Steely Dan Sunday, “Hey Nineteen” (1980)

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Steely Dan isn’t the band people look to for documenting watershed moments in cultural history, but I think that intentionally or not, they did so with their Top 10 hit “Hey Nineteen.”

I remember the first time hearing this tale of a man being frustrated by a girl he’s wooing not knowing about “‘Retha Franklin.” Along with that, there’s these other references: being in a college fraternity in ’67, moving down from Scarsdale (near NYC) and growing old. All this sounds a little autobiographical, doesn’t it? Maybe some of the details are made up, but from the first listen, it sounded to me for the first time that the older members of the baby-boomer generation were not feeling so young anymore.

As Becker and Fagen respectively turned 30 and 32 during 1980, they could no longer live by their peers’ creed to not trust anybody over 30 without not trusting themselves. That was the most striking thing about Steely Dan’s story line to me.

The Vietnam War was over, Civil Rights progressed and society had overall moved in their direction. As the ’80s dawned, these ex-hippies started cutting their hair, putting on ties and, after reeling in the years, wondered aloud, “where the hell am I.” Your moment has passed once you get nostalgic, and “Hey Nineteen” was the first time I can remember anywhere in popular media where the boomers started waxing poetic about the good ol’ days. Less than three years later, Hollywood blew that phenomenon wide open when the movie The Big Chill released.

Even Steely Dan’s choice of recreational drugs had changed, from LSD and heroin to tequila and “fine Columbian.” Growing old sure does suck, don’t it?

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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  • Jives Miguel

    Good intro to an otherwise brief and uniformative essay about a classic pop song we all so well.

    Returning to your earlier musings on whether Gaucho stands up to Aja, I believe this album doesn’t even begin to do that. Rather, I submit Becker & Fagen could’ve cared less about succeeding so seminal an effort, and the final track listing shows. Lest we forget the difficult path that led to Gaucho, and ultimately to the dissolution of the duo a few months later.

    Gaucho represents an almost single-mindedness in their goal to, as you say, the art of co-opting several musical genres into a set of tight, impeccably produced and arranged songs. Each one takes a slightly different path to this goal. No two sound exactly alike, no artist on the planet in 1979-80 could or would accomplish anything like it for years to come, and never as well. Gaucho for all its post-Aja agst and “inferiority”, succeeded on levels of musical influence felt deep within the pop, jazz/pop, and burgeoning smooth jazz idioms for decades to come, in ways that the grooves on Aja were both peerless and somewhat less accessible in the mainstream. Just as the hypnotic groove synchronicity of Peg represents the FM sound of 1977-78, so it is that, to an even greater extent, Hey, Nineteen represents the hallmark of a fresh new, musical sound in which Becker & Fagen would help solidify, only to split the scene, not to be beard from again for another age or so. ~ @thestaticisland

  • Dave

    Comparing Gaucho to Aja is a fruitless endeavor. While Gaucho is certainly not one of their strongest efforts, it is still a fine piece of craftsmanship. My two personal faves are a tie between Time Out Of Mind, and the title track, Gaucho.

    While Becker and Fagen may indeed have been looking backwards to some degree, they were always pushing the boundaries forward of musical exploration.

    Aja is, and will always, stand as their crowning achievement in blending jazz and rock, with a clear movement towards the jazz side. What is consistent between Aja and Gaucho is their consistency in using cynical lyrics and humor to convey their own feelings and ideas on various things. Aslo, the characters they create are just this side of those found in something like Pulp Fiction: dangerous, flawed, and extremely interesting.

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