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Steely Dan’s gold-selling fifth studio album The Royal Scam, was produced by Gary Katz and was originally released by ABC Records in 1976. The Royal Scam features more prominent guitar work than the prior Steely Dan album, Katy Lied, which had been the first without founding guitarist Jeff Baxter. Guitarists on the recording include Walter Becker, Denny Dias, Larry Carlton, Elliott Randall and Dean Parks.
The album was certified gold-selling and peaked at No. 15 on the Billboard 200.
In common with other Steely Dan albums, The Royal Scam is littered with cryptic allusions to people and events both real and fictional. In a BBC interview in 2000, Becker and Fagen revealed that “Kid Charlemagne” is loosely based on Owsley Stanley, the notorious drug “chef” who was famous for manufacturing hallucinogenic compounds, and that “Caves of Altamira,” based on a book by Hans Baumann, is about the loss of innocence, the narrative about a visitor to the Cave of Altamira who registers his astonishment at the prehistoric drawings.
Rolling Stone, in its review of the album, described The Royal Scam, as Steely Dan’s “mostatypical record, possessing neither obvious AM material nor seductive lyrical mysteriousness. It also contains some of their most accomplished and enjoyable music.
“… the overall feeling of Scam is one of just that: tension. There is little of the self-confident gentleness that dotted Pretzel Logic, less still of the omniscience that suffused Katy Lied. The Royal Scam is a transitional album for Steely Dan; melody dominates lyric in the sense that the former pushes into new rhythmic areas for the group (more “pure” jazz, semireggae and substantially more orchestration than before) while the verbal content is clearer, even mundane, by previous Dan standards,” said the Rolling Stone review.
Nearly every song on Scam concerns a narrator’s escape from a crime or sing recently committed, the review continued. “Becker and Fagen have really written the ultimate ‘outlaw’ album here, something that eludes myriad Southern bands because their concept of the outlaw is so limited. Rather than just, say, robbing banks (‘Don’t Take Me Alive,’ in which the robber is a ‘bookkeeper’s son’), Becker and Fagen’s various protagonists are also solipsistic jewel thieves (‘Green Earrings’), spendthrift divorcées (‘Haitian Divorce’) and murderously jealous lovers (‘Everything You Did’).”
AllMusic gives the album 4.5 stars, saying the best songs on The Royal Scam, “Kid Charlemagne” and “Sign in Stranger” “rank as genuine Steely Dan classics.”
The album cover shows a man in a suit, sleeping on a radiator, and apparently dreaming of skyscraper-beast hybrids. The cover was created from a painting by Zox and a photograph by Charlie Ganse, and was originally created for Van Morrison’s unreleased 1975 album, Mechanical Bliss, the concept being a satire of the American Dream. In the liner notes for the 1999 remaster of the album, Fagen and Becker claim it to be “the most hideous album cover of the seventies, bar none (excepting perhaps Can’t Buy a Thrill).”
After a brief battle with esophageal cancer, Walter Becker died on September 3, 2017 at the age of 67. Steely Dan has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2001. VH1 ranked Steely Dan at No. 82 on their list of the 100 Greatest Musical Artists of All Time. Rolling Stoneranked them No. 15 on its list of the 20 Greatest Duos of All Time.
This stereo UHQR reissue will be limited to 15,000 copies, with gold foil individually numbered jackets, housed in a premium slipcase with a wooden dowel spine.
1. Kid Charlemagne
2. The Caves Of Altamira
3. Don’t Take Me Alive
4. Sign In Stranger
5. The Fez
6. Green Earrings
7. Haitian Divorce
8. Everything You Did
9. The Royal Scam
9. Any World (That I’m Welcome To)
10. Throw Back The Little Ones