Psychedelic Lunch

Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore music and musicians from the 60’s to today. Enjoy the trip!

Babylon Sisters By Steely Dan. Album: Gaucho Released November 21, 1980

  • Some lyric interpretation:”Babylon Sisters” – Fallen women, fallen and degenerate lifestyles – he realizes he is getting too old for this shallow experiences.”Cotton Candy” – Nose candy, a reference to cocaine.”Tell me I’m the only One” – A delusional reference to relationships with prostitutes, as he wants to believe he’s more than just a client. Babylon is Biblical, about a fallen people. Steely Dan uses it as an analogy to indulgent lifestyles and self-destructive behavior, a theme that also shows up in their song “Kid Charlemagne.” In this case, the narrator is indulging in prostitutes.
  • This is the first track on Steely Dan’s Gaucho album, their last until 2000 when they released Two Against Nature. Steely Dan is a rare group that would sometimes record songs that none of the band members played on. That was the case with Babylon Sisters, which has lead vocals from Donald Fagen, but no instrumental contributions from him or Walter Becker. The group always chose the players that best suited the song, and in this case the lineup included drummer Bernard Purdie, who played his distinctive “Purdie Shuffle,” and bass player Chuck Rainey. The other instruments were:Bass Clarinet: George Marge, Walter Kane
    Fender Rhodes Electric Piano, Clavinet: Don Grolnick
    Guitar: Steve Khan
    Percussion: Crusher Bennett
    Tenor Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Clarinet: Tom Scott
    Trumpet, Flugelhorn: Randy Brecker
  • The duo used six talented backup singers on this track: Diva Grey, Gordon Grody, Lani Groves, Leslie Miller, Patti Austin and Toni Wine. Austin would have a #1 hit the following year with “Baby, Come To Me,” her duet with James Ingram.
  • Steely Dan are known for being perfectionists in the studio, a reputation they lived up to on this track. The song was recorded at Village Recorders in Los Angeles, which had a new Neve console, giving them lots of control of various sonic details. Donald Fagen made seemingly endless tweaks to this song, creating one mix after another. Someone in the studio must have been keeping count, because when he hit 250 mixes, the crew gave him a “platinum” disk they created just for him. Fagen kept going, and it was mix number 274 that finally won his approval. He took that mix home to New York, but heard a note in the bass line he didn’t like, so he returned to Los Angeles a week later and reconvened the team to fix it. The engineers won a Grammy for their efforts: Gaucho took the award for Best Engineered Recording – Non-Classical. (This story is told in Johnny Black’s article “Vinyl Icon: Gaucho,” published in Hi-Fi News & Record Review.)

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