Deep Album Cuts Vol. 15: Steely Dan

I wrote the other day about recently reading Donald Fagen's book Eminent Hipsters, and am currently putting together my ballot for a poll of Steely Dan's greatest songs. So lately my mind has been on the rich and rewarding catalog of one of my all-time favorite bands. They occupy an odd cultural space: in the '70s they made a string of gold and platinum albums, which all appeared on many critics' year-end lists. But in the decades since, a long period of inactivity, and a comeback in which they came to symbolize Baby Boomer lameness by taking a Grammy from peak period Eminem left them seeming very very unhip. And on the flipside of that uncoolness, the fanbase for their incredibly smartly written and densely fascinating music has becoming more cultish, more adoring.

The career arc of Steely Dan, from slightly off-kilter hitmakers to meticulous studio rats who stayed off the road for several years while recording endless takes of crack session men for their most successful albums, tends to push fans to take sides. And while Gaucho and the later albums do tend to get a bit austere and light on hooks for my taste, generally love it all -- the shaggy, groovy rock of the Can't Buy A Thrill era as well as the flashy, jazzy Royal Scam/Aja era.

Steely Dan Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. Night By Night
2. Babylon Sisters
3. The Boston Rag
4. King Of The World
5. Through With Buzz
6. Jack Of Speed
7. Midnight Cruiser
8. The Caves Of Altamira
9. Aja
10. Godwhacker
11. Your Gold Teeth
12. Your Gold Teeth II
13. The Royal Scam
14. Kings
15. Home At Last
16. Any World (That I'm Welcome To)

Tracks 7 and 14 from Can't Buy A Thrill (1972)
Tracks 3, 4 and 11 from Countdown To Ecstasy (1973)
Tracks 1 and 5 from Pretzel Logic (1974)
Tracks 12 and 16 from Katy Lied (1975)
Tracks 8 and 13 from The Royal Scam (1976)
Tracks 9 and 15 from Aja (1977)
Track 2 from Gaucho (1980)
Track 6 from Two Against Nature (2000)
Track 10 from Everything Must Go (2003)

As I often do in this series, I found myself contemplating the gray areas in dividing a band's catalog into "singles" and "deep cuts." Certain songs that were never released as A-sides seemed simply too famous to include -- "Dirty Work," "Don't Take Me Alive," "Black Friday," I'd consider those among the band's biggest hits whether or not they were singles (likewise, some great Steely Dan singles never made much of a splash, like "Pretzel Logic," or "Haitian Divorce," which is relatively obscure in America but their biggest hit on the U.K. charts). Arguably some of these songs are also too famous to be truly deep cuts, but ultimately I went with my gut. And while there are some pretty well loved deep cuts that I didn't include, I really just like these songs more than "Doctor Wu" or "Any Major Dude Will Tell You" and wanted to reflect my taste.

You might remember my 2-disc Steely Dan megamix that I posted here years ago, which covered most of the same songs, plus some of the hits and several non-album rarities. I only included a couple album cuts here that weren't on those, most significantly "Aja," which any way you cut it is just a major work in the band's catalog. I was never that big on the song myself, regarding it as the low point of the amazing album of the same name. But a couple years ago I took my dad, who raised me to be a Steely Dan fan and who is currently not speaking to me, to see the band at Merriweather Post Pavilion and had a great night. And the rendition of "Aja" that night was so awesome that I finally understood the majesty of that song.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
Vol. 10: R. Kelly
Vol. 11: Fall Out Boy
Vol. 12: TLC
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
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