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The Royal Scam is the fifth studio album by Steely Dan, originally released by ABC Records in 1976. The album went gold and peaked at #15 on the charts.[3] The Royal Scam features more prominent guitar work than the prior Steely Dan album, Katy Lied, which had been the first without founding guitarist Jeff Baxter. Guitarists on the recording include Walter Becker, Denny Dias, Larry Carlton, Elliott Randall and Dean Parks.

The Royal Scam
The Royal Scam album cover.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedMay 31, 1976
RecordedNovember 1975–March 1976
ProducerGary Katz
Steely Dan chronology
Katy Lied
The Royal Scam
Singles from The Royal Scam
  1. "Kid Charlemagne"
    Released: May 1976
  2. "The Fez"
    Released: 1976
  3. "Haitian Divorce"
    Released: 1976

In common with other Steely Dan albums, The Royal Scam is littered with cryptic allusions to people and events both real and fictional. In a BBC interview in 2000,[4] Becker and Fagen revealed that "Kid Charlemagne" is loosely based on Augustus Owsley Stanley, the notorious drug "chef" who was famous for manufacturing hallucinogenic compounds, and that "Caves of Altamira", based on a book by Hans Baumann, is about the loss of innocence, the narrative about a visitor to the Cave of Altamira who registers his astonishment at the prehistoric drawings. It is also influenced by Plato's Cave Allegory and Keats' 'Ode to a Grecian Urn".

The album was re-issued by MCA Records in 1979 following the sale of the ABC Records label to MCA.


The album cover shows a man in a suit, sleeping on a radiator, and apparently dreaming of skyscraper-beast hybrids. The cover was created from a painting by Zox and a photograph by Charlie Ganse, and was originally created for Van Morrison's unreleased 1975 album, Mechanical Bliss, the concept being a satire of the American Dream.[citation needed] In the liner notes for the 1999 remaster of the album, Fagen and Becker claim it to be "the most hideous album cover of the seventies, bar none (excepting perhaps Can't Buy a Thrill)."

Eagles reference and beyondEdit

In the song "Everything You Did", a lyric says, "turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening." Glenn Frey of the Eagles said, "Apparently Walter Becker's girlfriend loved the Eagles, and she played them all the time. I think it drove him nuts. So, the story goes that they were having a fight one day and that was the genesis of the line." Given that the two bands shared a manager (Irving Azoff) and that the Eagles proclaimed their admiration for Steely Dan, this was more friendly rivalry than feud.[5]

Later that year in a nod back to Steely Dan for the free publicity,[6] and inspired by Steely Dan's lyric style,[7] the Eagles penned the lyrics, "They stab it with their steely knives but they just can't kill the beast" in their hit "Hotel California". Frey commented, "We just wanted to allude to Steely Dan rather than mentioning them outright, so 'Dan' got changed to 'knives,' which is still, you know, a penile metaphor.".[5] This comment refers to the name's claimed origin in William S. Burroughs' book Naked Lunch. Timothy B. Schmit, who sang background vocals on "The Royal Scam" would later join the Eagles.


Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic     [8]
Chicago Tribune    [9]
Christgau's Record GuideB[10]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music     [11]
Q     [12]
Rolling Stone     [13]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide     [14]

The album was not as highly rated upon its release as its predecessors with most reviewers finding that it did not show any musical progress. In contrast, the original Rolling Stone review was more positive,[15] and ultimately the magazine gave it five stars in a later Hall of Fame review.[13]

Track listingEdit

All tracks are written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, except where noted.

Side one
1."Kid Charlemagne" guitar: Larry Carlton4:38
2."The Caves of Altamira" tenor saxophone: John Klemmer3:34
3."Don't Take Me Alive" guitar: Larry Carlton4:16
4."Sign In Stranger" piano: Paul Griffin, guitar solo by Elliott Randall4:23
5."The Fez"Becker, Fagen, Paul Griffinguitar: Walter Becker4:01
Side two
6."Green Earrings"guitar: Denny Dias (1st) and Elliott Randall (2nd)4:05
7."Haitian Divorce"talk box guitar: Dean Parks, altered by Walter Becker5:53
8."Everything You Did"guitar: Larry Carlton3:55
9."The Royal Scam"guitar: Larry Carlton6:28



Steely Dan

Additional musicians


  • Gary Katz – producer
  • Roger Nichols – engineer
  • Barney Perkins – mixdown engineer
  • Dinky Dawson – sound consultant
  • Walter Becker – horn arrangements
  • Donald Fagen – horn arrangements
  • Chuck Findley – horn arrangements
  • Ed Caraeff – art direction
  • Zox – cover art
  • Tom Nikosey – typography


Weekly chartsEdit

Year Chart Position
1976 US Albums 15[3]
1976 UK Albums 11


Year Single Label & number Chart & position
1976 "Kid Charlemagne" (B-side: "Green Earrings") ABC 12195 U.S. 82[17]
1976 "The Fez" (B-side: "Sign In Stranger") ABC 12222 U.S. 59[17]
1976 "Haitian Divorce" (B-side: "Sign In Stranger") ABC 4152 (UK release) U.K. 17[18]


  1. ^ Stuessy, Joe; Lipscomb, Scott David (2006). Rock and Roll: Its History and Stylistic Development (5th ed.). Pearson Prentice Hall. p. 320. ISBN 0131930982. The Royal Scam (1976) also utilized numerous extra players and had a clearer jazz-rock fusion sound.
  2. ^ Obrecht, Jas (1989). "20 Important Rock Albums". In Cassabona, Helen (ed.). Rock Guitar. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 117. ISBN 0881889083. ...Steely Dan issued its funk-oriented The Royal Scam...
  3. ^ a b The Royal Scam – Steely Dan > Charts & Awards > Billboard Albums at AllMusic. Retrieved 27 October 2004.
  4. ^ "BBC Chat - 3/4/00". Archived from the original on 13 April 2009. Retrieved 1 December 2018.
  5. ^ a b Excerpted from the 2006 book Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton's Little John?: Music's Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed, published by Three Rivers Press, written by Gavin Edwards.
  6. ^ Was there any kind of a feud going on between Steely Dan and the Eagles in the '70s? Rule Forty Glenn Frey: "We just wanted to allude to Steely Dan rather than mentioning them outright, so 'Dan' got changed to 'knives'"
  7. ^ Quotes: Here are quotes from Don and others about his career Feldermusic. "At the time we were also quite fond [of] Steely Dan and listening to a lot of their records. And one of the things that impressed us about Steely Dan was that they would say anything in their songs and it did not have to necessarily make sense you know"
  8. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "The Royal Scam – Steely Dan". AllMusic. Retrieved January 11, 2019.
  9. ^ Kot, Greg (August 16, 1992). "Thrills, Scams and Nightflys". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved February 15, 2017.
  10. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "Steely Dan: The Royal Scam". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the '70s. Ticknor and Fields. ISBN 0-89919-026-X. Retrieved January 11, 2019.
  11. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). "Steely Dan". The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th concise ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-85712-595-8.
  12. ^ "Steely Dan: The Royal Scam". Q. London (165): 131. June 2000.
  13. ^ a b Scoppa, Bud (October 14, 2004). "Steely Dan: The Royal Scam". Rolling Stone. New York (959). Archived from the original on October 1, 2007. Retrieved August 22, 2007.
  14. ^ Sheffield, Rob (2004). "Steely Dan". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 778–79. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  15. ^ Tucker, Kenneth (July 1, 1976). "Steely Dan: The Royal Scam". Rolling Stone. New York (216). Archived from the original on July 25, 2008. Retrieved December 26, 2008.
  16. ^ "The Royal Scam - Steely Dan - Credits - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 1 December 2018.
  17. ^ a b The Royal Scam – Steely Dan > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles at AllMusic. Retrieved 27 October 2004.
  18. ^ the highest UK chart position for a Steely Dan single

External linksEdit