, but…there’s something missing. I think the songs are emotionally aloof and fail to connect with hard-edged listeners.

    I had a brief affair with a woman fifteen years older than me. A total product of the 70s…selfish, pretentious, faux-worldly. Her two favorite bands? Steely Dan and Todd Rundgren.

  13. bobby the K says:

    I can’t stand Steely Dan either. When I was younger and more naive, I bought their album with Reeling in the Years, and touted them as great only because others said they were such talented professionals. I remember the blurb on the album stating they were revolutionary, similar to when Steve Windwood came out with his album in the eighties, he was labeled as a child prodigy. But looking back as a youngster, I recall the feelings of, “Man, I don’t know, this feels dull, but maybe I don’t know because I’m not a professional musician.” Now I’m more aware of the corporate crap and self-promotion. I’m not saying all corporate crap is bad, but this is polished nonsense. It’s like that painting, I think called “The Tempest” or “The Storm”, with the perfect looking boy and girl running from a storm. The guy painted like your “supposed to” and did all the right things to make the professors and academics of the time go ga ga, but it didn’t stand the test of time because there wasn’t an edge of realness, just polish. That’s how I feel about Steely Dan.

  14. Julian says:

    You are obviously grovelling far too long here. Okay, I get the picture, you know music, you’re probably intelligent too. But, you don’t like Steely Dan, “they suck” you say. Let me reassure you there is nothing to grovel about. The best bands will have thier fare share of ‘haters’. Why? Because of thier unique flavor and vibe to someone will be like petting a cat backwards to another. And, I find ‘haters’ of the Dan, interesting, but, you are like that Talking Heads song. “When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed, Say something once, why say it again”.

    I may interject, that the reason you “hate” the Dan is that you love repetition, as evident in your blog. A Steely Dan song is anything but repetious they certainly are like no other band and thier songs are not like another of thier songs.

    So, there it is. That’s my take on it.

  15. slavicdiva says:

    I will admit it: I loathe Steely Dan. Loathe them to the point that the first note of any Steely Dan song causes me to flip up from XM46 to XM49 and whatever is on there.

    Frankly, I don’t see any evidence of impeccable musicianship or sophisticated songs – just overuse of one cheesy chord, and lots of slick production. I could almost tolerate “Rikki don’t lose that number,” but just barely. Now, even that grates. Too much of their stuff sounds like Larry the Lounge Lizard music to me.

    I hate their lyrics. Learn to work the saxophone? Dude, you don’t *work* the saxophone, you *play* the saxophone – if playing the sax is work, you shouldn’t be doing it. Admittedly, I am a word-nerd, and lots of pop lyrics annoy me – but none so much as theirs.

    Then there’s Donald Fagen’s voice. I find it very annoying, and his odd vocal mannerisms make me want to throw stuff against the wall. I think the comparison with Todd Rundgren is right on. Cheesy, limited in range, and not quite up to par. Certainly not in the league of Justin Heyward, Steven Tyler, Robert Plant or Geoff Tate.

  16. Mr. Razzio says:

    Listen, none of this garbage matters.

    Crack a beer, throw some shit on the grill, and put on “Can’t Buy a Thrill”.

    Come post after you’ve done that.

  17. Jonathan Birch says:

    My my, what have we here? Steely Dan haters?

    To be honest, you don’t really have the right to dislike a band unless you know them. And my god, you people don’t know them.

    Listen to Baxter’s guitar on their first three records. It certainly works for me.

    Better yet, take a listen to ‘Fire in the Hole’, easily a solid reason why Steely Dan were so lauded at first. Then came Aja. Alot of folks don’t seem to like Aja. You know why? Because it’s jazz. Lots of folks don’t seem to like jazz.

    Seems you don’t get their sense of humour either.

    You, Jay, commented about Steely Dan accusing Owen Wilson of plagarizing their work for a film. If you can’t clearly see the sarcasm behind their letter (or Owen’s reply, for that matter, who clearly got the joke) then you have no business talking about SD in the first place.

    And slavicdiva, it seems you are unable to grasp the intentions of their lyrics for Deacon Blues.

    I’ll learn to work the saxophone
    I’ll play just what I feel
    Drink Scotch whisky all night long
    And die behind the wheel

    The near perfect description of a jazz musician’s life. They have a connection with the very heart and soul of the genre.

    And lastly, as Mr. Razzio said, you can enjoy SD two ways. Admire their musical sophistication, become languid at the sound of their craftmanship…. or you can simply kick back and play their records on a summer’s day, margarita close by.

    And finally, I leave all you non-believers with their performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test form 1973.

  18. The Artist Formerly Known As Shemp says:

    There is one, and only one, reason to appreciate Steely Dan.

    Without their bloated, pretentious, pseudo-jazz noodling, who would have inspired punk?

  19. notlikeothergirls says:

    I’m in LOVE with Steely Dan & Donald Fagen’s strangely sexy voice.

    http://www.last.fm/user/felinefan

  20. nolikeethedan says:

    Yes, they are able to proficiently play their instruments and keep time. But whence comes this universal willingness to bow to the artistic integrity of their wheezy, toothless faux jazz/rock parody? This is the music you hear in frat houses when the brothers are trying to put on a sophisticated air–a modern day equivalent of putting on Hefner-style dressing gowns and smoking pipes.

    Btw I found this page by googling I HATE STEELY DAN. Was exposed against my will to them last night. Diarrhea and vomiting this morn…

  21. Adam says:

    Steely Dan really does suck. Their music is average, and so are their lyrics, which really makes them as unimpressive as any other average band. So, I guess you’re saying why do they suck if they are average? They suck because they are musically and lyrically average and they are so conceited, they act as if their “average” music just cured cancer or magically made my penis bigger. Enough said.

    • notlikeothergirls says:

      Average? Are you kidding me…average people don’t have Wayne Shorter playing on their albums,average people don’t use chord progressions associated with jazz.
      What do you know about music…you probably listen to the mess that is polluting our airwaves today..crap like Kanye West,Katy Perry and Nikki Minaj.

  22. Ginny says:

    You seem like a very earnest kid questioning the world and his beliefs. BTW, I just read your “please read my diary” section. What are you, like 15? That could explain a lot.But seriously, Thin Lizzy with their “expert use” of the wah-wah pedal over Steely Dan. I realize you have a very limited understanding of the world, but please understand this: you cannot say that you respect someone and still say that they “suck”. The two are mutually exclusive (look it up). It’s still a real, heavy insult. With Steely Dan, from what I understand, their work was never predicated on “getting that thing in there”, as you say, that would “make people fall in love” with their creative output. I don’t really know what you’re looking for in music. You say you like “sophisticated and complicated (but not too complicated)”, whatever that means. Could be Steely Dan is just a little too complicated for you. For now. Perhaps, after you’ve grown up a little, you could revisit the Dan and experience them in a different light. And I do mean light, as in illumination.

  23. HOLT says:

    Maybe you can’t connect with Steely Dan because you understand their music just enough to know that they have no use for you.

    I like them because they have a way of looking at people and situations that I can identify with. If you’re not the type who sits in the back of the class or meeting room, resisting bullshit through jokes and sarcasm, then I can understand the failure to bond with them.

    I like the array of instruments that they use, and I love the way they record them. I like the space and dynamic range. I appreciate the effort they put into the recording and writing process. Some of the melodies that they discovered still blow my mind every time I hear them. The horns at the end of “The Caves of Altamira” always get me. I wish I could hang them on my wall like a painting, somehow.

    I have lots of reasons for loving Steely Dan and believing that they don’t suck, but who cares? If you don’t connect with them, that’s cool. Part of their charm is that they have a somewhat limited audience. Widespread acceptance isn’t what determines whether something has quality or not.

    Whoever it was who mentioned “just slick production and overuse of one cheesy chord”, thanks for the laugh. No reverb + well placed microphones = slick production? They sound about the same live. Explain that. That cheesy chord you refer to must be the Mu Major. It sounds awesome and most bands don’t even know it exists or how to make use of it, but whatever. They use a wide variety of chords because they like the sound, and because they can. It’s a little amusing that you praise Tate and Perry, and at the same time seem to claim to be an acceptable judge of musicianship and songcraft. Whatever. Good night.

  24. Party Piper says:

    Steely Dan is an artist I can’t stand. High brow, well crafted blah blah blah. I don’t care about this, and I’m a trained classical musician. They are the only band whose music causes an automatic uptick in my blood pressure. I equally hate their writing. If it’s well crafted, I feel it’s been crafted to piss me off.

  25. HOLT says:

    What is it that pisses you off? It seems bizarre that of all the bands in the world, Steely Dan would be the one to piss someone off. They haven’t been anywhere close to mainstream in decades. They aren’t on the radio much. They have not and never will go viral. Without some kind of explanation, I just have to consider the last post to be trolling. Outside of Steely Dan’s followers, they barely exist.

  26. mark jones says:

    People seem to forget that Steely Dan was like the alternative band of that time in music and most of their stuff is not guitar/rock dominated. I think these are 2 of the main reasons they don’t get the respect they deserve. The other main reason is the same as with alot of other bands, you’re probably judging them on a few of their songs (radio stuff like deacon blues, rikki,do it again and reeling) and have no clue that these are not their best songs and never will until u give them a REAL chance. I **cking hated Steely dan when i was growing up and thought they sucked and if music wasn’t heavy and rocking out, it was worthless. If it didn’t sound like my music, it sucked. How immature! They may not be the best band in the history of music, but there are alot worse bands out there, present and past. Finally, music is not intended to be analyzed like a psychiatric patient, it is intended to be LISTENED to and if you do not get that emotional reward from it, toss it aside, don’t criticize it.

    • Bob Price says:

      Steely Dan was like the alternative rock band of that time ? Huh? “alternative” music just beginning around that time and it was called Punk and New Wave and Steely Dan was considered neither, but they were considered boring and slick hippie fusion whatever by people like me.

      Steely Dan, Frank Zappa and the Grateful Dead I will never get as long as I live.

  27. mookie says:

    I just want to know what all of these people are basing their reasons for hating them on. I bet none of them has ever listened to anything that wasn’t played on the radio (and we all know how awesome it is to base a band’s music on what the radio stations select to play over and over again). There are way worse bands, present and past, to hate on and you keep contradicting yourself when u say u hate them, but have respect for them. What do u respect about them? I know exactly what u mean about not getting any emotional rewards from listening to them, but what bands do you listen to that get u satisfied. Finally, why does the guy in the previous post even mention he’s trained in classical music, most people would fall asleep at a concert if they had to listen to that, but steely dan sucks? Get real! Just learn how to use certain music in certain situations. You probably would not want to listen to Steely at a younger aged party, but if you just want a calming, soothing night of music, they’re perfect. Just saying

  28. oconnor says:

    Well ther are always critics who cant ilike some one eleses music,stee dan is great music and you know it those who cant critisize love peace and joy to you!

  29. Jason says:

    I listen to steely dan every day, i feel like the music was made for me. Some of my friends don’t like it and i understand, its complex with lots of metaphors and that’s difficult for people.

  30. Jesse says:

    You’re right, they suck. And you should feel no shame in saying it. In your opinion (and in mine, though that’s not really important) they suck. Hard. There is nothing wrong with not liking art of any kind by anyone. The people who respond to the question, “What kind of music do you like?” with “I like everything” make my skin crawl. The only worse answer is, “I like everything…except Country”. My feeling towards these people is that they’ve probably never had a true emotion, love or hate, in their entire lives. I love music. I play music for a living and I have no interest to do anything else, neither professionally nor recreationally. The music that I love affects me on a level deeper than anything else in life ever has. That being said, I still find roughly 98% of the music that’s ever been recorded completely unlistenable. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Different people find power and connection in different types of art. My sneaking suspicion is that most people never expand their horizons enough to find the things that they would appreciate the most, but that’s just a guess and I’m not about to start telling people they need to listen to what I like instead of that shit they like just on the chance that it’s actually possible for someone to have “better” taste than someone else and that I am the only one who really knows the true quality of anything. So yes, Steely Dan sucks. I’m not going to put “I think” before every statement I make the rest of my life. Everything every one of us says is something that we think. If you can’t be comfortable with the fact that you are an individual and that you don’t need to share every opinion of every other person on the planet, you’re fucked.

  31. colB says:

    I’ll take a guess at why a lot of people don’t like Steely Dan.
    Steely Dan’s music is subversive. It undermines peoples expectations and preconceptions. If you’re the kind of person who believes naively in the ‘American dream’ or similar, then this music is threatening in a subtle and insideous way. It is biting social satire heavy with bitter irony very carefully disguised as exactly the kind of manufactured easy listening pop that was (at the time) the ‘product’ of the culture they were satirizing. It’s trojan horse music. Some folks will never be comfortable with this as a legitimate art form. Personally, I love it. Way more subversive and alternative than the sex pistols ever were (I love the pistols as well btw).

    Another way to think about it is: Steely Dan is for music what ‘The Office’ and ‘curb’ are for comedy. Some people hate those shows because they don’t like to feel uncomfortable – being made to cringe and feel a personal association with the embarrassment of the characters. But if you can handle that and get over it, the pay off is huge 🙂

  32. James says:

    The internet is amazing. I just tried to watch the “Classic Recordings: Steely Dan Aja” documentary on Netflix, just to give them one more shot. Then, I googled “Steely Dan” sucks and find a blogger in the same situation.

    The “situation” is that I love music and really get into cult bands that fall outside of the norm. I like progressive and I like complicated. I’m also a multi-intrumentalist who loves to hear a musician do something new and interesting that I haven’t thought of. Jethro Tull (particularly the progressive mid 70’s period) is one of my favorites. I also get a boner for the complicated syncopated rhythms of Indian Classical and flamenco.

    I’ve had so many people tell me to check out Steely Dan that I almost feel like there’s something wrong with me for thinking they are a gross mixture of the worst parts of three genres that I like, jazz, R&B and funk. It’s audio nausea to me On paper, they are great, but the sum of the parts sounds like smooth-jazz. At best they sound like “Yacht Rock” from the late 70’s/early 80’s. Is that Micheal McDonald on vocals?

    I also like lyrics, but I’ve come to the understanding that I don’t care about the message if the music is bad. That’s the magic of music. You like the music, you like it even more for the lyrics. Music comes first.

    Now that I watched that documentary, I realize that part of the problem is that they aren’t really a “band”. Two guys hiring session musicians that are playing pre-determined parts from sheet music with no improvisation or rubbing off of the individual musician’s personality is usually going to sound sterile and bland. It sounds like they are perfectionists in the wrong way, like The Eagles. Also, whoever made that comment that this music isn’t repetitive is full of it. This is not genius songwriting. Yeah, there are some jazz chord progressions. So what? It’s not that rare.

    Just listening to that saxophone ending the verses of “Peg” evokes a certain feeling that isn’t pleasant.

    • holt says:

      So just say you don’t like them and move on. Your rationalizations for why you don’t like them are as meaningful to me as Steely Dan lyrics are to you.

      Doing vocals for Steely Dan is how Michael McDonald began his career, so yeah, that’s McDonald on vocals. Steely Dan filled a small niche in music that someone had to fill, and they did it well. I also am a big progressive rock fan, especially Tull, but once in a while Steely Dan is exactly what I want to listen to.

      FYI, their best songs aren’t the ones you hear on the radio. Also, you implied that they just hand out sheet music to session guys and call it good. That’s not how it was done at all. They would bring in separate groups of session players so they could hear different interpretations of the music. The session guys made significant creative contributions. No, they aren’t really a band. Not all music has to be created by a full and consistent band lineup. The Wall turned out ok,and it was done in pretty much the same manner Aja was.

  33. Dan Kapper says:

    Hi, i also ended up here by googling for opinions about that SD band. I’ve enjoyed reading all comments….

    Something seriously scared me about the remark you made on not needing an emotional connection with music in order to like it.
    That freaked me out, man. :


    I have never found anything to emotionally connect to with in Steely Dan. And, until recently, that has never been a requirement for me. But somehow, somewhere in there, it became one. A big one. Somewhere in there my tastes, my reason for listening to music or seeing movies or looking at art, went from an intellectual interest to learn about stuff to a need to emotionally engage with something, to fall in love. It is fine to respect and admire something, but that is not enough anymore””

    Glad to hear that you seem to have found out that such a connection does matter to you, now.

    Between the lines in some of the comments i suspect plain snobbery or hipsterism is the basis of their supposed taste.
    Poor things, someday you will hate yourself, i predict.

    As for myself, i know too little of SD, will give it a listen, but from what i’ve read about their supposed intellectualism, cynicism, black irony and ‘perfect musicianship over rockshow’ and ‘great lyrics’, that’s something that puts me off at least a little. I just don’t like storytellers and too smart-for-you-sarcasm in music.

  34. Boots McGee says:

    You can’t connect with Steel Dan emotionally because Steely Dan doesn’t care about you. That’s the whole point.

  35. joe says:

    Steely Dan is the inevitable end product of people who’ve never experienced real hardship mimicking the forms and styles of people who have.

    There is no rage, anger or sadness in any of their songs. There is only inconvenience, irony and casual lamentation.

    Don’t get me wrong: the music of Steely Dan definitely has a place in popular music, but it’s not a place I’d ever like to be.

  36. TD says:

    This was, by far, the most mature and enlightening discussion I have come across in debating the “suckiness” of a band.

    Usually, it’s just comments like “Fuck Steely Dan!” or “Steely Dan fucking sucks!” or “Listening to Steely Dan makes my bone marrow hurt,” and so on.

    But everyone (beginning with the author) has made their points cordially and obviously with much thought. Kudos to each and everyone of you. It reaffirms my belief – despite our frequent and inevitable transgressions- in the goodness of our society.

    That being said, fuck Steely Dan! They fucking suck!! Listening to them makes my fucking bone marrow hurt!!!

  37. candy says:

    omg!!! i dont like Steely Dan either, but my boyfriend loves them… I have tried to listen to them to understand n get into that space my boyfriend is in but it’s not going to happen… I do like the song Peg… but that’s as far as it goes for me…. my boyfriend wants us to listen to Steely every chance we get… but i had to let him know Steely is Not for me…. :/ … n after reading this i dont feel so bad…. n yeah Im sorry but they do suck!!!

  38. Peter says:

    “Steely Dan is the inevitable end product of people who’ve never experienced real hardship mimicking the forms and styles of people who have.

    There is no rage, anger or sadness in any of their songs. There is only inconvenience, irony and casual lamentation.

    Don’t get me wrong: the music of Steely Dan definitely has a place in popular music, but it’s not a place I’d ever like to be.”

    Thank you for this answer and many of the others for helping me understand why this band’s music often makes my skin crawl. I am a musician and lover of a very wide range of music – some of it even has METAPHORS in it and is COMPLEX I thunk.

    This evening I went to a really proficient Steely Dan tribute band to try and rid myself of this strange prejudice I have. but no, even though the musicians were great and even though those SD guys have some great beats and fascinating musical arrangements and melodies and their albums are beautifully produced my own personal hell would be a locked room with the Steely Dan discography stuck on a loop.

    I can’t quite decide whether I’m just dyslexic about steely Dan or whether they really are just sh1t.

    No really I think they are sh1t I just can’t cope with anyone thinking I am not capable of understanding the rich textures of those 11th and 13th chords and those sardonic yet deeply meaningful and metaphorical lyrics. Oh me oh my, what if I am dumb after all.

    I think it’s time to form a dark and sinister anti steely Dan cult.

  39. C says:

    I can’t stand them. I’d rather listen to 3,967 hours of terrorized pig squealing. I’ve tried, I’ve, actually, made an effort to appreciate, I have all the albums and spent many hours listening, researching and pondering, but i truly hate them. I’m happy to know that I’m not alone, thrilled to find your old post and feelin’ kinda crappy because I’ve wasted so much time trying to like them. Ugh!!! Nostalgia has to be the only force strong enough to bring everyone into their orbit of crap. Get over your nostalgic youths and admit that they suck.

  40. Shay says:

    The main reason why I can’t listen to their music is because they (intentionally) record it ‘dry’ and ‘dead’ sounding especially the drums. No room sound, dead air you can’t hear the ebb and flow of a ‘live’ vibe except maybe more so on their first album. Also, they have a million session musicians, I mean it’s overkill. Led Zeppelin had 4 guys that covered everything (including production) and experimental recording techniques to enhance the listener experience (Wish You Were Here Record another amazing example) If I’m going to get stoned, I’m throwing on Wish You Were Here not Aja 🙂 Seriously, Steely Dan is not in the same class as Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin, I would go so far as to not classify them as ‘rock’ and definitely not cutting edge experimental ‘jazzy’ art music like Frank Zappa who pushed the envelope 100 times more than Steely Dan in that era.

  41. Tony Komerska says:

    I just came across your blog while looking up some SD lyrics. I was a big fan; have everything (up to Gaucho) on vinyl. Bought and enjoyed back when vinyl was what you did. The key word is “enjoyed.”
    Reading your conundrum made me wonder what my feelings were about the band, and others. Or why they were what they were. We take for granted that so-and-so is “great” until someone surprises us with “Are you kidding? They suck!” I gave up on trying to defend my position, even though it can still bother me (usually less and less). I liked all kinds of bands before my friends did and many of them thought I was crazy and most of them even eventually came around to agree with me. Some did, some didn’t. Meh. Doesn’t matter. Critiquing is really just opining, and as such is just useful for deciding who to listen to when they offer their view. If I tend to agree with Critic A, then there’s a better chance I will agree with his assessment and can possibly avoid wasting my money on whatever he so bravely risked his sanity experiencing for me. Critic B, with whom I never agree, is just as useful. But WHY I might like Steely Dan or Frank Zappa, or stock car racing, has probably just as much to do with my experiences and place in my life when it occurred than anything else. For music, it’s often the band that was the “sound track of my life”, providing associated memories that made me a fan. Not to minimize artistic talent or skills, but our response is just as much visceral as is rational. Don’t worry if they’re great, you agree, and you don’t like them. You might just not have the associated warm fuzzies (and that could change) that make you squeal with joy when they step on stage. You’re allowed.

  42. Daniel says:

    I didn’t understand the dan for a while. For the longest time, I was left cold by their mu majors, jarring jazz progressions and the production of their albums (particularly their later efforts). That weird, airless, seventies sterility. However, I endured, and forced myself to listen to aja, then the royal scam. Of course, before long, I was hooked, and had picked through their entire catalogue with a fine tooth (or is that ear) comb, my foot tapping the whole time. It seems to be the common steely dan experience. You almost need to adjust your mindset and engross yourself in their music to ‘get it’. As a listener and musician it’s tremendously rewarding. Great driving music. On the surface, the dan deal in jazz tinged pop mega hits. Don Fagen is the king of the chorus. Check out Don’t Take Me Alive, Bad Sneakers, Gaucho etc. Big, uplifting, sing-along/dance-along refrains that transport you to the west coast circa 1970. Poolside, naturally, piña colada in hand.
    As a musician, their songs are lessons in contemporary harmony. Those crazy cluster chords and voicings, dense vocal harmonies, jazzy modality, and a general dismissal of pop convention. The result of all this set to tighter-than-a-cat’s-arse funk/r’n’b/jazz/Latin/pop/disco rhythms, executed by the finest session cats the 70s had to offer? Smoother than butter on a baby’s arse. That soulless yet oh so soulful steely dan sound. Why drench it in reverb and echo? To lazily simulate ‘feel’ and ‘atmosphere’? The atmosphere is in the harmony.
    What I almost like the most about steely dan is the combined personality of Becker and Fagen. They want you to squirm at their cheesy-meets-seedy lyrics. Their songs smirk. Fagen never quite sounds genuine. Each word drips with a cool wry irony, their songs dealing with the shady oddballs on the fringes of society rather than the typical love and heartbreak imagery pop so often resorts to. Are these characters works of fiction? People fagen or Becker knew? Fagen or Becker themselves? Who knows. Judging by interviews, I’m pretty certain they’re taking the piss most of the time, entertaining themselves with their own brand of offbeat tongue in cheek humour. It’s cool, atypical and often at odds with their flawlessly smooth music, making things doubly subversive. I put Hey Nineteen on at a twenty first birthday party recently (im 20), and everyone danced along, not really noticing the shift from modern r’n’b to a steely dan single from 1980. Why would they? It’s a great danceable pop hit. Disco almost. Nobody noticed it was sleazy narrative about an older guy (who should know better) doing his damnedest to seduce loose young girls at a bar, tempting them with coke and tequila. Subversive, eh?
    To conclude, steely dan are fantastic songwriters who’ve produced a lot of gorgeous music. Actual music. And they’ve done it their way, that inimitable steely dan way, the way that turned them into cult antiheroes and the pop connoisseurs choice of listening for the last 40 years or so. In my opinion, if you don’t like them, you’ve either not dedicated enough time to appreciating their art, or you’re just an ignorant Neanderthal. I’m kidding of course, people like what like and hate what they hate. Steely dan rock though.

  43. Eric Rabe of California says:

    Steely Dan is music for self-congratulating, self-proclaimed “progressive-types” who believe that being an intellectual is sonomous with being a Steely Dan fanboy. Their music is boredom in the sonic form. For some odd reason, their “music” seems to stir up a certain type of person, where they gloat about being in this exclusive club of shitty music, and smug self satisfaction. It’s like a bunch of Tom’s-wearing, leftist-blog-writing, Antifa wannabe dweebs got together and picked the most boring band out of the 70’s, decided they’d worship them because it was the hipster thing to do…that was a long sentence. But there is one good thing about Steely Dan fanboys and girls, they get so buthurt and angry when you call it like it is…Steely Dan is fucking lame, and they reflect your lame tastes. Steely Dan and their lame-ass fans can put on your sky blue Tom’s, hand me down captain’s caps, and sail into the yacht rock sunset, because you guys fucking suck.

  44. mt81 says:

    The comments that refer to the band as “The Dan” wrap up the problem with “The Dan” with a nice little bow on top – their work is a great steaming pile of pretensions.

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