Steely Dan Sunday: "Barrytown" (1974)

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*** STEELY DAN SUNDAY INDEX ***

The popular line about “Barrytown” is that this is a song disparaging the Unification Church members and followers of its leader, Sun Myung Moon, or “moonies.” Barrytown, after all, is situated right next to Annendale, NY, the town where our beloved protagonists attended Bard and where they sung about not-so-great times there with “My Old School.” Barrytown is also where the Unification Church’s main seminary, often presumed the world headquarters, is located. But the chronology doesn’t line up as neatly as it does for “School”: the Church didn’t buy the property for the seminary until the early 70’s and it was September, 1975 before it became operational. That’s nearly two years after the song was recorded and six years after either Becker or Fagan were at Bard. So when they sing…

I’d like to see you do just fine
But look at what you wear
And the way you cut your hair
I can see by what you carry that you come from Barrytown

…it could be that rural, upstate Barrytown folks were weird to these hippy kids from the NYC area (and vice versa). Not that Becker and Fagen would be offended by anyone believing they were going after cultists, though.

Musically, there’s little mystery where the inspiration comes from: Bob Dylan. Possibly just about every popular music songwriter from ’65 on is influenced in some way by Zimmerman, and this song could be seen as Becker and Fagen’s way of paying homage. Fagen even sneer-sings the song much like Dylan would and aside from the key shifting bridge, the chord progression is something the iconic folkie could have penned. Admittedly, it took me longer to warm up to this track than the other songs on Pretzel Logic; I was looking for nuances and complexity, not the simplicity found on this tune. There’s not even a (gasp!) solo on it. What I’ve come to realize is that the beauty is found in that simplicity.

So whether it’s done up as a country-folk tune or some urbane jazz-rock number, Steely Dan understands the art of the putdown song, Even if it’s not always clear who or what is being put down.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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