Is “Deacon Blues” Steely Dan’s Most Iconic Song?

Exploring why some songs endure more than others

Steely Dan
Steely Dan, live in the U.K.
David Warner Ellis/Redferns

Like any dedicated viewer of Yacht Rock, I’ve probably spent too much time thinking about the music of Steely Dan. To be fair, though, one of the reasons I do that is because Steely Dan’s music occasionally sounds like significantly different bands — I’ll occasionally forget that the same artist is responsible for “Peg” and “Reelin’ in the Years.” For some great bands it’s easy to point to an especially singular song that highlights their skills. For Steely Dan, it’s a little tricker.

There are a few things in favor of “Deacon Blues,” from their album Aja, that make a solid case for it as the potential apex for the band. In a 2015 article for Pitchfork, Paul De Revere pointed out the contrast between the song’s lyrics about a self-destructive rock star and more restrained lives of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. It’s worth mentioning that “Deacon Blues” did make Spotify’s list of the top 10 most-listened Steely Dan songs — albeit in 10th place. Though it’s also the longest by over 90 seconds, which might play a role there as well.

In a recent piece for Far Out, Tyler Golsen also addressed “Deacon Blues” and its position in Steely Dan’s discography. Golsen wrote that the song is “[f]illed with nuance but never too complex for the average listener” and dubbed it “an easy entry point into the jazz-rock weirdness of Steely Dan.”

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“It seems they thought their audience wouldn’t like a female singer-songwriter,” Mann wrote.

Golsen points to another reason why the song has endured — the high quality with which it was recorded. If a song can become the poster child for high-fidelity recording, that certainly gives it another mark in its favor when it comes to staying power.

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