Steely Dan Sunday, "Charlie Freak" (1974)

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*** STEELY DAN SUNDAY INDEX ***

The art of narration in a song, I would suppose, is one that’s hard to nail down so tight, because when it’s done so well, you remember it. Though I am probably more of a melody and instrumentation guy than a lyrics guy, there are certain Steely Dan songs that are brilliant because of the wordsmithing and the story that’s told. “Charlie Freak” is one of those songs.

There’s nothing mysterious at all about the lyrics: it’s a fable of the narrator who bought the only possession, a gold ring, from a destitute man “for chicken feed,” and then the homeless and hungry man blows the proceeds to get high with a hit that proved to be lethal. Our narrator hears of his fate and feeling guilty from taking advantage of the bum, returns the ring to the corpse. It’s too late, of course, and that’s the profound sadness of the song.

That “instrumentation” side of me notices the piano rhythmically locked in perfectly with the beat, but the most poignant touch is the jingle bells, which subtly ties the song to Christmas. Becker and Fagan seem to be sending out a message that this holiday isn’t festive for everyone, and that in the season of giving, people still succumb to greed.

The two usually resort to ironic humor to get their point across about human failings, but there is no humor in “Charlie Freak.” Just heavyhearted irony.

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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 [email protected] .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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