Classic rock fans got an unexpected surprise last week - an announcement of the first live album from Steely Dan in over twenty five years. Northeast Corridor: Steely Dan Live! will compile tracks recorded in 2019-2020 across multiple shows, covering most of the hits from the band's storied career.
On top of that, a full live recording of 1982's The Nightfly, the first solo album from founding member Donald Fagen, will be released simultaneously. Both albums will be available on CD and digital storefronts on September 24, 2021, and we'll be watching for the limited-edition 180g vinyl release coming a week later on October 1.
Should anyone under the age of 50 care?
"Your Favorite Band's Favorite Band"
Steely Dan was founded by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, in 1971. The band briefly had other official members, but by 1975, Fagen and Becker were the only true Steely Dan lineup. All other players were hand-picked from studio musicians and guest-stars to fill out their albums and live shows.
Even in a decade known for its musical inventiveness and rapid evolution of styles, Steely Dan stood out. While most bands from the early 70s were still exploring psychedelia, folk, and progressive formats, Steely Dan sounded like nothing else. Their sound was a blend of pop, jazz, soul, classical, and even latin beats, making them - arguably - one of the pioneers of the jazz fusion movement.
To this day, the exact classification of Steely Dan tends to generate arguments among music geeks.
The band had numerous hits across the decade, including Do It Again, Reelin' In The Years, Bad Sneakers, and their all-time biggest hit, Rikki Don't Lose That Number, which ultimately got to #4 on Billboard charts. Steely Dan were always something of a 'cult' band, never quite achieving the same level of fame as their peers at the time - but their influence is impossible to ignore.
Steely Dan was the sort of band that inspired other acts. With their wild mix of styles, perfectionist recording and mastering, and deceptively complicated songwriting, there are few bands from the time who weren't paying attention to them. Even to this day, Steely Dan samples pop up surprisingly often. Their modern fans include Beyonce and Kanye, as well as being a huge inspiration to De La Soul.
Despite having recorded nearly all their hits over 40 years ago, Steely Dan has lived on to be a significant influence to this day. If all someone has heard from them is "Rikki" or "Reelin'" on the radio, they'd do well to check out the back catalog.
Can Donald Fagan Carry The Torch?
However, that leaves the question of what these new live albums will look like. Due to the sad passing of Walter Becker in 2017 due to cancer, Donald Fagen and Steely Dan are now, effectively, one and the same. Fagen has said he's devoted to keeping Steely Dan's music, and Becker's memory, alive as long as possible. Undoubtedly that's driving the release of this new live album.
What remains to be heard is how well this all pans out. Fagen was always more comfortable in the studio than in front of a crowd. Can he muster the energy and presence to make Steely Dan relevant again in 2021?