Role Models: Donald Fagen

On the occasion of Donald Fagen’s latest non-Steely Dan effort, Sunken Condos, we sat down to talk about this new classic, and the previous ones. You and Walter Becker are among the few songwriters to extend the vocabulary of chords. Back in the days when they wrote standards, a lot of composers were using more jazz progressions, like Harold Arlen or Burton Lane. And jazz composers who wrote songs were into interesting changes. These days it’s not that way, because it’s now all guitar-based music. What makes a melody great? Melodies can be good depending on the context. You can have a simple melody, and if the harmony behind it is interesting, it can make a very simple melody really different. You can also have a complex melody. The more complex it is, the harder it is to sing, and then sometimes it can sound contrived. You could write a melody that would be fine on a saxophone but if you give it to a singer, it can sound raunchy. Is it your feeling that a song, lyrically, can contain anything? Yeah. Dylan opened up popular music so you could write about anything. He started using surrealism and wrote songs…

To view this content,

Join Today

or Sign In

The Benefits of Membership:

  • Subscription to the American Songwriter Print Magazine
  • Access to all Feature Magazine Content Online
  • Access to Print Edition Archives
  • Premium content in our Songwriter U section
  • Discounts on vinyl, Songwriter services, and other American Songwriter Partners
  • Exclusive access to members-only contests and giveaways
Click to Join

We've started an American Songwriter membership! Click here to learn more.