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Abstract Deadline: 31 July 2020
Steely Dan at 50
Submissions are invited for a special issue of Rock Music Studies on Steely Dan at 50. The year 2022 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Steely Dan, based on the release date of their debut record, Can't Buy a Thrill. If one observes the 1971 film soundtrack You Gotta Walk It Like You Talk It (Or You'll Lose That Beat), a record composed and performed by the Dan's chief architects Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, as a proto-debut, then the group's jubilee is upon us even sooner. In those intervening decades, Steely Dan has repeatedly ebbed and flowed in the popular imagination. In the 1970s, they were beloved among audiophiles and "jazz snobs" for their assiduous attention to production and for their sophisticated incorporation of post-bebop harmonies. Disbanding after the 1980 release Gaucho, Steely Dan as a collective went effectively quiet for about a decade, returning in the early 1990s in various forms: on rereleased compact discs, in solo projects on which Fagen and Becker mutually collaborated, and then finally as a band again in live tours and new recorded material. By 2001, when the group's Two Against Nature won a surprise Grammy for Album of the Year, the Dan renaissance had reached its apex. In the twenty-first century, Steely Dan has retained interest across audiences in a number of ways: as a consistent live act (often with other "classic rock" artists) on the summer concert circuit, as an unlikely headliner at 2015's Coachella Festival, as representatives of the refined pop of the 1970s and '80s that younger audiences now kitschily call "yacht rock."
So how do we talk about Steely Dan at 50? This special issue will observe the group's history, legacy, and continued existence to reflect on Steely Dan's truly unique place in American popular music. Among the possible topics the essays in this issue will consider are:
- the ontology of Steely Dan, and how we define a group that began with two songwriters, assembled into a traditional rock band, dissolved into a duo paired with hired studio musicians, and now exists (after Walter Becker's death in 2017) as a touring solo act with a working band of sidemen
- Steely Dan's fusion of musical styles and the ways they trouble musical genres, including jazz, the blues, the American songbook, soul, reggae, and disco, among others
- the prehistory of Steely Dan: Fagen and Becker's "I Mean to Shine" (as recorded by Barbra Streisand); the You Gotta Walk It Like You Talk It soundtrack; the early single "Dallas / Sail the Waterway" (neither of which ever appeared on a Steely Dan LP)
- Steely Dan and the art of recording, including their interest in technological innovation (such as their early use of the Wendel sampling drum machine) or the mythical accounts of the endless takes and rerecordings they demanded en route to the finished products of their album releases
- Steely Dan's engagement with race, as artists who defined themselves in relationship to various black music traditions, or as songwriters who often dramatized troubling narratives about race (as with the cynical narrative about interracial desire in "Haitian Divorce" or the mockery of "white trash" that centers "Cousin Dupree")
- Steely Dan and gender, especially with the leering heterosexual gaze of their countless first-person male narrators, or the celebratory culture of esoteric male "genius" that seeps into many critical discussions of the band's music
- Steely Dan's relationship to literature, as with their admitted influence from the Beat generation, American humor, and postwar science fiction
- comparing Steely Dan's two recorded periods: the "classic" albums from 1972 to 1980, and the later releases, 1995's Alive in America, 2000's Two Against Nature, 2003's Everything Must Go
- the relationship between Steely Dan's music and the Becker and Fagen solo projects, and how that relationship informs the ongoing debate about who contributed what to the group's unique sound
- Steely Dan's influence on other artists, including those who've covered their material (like Rickie Lee Jones, Joe Jackson, the Pointer Sisters, and Ben Folds), or those who have emulated aspects of their aesthetic, either in the form of musical resemblance (like Mark Ronson or Field Music) or (in the case of hip-hop artists like De La Soul and Kanye West) through direct sampling of their work
- explaining Steely Dan's appeal to or dislike by audiences across generations
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Potential contributors should first submit an abstract of approximately 500 words and a brief CV by July 31, 2020. Authors selected for inclusion will be invited to submit manuscripts of 6,000-8,000 words by December 31, 2020. All essays will be peer-reviewed using a double-blind process. Please send all abstracts and communications regarding this project to Michael Borshuk at [email protected].