Steely Dan's Best Album Is...

Steely Dan made nine studio albums -- seven in a burst of creativity in the '70s, then two more after a 20-year break. But for Steely Dan fans, the question of which ONE is best is admittedly impossible to answer. It's like asking whether you favor the Beatles or the Stones, Giants or Jets, or...you get the picture.

Still, we posed that question in our latest poll. None of you will be surprised to learn that Aja topped the list. But what's more interesting is which albums came in second and third. So drumroll, please....

In second place is what some would call the most rocking, guitar-drenched Dan album, The Royal Scam. We absolutely love this record, from the opening bars of twisted funk and drug-dealer-gone-to-seed in "Kid Charlemagne" to the burning guitar intro of "Don't Take Me Alive" and the noirish tale of corruption in "The Royal Scam." 

Not far behind is the stately Katy Lied. From the dueling electric pianos of "Black Friday" to the plaintive "Doctor Wu" this is perhaps the Dan's most varied record.

We're a little surprised that Gaucho didn't score higher. This is the record that broke up the band, when they drove themselves to burnout through studio obsession. It was during this period that Walter Becker's substance abuse got out of hand, culminating in a broken leg when he was hit by a taxi in New York.

In defense of Gaucho, Donald Fagen defends against the misperception that the Dan created smooth jazz. He offers a different explanation -- that not everyone gets their sense of humor, which can be too subtle or obscure for some folks. Here's his take on "Hey Nineteen:" 

 
We're actually accused of starting smooth jazz, which I don't think is exactly true. A lot of the effects we got were intended to be comic, like 'Hey Nineteen.' We were in our 30s, still saddled with these enormous sex drives and faced with the problem that you can no longer talk to a 19-year-old girl because the culture gas changed. That's set against an extremely polite little groove. And then the chorus is set to jazz chords, and it's scored for falsetto voices, which adds to the effect. To me, it's very funny. But for some other people, it's nauseating.
 
And what about the newer Dan material? Unfortunately, the more recent the record, the worse it did in our poll. Two Against Nature scored only 1 vote, while Everything Must Go got a GOOSE egg. That's a Rodney-Dangerfield-esque lack of respect. 

For some good related resources, here's a long profile of Donald Fagen with some great detail about his influences, his songwriting process, the band's history and other curiosities: Icon: Donald Fagen.

And here's an article that ranks the Dan's albums, and their ranking is very close to our poll results. Plus, in true ironic Dan fashion, they do it backwards: Steely Dan Albums From Worst To Best.

Leave A Comment

Now it's your turn? Do you agree with these poll results? What's your favorite Steely Dan album and song? Leave a comment and let us know!

And if you like this article, you might also like:
Steely Dan's Greatest Guitar Solos
Steely Dan's Donald Fagen As A Rapper?

44 comments

  • Debbie Archuleta
    Debbie Archuleta ColoradoThese are the charities where your money will do the most good - Vox https://apple.news/AavkHVShEQnefarntqeIE1A
    Aside from Aja and Royal Scam, My favorite album is Night Fly by Donald Fagan, Its Fantastc!!!!!

    Aside from Aja and Royal Scam, My favorite album is Night Fly by Donald Fagan, Its Fantastc!!!!!

  • Cindy Sanford
    Cindy Sanford Pittsfield, Massachusetts
    I know this has nothing to do with my favorite album, however, I felt the need to ask why on earth did they never win a Grammy until Two Against Nature???? I didn't mind that album but why Aja didn't win is beyond me!!!

    I know this has nothing to do with my favorite album, however, I felt the need to ask why on earth did they never win a Grammy until Two Against Nature???? I didn't mind that album but why Aja didn't win is beyond me!!!

  • Roxanne Chase
    Roxanne Chase Humboldt County California!!
    The Caves of Altamira!!!!! My Mother and Son Dance Song at my Youngest Sons Wedding 2015 My Oldest Son Was Best Man/ DJ and This Was My Wonderful Surprise!!!!!

    The Caves of Altamira!!!!! My Mother and Son Dance Song at my Youngest Sons Wedding 2015 My Oldest Son Was Best Man/ DJ and This Was My Wonderful Surprise!!!!!

  • Ron Hawkins
    Ron Hawkins Santa Rosa, CA
    Everything Must Go was up against some incredibly good earlier work, some might even say modern classics. That it got zero votes in a running for BEST record is not so surprising, or disrespectful even. My fave got second place, The Royal Scam.

    Everything Must Go was up against some incredibly good earlier work, some might even say modern classics. That it got zero votes in a running for BEST record is not so surprising, or disrespectful even. My fave got second place, The Royal Scam.

  • Jack Parker
    Jack Parker Covington LA
    I vote Pretzel Logic

    I vote Pretzel Logic

  • Barron Chandler
    Barron Chandler Narberth, PA
    No question about Aja. At some point during Pretzel Logic the Dan moved from a real group to a revolving door of studio aces. As a result, I see their career as three phases. There is the first 2-2 1/2 albums, the next 4 1/2 - 5 albums and the later two albums. For me, Countdown To Ecstasy is without question their most organic, as in a true working band, recording. And there isn't a single moment of filler. Also, it may contain more of their classic tunes than any other single album. Skunk and Denny play their posteriors off on Countdown!!

    No question about Aja. At some point during Pretzel Logic the Dan moved from a real group to a revolving door of studio aces. As a result, I see their career as three phases. There is the first 2-2 1/2 albums, the next 4 1/2 - 5 albums and the later two albums. For me, Countdown To Ecstasy is without question their most organic, as in a true working band, recording. And there isn't a single moment of filler. Also, it may contain more of their classic tunes than any other single album. Skunk and Denny play their posteriors off on Countdown!!

  • Steve Hopper
    Steve Hopper Atlanta, GA
    I was gonna rave about "The Nightfly" too, but Cindy Sanford beat me to it! Great record. Aja is still my favorite SD record.

    I was gonna rave about "The Nightfly" too, but Cindy Sanford beat me to it! Great record. Aja is still my favorite SD record.

  • Timothy Clark
    Timothy Clark Coral Springs Fla.
    Aja was such a great album while in high school in 1977. Then I remember Gaucho was the last Steely Dan album I bought before I got married in 1981. Then twenty years later Two Against Nature, I the chance for my son and daughter to see what their dad was talking about when you talk about the Dan. Love this group and All their albums are just great for their place in time. I agree with the ranking of the Dan's albums.

    Aja was such a great album while in high school in 1977. Then I remember Gaucho was the last Steely Dan album I bought before I got married in 1981. Then twenty years later Two Against Nature, I the chance for my son and daughter to see what their dad was talking about when you talk about the Dan. Love this group and All their albums are just great for their place in time. I agree with the ranking of the Dan's albums.

  • Jon Sanders
    Jon Sanders Tucson
    Re: The Caves of Altamira. Nowadays they pretty much stick to the "hits". In 2003 I saw them at an outdoor venue on Clear Lake, Ca. Probably no more than 1500 people. When they broke into "The Caves ..." I got full body chills.

    Re: The Caves of Altamira. Nowadays they pretty much stick to the "hits". In 2003 I saw them at an outdoor venue on Clear Lake, Ca. Probably no more than 1500 people. When they broke into "The Caves ..." I got full body chills.

  • Stonechipper
    Stonechipper Delevan NY
    These 2 never surprised me with their music as one of my Seabee pals blasted anything available in 74' , I learned to appreciate their style in a calmer state. There will be 3 tunes that stick out for me Don't Take Me Alive, Kid Charlemagne & Bad Sneakers but That's my preference I like the band!

    These 2 never surprised me with their music as one of my Seabee pals blasted anything available in 74' , I learned to appreciate their style in a calmer state. There will be 3 tunes that stick out for me Don't Take Me Alive, Kid Charlemagne & Bad Sneakers but That's my preference I like the band!

  • Bob Harkins
    Bob Harkins South Jersey
    My fav was Royal Scam. Larry Carlton tore it up and blended so well with those fantastic songs. Second, probably Aja and 3rd was Gaucho. SD is probably in my top 5 fav. bands of all time. :D

    My fav was Royal Scam. Larry Carlton tore it up and blended so well with those fantastic songs. Second, probably Aja and 3rd was Gaucho. SD is probably in my top 5 fav. bands of all time. biggrin

  • Chris Urso
    Chris Urso Middletown, CT
    The Royal Scam is my fav and "Don't Take Me Alive" my favorite track. Being a horn player and liking such a heavy guitar tune I know is a little weird, but when it comes to Larry Carlton's tasty solo I can't resist this tune!

    The Royal Scam is my fav and "Don't Take Me Alive" my favorite track. Being a horn player and liking such a heavy guitar tune I know is a little weird, but when it comes to Larry Carlton's tasty solo I can't resist this tune!

  • Tommy Eicher
    Tommy Eicher Annapolis, MD
    For 35 years played Dan tunes in Bad Sneakers our SD band around Washington DC...just can't pick one album.

    For 35 years played Dan tunes in Bad Sneakers our SD band around Washington DC...just can't pick one album.

  • Chris Stevens
    Chris Stevens Indianapolis, IN
    Countdown to Ecstasy definitely wasn't their best album, but Guadalajara is a personal favorite.

    Countdown to Ecstasy definitely wasn't their best album, but Guadalajara is a personal favorite.

  • Rob Kaniper
    Rob Kaniper Knoxville, TN
    After seeing them perform all the music from their first three albums in Aug. '73, I became a confirmed Dan Fan. Had the first two albums, already. Then Katy Lied came out and I was blown away. "They can't do any better" I proclaimed. But then Royal Scam came out and once again I said "they can't possibly do better than this!" But, lo and behold, came the technically perfect masterpiece Aja next. I still like Royal Scam better, but just a bit. Like Gaucho quit a bit, on par with Countdown. Took me a while to appreciate Two Against Nature. Did not like Everything Must Go at all: felt like it was leftover dregs from the previous recording session. Still turn up "Reelin' in the Years" way to loud when I'm driving. Still LOVE Steely Dan! Always will.

    After seeing them perform all the music from their first three albums in Aug. '73, I became a confirmed Dan Fan. Had the first two albums, already. Then Katy Lied came out and I was blown away. "They can't do any better" I proclaimed. But then Royal Scam came out and once again I said "they can't possibly do better than this!" But, lo and behold, came the technically perfect masterpiece Aja next. I still like Royal Scam better, but just a bit. Like Gaucho quit a bit, on par with Countdown. Took me a while to appreciate Two Against Nature. Did not like Everything Must Go at all: felt like it was leftover dregs from the previous recording session. Still turn up "Reelin' in the Years" way to loud when I'm driving. Still LOVE Steely Dan! Always will.

  • gerry walsh
    gerry walsh dover NH
    I feel that pretzel logic was their best album through and through

    I feel that pretzel logic was their best album through and through

  • Linda Mojica
    Linda Mojica Hesperia, CA
    Aja is my favorite then Pretzel Logic. I do however, love them all. They are my favorite band outside of the Beatles. Give anything to see them in concert. Linda

    Aja is my favorite then Pretzel Logic. I do however, love them all. They are my favorite band outside of the Beatles.
    Give anything to see them in concert.

    Linda

  • glenn murrray
    glenn murrray pinellas park fl.
    royal scam

    royal scam

  • Rob Hente
    Rob Hente Cape Girardeau, MO
    Can I just say "FM" No static at all Probably my favorite song. Looking forward to more from these talented guys.

    Can I just say "FM" No static at all
    Probably my favorite song. Looking forward to more from these talented guys.

  • Greg
    Greg Scranton
    There are just too many to choose from. Just too many. Too many good moments in each of them

    There are just too many to choose from. Just too many. Too many good moments in each of them

  • Stefan Barone
    Stefan Barone Franklin, NC
    Can't Buy A Thrill has always been my favorite album, then Katy Lied, followed by Aja....guess it's just progression. Loved their earlier stuff. The single FM has always been a fav too!

    Can't Buy A Thrill has always been my favorite album, then Katy Lied, followed by Aja....guess it's just progression. Loved their earlier stuff. The single FM has always been a fav too!

  • Marilyn
    Marilyn Merced, California
    Always partial to the song they use as the encore song....my old school. And I loved GAUCHO.

    Always partial to the song they use as the encore song....my old school. And I loved GAUCHO.

  • Rodney Ames
    Rodney Ames Ingram, Texas
    I can't stand it when people, including the writer refer to Steely Dan as "The Dan". Stop it! I love all their records, but agree Aja is their most lavishly produced. Everything about it was pure greatness. That being said, the band hooked me with Can't Buy a Thrill! Jeff "Skunk" Baxter's incredible guitar work shone through on virtually every track.

    I can't stand it when people, including the writer refer to Steely Dan as "The Dan".

    Stop it!

    I love all their records, but agree Aja is their most lavishly produced. Everything about it was pure greatness.

    That being said, the band hooked me with Can't Buy a Thrill! Jeff "Skunk" Baxter's incredible guitar work shone through on virtually every track.

  • Michael Hood
    Michael Hood Philadelphia Pa
    To quote a hilarious movie about office drones, "I celebrate their entire catalog" I would agree about Aja but I will also posit that Everytnhing Must Go and especially Two Against Nature are super strong, quintessential Dan sounding records. Production quality is otherworldly and the musicianship and sense of humor have not lost any of their wry clever winky smirk. If nothing else Cousin Dupree is amazing. That groove is Crushin! The live concert film from the Two Against Nature "tour" is also worth finding in DVD. They pull the whole thing off live with the killin est NYC sidemen and women you could imagine in the early 2000s.

    To quote a hilarious movie about office drones, "I celebrate their entire catalog"
    I would agree about Aja but I will also posit that Everytnhing Must Go and especially Two Against Nature are super strong, quintessential Dan sounding records. Production quality is otherworldly and the musicianship and sense of humor have not lost any of their wry clever winky smirk. If nothing else Cousin Dupree is amazing. That groove is
    Crushin! The live concert film from the Two Against Nature "tour" is also worth finding in DVD. They pull the whole thing off live with the killin est NYC sidemen and women you could imagine in the early 2000s.

  • Robbie
    Robbie Seattle
    Countdown to Ecstasy. From the absurdist cover to all those great songs...My Old School, Boston Rag, Bodhisattva. I'm surprised it got only five votes...

    Countdown to Ecstasy. From the absurdist cover to all those great songs...My Old School, Boston Rag, Bodhisattva. I'm surprised it got only five votes...

  • Noel.D
    Noel.D LA
    I think the peeps got it right and I'm also with you on Goucho. Always fun to readabout the Dan. Thanks!

    I think the peeps got it right and I'm also with you on Goucho.
    Always fun to readabout the Dan.
    Thanks!

  • Pappy
    Pappy Pittsburgh
    The fact that Countdown To Ecstasy isn't even mentioned makes me sad. It's my favorite.

    The fact that Countdown To Ecstasy isn't even mentioned makes me sad. It's my favorite.

  • hildecat48 @ Gmail.com
    hildecat48 @ Gmail.com Ohio
    Last week a lost song from Gaucho showed up, I'm trying to find it so I can hear it.

    Last week a lost song from Gaucho showed up, I'm trying to find it so I can hear it.

  • Psychdelicrelic
    Psychdelicrelic East coast
    There are no bad Steely Dan albums......The band is a musical progression melding rock,jazz,funk into a mix and then each album progressed further into normally ignored or unexplored territory, as all great artists do. My favorite album....Katy Lied.....

    There are no bad Steely Dan albums......The band is a musical progression melding rock,jazz,funk into a mix and then each album progressed further into normally ignored or unexplored territory, as all great artists do. My favorite album....Katy Lied.....

  • Dan S.
    Dan S. Vermont
    I lived in Princeton, NJ when most of their music was made, and luckily lots of variety and progressive music came through the FM stations. Bought their Can't Buy a Thrill, and wore it out and was thereafter hooked! Still my favorite tune is probably, Any World That I'm Welcomed To, and all of Katy Lied.

    I lived in Princeton, NJ when most of their music was made, and luckily lots of variety and progressive music came through the FM stations. Bought their Can't Buy a Thrill, and wore it out and was thereafter hooked! Still my favorite tune is probably, Any World That I'm Welcomed To, and all of Katy Lied.

  • John Augusto
    John Augusto Tampa
    Fave song. Parkers Band I love the 3 songs off Gaucho. Title cut My rival Third world man. Utter genius

    Fave song. Parkers Band
    I love the 3 songs off Gaucho. Title cut
    My rival
    Third world man. Utter genius

  • Daniel
    Daniel Baltimore
    Two Against Nature is my favorite.

    Two Against Nature is my favorite.

  • Nightly
    Nightly Bayside
    How about Bohidassa Stealy Dan.Great guitar work there.

    How about Bohidassa Stealy Dan.Great guitar work there.

  • Chuck Arthur
    Chuck Arthur Birmingham, AL
    I'll have to go with Katy Lied. Every song is great musically and lyrically. They are all good sing-along with the crazy lyrics songs. Great Denny Dias solo on Your Gold Teeth 2.

    I'll have to go with Katy Lied. Every song is great musically and lyrically. They are all good sing-along with the crazy lyrics songs. Great Denny Dias solo on Your Gold Teeth 2.

  • Edward
    Edward St. Louis
    My favor album by steely Dan is Katy lied guess because its diffewent aja went to commercial

    My favor album by steely Dan is Katy lied guess because its diffewent aja went to commercial

  • Kevin
    Kevin Las Vegas
    Fresh on the heels of their stand at The Venetian (1,100 seats!), "Aja" is given the royal treatment, appropriately in my view. The title number of their album sustaining endless listening in my home, car and iPod, stands as a marvelous example of virtuoso performance - widely regarded as the greatest of all drum-sax duets - Gadd & Shorter. Exceptional standard for measurement - if any is truly needed.

    Fresh on the heels of their stand at The Venetian (1,100 seats!), "Aja" is given the royal treatment, appropriately in my view. The title number of their album sustaining endless listening in my home, car and iPod, stands as a marvelous example of virtuoso performance - widely regarded as the greatest of all drum-sax duets - Gadd & Shorter. Exceptional standard for measurement - if any is truly needed.

  • Switchboss
    Switchboss Schenectady
    I have seen Steely Dan at their poorest sounding and what I thought was spectacular sounding. I have Fagen in a third category too; cool. At some point they toured with just a keyboard and some guitars. They had no set in a big venue, so they looked like a rehearsal not a show. The sound was not good. Fagen's voice was annoying. I saw them other times with a large band, great lighting, fabulous back up singers and Jon Herrington on guitar. Once at the Beacon Theater for a third or fourth straight night and the sound in the theater was dialed in, I heard them do "Third World Man" it was never may favorite and it may not even received honarable mentions before that but Holy Crow!. It was stunning. My music teacher / MS Degree in Digital recording / singer / song writer wife thought the same. In fact I quoted her. Holy Crow! Fagan use to come to Levon's and sit in unannounced. Brian Mitchell would move over to the organ and play lots of accordion that night. We sat so close above and behind him that Gail could read his charts. He was all business between songs, getting his material out and securing the rest. Very fastidious. I noted how "in the pocket" he played the keyboard. His hands hoverd above the key board higher than I am use to seeing. He struck the keys like they were little bongos. Some people could likely hear that already just from the sound. It took seeing it for me to "get it" but I'm a drummer so .... we all know the jokes. Anyway, now my favorite SD song is Third World Man, followed closely by "Black Friday" which I saw him perform with levon's gang, second to last in the show, followed by The Weight" ....not a "version of "the Weight" levon singing The Weight. .... now that was "cool."

    I have seen Steely Dan at their poorest sounding and what I thought was spectacular sounding. I have Fagen in a third category too; cool. At some point they toured with just a keyboard and some guitars. They had no set in a big venue, so they looked like a rehearsal not a show. The sound was not good. Fagen's voice was annoying. I saw them other times with a large band, great lighting, fabulous back up singers and Jon Herrington on guitar. Once at the Beacon Theater for a third or fourth straight night and the sound in the theater was dialed in, I heard them do "Third World Man" it was never may favorite and it may not even received honarable mentions before that but Holy Crow!. It was stunning. My music teacher / MS Degree in Digital recording / singer / song writer wife thought the same. In fact I quoted her. Holy Crow! Fagan use to come to Levon's and sit in unannounced. Brian Mitchell would move over to the organ and play lots of accordion that night. We sat so close above and behind him that Gail could read his charts. He was all business between songs, getting his material out and securing the rest. Very fastidious. I noted how "in the pocket" he played the keyboard. His hands hoverd above the key board higher than I am use to seeing. He struck the keys like they were little bongos. Some people could likely hear that already just from the sound. It took seeing it for me to "get it" but I'm a drummer so .... we all know the jokes. Anyway, now my favorite SD song is Third World Man, followed closely by "Black Friday" which I saw him perform with levon's gang, second to last in the show, followed by The Weight" ....not a "version of "the Weight" levon singing The Weight. .... now that was "cool."

  • Dane
    Dane Little Rock
    My favorite album was a tie between Aja and Gaucho. After that Royal Scam and Katy Lied. Best guitar solo: Another tie between Kid Charlemagne and Haitian Divorce. Also I have to put in a serious shout out for Fagen’s Sunken Condos. Every song is a gem. No “filler” anywhere.

    My favorite album was a tie between Aja and Gaucho. After that Royal Scam and Katy Lied. Best guitar solo: Another tie between Kid Charlemagne and Haitian Divorce. Also I have to put in a serious shout out for Fagen’s Sunken Condos. Every song is a gem. No “filler” anywhere.

  • Robbie
    Robbie Texas right now
    Give me Fagan’s CD. Maxine always makes me hit replay.

    Give me Fagan’s CD. Maxine always makes me hit replay.

  • James Tezyk
    James Tezyk Morganton Ga
    I’ve been listening since Aja and before. Aja is by far my favorite so far. It was a crazy time in my life and the lyrics and music fit like a glove as far as I’m concerned there is not a bad tune on that vinal disc I went through 2. I would like to meet cousin Dupree lol. I saw this show in a small venue and it was the best show ever.

    I’ve been listening since Aja and before. Aja is by far my favorite so far. It was a crazy time in my life and the lyrics and music fit like a glove as far as I’m concerned there is not a bad tune on that vinal disc I went through 2. I would like to meet cousin Dupree lol. I saw this show in a small venue and it was the best show ever.

  • Alan
    Alan Florida
    I graduated high school in Utah in 1973, that first album was just so incredible to me, there was nothing on the radio like it. The later albums showed their diff talents and their progression, but the first one still trips my switch!

    I graduated high school in Utah in 1973, that first album was just so incredible to me, there was nothing on the radio like it. The later albums showed their diff talents and their progression, but the first one still trips my switch!

  • Richard Scott
    Richard Scott Lodi, CA
    It's not really fair of you to say that certain albums got a goose egg in the voting while others were top vote-getters! The question at hand was, "What is the top album?" It didn't ask, "How do you like the newer albums?" ALL of their albums were fantastic ! '"Everything Must Go" is one of my favorites, but you asked what was the best. I also love all of Donald Fagan's solo work (I have a playist entitled "Steely Fagan"!) By the way, Gooseneck is a damn good band also! The Goose Is Loose🤘

    It's not really fair of you to say that certain albums got a goose egg in the voting while others were top vote-getters! The question at hand was, "What is the top album?" It didn't ask, "How do you like the newer albums?" ALL of their albums were fantastic ! '"Everything Must Go" is one of my favorites, but you asked what was the best. I also love all of Donald Fagan's solo work (I have a playist entitled "Steely Fagan"!) By the way, Gooseneck is a damn good band also! The Goose Is Loose🤘

  • Terri
    Terri Oklahoma
    There is NO WAY I can rank the Dan albums!! But looking at this I cannot believe that 'Every Thing Must Go' rated a big fat zero. This is a FANTASTIC album. So groovy and slick. I LOVE THIS ONE!!! I play the shit out of it all the time!! C'mon people!! You can't be a Dan Fan and not love this album!!

    There is NO WAY I can rank the Dan albums!! But looking at this I cannot believe that 'Every Thing Must Go' rated a big fat zero. This is a FANTASTIC album. So groovy and slick. I LOVE THIS ONE!!! I play the shit out of it all the time!! C'mon people!! You can't be a Dan Fan and not love this album!!

  • Robb-G
    Robb-G Chicago
    Aja... Hands down, and I agree...it should have won a '"album of the decade' award! I know people that named their daughters after this album. I know people that won't take a road trip without having this album to ride along to. I was actually fortunate enough to see them perform this album in person...I'll never forget it.

    Aja... Hands down, and I agree...it should have won a '"album of the decade' award! I know people that named their daughters after this album. I know people that won't take a road trip without having this album to ride along to. I was actually fortunate enough to see them perform this album in person...I'll never forget it.

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