Walter Becker RIP

I’ve gained more appreciation for Steely Dan over the years, especially the Aja album, which my wife and I started listening to when we read about how local legend Steve Gadd plays on it. Walter Becker RIP.

111 replies
  1. 1

    Oh no! RIP. Hope he didn’t relapse. Sounds like surgical complications though.

  2. 2
  3. 3
    Elizabelle says:

    Dang. Listened to “My Old School” a few nights ago. Love a lot of Steely Dan songs, not all of them.


  4. 4
    geg6 says:

    Oh man, RIP. Aja was one of the soundtracks to my college days. Though I think Can’t Buy a Thrill is my favorite.

  5. 5
    Elizabelle says:

    Flashed back to that lovely dog, Walter. He was an RIP this year too.

  6. 6
    worn says:

    Aw fuck, what terrible news. The man, along with his partner in crime, gave us so much good music (though I will admit Donald’s voice is an acquired taste).

    RIP Walter, I hope you are in a good place.

  7. 7
    Elizabelle says:

    I love The Royal Scam. Kid Charlemagne. Caves of Altamira.

  8. 8
    jharp says:

    I clearly remember picking out stereo speakers in Akron, Ohio by listening to Steely Dan’s Aja.

    Circa 1974.

    (We had to drive to the big city to buy electronics)

  9. 9
    J R in WV says:

    Maybe an acquired taste – I must have acquired it years and decades ago, around the mid-70s. A guy next door (out of maybe 7?) played jazz, introduced us to Steely Dan early on. So been part of our lives for most of my life now.

  10. 10
  11. 11
    GxB says:

    Now this just plain sucks. I know he’s had health issues for quite some time (both mental and physical) so not a total surprise, but damn.

    And here I was going to try and catch SD on one of their low key tours, though they largely stuck to the coasts – elitist prigs ;) (can’t say I blame them.)

    RIP Walter – I’ll turn the Eagles up next time I argue with my SO in your honor.

  12. 12
    delk says:

    The small Catholic grade school I went to back in the early ’70’s had its own bowling alley (8 lanes. Fully Automated!) Do It Again was one of the juke box favorites.

    Later on, during the late ’80’s while studying with a Berklee grad I went through a massive Steeley Dan phase. So much tasteful guitar playing.


  13. 13
    raven says:

    @GxB: The Eagles suck and I was really bummed when I learned that Irving Assoff was Steely’s manager too.

  14. 14
    worn says:

    Walter’s 11 Tracks of Whack from the mid-90’s is a bit of a guilty pleasure: Dan type harmonies but the recording is stripped down to the point of sounding like a demo. A song that has special poignance to this, um, moody bastard:

  15. 15
    Mr. Prosser says:

    “I have always maintained that Steely Dan’s music was, has been, and remains among the most genuinely subversive oeuvres in late-twentieth-century pop.” – William Gibson Anyone who really listens to the words in “Hey, Nineteen” or “Cousin Dupree” and most of the rest of their songs knows Gibson is correct. Even their name is a wink at William Burroughs.

  16. 16
    Laura says:
    So much great music with style and smoothness, but the message of a world falling apart and then falling back together again touches my heart this morning (but Peg will always be my fav).

  17. 17

    Climate Change denier to head NASA, winning!

  18. 18
    worn says:

    @jharp: Aja was 1977, same year as Star Wars. But I don’t blame you for using it to preview qspeakers. The arrangements, performances & production on that LP are simply stunning.

  19. 19
    Felonius Monk says:


    (We had to drive to the big city to buy electronics)

    Where did you live? Medina?

  20. 20
    Mike J says:

    Have you ever seen a squonk’s tears? Well, look at mine

  21. 21
    worn says:

    @Mr. Prosser: ‘Were You Blind That Day”, a demo w/ an alternate set of lyrics to “Third World Man” is as cynical as the day is long. Unfortunately the only video youtube has the vocals sounding like they’ve been run through several reverb pedals chained together, else I’d post the link…

  22. 22
    Brachiator says:

    On the counter
    By your keys
    Was a book of numbers
    And your remedies
    One of these
    Surely will screen out the sorrow
    But where are you tomorrow

    I can’t cry anymore

    RIP, Walter Becker

  23. 23

    A classic

    Donald Fagen Defends Steely Dan to Friends

    NEW YORK—While having drinks with friends at a local bar Monday, Donald Fagen, 60, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and cofounder of the multiplatinum-selling American rock band Steely Dan, was once again forced to defend his appreciation for the multiplatinum-selling American rock band Steely Dan.

    “Look, I understand. It’s an acquired taste,” Fagen said…

  24. 24
    raven says:

    All night long
    We would sing that stupid song
    And every word we sang
    I knew was true

  25. 25
    chigail says:

    Oh crap. RIP, Walter. My son and Aja saw light the same year. Both have aged well.

  26. 26
    Felonius Monk says:

    Does this mean that Rikki lost that number?

    RIP, Walter.

  27. 27
    raven says:

    @Major Major Major Major: It is, I didn’t care for them much when they we getting going but became a huge fan in the last 20 years.

  28. 28
    jharp says:

    @Felonius Monk:

    About 45 minutes south of Medina.

  29. 29

    Aka has been in my catalog since its release. Vinyl, cassette, cd, digital. RIP Walter.

  30. 30
    raven says:

    @chigail: My brother named his first Aja.

  31. 31
    Felonius Monk says:

    @jharp: Wooster? Apple Creek?

  32. 32
    HinTN says:

    @Major Major Major Major: It’s a taste I acquired early.

  33. 33
    Mary G says:

    Bummer. Countdown to Ecstasy was one of my favorites in college and I still listen to it once in a while however many years later. Aja was my first CD, such an amazing technology at the time.

  34. 34
    burnspbesq says:

    Could it be that I have found my home at last?

  35. 35

    @raven: i liked them as soon as I heard a song that wasn’t Do It Again (which was all the radio played), from a goth friend in high school who got his music taste from having a cool older sister at Ann Arbor.

  36. 36
    hilts says:

    RIP Walter Becker and Long Live Mr. Steely Dan and whatever

    “If it good to ya, it’s got to be good for ya” – Jerome Aniton

    The best goddamn introduction to a live performance and the performance kicks ass as well

  37. 37
    Hungry Joe says:

    Can you show me
    The shine of your Japan?
    The sparkle of your China?

  38. 38
    Comrade Colette Collaboratrice says:

    Damn. Steely Dan was the soundtrack to my youth, and M. Colette and I were just singing along to “Dirty Work” when it came up on Pandora yesterday – we had no idea it was a requiem.

  39. 39
    hueyplong says:

    I recall a cross country trip when each passage into a new radio station’s range brought another playing of Deacon Blues.

  40. 40
  41. 41
    AliceBlue says:

    The Aja album cover is stunning as well.

    (Kid Charlemagne was supposedly based on the “acid king” Owsley Stanley).

  42. 42
    raven says:

    @AliceBlue: Not supposedly.

  43. 43
    Cheryl from Maryland says:

    I better take good care of my Steely Dan T-Shirt. Won’t be able to get another one directly at a concert. RIP, Mr. Becker. You and Mr. Fagin were the soundtrack of my college.

  44. 44
    Smiling Mortician says:

    I still have everything pre-1980 on vinyl but no turntable to play ’em on. How’s that for a metaphor? These guys got me through college. RIP, Walter.

    ETA: Looks like a lot of us were in college at roughly the same time, eh?

  45. 45
  46. 46
    Comrade Colette Collaboratrice says:

    @raven: Yeah, I know – Michael McDonald’s quintessential vocal. Fagen could never have hit those high notes. I think a few other tracks had vocals by others, too. I wore out at least three cassette tapes of Can’t Buy a Thrill over the years; I don’t think I could still sing along (badly) with every song the way I once could, but “Dirty Work” is still my carpool karaoke go-to.

  47. 47
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    @AliceBlue: I remember TV commercials when Aja was released– for you younglings, that used to be a thing, albums advertised on television

    I’ve always been a Steely Dan fan. The last few years Kid Charlemagne has been my favorite song. RIP

  48. 48
  49. 49
    RandomMonster says:

    My wife and I saw them play a couple of years ago. They were very tight and professional, as you’d imagine.

    We named our adopted dog “Josie”. She’s a short little thing and about the furthest thing from the character in the song, but we thought she needed a little confidence.

  50. 50
    trollhattan says:

    Sigh, terrible news. So many finely crafted songs and perfect fodder for those sarcastic, sardonic moods. The more one digs into the lyrics the more is revealed.

    RIP Walter, and thanks. Everything must go.

  51. 51
  52. 52
    raven says:

    If you have’t seen this it’s a must

    Classic Albums: Steely Dan – Aja

  53. 53
    p.a. says:

    Damn. Just yesterday I commented about music I hadn’t listened to in years and had forgotten how great it was, in reference to Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells a Story, and after that I played Countdown to Ecstacy (close by in the alphebetized cd rack). Baaaaad mojo. Hang in there Rod!

  54. 54
    GxB says:

    @raven: No argument on the Eagles – I have never owned one of their albums in any form. I say, that’s a JOKE son… pay attention!

    I’m more of a Pretzel Logic fan these days, but really all their albums are fantastic. The last two maybe a bit less IMO, but I remember hearing “Two Against Nature” for the first time – Dave Brubeck a’ la’ Steely Dan, played the ever-loving crap out of that track.

  55. 55
    geg6 says:

    @Smiling Mortician:

    All my Steely Dan is on vinyl, too. And I also have no turntable. I have a lot of great pre-mid-80s stuff on vinyl that I can’t listen to. Most of my Springsteen and early Prince and all my punk. I need to get a turntable, dammit.

  56. 56
    Just One More Canuck says:

    drink kirschwasser from a shell


  57. 57
    MomSense says:


    This brother is free
    I’ll be what I want to be


  58. 58
    Jacel says:

    @AliceBlue: The designer of the Aja cover was Phil Hartman. Yes, that Phil Hartman. He created a lot of iconic record covers, including Poco’s horse logo, aside from his comedy and acting career.

  59. 59
    burnspbesq says:

    He was never a member of the band, but Steely Dan made Larry Carlton a legend. Guitar students will study “Kid Charlemagne” for the rest of time.

  60. 60
    James Powell says:


    Same here, freshman year at the Ohio State University, one of the top three years of my life. It’s probably the main reason I’ve always really loved that album and tend to listen to it all the way through.

  61. 61
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Walter Becker is dead.

    Yet Donald Trump and Dick Cheney are still animated.

    There ain’t no fuckin’ justice.

  62. 62
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @hueyplong: Learn to work the saxophone.
    I play just what I feel
    Drink scotch whiskey all night long
    And die behind the wheel

    They got a name for the winners in the world
    I want a name when I lose
    They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
    Call me Deacon Blues

  63. 63
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @geg6: Same here.

  64. 64
    woodrowfan says:

    @raven: thank you

  65. 65
    Elizabelle says:

    @Jacel: Whoa. Who knew?

    Did Steely Dan ever write a song about Phil Hartman? Missed opportunity, if not.

  66. 66
    piratedan says:

    was always more of a Bodhisattva guy myself… but loads of good music, awesome to listen to be it on the road or reading a fave book.

  67. 67
    The Golux says:


    I clearly remember picking out stereo speakers in Akron, Ohio by listening to Steely Dan’s Aja.

    I’ve done the same – that and Little Feat’s “Last Record Album”. Those two albums (Aja in particular) were so well produced, and so sonically superior to other recordings, that they were perfect for that purpose.

    When a Steely Dan song comes up during my band’s break music, it stands out for how much better it sounds than the song that preceded it.

  68. 68
    Elizabelle says:

    @Just One More Canuck:

    drink kirschwasser from a shell

    sounds like a plan, for next time we spin a Steely Dan recording.

  69. 69
    Lee Hartmann says:

    Things may get a whole lot worse
    before suddenly falling apart…

  70. 70
    Lee Hartmann says:

    Sharing the things we know and love with those of our kind
    Sensations- Libations – that stagger the mind

  71. 71
    danielx says:

    Saw her last night.

    Samantha Fish

    Go see her.

  72. 72
    dexwood says:

    Thanks, raven Bookmarked.

    My love of Steely Dan goes back to their first album. I can’t say what my favorite album is, though, it often comes down to which album I’ve chosen to listen to at the moment. My favorite tends to change with my mood. For years, my brother would make fun of me for seeing SD live – quit wasting your money on a studio band, he’d say. He stopped saying that after I took him, under protest, to one of their shows. So very tight,

  73. 73
    trollhattan says:

    @The Golux:
    Yup, certain recordings challenge the equipment to reveal itself and it’s always a great experience to hear an old familiar piece for the “first time” when previously unheard details are presented.

    Cartridges and turntables are SO much better today that a lot of old vinyl has new tricks. Most of the Steely Dan catalog is worth revisiting.

    Hi-fi geekdom has become unfathomably expensive but a patient shopper can pick up used audiophile bits and assemble a pretty terrific two-channel system. Multichannel setups are usually poor for music and stereo stores are rare as honest Republicans.

  74. 74
    jeffreyw says:

    @The Golux:

    When a Steely Dan song comes up during my band’s break music, it stands out for how much better it sounds than the song that preceded it.

    That is so well said that I refuse to add a snarky comment.

  75. 75

    @Elizabelle: gonna play some San Francisco show and tell too?

  76. 76
    raven says:

    @piratedan: my dogs name

  77. 77
    Hungry Joe says:

    Like castle in the corner
    Of a medieval game
    I foresee terrible trouble
    But I stay here just the same.

  78. 78
    MomSense says:


    She’s fantastic. I saw her a couple years ago.

  79. 79
    Smiling Mortician says:

    @geg6: Sounds like you and I have pretty much the same record collection.

  80. 80
    Bentley Wong says:

    I remember listening to Steely Dan for the first time on my 9volt powered AM radio.
    It was a revelation! Nothing else sounded that good.
    I could get enough of it…Do it Again !

  81. 81
    Bentley Wong says:

    That’s Couldn’t get enough of it……

  82. 82
    Mr. Prosser says:

    @worn: Thanks for telling me about Were You Blind that Day. I didn’t know that.

  83. 83
    Elizabelle says:

    Walter Becker gone; no chance to see the original Steely Dan founders. Kicking myself for not seeing them; thought the tickets were too expensive (and concerts are way more expensive than they used to be …)

    Although: Walter Becker quoted saying that he would be fine not playing on his own record. And they always sought out the best musicians, if not the most famous. So, if Donald Fagen does mot hang it up, we could still see (most of) a Steely Dan concert.

    Rolling Stone had a great lineup of ten of their best songs. Think you will know all or most of them, and wonder why another favorite did not make this list. Great catalog.

  84. 84
    Elizabelle says:

    @Smiling Mortician: How are you feeling? Rooting for you.

  85. 85
    trollhattan says:

    They say the smudgy skies are from wildfire smoke but it smells distinctly of exhaust at my house. Lovely.

  86. 86
    gene108 says:


    Climate Change denier to head NASA, winning!

    Guess we hold be glad he didn’t pick a flat-earther

  87. 87
    SFAW says:


    The last week or so, I’ve been mini-bingeing on pre-Aja Dan. Reminded me how much I liked them.

    Which is weird, in a way, because I remember giving one of my frat brothers a ration of shit about them — before I actually listened to them. (Well, other than “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” which I still don’t like.) But I used to listen to their albums heavily, but I only have vinyl. Maybe it’s time to join the late-20th century, do some more bingeing, but on CD.


  88. 88
    SFAW says:


    Guess we hold be glad he didn’t pick a flat-earther

    How do you know he isn’t?

  89. 89
    Ripley (Whiskey Fire version) says:

    Royal Scam is one of my favorites,and I stumbled across this last year. RIP, Walter

    Kung Fu 12-19-2014 Toad’s Place – New Haven, CT (THE ROYAL SCAM Full album set) [HD 1 cam wide]

  90. 90
    Elizabelle says:

    You know what else holds up? Boz Scaggs’ Silk Degrees. Still fresh; took it for granted because it was so ubiquitous (inescapable, really) when it was released.

  91. 91
    Inventor says:

    And they wandered in
    from the city of St. John
    without a dime.

    R.I.P. Walter

  92. 92
    raven says:

    @Elizabelle: See the Dukes of September

  93. 93
    geg6 says:

    @Smiling Mortician:

    Soul sisters.

    @The Golux:

    That’s exactly right.

  94. 94
    dr. bloor says:

    Oof. Wore out the vinyl on them in college, did a full work-out last Thursday with them on the headphones, not much down time in the rotation at any point between then and now. They’re like the soundtrack to my life.

    Met him once, quite unexpectedly, about 20 years ago at a party in your basic 500 sq. ft. Cobble Hill apartment (“Steve, what’s Walter Becker doing in your living room?”). Pleasant to talk to, nicer than he needed to be to us.

  95. 95
    hilts says:


    For years, my brother would make fun of me for seeing SD live – quit wasting your money on a studio band, he’d say.

    Your brother notwithstanding, their live performances were pretty damn impressive. In addition to the great live version of Bodhisattva that I linked to above they played an awesome version of Reelin’ In the Years on The Old Grey Whistle Test that unfortunately has been removed from YouTube.

  96. 96
    Elizabelle says:

    @raven: never heard of them. Thanks!

  97. 97
    raven says:

    @Elizabelle: It’s pretty much Steely without Walter and with Box Scaggs and Michael McDonald. I’ve got a thing for Carolyn Leonhart so I really like them.

  98. 98
    Steeplejack (phone) says:

    Yow, this hits me hard. Steely Dan is one of my favorite groups, maybe second only to the Beatles. Becker’s death was completely unexpected. (When is it?)

    Haven’t listened to them much lately, but now seeing all these songs today is really making me feel the loss.

    “Doctor Wu.”

    All night long we would sing that stupid song
    And every word we sang I knew was true

  99. 99
    No One of Consequence says:

    Though he has passed unto stillness, the vibrations he and Fagen set out into the Universe will reverberate for some time, considerably longer than the vibrations of most.

    I had a copy (dunno which generation off of the reels) of some of the cutting room floor leavings of Pretzel Logic and Katy Lied. What they left was some astounding stuff. Much like the Exile on Main Street outtakes, there was a lot of fantastic stuff.

    Hard to pick just one song, but my personal favorite was always Your Gold Teeth II. The chord progressions in that song, and the voicing and color just make me smile from the inside.

    Such a loss, but such a legacy to lessen the sting.

    Heaven’s Band gained another solid.


    – NOoC

  100. 100
    Tilda Swintons Bald Cap says:


  101. 101
    eclare says:

    It’s my favorite foreign movie…RIP

  102. 102
    Bill says:

    There’s a story that the Osmonds covered “Reelin’ in the Years”, perhaps not having read the lyrics beforehand, and so Fagan and Becker decided to Osmond-proof the song, and took to performing it in 13/8 or some similarly godawful time signature. It’s spectacular, and can be heard on Alive in America.

  103. 103
    John Fremont says:

    @Steeplejack (phone): Your comment memotioning the Beatles and Steely Dan brought to mind Becker and Fagen’s inspiration for founding Steely Dan. Becker and Fagen were both jazz aficionados growing up and had very little interest in rock and roll. That is, until the Beatles came along. Both of them credit Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting to take another look at pop and rock music. Man, what a style they created with the Dan!

  104. 104
    The Moar You Know says:

    Surprised at the ambivalence. I’m a musician, it’s been nothing but full on love for them since day one.

    RIP Mr. Becker.

  105. 105
    Bill says:

    @raven: Is it possible to not have a thing for Carolyn Leonhart? I thought that it was pretty much a given.

  106. 106

    I realized long ago that Steely Dan doesn’t make sense, not really, until you turn 30. And then you look back and wonder how crazy you were in college not to understand them any better.

  107. 107
    Rachel in Portland says:

    @BruceFromOhio: @BruceFromOhio: We play this song frequently during our in-house jam sessions, and I always cry. Even though I am not a white dude. So good.

  108. 108
    Rachel in Portland says:

    Steely Dan: Such superb musicianship, such cultural literacy, such self-awareness, such subversion of all of it. I could even overlook the sexism. I appreciate how often @Doug! quotes them. Walter Becker–home at last.

  109. 109
    Another Scott says:

    @Bill: That’s wild! Thanks.


  110. 110

    @PaulWartenberg: This seems accurate. I don’t think I fully appreciated just how perfect so many of their songs were until I reached my thirties. I greatly underrated The Royal Scam in particular when I was younger, though I’d always realised Countdown to Ecstasy and Aja were great. I didn’t fully understand the lyrics when I was younger, either.

    And they really did have so many great songs. “Deacon Blues” is one of the most perfect pop songs ever written. And there are so many other unforgettable ones – “Pretzel Logic”, “Chain Lightning”, “Reelin’ in the Years”, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”, “Show Biz Kids”, “My Old School”, “Bodhisattva”, “Do It Again”, “Black Friday”, “Doctor Wu”, “Kid Charlemagne”, “Don’t Take Me Alive”, “Caves of Altamira”, “Aja”, “The Royal Scam”, “Peg”, “Josie”, “FM (No Static at All)”, “Babylon Sisters”, “Hey Nineteen”, and on and on – most musicians would kill to have a songbook like that.

    Beyond that, the production on their albums was immaculate. Aja is, for my money, quite possibly the best-sounding recording ever produced; maybe only the likes of Dark Side of the Moon can actually stack up. These records were made when analogue sound had really reached perfection, and they have a warmth to them that is missing from many modern records. Beyond that, they have such dynamic range. Digital sound should’ve been an opportunity to bring even more clarity to music, and early on, it actually was (listen to something like the original CD of Tears for Fears’ Seeds of Love), but modern recording industry practices have just sucked all the dynamic range out of music, and with it, all the life. There’s a clarity to Steely Dan’s music that simply isn’t there in most modern records, and I suspect most of that is due to Walter and Donald’s perfectionism in the studio.

    Anyway, this was really horrible news to wake up to, and I still don’t feel any better about it at the end of the day. I’ve re-listened to their first six albums plus “FM (No Static at All)”; now to put on Gaucho.

  111. 111

Comments are closed.