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Six Degrees

The Sprawling Influence of Steely Dan

by Ryan Reed

The Sprawling Influence of Steely Dan

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In Judd Apatow's hilarious 2007 comedy Knocked Up, Seth Rogen's protagonist doofus argues against Paul Rudd's aging hipster that "Steely Dan gargles my balls." Funny stuff, especially for how it captures the divisive essence of the band's music. With their snarky, cynical lyrics, crystal engineering, and silky-smooth jazz-rock arrangements, Steely Dan have always drawn visceral hatred and praise -- they're either ball-garglers or canonical geniuses, depending on whom you ask.

We know they're geniuses, of course. And thanks to the cynical nature of music trends, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker's discography -- particularly their prime '70s era -- is back in vogue. Trailblazing rappers like Kanye West have pilfered their grooves for samples (see: the "Kid Charlemagne"-boosted "Champion"), and hitmakers like Pharrell Williams have re-popularized the band's signature jazz chords and keyboard-heavy productions. In 2015, Steely Dan's style seems to be omnipresent: Artists like Toro y Moi and Mark Ronson have released Dan-leaning cuts on their new LPs. The group's even playing this year's Coachella, a surreal proposition that also suggests refined taste hasn't gone extinct. To celebrate the renewed interest in Steely Dan, we've compiled a list of tracks that showcase their wide-ranging influence -- from tongue-in-cheek alt rock (Cake) to slick funk pop (Boz Scaggs) to guns-blazing gangsta rap (Ice Cube). The Dan reign supreme.

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