A Decade Of Steely Dan

Steely Dan

MCA, 1985


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


It's kind of hard to imagine, especially for anyone who is under the age of 20, but way back in 1985, compact discs were the cutting edge of technology. After years of fighting scratchy, fragile records and sonically inferior, non-durable cassette tapes, digital audio invaded our lives. For the cost of an additional piece of stereo equipment (and the "luxury" price of CDs, since they were not standard yet -- cough, cough), you could experience music the way the artists wanted you to.

Back then, according to All-Music Guide, A Decade Of Steely Dan was one of the first compilation CD's out on the market. After all, what better way to demonstrate the power of digital audio than the jazz-rock hybrid of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, music that almost begged to be digitally sterilized?my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

In truth, this disc does serve as a pretty good primer into the world of Steely Dan. But, like almost every best-of or compilation disc ever released, there will be arguments as to what songs should have been included and which ones shouldn't have been taken out of the context of their original albums. And while other collections have made this disc pretty much unnecessary, it still has some merit.

Make no mistake, all of the hits are here, from the rhythmic samba of "Do It Again" to the smooth jazz transitions of "Hey Nineteen." (I will, however, take issue with the absence of tracks like "Any World (That I'm Welcome To)" and "Doctor Wu." No fun being a critic unless I can poke some holes in the status quo.) While there's still something to be said for hearing these songs in the context of the albums they were culled from, there still is more than a little magic hearing these songs for the umpteenth time on their own -- and, for some reason, they never grow old. Fagen and Becker could well have been the "Peter Pan" of rock music.

Yet in their attempts to cover all of Steely Dan's discs, a few questionable tracks are included. Why, for example, put on "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo," a track that was the least representative of what Steely Dan was in their career? Likewise, "My Old School" was never one of my favorites in their catalog, and while I can almost understand its inclusion here, it just doesn't feel right.

So why is this disc almost unnecessary today? Simply put, better compilations have since reached the marketplace, such as Show Biz Kids, which we're working our way towards in this retrospective. While A Decade Of Steely Dan was a decent release in 1985 at the advent of compact disc technology, it filled the need of a basic collection of Steely Dan's tunes at the then-assigned market value; a double-CD set would have been too far out of people's price ranges.

Still, I guess that's nitpicking. For its time, A Decade Of Steely Dan not only showed off the infant compact disc technology, but it also helped keep in the public eye a band that was five years into its self-imposed hiatus. There's plenty to recommend off this disc, and enough to justify your owning it. But, with no disrespect meant, this is a disc whose purpose has been fulfilled, and which is long past its prime usefulness.

Rating: B-

User Rating: B



© 2006 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of MCA, and is used for informational purposes only.