The death of Steely Dan’s Walter Becker in September 2017 was a sad loss to all lovers of music made with intelligence and understated poise. But the group’s rich catalog of recordings continues to resonate, as we celebrate here by remembering one of their six songs that were US Top 20 hits, “Peg.”
Becker and his creative partner Donald Fagen may have had little time for the single as an art form in itself. But on November 19, 1977, the song made its debut on the Billboard Hot 100, as the first release from Steely Dan’s sixth album Aja. Written as ever by Becker and Fagen and produced, like the LP, by longtime collaborator Gary Katz, “Peg” was made with an A-team of collaborators.
Among those musicians, Paul Griffin played the electric piano, Chuck Rainey the bass, with Steve Khan adding guitar and Jay Graydon nailing the intricate guitar solo. They and others played key roles in a song that typified Steely Dan’s move towards an ever-jazzier sound, but still with enough of the rock accoutrements with which they’d become established.
A distinctive ingredient
The unmistakable extra ingredient was the voice of another frequent collaborator, Michael McDonald, who sang ever-distinctive harmony vocals as he had on early Dan recordings. By now, he was well established as the lead singer with the Doobie Brothers, and much admired for their US chart singles such as “Takin’ It To The Streets” and “It Keeps You Runnin’,” with great solo success still in store.
“Peg” started on the Hot 100 at a fairly sedate No.87, halfway down a list of ten new entries that also included ELO’s “Turn To Stone” and Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Girls School.” But as Top 40 radio as well as FM stations began to realise its charms, the single climbed for fully three months, reaching No.12 in its 15th and 16th chart weeks. A few months later, Aja yielded another Top 20 US hit in the equally admirable “Deacon Blues.”
Buy or stream “Peg” on Steely Dan’s Aja album.