Their songs were catchy and insinuating enough to infiltrate pop radio in the 1970s. “That’s sort of what we wanted to do, conquer from the margins,” Mr. Becker told Time Out New York in 2011. “Find our place in the middle based on the fact that we were creatures of the margin and of alienation.”
Steely Dan’s lyrics were far from straightforward, depicting cryptic situations and sketching characters like addicts, suicidal fugitives and dirty old men. “You can infer certain things about the lives of people who would write these songs. This we cannot and do not deny,” Mr. Becker deadpanned in an online interview with the BBC in 2000.
Meanwhile, the music used richly ambiguous harmonies rooted in Debussy, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins, giving the songs a sophisticated core that would be widely influential across jazz and pop.
Although Steely Dan arrived as a full band on its 1972 debut album, “Can’t Buy a Thrill,” it soon recast itself as the Becker-Fagen songwriting team, backed by select session musicians. In its 1970s hitmaking heyday, Steely Dan rarely toured, preferring to work in the studio.
Steely Dan — named after a dildo in the William Burroughs novel “Naked Lunch” — dissolved after its 1980 album, “Gaucho,” though Mr. Becker and Mr. Fagen stayed in contact.
In 1993, Mr. Becker and Mr. Fagen re-emerged as Steely Dan, leading a band that would tour frequently well into 2017. Steely Dan’s songwriting and recording process remained painstaking; it released only two more studio albums, “Two Against Nature” in 2000 (which won the Grammy as Album of the Year) and “Everything Must Go” in 2003. But unlike its 1970s incarnation, Steely Dan thrived onstage.
In a statement released Sunday, Mr. Fagen wrote that Mr. Becker “was cynical about human nature, including his own, and hysterically funny. Like a lot of kids from fractured families, he had the knack of creative mimicry, reading people’s hidden psychology and transforming what he saw into bubbly, incisive art.”
Walter Becker was born in Forest Hills, Queens, on Feb. 20, 1950, and studied saxophone and guitar in his teens. Information on survivors was not immediately available.