Change of the Graun
October 24, 2022 1:42 PM   Subscribe

The Guardian ranks Steely Dan's top 20 songs.

As someone who's not a fan of the intentional misspelling of the newspaper's name, the post subject left me no choice. No. Choice.

The list:
20. Any Major Dude Will Tell You (1974)
19. Black Friday (1975)
18. Show Biz Kids (1973)
17. Doctor Wu (1975)
16. Gaucho (1980)
15. Pretzel Logic (1974)
14. Cousin Dupree (2000)
13. Aja (1977)
12. Your Gold Teeth II (1975)
11. Rikki Don’t Lose That Number (1974)
10. Babylon Sisters (1980)
9. Reelin’ in the Years (1972)
8. My Old School (1973)
7. Black Cow (1977)
6. Bad Sneakers (1975)
5. Don’t Take Me Alive (1975)
4. Do It Again (1972)
3. Deacon Blues (1977)
2. Kid Charlemagne (1976)
1. Peg (1977)
posted by emelenjr (58 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
How did "FM", which charted in the UK (something that a lot of songs on this list didn't), not get a spot here?
posted by hanov3r at 1:49 PM on October 24 [8 favorites]

well the lack of FM invalidates this list. they did almost get #1 right though...
posted by supermedusa at 1:49 PM on October 24 [3 favorites]

I think there are better tracks on Two Against Nature or Everything Must Go, but I'd probably skip the 21st century albums entirely for this list. Strike Cousin Dupree and throw in FM or Third World Man or Night By Night in the top 5.
posted by emelenjr at 1:54 PM on October 24 [1 favorite]

The most effective way for a critic to convey the fact that they've missed the entire point of a body of work, and possibly of life itself, is to compile a "ranked" list. The worst offender is where everything someone has ever done is reordered into some spurious order of ascending quality.
posted by Grangousier at 1:59 PM on October 24 [5 favorites]

My mom had a copy of Aja and would play it of an afternoon now and then; that title track can time-warp me back to my suburban CT childhood like whoa.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:05 PM on October 24 [8 favorites]

Surprisingly little disagreement with this list. I may be could have done without Bad Sneakers or Doctor Wu. Probably replaced by FM and Hey Nineteen. Those two and Only a Fool Would Say That are my most listened to exclusions.

But I'm pleasantly surprised to see this writer ranked Old School and Deacon Blues so high; I always thought I liked those songs more than the critics or fans in general. (I've been listening to this Bill Callahan / Bonnie Prince Billy cover of Deacon Blues. Musically very nice but also the artists' biographies give the lyrics some extra oomph.

Also for later work I prefer Jack of Speed or What A Shame About Me to Cousin Dupree.

Lastly I enjoy rankings as an expedient device to think about music and just compile interesting factoids about a cool artist (I didn't realzied they disliked Reelin In The Years!)
posted by Hume at 2:22 PM on October 24 [2 favorites]

Peg is about my least favorite Steely Dan song, (massive overplay on radio, and the massive, overwhelming, wailing of Michael McDonald). Show Biz Kids sucks as well.
posted by Windopaene at 2:37 PM on October 24 [3 favorites]

Tend to agree about Peg, but very much disagree about Show Biz Kids. But mainly I’m glad I didn’t have to trim down Steely Dan’s discography to an arbitrary 20 songs just so I could rank them.
posted by TedW at 2:46 PM on October 24 [4 favorites]

No mention of Any World That I'm Welcome To? Pfffft.
posted by jokeefe at 2:50 PM on October 24 [5 favorites]

Good list. Totally agree that FM is a classic and needs to be on here.

Surprised to see Don't Take Me Alive so high, and Aja so low. Also I would have made space for Glamour Profession.
posted by chaz at 2:54 PM on October 24

I'd disagree vehemently against "Cousin Dupree" and "Babylon Sisters". "Jack of Speed" and "Third World Man" (or "Hey Nineteen") would work great if you want songs from those albums.

Also, I don't know what I'd knock off to give it room, but I'd have to include "Josie".
posted by jackbishop at 2:54 PM on October 24 [1 favorite]

another BIG anti-vote for Peg. But I'm probably not the right person to be casting judgment on Steely Dan insofar as I don't think they ever topped their first album. Which I loved ... but it all goes off slowly off from there to the point of being completely OFF by the time Aja comes along. To my ears anyway. Though I did like a few options along the way. FM for instance.

warning: link is to episode 10 of Yacht Rock
posted by philip-random at 2:59 PM on October 24 [6 favorites]

Babylon Sisters deserves to be top 10, I don't know how any true Dan head can deny that. Have you never driven west on Sunset to the sea?! Never shaken it? Never drank Kirschwasser from a shell?!
posted by chaz at 3:02 PM on October 24 [4 favorites]

Not only does the list of top-twenty Steely Dan songs not have anything released after Gaucho, I don't think the top-fifty list does either.

Both 'Reelin' in the Years' and 'Do It Again,' but no 'Midnite Cruiser'? Only a fool would say that.

No 'Boddhisattva,' no 'Deacon Blues'?

I suppose I should be happy to live in a world where someone can be so thoroughly wrong about Steely Dan.
posted by box at 3:23 PM on October 24 [4 favorites]

"No, this is the heart and soul of our audience. I’ve got news for you. Those weird people on the street — every hundredth weirdest one has a Steely Dan record at home." - Walter Becker from here
posted by Glomar response at 3:27 PM on October 24 [3 favorites]

We are now more years away from the founding of Steely Dan than Steely Dan at the founding was away from the publication of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land
posted by chavenet at 3:44 PM on October 24 [15 favorites]

Deacon Blues too high; Black Cow too low. And I'm going to get myself kicked out of the snooty music appreciator club by saying the guitar solo in Kid Charlemagne is eh, interesting, but nothing spectacular.
posted by ctmf at 4:18 PM on October 24 [1 favorite]

Outside of Peg the top 5 are basically my top choices too. Really glad to see Don’t Take Me Alive up there, as I think that song is criminally underrated. I guess it would have been too much to ask to see either The Fez or The Bear make the top 20 instead of Cousin Dupree though.
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 4:24 PM on October 24 [2 favorites]

I'm pleasantly surprised to see this writer ranked Old School and Deacon Blues so high; I always thought I liked those songs more than the critics or fans in general.

Is “Deacon Blues” not one of their more popular songs? Or do you mean you find that the dedicated Dan-heads tend to look down on it? As far as Aja hits I definitely also take that one way ahead of “Peg.”

“Don’t Take Me Alive” surprised me, but I’m not complaining; it’s one of my personal favorites.

Two Against Nature has a lot of great songs on it.
posted by atoxyl at 4:32 PM on October 24

Sign in Stranger would have to be in top ten, seems to me.
posted by pasici at 4:36 PM on October 24 [1 favorite]

No fans of "Dirty Work"?
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:45 PM on October 24 [7 favorites]

No Bodhisattva? Pffffft.
posted by kokaku at 4:54 PM on October 24 [11 favorites]

"Cousin Dupree" is certainly not a bad song, but top 20... I'm not sure. I'd take "Dirty Work" or "Bodhisattva" over it any day of the week. "Kid Charlemagne" is way higher than I'd place it (I like the song but more in an "I admire this work" place versus much of their other stuff, which I just like.)
posted by hijinx at 4:57 PM on October 24

Put on "Can't Buy A Thrill" find a nice drive (preferably sunset but whatever), put the windows down, be happy.
posted by dancestoblue at 5:09 PM on October 24 [1 favorite]

Larry Carlton's guitar solo in Kid Charlemagne is f*cking amazing, my second favorite after Milt Bernhart's trombone solo in Frank Sinatra's "I've Got You Under My Skin." I am not a snooty music appreciator.
posted by How the runs scored at 5:16 PM on October 24 [6 favorites]

There are just too many top tier songs. Apart from the forementioned, especially Glamour Profession, how about Fire In the Hole, Turn That Heartbeat Over Again, Any World (That I'm Welcome To), Throw Back the Little Ones. Even some of their unreleased material is fantastic if you overlook the sound quality, especially The Second Arrangement, Can't Write Home About You, and Kulee Baba.
posted by mubba at 5:40 PM on October 24 [1 favorite]

Was in the basketball pep band in college back in the long, long ago. Played a lot of 70s/80s stuff pregame including Home at Last and Peg.
posted by Ranucci at 6:04 PM on October 24

posted by philip-random at 6:34 PM on October 24 [5 favorites]

Screw trying to put them in order, I'm just in awe of how many great songs they put out. And all of them bring me to that place, their place also the place in my life when they came out. Just amazing reading the titles stacked up like that.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:49 PM on October 24 [1 favorite]

They missed Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More, Throw Back the Little Ones, and *definitely* Bodhisattva.
posted by tizzie at 6:54 PM on October 24 [2 favorites]

Haha I came here to express my love for Peg. That upbeat tempo with a slightly sour sound perfectly captures my 70s suburban teenage uneasiness. In fact listening to any Steely Dan song brings a little pain in my chest remembering that feeling, plus my family called me Peg.

So I have a kind of love/hate relationship with Steely Dan. Didn't follow them much, never owned any albums (although one of my brothers had Pretzel Logic, and I would sneak into his room to listen to it). I decided they were Dad Rock. Just last year I discovered Walter Becker's 11 Tracks of Whack and thought how the hell did I not know about this before? I didn't even know he was dead. Highly recommend.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:04 PM on October 24 [1 favorite]

I'm a Steely Dan superfan, and in my not-so-humble opinion, Reelin' in the Years one of their worst tracks. So overplayed. At least Peg, which is even more overplayed, is really good, despite its overfamiliarity at this point.

My vote for the song which is unjustly missing in this list, and which should be in the top five for sure, is The Caves of Altamira.

And the entire Pretzel Logic album is perfect, and is their best record.
posted by OneGearIsEnough at 7:24 PM on October 24 [9 favorites]

Love SD but Cousin Dupree sucks.
posted by porn in the woods at 8:05 PM on October 24 [1 favorite]

Your favorite plate of beans doesn't suck at all.
posted by not_on_display at 8:11 PM on October 24

seems easier to rank the worst Steely Dan songs, which list is always topped by Through with Buzz.
posted by logicpunk at 9:00 PM on October 24 [4 favorites]

Wow a list that’s right for once, amazing
posted by thedaniel at 11:23 PM on October 24

Another vote for Peg, although Hey Nineteen is a really good song. For years I despised Steely Dan because all I knew of them via commercial radio was Reelin’ In The Years and it conjures up weird memories - I have some sort of visceral reaction to that song because it makes me uncomfortable. This list is not for me, but my greater exposure to them through the reemergence of yacht rock has fostered an appreciation of their work. I don’t seek it out, but I don’t change the channel, either.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 11:44 PM on October 24 [2 favorites]

OneGearisEnough: And the entire Pretzel Logic album is perfect, and is their best record.

It’s very validating to hear that from a Steely Dan superfan. It’s my favorite of their albums, but I’ve been told that marks me as a hopeless neophyte.
posted by Kattullus at 3:12 AM on October 25

Pretzel Logic is the best Steely Dan album AND song.

It’s my favorite of their albums, but I’ve been told that marks me as a hopeless neophyte.

Phish tour types have the same attitude towards Hoist and they are also wrong by everyone else's standards.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:30 AM on October 25 [1 favorite]

At least Your Gold Teeth II made the list. It's among many SD songs (Fire in the Hole, Charlie Freak, etc) that are secret bangers, but never get any love.
posted by eclectist at 5:31 AM on October 25 [4 favorites]

It's an okay list but since it left off "King of the World" I'm not super happy.

Never really warmed up to "Cousin Dupree".

"Any Major Dude" should have been up higher, imho.

"Peg", meh.
posted by sundrop at 6:01 AM on October 25 [2 favorites]

West of Hollywood is my favorite song on Two Against Nature.

Godwhacker cannot be overlooked- its groove is deeper than the Mariana’s trench.

I’ve been having an up close and personal love affair with Glamour Profession the last few years. It’s hypnotic.

And I will continue to do it with The Fez on.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:02 AM on October 25 [3 favorites]

Sorry, but, no ‘Hey Nineteen’?! Hugh McCracken’s guitar remains my personal standard for rhythm parts. Sooo tasty.
posted by barrett caulk at 6:42 AM on October 25 [3 favorites]

Peg is SO WRONG up there. And where the hell is "Here at the Western World?"
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:58 AM on October 25 [2 favorites]

I was pleased to see Don't Take Me Alive on this list, it's a Steely Dan song that gets so little attention but is so good.
posted by tommasz at 7:18 AM on October 25 [1 favorite]

I'm not a huge Steely Dan fan, but Everything Must Go (the song) has the best lyrics with the worst singing and instrumentation. If they had given those lyrics to any other contemporary band, it would be in the running for one of the best songs of the 2000s century.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:30 AM on October 25 [1 favorite]

Here is an isolated vocals track of "Peg" if you are into such things; Michael McDonald's background vocals sound like magic.
posted by AgentRocket at 7:49 AM on October 25 [2 favorites]

Perhaps it's controversial and divisive to say so, but "Show Biz Kids" is the most controversial and divisive Steely Dan song. Nobody is meh on "Show Biz Kids". It's a love or hate binary. Now that would be a good list -- most controversial and divisive Steely Dan songs.
posted by vverse23 at 8:15 AM on October 25 [4 favorites]

I find Steely Dan faintly ridiculous even though it's one of my favorite bands. But I'm so so glad not to see Rikki Don't Lose That Number in the number 1 spot. I have more than 20 top 20 Steely Dan songs but I've grown to dislike Rikki based on it's overexposure and origin story.
posted by jclarkin at 10:10 AM on October 25 [1 favorite]

I pretty much think all SD songs are number 1.
posted by cccorlew at 12:00 PM on October 25 [2 favorites]

Peg is there because of Michael McDonald and I'm totally fine with that. Any Dan tune with Michael McDonald is a winner.
posted by chaz at 12:07 PM on October 25 [2 favorites]

they're good songs Brent
posted by neuron at 12:46 PM on October 25 [3 favorites]

The full SD catalog is among my most played music, going back nearly 40 years. Still listen to them a few times a week.

Not even going to try to argue for or against any individual songs or albums.

All lists like this prove is how pointless lists like this are.
posted by Pouteria at 2:07 PM on October 25 [4 favorites]

They do have one point (maybe): getting new listeners into Steely Dan.

(Also monetized clicks, but [insert dark irony] ).

One thing I'd say is that if you haven't seem them live before, I wouldn't go now. Especially after Becker's death. If you want the live sound, go with live recordings.

I went with my Dad probably ten years ago now, and he takes bands of this prominence seriously, and the aim was for me to see an Important Band before the got any older, and....we left.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:24 PM on October 25 [1 favorite]

Aja was one of the three albums that came with my first record player. Thanks, Dad, for being an audiophile who bought me that stereo at an deal age, and thanks, unknown record store clerk, for recommending Aja to him so I could have a lifelong love of Steely Dan and enjoy all the nitpicking in this thread.
posted by gentlyepigrams at 8:08 PM on October 25 [1 favorite]


The World can exist without ANY Steely Dan songs and still be just fine.
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 8:48 PM on October 25

The World can exist without ANY Steely Dan songs and still be just fine.

*checks watch*

Yep, right on time.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:47 AM on October 26 [2 favorites]

I'm sure I'd heard Steely Dan on the radio in my teens when I switched from listening to the Top 40 station to listening to the classic rock station like my friends. But what really turned me into a Dan fan was an abandoned collection of CDs one of my uncles forgot to bring home with him, then said I could just... have. There were several in there that also helped shape my musical tastes — Elton John's Tumbleweed Connection, Peter Gabriel's So — but the Steely Dan greatest hits collection A Decade of Steely Dan exposed me to the rest of the hits that my local classic rock station didn't play. Not long after I acquired that CD, Steely Dan released their boxed set Citizen Steely Dan, which was the first Steely Dan music I purchased myself.

If it good to ya, it got to be good for ya.
posted by emelenjr at 6:23 AM on October 26 [4 favorites]

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