Steely Dan co-founder, guitarist and bassist Walter Becker died Sunday at the age of 67, leaving an extensive catalog of memorable hits. Here are a few of the band’s most notable songs to remember him with.
“Deacon Blues,” from the 1977 album “Aja.”
The classic midlife crisis song about a man in the suburbs with dreams of being a jazz saxophonist, Donald Fagen and Becker wrote the song in Malibu, California. It became a hit single in early 1978.
“The protagonist in “Deacon Blues” is a triple-L loser_an L-L-L Loser. It’s not so much about a guy who achieves his dream but about a broken dream of a broken man living a broken life,” Becker said in a Wall Street Journal interview in 2015. “Deacon Blues” was special for me. It’s the only time I remember mixing a record all day and, when the mix was done, feeling like I wanted to hear it over and over again. It was the comprehensive sound of the thing: the song itself, its character, the way the instruments sounded and the way Tom Scott’s tight horn arrangement fit in.”
“Rikki Don’t Lose that Number,” from the 1974 album “Pretzel Logic.”
Probably one of Steely Dan’s more straightforward songs, and definitely their biggest commercial hit — the song hit No. 4 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1974 — fans apparently still thought “send it off in a letter to yourself” was a coded reference to drugs.
“FM (No Static At All),” from 1978.
Fagen and Becker wrote this song for the 1978 film “FM” from “Chinatown” cinematographer John A. Alonzo.
“There was a film called FM and we were asked to do the title song,” Fagen told “American Songwriter” in 2013. “And I said, ‘Does it have to have any specific words?’ And they said, ‘No, it just has to be about FM radio.’ It took a day or two to write.”
“Aja,” from the 1977 album “Aja.”
Apparently named after a Korean woman, Rolling Stone critic Michael Duffy wrote in 1977 that the title song, “Shows real growth in Becker’s and Fagen’s songwriting capabilities and departs from their previous work. It is the longest song they’ve recorded, but it fragilely holds our attention with vaguely Oriental instrumental flourishes and lyric references interwoven with an opiated jazz flux.”
“Hey Nineteen,” from the 1980 album “Gaucho.”
A mellow, jazz-rock skewering of quickly aging baby boomers and the younger generation, who, the song’s narrator bemoans, doesn’t know who Aretha Franklin is. “It’s hard times befallen the Soul Survivors,” Fagen sings.
In 1993, when Steely Dan got back together for a reunion tour after their 1981 breakup, Los Angeles Times writer Chris Willman wrote that at that point, the generation gap was, “Obvious enough that you could update the lyrics of the group’s 1980 Top 10 hit, a tune about dating a girl too young to be familiar with Aretha Franklin, to apply to Steely Dan itself: Hey nineteen, that’s Donald Fagen / She don’t remember the Kings of Scorn.”