Music rivalries are built into the very fabric of rock and roll. The Beatles vs The Rolling Stones. Oasis vs Blur. Neil Young vs Lynyrd Skynyrd. Motorhead vs sobriety. These are some of the most epic tales that ever graced the history books. But one quasi-rivalry was much more low-key during rock music’s height in the late 1970s. That was Steely Dan vs. the Eagles, two bands who probably didn’t seem like the fighting type.
The Eagles tried to position themselves as a rock band, especially once Joe Walsh joined their ranks, but they were always best at country-tinged soft rock ballads. Steely Dan, on the other hand, were pasty jazz nerds who probably never got in a collective fight in their lives. As many bookmakers would tell you, such equal deficiencies make for an interesting bout.
So why were these two bands sparring, or at the very least making references to each other in song? It was Steely Dan who made the first blow, referencing the Eagles directly on the song ‘Everything You Did’. Whether “Turn up the Eagles, the neighbours are listening” is truly an insult or not is up to the listener’s interpretation, but the song itself is a pretty severe indictment about a less-than loyal lover.
“Apparently, Walter Becker’s girlfriend loved the Eagles, and she played them all the time,” Glenn Frey is quoted as saying in Gavin Edwards’ Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton’s Little John?: Music’s Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed. “I think it drove him nuts. So, the story goes that they were having a fight one day and that was the genesis of the line.”
So the anger definitely isn’t directed towards the Eagles, but the association probably isn’t a celebratory one either. In any case, there didn’t appear to be any ill-will. The groups shared the same manager, and future Eagle Timothy B. Shmidt would contribute backing vocals to Steely Dan albums like The Royal Scam and Aja. There’s even a chance that Schmidt sings on ‘Everything You Did’. The Dan would bring in Don Henley to try and record some backing vocals, but that didn’t end well.
Just to return the favour, Frey and Henley decided to reference the Dan in the lyrics to ‘Hotel California’. Originally the line “stab it with their steely knives” had the band’s full name in it, but according to Frey, “We just wanted to allude to Steely Dan rather than mentioning them outright, so ‘Dan’ got changed to ‘knives,’ which is still, you know, a penile metaphor.”
The reality is that the two bands enjoyed far too much kinship to have actually enjoyed any kind of rivalry. Instead, they both just went about their business filling the airwaves of American rock radio for decades to come.
Check out both songs down below.