How to Steely Dan: A 10-Song Primer


Since 1972, perhaps hundreds of journalists have tried to explain Steely Dan to you. I won’t. If you don’t get why or how this jazz-influenced duo, which begins a nine-date residency at the Venetian on April 12, transcends “yacht rock,” I suggest you watch the excellent video essay by “Nerdwriter” Evan Puschak, “How Steely Dan Composes a Song.” His brand of Dansplaining is more patient than mine. All I’m gonna do is suggest a 10-song playlist that might get you in the door.

“Do It Again” (1972) This mysterious slow burner remains the only song with a sitar solo I’ve listened to until the end. Plus: Vegas figures prominently in the lyrics.

“Reelin’ in the Years” (1972) This is the closest Steely Dan has come to a “rocker,” with a prominent guitar and a beautifully harmonized, instantly catchy chorus.

“Show Biz Kids” (1973) An eerily prescient slam on a narcissistic generation “makin’ movies of (itself).”

“My Old School” (1973) It’s two things Dan usually isn’t: autobiographical and joyful.

“Barrytown” (1974) An indie-pop prototype that would later be performed by Ben Folds, who could have written it. (He covered it for the soundtrack of the 2000 comedy Me, Myself & Irene, which also features a Wilco cover of Dan’s “Any Major Dude Will Tell You” that surpasses the original.)

“Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” (1974) Perhaps the band’s most perfect pop song.

“Doctor Wu” (1975) This sleepy drug memoir isn’t for everyone, but I’m fond of it.

“Deacon Blues” (1977) Puschak explains what makes this a minor epic in his Nerdwriter essay. I agree with him completely.

“FM (No Static at All)” (1978) Leave it to Dan to bash boring radio with an achingly gorgeous single that actually sounds amazing on a car stereo.

“Babylon Sisters” (1980) Dan’s last great song is an ode to fading hipsters—and a swell yacht rock number.

Steely Dan April 12, 14, 19, 21-22, 26, 28-29, 8 p.m., $82-$425. Venetian’s Opaline Theatre, 702-414-9000.

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