Steely Dan Albums Ranked Worst to Best

Almost everyone has stolen from Steely Dan at some time over the course of over 50 years. The concept of adding intricacy to mainstream music or merging jazz into rock wasn’t created by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.

They just so happened to be the best in the world at putting this lethal combo together.

Nevertheless, it took them some time to arrive. They first needed to advance beyond being hired as songwriters and actually land a record deal.

A little about Steely Dan

In the rock-obsessed early 1970s, you needed a band to do that. Thus, Becker and Fagen discovered one, complete with versatile guitarists Denny Dias and Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, drummer/vocalist Jim Hodder, and a group of hired guns.

David Palmer was brought in to be the band’s frontman after Fagen started to feel self-conscious about his singing voice.

Becker and Fagen quickly started dissolving this band in order to maintain total control over themselves.

By the middle of the 1970s, Steely Dan had stopped touring and had changed their focus to Becker and Fagen’s songwriting prowess alone.

After this time, even Becker didn’t sing some songs because the band’s members couldn’t let anything stand in the way of perfection.

Steely Dan started creating records around complicated concepts of hipsterism, failure, cynicism, and caustic wit with a revolving ensemble of the greatest session musicians in America.

It was decided to create a brand-new sound that had room for both pop melodies and jazz chords. Songs might be ten-minute odysseys or radio anthems. Anything might exist in the Steely Dan universe as long as Becker and Fagen gave their OK.

Nine albums were produced by the pair under the Steely Dan moniker: seven during their classic era and two during their 1990s reunion.

These LPs’ content includes some of the most cherished and underappreciated songs that have ever sold millions of copies.

The most amazing thing about Steely Dan was that, despite their increasing complexity, they never lost the general radio audience.

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Every Steely Dan album, ranked from worst to best

The nine Steely Dan albums are listed here, from worst to finest.

9. Everything Must Go (2003)


  • The Last Mall
  • Things I Miss the Most
  • Blues Beach
  • Godwhacker
  • Slang of Ages
  • Green Book
  • Pixeleen
  • Lunch with Gina
  • Everything Must Go

After 20 years without a Steely Dan record, two were released in three, and then nothing for 13 years. It makes a peculiar sort of sense for a band as unconventional as this one. But if this is indeed their final album, it’s a little bit of a downer.

The only Dan album that did not achieve gold status, Everything Must Go, is not a bad album. Fagen and Becker have never produced a pure turkey in all their years of collaboration.

There isn’t a single genuinely excellent song on this album, despite the skill and attention to detail in the music and lyrics, and there are no indications of the pop genius behind their previous hits.

Comparing the two Steely Dan albums released after their reunion to their earlier releases feels a bit harsh. Most people just found it pleasant that Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were reuniting and traveling the globe while performing songs from their back repertoire.

To test if they still had the creative chemistry, Becker and Fagen felt the urge to try out some new tunes in the 2000s.

Even if the band’s poorest songs from the 1970s still hold a torch to them, neither 2000’s Two Against Nature nor 2003’s Everything Must Go come close. The majority of Everything Must Go is turgid and oddly depressing, with droopy reflections on mortality dominating what little dry humor the team still possessed.

8. Gaucho (1980)


  • Babylon Sisters
  • Hey Nineteen
  • Glamour Profession
  • Gaucho
  • Time Out of Mind
  • My Rival
  • Third World Man

Gaucho, Steely Dan’s final album from their original run, is the most strung-out and minimal item the band had ever produced.

Gaucho is based on a consistent groove and somewhat sterile production because it only has seven tracks and a strong role for a drum machine. It’s a difficult record to adore at first and a difficult listen to bear.

However, after spending some time with Gacuho’s sarcasm and coldness, the album’s charms become clear. Side one of the album is a rollicking good time thanks to the songs “Babylon Sisters” and “Glamour Profession,” while “Hey Nineteen” is another portrayal of hipster madness.

Although Side Two is a little weaker, the attention to detail is sufficient to make Gacuho transcend their own dissatisfaction and self-loathing.

This record, which marks the end of an era before Steely Dan’s protracted hiatus into the 1980s, has a similar air of dejected fatalism as the band’s second goodbye album, Everything Must Go, released in 2003.

The long-delayed Gaucho was plagued by budget overruns, technical issues, and individual errors, but this time, they deserved it.

In the end, Aja’s jazz inspirations persisted, but they had been downshifted into a too-sleek dreamscape where disappointment and snide remarks substitute for any sort of emotional connection. Even on “Hey Nineteen,” when they attempt to amp things up a bit, it comes out as quite cheesy.

7. Two Against Nature (2000)


  • Gaslighting Abbie
  • What a Shame About Me
  • Two Against Nature
  • Janie Runaway
  • Almost Gothic
  • Jack of Speed
  • Cousin Dupree
  • Negative Girl
  • West of Hollywood

Most often, Two Against Nature is recognized today for winning the 2001 Grammy Award for “Album of the Year” over Radiohead’s Kid A, Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP, and Beck’s Midnite Vultures.

Nothing about Two Against Nature seems particularly savory since the Grammys are useless and Steely Dan finally received the long-delayed legacy vote.

Having said that, if you have low expectations, the CD is really rather nice. While songs like “Jack of Speed” and “What a Shame About Me” might not be classics, they are unquestionably more energizing and lively than anything on Everything Must Go. Becker and Fagen sound like they are having fun playing together again.

The first song, Gaslighting Abbie, featured their distinctive sound right away. Then it went on to Cousin Dupree, which is both humorous and groovy, and the jazz-noodling climax, West of Hollywood.

The album earned four Grammys and sold one million copies in the US. Dan’s comeback was a success on all counts.

6. The Royal Scam (1976)


  • Kid Charlemagne
  • The Caves of Altamira
  • Don’t Take Me Alive
  • Sign In Stranger
  • The Fez
  • Green Earrings
  • Haitian Divorce
  • Everything You Did
  • The Royal Scam

Even Steely Dan occasionally gets a touch too self-absorbed. The Dan let it all hang out on the ambitious The Royal Scam because they weren’t any more concerned that their elitist approach to pop music would turn off typical listeners.

Kid Charlemagne, the album’s opening track, gives off the impression that Becker and Fagen have already completed their most impressive work to date.

The Royal Scam then proceeds to float through its last eight tracks. Steely Dan’s ability to incorporate pop choruses and approachable melodies into even their most sophisticated songs was a major factor in their popularity. That is what this record is missing.

The majority of The Royal Scam either stalls or sounds similar to previous band albums. The Royal Scam occasionally lacks focus and direction because of songs like “Haitian Divorce” and “The Fez,” which sound completely high to the gills.

Although the ambitions and skills of the Dan are clearly visible, their crossover charm is missing.

5. Katy Lied (1975)


  • Black Friday
  • Bad Sneakers
  • Rose Darling
  • Daddy Don’t Live in that New York City No More
  • Doctor Wu
  • Everyone’s Gone to the Movies
  • Your Gold Teeth II
  • Chain Lightning
  • Any World (That I’m Welcome To)
  • Throw Back the Little Ones

If there is a criticism of this excellent album, it is that Katy Lied frequently resembled Pretzel Logic II—another portable iteration of their cutting-edge new alchemy—rather than developing on this basis.

The Doobie Brothers, who have a connection to Steely Dan guitarist Skunk Baxter, may be about to undergo a historic change as a result of the appearance of Michael McDonald.

However, elsewhere they were losing members left and right, so perhaps that explains why this project is relatively conservative. Check out “Doctor Wu,” this strange fever dream of a tune, for a sense of the bizarre artistic heights Steely Dan may yet achieve.

That Steely Dan discovered what worked and repeated it is the biggest critique of Katy Lied, but it’s actually more of a praise.

Everyone receives hidden treasures like “Chain Lightning” and “Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More,” while real heads get “Dr. Wu” and “Everyone’s Gone to the Movies” and casual listeners get “Black Friday” and “Bad Sneakers.”

Even if the band is not in pure invention mode on Katy Lied, it is nevertheless a great celebration of all Steely Dan.

4. Can’t Buy a Thrill (1972)


  • Do It Again
  • Dirty Work
  • Kings
  • Midnite Cruiser
  • Only a Fool Would Say That
  • Reelin’ In the Years
  • Fire in the Hole
  • Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)
  • Change of the Guard
  • Turn That Heartbeat Over Again

Can’t Buy a Thrill, is Steely Dan’s most straightforward and modern album to date. Can’t Buy a Thrill is basically only a Steely Dan album by name; it dates back to the brief time when the duo was a band rather than just Becker and Fagen’s vehicle.

Since it is the band’s debut, later albums’ sophistication is missing, leaving the majority of the tracks sounding like they are making an effort to blend in with the rest of the early 1970s rock scene.

But what a collection of songs to get things going: The classic rock classics “Do It Again,” “Reelin’ in the Years,” and “Only a Fool Would Say That,” while the former lead vocalist David Palmer receives a wonderful tune of his own in “Dirty Work.”

Can’t Buy a Thrill served as the band’s respectable debut and served as an accessible entry point for Steely Dan before things got a little headier. Steely Dan, as the world knew and loved them, didn’t truly exist until after that.

3. Countdown to Ecstasy (1973)


  • Bodhisattva
  • Razor Boy
  • The Boston Rag
  • Your Gold Teeth
  • Show Biz Kids
  • My Old School
  • Pearl of the Quarter
  • King of the World

Dan’s second album has a remarkable trick by Fagen and Becker. While Can’t Buy A Thrill had a stronger rock’n’roll edge, the jazz influences of the duo were more apparent on Countdown To Ecstasy.

Bodhisattva, with its boogie riff, and Show Biz Kids, on which guitar legend Rick Derringer performed slide, were prominent among the rockier tunes.

But even in these songs, there were jazzy undertones, and in other songs, Your Gold Teeth and Razor Boy’s delicate textures made this sensibility clear. It was a powerful and well-rounded album with Fagen serving as the single lead vocalist. It only lacked a hit, such as Do It Again.

Three tracks from the band’s debut album, Countdown to Ecstasy—”Bodhisattva,” “Show Biz Kids,” and “My Old School”—should be known by heart by any Steely Dan fan.

The remaining tracks on the album vary from passable to pleasantly captivating, with ‘Your Gold Teeth’ and ‘King of the World’ capturing the hipster vibe that would eventually become integral to the band’s existence.

2. Pretzel Logic (1974)


  • Rikki Don’t Lose That Number
  • Night by Night
  • Any Major Dude Will Tell You
  • Barrytown
  • East St. Louis Toodle-Oo
  • Parker’s Band
  • Through with Buzz
  • Pretzel Logic
  • With a Gun
  • Charlie Freak
  • Monkey in Your Soul

They had realized they didn’t require a band, according to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. They had a name, which served as a good justification for them to seize control of Steely Dan’s reputation, mold it to fit them, and produce some of the smoothest music ever.

The perfect meeting point between Steely Dan becoming more refined and yet trying to be a mainstream rock band is Pretzel Logic.

‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number’ is a genuine pop hit, ‘Night By Night’ is gritty funk, ‘Any Major Dude Will Tell You’ is delicious, and ‘East St. Louis Toodle-oo’ is the jazz the pair has always wanted to record. Although it contains many excellent songs, it isn’t the best work Steely Dan has ever produced.

1. Aja (1977)


  • Black Cow
  • Aja
  • Deacon Blues
  • Peg
  • Home at Last
  • I Got the News
  • Josie

The grooves of Aja contain all the information about Steely Dan that you could ever need. Rock enthusiasts and pop nerds alike still like this painstakingly produced jazz album.

Pop songs like ‘Peg’ and ‘Josie’ could nevertheless coexist with ‘Aja’s’ intricate soloing and ‘Deacon Blues” thick dreaminess. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker managed to have their cake and eat it too.

In the four decades since its first debut, Aja hasn’t lost any of its allure and subversive. Still, it’s a masterfully crafted, gorgeously recorded, fully developed work of art that elevated Walter Beker and Donal Fagen to the status of music’s eccentric geniuses.

It never really improved past Aja, but that wasn’t necessary. Any musician would be proud to base their legacy on an album like Aja.

The band Steely Dan’s sixth album was pure feel-good music, a sparkling blend of soft rock, jazz, funk, and pop.

Despite all the cynicism that was so much a part of Steely Dan – an extension of Fagen and Becker’s personality.

The US smash song Peg, with Doobie Brother Michael McDonald adorning the chorus, was the most uplifting of all. Becker and Fagen have always sought excellence. They found it in Aja.

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The List of Steely Dan Albums in Order of Release

Year Album Title
1972 Can’t Buy a Thrill
1973 Countdown to Ecstasy
1974 Pretzel Logic
1975 Katy Lied
1976 The Royal Scam
1977 Aja
1980 Gaucho
1995 Alive in America
2000 Two Against Nature
2003 Everything Must Go

What is considered Steely Dan’s best album?

Steely Dan’s best album is often considered to be “Aja,” which was released in 1977. “Aja” is widely praised for its intricate musical arrangements, complex jazz-influenced harmonies, and innovative production techniques.

It features some of Steely Dan’s most iconic tracks, such as “Peg,” “Deacon Blues,” and “Josie.”

The album received critical acclaim upon its release and has continued to be highly regarded by both critics and fans over the years.

Its meticulous attention to detail, top-notch musicianship, and the blending of various musical styles make it a standout in Steely Dan’s discography and a classic in the realm of jazz-rock and adult-oriented rock.

How many Steely Dan albums are there?

Steely Dan had released a total of ten studio albums. Here is the list of their studio albums:

  1. Can’t Buy a Thrill (1972)
  2. Countdown to Ecstasy (1973)
  3. Pretzel Logic (1974)
  4. Katy Lied (1975)
  5. The Royal Scam (1976)
  6. Aja (1977)
  7. Gaucho (1980)
  8. Alive in America (1995)
  9. Two Against Nature (2000)
  10. Everything Must Go (2003)

Who did most of the singing in Steely Dan?

In Steely Dan, most of the singing was done by Donald Fagen. Donald Fagen was one of the co-founders of the band along with Walter Becker. He served as the lead vocalist and keyboardist for the group.

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