For the glorious period from the band’s formation in 1971 up until its last pre-hiatus touring performance on July 5th, 1974 in Santa Monica, CA, however, audiences were able to bear witness to the how and the who that put these ingeniously unique compositions together. On the night of February 9th, 1973, Steely Dan appeared as the musical guest on NBC‘s The Midnight Special and gave the whole country a front-row seat.
On just the third-ever episode of the late-night music variety program, Steely Dan appeared on a lineup that also included Albert Hammond, The Spinners, Merilee Rush, guest host Johnny Rivers, and The Ace Trucking Company comedy troupe featuring a young Fred Willard. The band was on the heels of its remarkable 1972 debut Can’t Buy A Thrill, and was five months away from releasing the follow-up, Countdown To Ecstacy. Both albums were represented throughout the four-song appearance, with takes on “Do It Again” and “Reelin’ In The Years” from Can’t Buy A Thrill alongside “Show Biz Kids” and “My Old School” from Countdown To Ecstacy.
At the time, the band’s roster included Donald Fagen on keyboards and vocals and Becker on bass. David Palmer takes over lead vocals for “Do It Again”, though Fagen sang it on the original recording. Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and Denny Dias share guitar duties and both deliver blistering work throughout, including the harmonious breakdown in “Reelin’ In The Years”. The rest of the lineup is rounded out with drummer Jim Hodder, percussionist Royce Jones, and backing vocalists Gloria “Porky” Granola and Jenny “Bucky” Soule.
Airing after the Friday night edition of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Midnight Special was a major breakthrough in the history of late-night television. The 90-minute variety program employed weekly guest hosts and welcomed top artists of the 1970s and early ’80s, including everyone from AC/DC to The Jackson 5 to Weather Report. The program was also revolutionary for having musicians actually perform live, as opposed to the contemporary standard practice of lip-syncing. Though the show went off the air in 1981, a new YouTube channel has begun uploading troves of archival material on a daily basis, including full episodes.