Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Steely Dan - "Hey Nineteen"

Hey Nineteen - Gaucho

(Debuted November 29, 1980, Peaked #10, 18 Weeks on the Chart)

Steely Dan was always good for obtuse lyrics, and "Hey Nineteen" definitely fits the bill. Ostensibly about a younger girl being seduced by an older man (singer/songwriter Donald Fagen was in his 30s then), he's pointing out the fact that she isn't recognizing the things of his own youth -- she doesn't even recognize an Aretha Franklin song that's playing -- and realizing that he's no longer "with it," so to speak. However, having some tequila (Cuervo Gold) and a substance called "fine Columbian" can help bridge that age gap nicely. Being 1980, I'm fairly certain the Columbian product wasn't Juan Valdez's coffee beans.

Steely Dan was also known for using a wide range of studio musicians to achieve the best possible sound for the band's principal members, Fagen and Walter Becker. They do a great job on "Hey Nineteen," with its jazz-inspired sound that actually detracts from the "creepiness factor" that might actually be picked up by listeners (that's a good thing in this case). The backing singers, including Michael McDonald, add a smooth-sounding echo of the lyrics as the song heads toward its completion.

"Hey Nineteen" was the first single off the Gaucho LP. It was their first Top 10 single since 1974 (yes, none of Aja's three singles went that high on the chart), but the last one they would get. There was one more single before Steely Dan took a decade-and-a-half hiatus.

1 comment:

  1. It's a source of regret to me that Steely Dan were never that successful in the UK as they had just four chart hits with only 'Haitian Divorce' making the top 20, peaking at number 17.

    Around 1979 and 1980 I would listen to a radio station broadcasting from Holland (I live on the north east coast of England so could pick up the station quite easily as the signal only had to travel a few hundred miles). They were always playing songs by Steely Dan and this one received a large number of plays. Sadly few of their records received much airplay in the UK but I'm convinced they would have been more successful had radio played them a bit more.