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. Maybe this was actually the song that replaced 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”