Walter Becker was half of Steely Dan, not the vocal half. It's hard to write about Becker because I can't tell you exactly what he was personally responsible for. His partner Donald Fagen you can hear, in the vocals and on electric piano, but Becker is less conspicuous. The band tended to use studio musicians for anything difficult.

It's easy to write about Steely Dan. As a musician I can tell you they're one of the few pop artists whose chord progressions I can't simply pick up in a listening or two. Their chords are complex and show up in weird sequences. Like their music, their lyrics tend toward the cryptic but extremely evocative - you're never quite sure what the song is about but you're close. Their harmonies are very jazzy but their approach is anything but - there are some improvised solos but everything is so, so planned. Every sound has to be just so, even if it means trying each musician on several different microphones to see which sound is perfect. On Peg,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwyTrWJ7Djw

they brought in several guitarists to play the lead, and they went through four or five of them before they hit on the one they liked. I mean four or five top studio players. When I was in the stereo business back then, a lot of stores used their tracks to demonstrate equipment because it was so clean, detailed, well-mixed, subtle, realistic, and just present. Maybe the word is a Transparent. The production was just superlative. This is some of the most carefully crafted rock (or anything else) ever recorded.

As planned as it is, there's nothing dull about it, any more than there's anything dull about a good symphony.

They started out as a full band, organized and run by Becker and Fagen, but the rest of the band quit because Becker and Fagen refused to tour. The band included Skunk Baxter on guitar, who went on to play with the Doobie Brothers and have a very successful sessions career. Touring is a big deal to musicians because that's where the money is, particularly if you don't have songwriting credit. Or even if you do - Steely Dan went on the road in more recent years mainly to make money. Fagen says they still will.

And we'll still listen.

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Comment by older/exasperated on September 4, 2017 at 11:16am

 After Vietnam Steely Dan gave me the perfect way to be cynical but not overtly obnoxious Hell if people actually knew what every song Becker/Fagen/Steely Dan wrote meant they would be confused. They gave me an outlet few others understood. Rikkie Don't Loose that Number was about Rick Derringer leaving the band and Aja and Gaucho were the best. Then came success again with their last two albums and appearances again. He will be missed and I am still cynical in a strange sort of way. One should play 'Godwhacker' and enjoy the reality......................................o/e

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