"Deacon Blues" is a song written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen in 1976 and recorded by their group Steely Dan on their 1977 album Aja.[2] It peaked at number 19 on the Billboard charts[3] and number 17 on the U.S. Cash Box Top 100 in June 1978.[4] It also reached #40 on the Easy Listening chart.[5] In Canada, it peaked at #14, a position it occupied for two weeks,[6] and #20 Adult Contemporary.[7] In 2021, it was listed at No. 214 on Rolling Stone's "Top 500 Greatest Songs of All Time".[8]

"Deacon Blues"
Artwork for German vinyl single
Single by Steely Dan
from the album Aja
B-side"Home at Last"
Released24 March 1978 [1]
Length7:36 (Album Version)
6:33 (7" Version)
Songwriter(s)Walter Becker, Donald Fagen
Producer(s)Gary Katz
Steely Dan singles chronology
"Deacon Blues"
"FM (No Static at All)"
"Deacon Blues" on YouTube

Background edit

Donald Fagen said of the song's opening lines and theme:

The concept of the "expanding man" that opens the song may have been inspired by Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man. Walter and I were major sci-fi fans. The guy in the song imagines himself ascending to the levels of evolution, "expanding" his mind, his spiritual possibilities, and his options in life.[9]

The song was largely written at Fagen's house in Malibu and was prompted by his observation that "if a college football team like the University of Alabama could have a grandiose name like the 'Crimson Tide' the nerds and losers should be entitled to a grandiose name as well."[2] The song's protagonist, muses Fagen, is somewhat "autobiographical in that it reflected the dreams [Fagen and Becker had] about becoming jazz musicians while . . . living in the suburbs."[10] Characterized as a "loser" by Becker, the song's subject was meant to reflect "a broken dream of a broken man living a broken life".[2] In his 2013 memoir Eminent Hipsters, Fagen gives credit to Norman Mailer as inspiration for the narrator's persona:

[It] toyed with the cliché of the jazz musician as antihero. It was kind of a takeoff on that old essay by Norman Mailer, "The White Negro," not to mention our lives up to that point. . . . the alienated white suburban kid thinks that if he learns how to play bebop, he'll throw off the chains of repression and live the authentic life, unleash the wild seeds of art and passion and so on.[11]

On the origin of the song's name, Fagen says, it was inspired by football player Deacon Jones, as they like the sound of his name: "It also had two syllables, which was convenient, like 'Crimson.'"[2] The song, however, is really about "the ultimate outsider, the flip side of the dream, boy-o . . . call me Deacon Blues."[11]

Recording edit

"Deacon Blues" was recorded at Village Recorders in West Los Angeles. Jazz guitarist Larry Carlton used Fagen's demos to transcribe the chords into a rhythm section that featured Carlton's guitar on the song's opening. Saxophonist Tom Scott wrote the horn arrangements for not only "Deacon Blues" but for all of the songs on Aja, a task that he completed in less than two weeks. After the song was recorded, Becker and Fagen decided to add a saxophone solo. They asked their producer, Gary Katz, to arrange for Pete Christlieb to record the part. At the time, neither Becker nor Fagen knew Christlieb by name, only by his reputation as a musician on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. Christlieb went to the studio and recorded the solo after taping the show one evening.

They told me to play what I felt. Hey, I'm a jazz musician, that's what I do ... so I recorded my first solo ... we listened back and they said it was great. I recorded a second take and that's the one they used. I was gone in a half hour. The next thing I know I'm hearing myself in every airport bathroom in the world.[2]

About its composition, Fagen later stated: "One thing we did right on 'Deacon Blues' and all of our records: we never tried to accommodate the mass market. We worked for ourselves and still do."[2]

Reception and legacy edit

"Deacon Blues" was released on Steely Dan's 1977 album Aja which reached No.3 on Billboard's album chart, a position it held for seven consecutive weeks.[2] The song was the duo's fifth Top 20 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the US, where it peaked at #19 in 1978. "Deacon Blues" remained in the Top 40 for eight weeks.[12] Billboard particularly praised the "outstanding" saxophone playing.[13] Cash Box praised the production, "jazzy guitar licks," lead vocals and "tasty keyboard touches."[14] Record World said from the masters of the complex lyric, musings on what it means to be an artist."[15] Village Voice critic Robert Christgau wrote that "not only is "Deacon Blues" one of their strongest songs ever, it's also one of their warmest."[16]

In a 1994 AOL chat interview, Becker discussed the inspiration for the song, "It was an outgrowth of a specific mood that pertained at a given time," and later added, "I remember the night that we mixed that one thinking that it was really good and wanting to hear it over and over which is never the case."[17] Music critic Marc Myers writes "As midlife-crisis songs go, Steely Dan's 'Deacon Blues' ranks among the most melodic and existential."[2]

The Scottish pop/rock band Deacon Blue took their name from this song.[18] William Gibson's 1988 book Mona Lisa Overdrive features a gang called the Deacon Blues.[19]

"Steely Blues" on Dan Deacon's 2015 album Gliss Riffer is named in reference to this song.[20]

Singer-songwriters Bill Callahan and Will Oldham released a cover in 2020, which appeared on their 2021 album Blind Date Party.[21]

Personnel edit

Chart history edit

References edit

  1. ^ "Steely Dan singles".
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Meyers, Marc (September 10, 2015). "How Steely Dan Created 'Deacon Blues'". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2020-07-23.
  3. ^ Steely Dan USA chart history, Billboard.com. Retrieved May 28, 2012.
  4. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 6/10/78". Tropicalglen.com. 1978-06-10. Archived from the original on 2016-10-06. Retrieved 2016-10-12.
  5. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1993). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961–1993. Record Research. p. 228.
  6. ^ "Image : RPM Weekly - Library and Archives Canada". Bac-lac.gc.ca. 17 July 2013. Retrieved 2016-10-12.
  7. ^ RPM Adult Contemporary, July 15, 1978
  8. ^ "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and also represents the Iowa Hawkeye offense in football". Rolling Stone. 2021-09-15. Retrieved 2022-07-19.
  9. ^ Myers, Marc (2016). Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop. Open Road + Grove/Atlantic. pp. n.p. ISBN 9780802189653.
  10. ^ Reney, Tom (September 5, 2017). "Farewell to Walter Becker of Steely Dan". New England Public Media. Retrieved 2020-07-23.
  11. ^ a b Fagen, Donald (2013). Eminent Hipsters. New York: Penguin. p. n.p. ISBN 9781101638095.
  12. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 8th Edition (Billboard Publications)
  13. ^ "Top Single Picks" (PDF). Billboard Magazine. 1 April 1978. p. 87. Retrieved 2020-07-10.
  14. ^ "CashBox Singles Reviews" (PDF). Cash Box. April 1, 1978. p. 22. Retrieved 2022-01-01.
  15. ^ "Hits of the Week" (PDF). Record World. April 8, 1978. p. 1. Retrieved 2023-02-15.
  16. ^ Christgau, Robert. "Steely Dan". RobertChristgau.com. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  17. ^ "AOL Chat". Steelydan.com. 1994-11-17. Archived from the original on 2013-06-19. Retrieved 2013-07-23.
  18. ^ Harris, Craig. "Deacon Blue > Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 13 March 2011.
  19. ^ William Gibson. Mona Lisa Overdrive. Spectra, 1987
  20. ^ "Steely Blues, by Dan Deacon". Dan Deacon. Retrieved 2023-02-07.
  21. ^ "Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Bill Callahan - Blind Date Party Album Reviews, Songs & More | AllMusic". AllMusic.
  22. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. 1978-07-15. Retrieved 2021-07-18.
  23. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca.
  24. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955–1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  25. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1993). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961–1993. Record Research. p. 228.
  26. ^ Cash Box Top 100 Singles, June 10, 1978
  27. ^ "Top 200 Singles of '78 – Volume 30, No. 14, December 30 1978". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. 17 July 2013. Retrieved March 8, 2018.
  28. ^ Top Records of 1978, Billboard, Talent In Action Section, December 23, 1978. p. TIA-18. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  29. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1999). Pop Annual. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. ISBN 0-89820-142-X.

External links edit