Walter Becker Critical Essays

Introduction

Walter Becker 1950– Donald Fagen 1948–

American songwriters.

Becker and Fagen write and record songs for the group Steely Dan. Because of their use of satire and complex imagery, their writing style has been compared to that of William Burroughs, from whose novel Naked Lunch the name Steely Dan derives. In their songs, Becker and Fagen comment on failed romances, drugs, revelations, and character transformations. Many critics feel that the songs of Becker and Fagen are self-consciously intellectual and that their style is the antithesis of the simple lyrics and elaborate stage shows prevalent in 1970s rock and roll.

Steely Dan's debut album, Can't Buy a Thrill, includes the hit songs "Do It Again" and "Reelin' in the Years." Their next few albums are characterized by rueful irony and increasingly obscure lyrics. With The Royal Scam, however, Becker and Fagen's lyrics became easier to understand. The songs are about ordinary people trapped by crime and sexual passion, and the album has been referred to by Kenneth Tucker as "the ultimate 'outlaw' album." The songs on Aja use relatively few words to say as much as possible. They deal with relationships and breakdowns in communication between the narrator and numerous women.

Becker and Fagen describe Steely Dan as "more a concept than rock band" because they do not perform in concert or record with a specific group of musicians. Even so, their distinctively polished sound and elusive lyrics have gained for them a wide following among the pop music audience.