The long, torturous, and incredibly expensive process of making the Gaucho album had proved to be the breaking point. Despite the band's seventh studio album being another hit-laden and Grammy-winning success, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen needed a break. A big one.
It was in a June 1981 interview with the New York Times when Fagen would casually mention that Steely Dan was no more: 'Basically, we decided that after writing and playing together for 14 years, we could use a change mondaire, as the French say. We wanted to do something fresh.'' When asked if the group would even reconvene to make a new record, Fagen's response: ''We just kind of left that up in the air. It would be fun, but it depends on our mutual inclinations further down the line. Nothing is planned; we'll see.''
It was during the same interview that Fagen talked about his first solo song, "True Companion," commissioned for the 1981 movie, Heavy Metal.
''They sent me the script and the comic book, and frankly it didn't make much sense to me," Fagen said. "But I took it as a jumping off point to do a five-minute piece that's mostly instrumental, with a little vocal harmony, if it got me back in the studio. I should be ready to start recording my own album before the end of the summer. Working on it has been interesting. The fact that it's not a Steely Dan album has freed me from a certain image, a certain preconceived idea of how it'll sound. I hate to use the word 'personal,' but I do think it's going to be more subjective.''
Fagen's partner in the Dan, guitarist Walter Becker, famously moved to Hawaii to become "a gentleman avocado rancher and self styled critic of the contemporary scene." He also used the time to kick a serious drug habit that had been exacerbated in January 1980 after he found his girlfriend, Karen Stanley, dead in their New York apartment of a drug overdose. Her family slapped Becker with a $17.5 million wrongful death lawsuit for introducing their daughter to a druggy lifestyle of cocaine and heroin. The suit was eventually settled out of court.
Donald Fagen released his first solo album, The Nightfly, in October 1982. ''The album has a theme that all the songs will relate to in one way or another,'' told the New York Times, ''although I would hate to call it a 'concept album.' The theme has a lot to do with the blues.''
Walter Becker went into the world of producing, twiddling knobs for the likes of Rickie Lee Jones and UK new wave act China Crisis, who make Becker a member of the group for the 1985 album, Flaunt the Imperfection.
Steely Dan got back together as a live act in 1993, followed by Becker's first solo album, 11 Tracks of Whack, in 1994.