On September 3, we lost Walter Becker, who co-wrote all ten of Steely Dan’s Top 40 hits with Donald Fagen. We remember him with a key flip side and exclusive quotes from fellow bassists Mark Andes and Kenny Passarelli.
By Warren Kurtz
Flip side: Any Major Dude Will Tell You
A side: Rikki Don’t Lose That Number
Top 100 debut: May 11, 1974
Peak position: 4
Dutch 45 picture sleeve, with Walter Becker furthest to the right
The flip side of Steely Dan’s biggest hit, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” from their third album, “Pretzel Logic,” was “Any Major Dude Will Tell You.” The chorus opened with encouraging lyrics from one friend to another in a time of need, “Any major dude with half a heart surely will tell you my friend, any minor world that breaks apart falls together again.” Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s friendship preceded their time with Steely Dan. Jay & the Americans hired them as arrangers on their 1970 “Capture the Moment” album on the title track, “Tricia (Tell Your Daddy)” and other selections.
On television shows including “In Concert” and “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert,” the sextet performed early hits including “Do It Again” and “Reeling in the Years” from the debut album “Can’t Buy a Thrill.” What Becker & Fagen didn’t anticipate was that along with the success was the touring to support hit records. As the “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” / “Any Major Dude Will Tell You” single was fading, so was their interest in keeping the group together. They would rather earn songwriting royalties from the songs and hire side musicians when necessary to make a record, officially turning Steely Dan into a duo beginning with the album “Katy Lied” in 1975, followed by “The Royal Scam” in 1976. Their style became more jazz/rock in nature, especially on their next album, the hit filled “Aja.”
1978 was Steely Dan’s biggest year in the Top 40. They debuted in the first week of January with “Peg” from “Aja.” In May, “Deacon Blues” also from the “Aja” album, entered the Top 40. As soon as that single left the charts, the title song from the film “FM” debuted and remained in the Top 40 for several weeks that summer.
In October, “Josie” from “Aja” was in the Top 40 with Walter Becker providing a guitar solo. That same month, bassist Mark Andes was heard in the Top 40 on one of Firefall’s biggest hits “Strange Way” and bassist Kenny Passarelli was also in the Top 40 on Daryl Hall & John Oates’ “It’s a Laugh.” Mark Andes told Goldmine, “I was saddened to hear about Walter Becker’s passing. Steely Dan has always represented the best in jazz/rock fusion. Walter’s sense of melody and phrasing always inspired me. He will be missed.” Kenny Passarelli reflected, “I was fortunate to have spent time with Walter in Maui in 1992. We shared a day at his studio talking about music and recording. Steely Dan created brilliant records which raised the bar for all of us. Walter was constantly searching for new ideas. His passion for recording and composition was inspiring. One of the brightest lights of our musical generation has left us, but we have been given music from Walter that will be with us forever.”
In 1980, Walter Becker’s bass was heard in the Top 10 for a final time on the song “Hey Nineteen” from Steely Dan’s “Gaucho” album.
For years, Steely Dan’s music fit the FM rock format perfectly with songs including “Dirty Work,” “My Old School,” “Don’t Take Me Alive,” “Bodhisattva,” “Show Biz Kids,” and more. In later years, their songs have appeared on television as well. Their 1975 Top 40 single “Black Friday” is featured every year when discussing after Thanksgiving sales. For a 2010 episode of “Cold Case,” from season seven called “The Runaway Bunny,” the song the producers chose to match the period of 1974 was the Steely Dan flip side “Any Major Dude Will Tell You.”
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, on WVCR.com as part of “Moments to Remember.”