Top 10 Steely Dan Drinking Songs
What better way to celebrate Walter Becker’s Feb. 20 birthday — or yours, or heck, any other event — than with a Steely Dan drinking song? Becker and his Steely Dan co-conspirator Donald Fagen have a penchant for namechecking libations in their songs. And given the characters that populate these tunes (whores, addicts, deadbeats of all stripes), it’s no wonder that most of the beverages are alcoholic. So without any further ado, here’s our list of the Top 10 Steely Dan Drinking Songs:
‘Time Out of Mind’
This song makes doing heroin sound like a sort of religious experience – and for addicts, it surely is. The chorus tells us that when one “chases the dragon,” the “water will change to cherry wine.” Whether that’s a reference to Jesus Christ performing miracles with water or a bloody syringe dropped in the sink is your guess. We do know that Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler plays some excellent guitar on the track.
‘Home at Last’
Donald Fagen once called this Steely Dan drinking song a “blues for Odysseus.” As such, it’s only appropriate that the hero in ‘Home at Last’ would be served “smooth retsina,” a Greek resinated wine, during his stay in paradise. Contrary to the track’s title, he can’t stay – “it’s just the calm before the storm.” Maybe he can take a bottle to go.
‘Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More’
Although “Daddy” drinks “his dinner from a paper sack” while driving his Eldorado, he’s not the one downing rum and cokes in this funky ‘Katy Lied’ highlight. No, that beverage belongs to Lucy, whom we can only assume is one of Daddy’s working girls. At the title suggests, he’s gone from NYC and left Lucy alone. Whether that’s the result of an arrest, a deadly car crash or something else, we don’t know. Don’t drink and drive, kids. (Come to think of it, don’t do most things you hear about in Steely Dan songs.)
It cannot be a coincidence that the older man romancing two younger girls in ‘Babylon Sisters’ drinks “kirschwasser from a shell.” Kirschwasser is a fruit brandy made from the double distillation of cherries. It is not sweet, and can leave a bitter taste in your mouth. Becker and Fagen sure love a skeezy metaphor. We won’t even discuss what they mean when they reference cotton candy.
The zombie cocktail was created in the ’30s and named because of what it turned the drinker into. In the reggae-addled Steely Dan drinking song ‘Haitian Divorce,’ Babs knocks one back before she gets knocked up – by someone who is not her husband. This might come as a surprise, but things don’t end well.
‘FM (No Static at All)’
This song was written by Becker and Fagen for the 1978 film ‘FM,’ which revolved around the personalities at a rock radio station. The film flopped, but the single lives on as part of the Dan canon. The grapefruit wine comes in right at the beginning, signaling the start of “party time.” It’s the rare Steely Dan drinking song in which nothing awful, or even all that awkward, happens.
It’s positively shocking that the people at Jose Cuervo didn’t offer Becker and Fagen an endorsement deal after hearing ‘Hey Nineteen.’ Who doesn’t want their fine product assorted with an aging former frat boy hitting on barely legal girls? The lyrics are ambiguous as to what happens in the end, but the man in the song sure loves his Cuervo Gold and Colombian cigars.
Could it be that there’s a drink referenced in a Steely Dan song that doesn’t contain alcohol? Nothing’s for certain, but ‘Black Cow’’s titular beverage could be a simple coke float or a more adult version of the beverage. I guess it depends on what one finds most comforting during a break-up: “It’s over now / drink your big black cow / and get out of here.”
This ‘Aja’ classic romances the idea of being a jazz musician toiling in obscurity – something that might have seemed appealing as Becker and Fagen became more famous throughout the ’70s. ‘Deacon Blues’ concocts the appropriate cocktail for this: get a cool name, learn to play an instrument, refuse to compromise, “Drink Scotch whisky all night long and die behind the wheel.” Wow. Sounds great, doesn’t it? (Kids, really, don’t try this at home.)
There are no better complements to mental instability than memories of bad sneakers and a pina colada, my friend. Steely Dan’s antidote for Los Angeles insanity is recalling youthful days in New York City. That must have been one special pina colada. Perhaps it went down as smooth as Michael McDonald’s backing vocals.