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The Royal Scam

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iTunes Review

With its pairing of venomous lyrics to enthralling grooves, The Royal Scam contains some of the most potent work of Steely Dan’s career. The album begins with “Kid Charlemagne,” in which Donald Fagen addresses a fallen idol: “Now your patrons have all left you in the red / Your low-rent friends are dead / This life can be very strange / All those DayGlo freaks who used to paint the face / They've joined the human race… You are obsolete / Look at all the white men on the street.” (Fagen later revealed the song was about LSD guru Owsley Stanley.) The title track is a scathing, impressionistic vision of America’s settlement: the lyrics are at once funny and frightening, and the music is sublime. In a perfect paradoxical formula, “The Caves of Altamira,” “Sign in Stranger,” and “Haitian Divorce” mine rhythms that are relaxed yet fiercely precise. The Royal Scam is a complex work but its depth is almost always implied rather than expository. Ironically, for such a wordy album, its most essential song might be “The Fez,” which features Fagen simply repeating a single phrase over a cyclical rhythm.

Customer Reviews

Absolutely the Best: See the glory

1976 brought The Royal Scam, considered by many as Steely Dan's second best album (next to Aja), personally it's my favorite. By far Steely Dan's hardest album, Don and Walt put aside their jazzy reverb guitars and Rhodes pianos for overdrive crunch and B-3 organs. Side A opens with the legendary Kid Charlemagne about a disoriented drug dealer, unreal guitar work by Larry Carlton and dig the clavinet driving the harmony. Caves of Altamira is an old song that Becker and Fagen wrote back in the late '60s, this song is full of horns, good vocal effort by fagen. Don't Take Me Alive is my favorite song of all time, crunchy guitar intro by Larry Carlton that leads right into a solo, Fagen's voice is right on, the lyrics are real deep, great guitar work throughout, as close as the Dan would ever get to hard rock. Sign in Stranger is a reggae influenced tune built around jazzy piano work. The Fez is a disco-ish little song about the importance of condoms, fairly boring song but worth a listen. Green Earrings is another masterpiece on this album, choppy lyric delivery is perfect, dig the huge amount of percussion (tambourines, triangle, etc.), great lead guitar work shared by Carlton and Denny Dias (nice use of harmonics and crazy effects on the closing vamp). Haitian Divorce is a nice reggae tune and very underrated song, dig Fagen's vocals especially the use of percussive nonsense lyrics ("Papa say, uh-huh.."), nice talk box guitar work by Dean Parks. Everything You Did is probably the worst song on the album but still worth a listen, nice intro that leads not where you think it will, good organ work, good lyric base about a man who finds his wife cheating on him and is mad yet turned on at the same tme. The title track is as dark, cynical, and scary as commercial music can get, dig the low piano chords and eery organ and guitar, trumpet provides the solo, Fagen's nasaly haunting tenor is the perfect voice for this song about disoriented immigrants moving into NYC, nice eery backup vocals too. Overall, Steely Dan's darkest and most cynical album and because of that, I think it's their best. Any lover of jazz, fusion, or hard rock will love this album. Guitar lovers especially will find a lot to get into here, amazing guitar work.

Scam is no scam

I applaud the first reviewer for nailing it on the head. Please disregard the "official" review, I find it to be far off the mark. This album was the turning point for the "mature" Steely Dan sound of the last 3 albums of the original 7. Katy Lied is great but young. This album is amazing, in my opinion the best Dan record and considering I think they're all great, and it's my favorite band, that is high praise. It is by far their funkiest and grittiest outing. Kid Charlemagne is probably their dirtiest, hookiest, catchiest song, and then the 2nd track is actually my favorite Dan song of all time, The Caves of Altamira, even though it is little-known and a re-worked oldie with a much different vibe. If you like analyzing lyrics, then this is a field day, with the seamy underbelly of life teeming through each track. Everything You Did is a classic example with the adulterous woman being instructed first to "tell me everything you did" with her paramour and then, by the end, "do me everything you did". When the protagonist asks to "turn down The Eagles, the neighbors are listening", you have to laugh--are the neighbors listening to arguing or screwing? And they get their little dig in at commercial rock all in the same line... An immersive classic.


The front-page review of this album (and just about every other SD album) makes me laugh. Seriously....who is ANYONE to say that these guys ever did anything that was "weak" or "over-produced"???!!! The duo that is Becker & Fagen seem to accomplish what they intend on every album I've ever heard from them. They are meticulous NOT to a fault...they make it the way they want it. They are perfectionists. That is why they have 5-10 of the world's best jazz musicians lay down a solo before the 2 of them decide which one to use ("Oh, let's dump Skunk Baxter's solo for Larry Corryell's," - would you not love to have to make THAT decision?!!). Get over the snooty-snotty-stuck-up garbage. Their studio efforts are nothing short of perfection. You may not like every song, but they are what they are - each one a work of art from the masters of the studio. This album is perhaps one of the SICKEST albums by any band, ever!!!


Formed: 1972 in Los Angeles, CA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Most rock & roll bands are a tightly wound unit that developed their music through years of playing in garages and clubs around their hometown. Steely Dan never subscribed to that aesthetic. As the vehicle for the songwriting of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, Steely Dan defied all rock & roll conventions. Becker and Fagen never truly enjoyed rock -- with their ironic humor and cryptic lyrics, their eclectic body of work shows some debt to Bob Dylan -- preferring jazz, traditional pop, blues, and...
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