June 21, 1981: Steely Dan Disband

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Steely Dan in 1977: Walter Becker (l.) and Donald Fagen

Despite often obtuse lyrics, musically complex compositions and arrangements that frequently drew from jazz, and an expressed disdain for most pop and rock music, the group led by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker enjoyed a strong run of success in the 1970s.

Steely Dan scored such Top 10 singles as “Do it Again,” “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” and “Hey Nineteen,” enjoyed considerable popularity on FM album radio, and racked up seven platinum albums. On this day in ’81 they announced that they were breaking up.

Becker and Fagen reunited in 1993 to tour in support of the latter’s Kamakiriad solo release. In 2000 they released the first new Steely Dan album in 20 years, Two Against Nature, which won four Grammy Awards and became their eighth million-seller.

Steely Dan were one of six classic rock bands in the lineup for The Classic East and West concerts taking place in summer 2017 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and Citi Field in New York City. The headliners were the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, and they’ll be joined by Journey, the Doobie Brothers and Earth, Wind & Fire.

But health issues prevented Becker from participating in the Dodger Stadium concert from what was described as an “undisclosed illness.” Two weeks later, at Citi Field, Fagen announced after the first song of Steely Dan’s 13-number set that Becker was recovering, although he did not specify the nature of the illness.

On Sept. 13, 2017, a simple graphic on Becker’s Facebook page announced his death. He was 67.

Fagen is touring as Steely Dan this summer with the Doobie Brothers. He returns this fall with more dates, including the band’s annual series of concerts at New York City’s Beacon Theatre. Tickets are available here and here.

Here’s a 1973 performance from The Midnight Special

Related: Our Album Rewind of the band’s 1977 classic, Aja

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