Steely Dan Sunday, "Third World Man" (1980)

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*** STEELY DAN SUNDAY INDEX ***

The last song of the “classic” Steely Dan period ends Gaucho on a solemn note. “Third World Man” is a lounge ballad at heart that’s made more substantial than what that characterization might suggest by sophisticated arrangements and lyrics — most likely about war veterans dealing with post traumatic stress disorder — that are too direct and serious to ever be called sappy. With verses speaking of fireworks causing the neighbors coming out screaming, this ain’t no mauldin love song. And with this track plodding along at their slowest ever tempo, “Third World Man” doesn’t groove like the rest of the record, making it sort of an anomoly. This song wasn’t even intended to see the light of day; it was a last minute replacement for the the ill-fated “The Second Arrangement” on the album.

Becker and Fagen nooodled around on this song for some time, originally calling it “Were You Blind That Day.” The lyrics were revamped and the song was re-christened “Third World Man,” but much of the instrumentation of the “Were You Blind That Day” demo was retained, including, thankfully, Larry Carlton’s tasty and discriminating lead guitar work. In contrast to the times he’s gone in and ripped the roof off of a song with searing solos, Carlton takes on a different tact for “Man,” elongating his notes more and often doubling them to embellish the pain being portrayed in the words.

That, plus the poignant lyrics and some really lavish harmonies, makes “Third World Man” the sleeper track on Gaucho, an album with a pair of great bookends. Along with the YouTube for “Third World Man,” I’ve included the “Were You Blind That Day” demo, for comparison:

“Third World Man”

“Were You Blind That Day”

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst 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. Contact him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • Doc Mu

    Third World Man was indeed the replacement for Second Arrangement, digging out Were you Blind That Day from either the Aja sessions or Royal Scam (Larry claims this, but Gadd played on Aja and Gaucho only) one and laying down a new vocal track.

    The track really works as a dirge, and a fitting finale for Steely Dan I. BTW, the live version from Alive in America with Drew Zingg on guitar and Peter Erskine on the skins is brilliant.