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Babylon Sisters by Steely Dan

Album: GauchoReleased: 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. (thanks, Jo - Southern Texas)
  • 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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Comments: 5

Doesn't "jungle music" refer to black music? I thought the song had something to do with interracial relationships. "The kid will live and learn as he watches his bridges burn" sounds like a reference to love child born of an interacial relation ship.Mike - Glen Ridge, Nj
Check out David Garfield's instrumental version of this song on "Tribute To Jeff" and his version with the great Alex Ligertwood (ex- Santana)on vocals on "Tribute To Jeff - Revisited". BOth available at www.creatchy.comLaurent - Manama, Bahrain
Regarding Babylon Sisters being SD's answer to the Who...let me say I am a huge fan of both groups. Both powered by creative lyrics, concepts, musical composition and musicianship. However, I can say for certain that SD never wrote anything as an an answer to anyone elses song. Walter and Donald are two one of a kinds...they don't give a s___ about what others write. they just make incomparable music.Lance - Wilkes Barre, Pa
This song has a lot of refferences to California goegraphy. "Drive West Down Sunset to the Sea" is about Sunset Blvd that starts in Downtown Los Angeles and winds west through Hollywood (Sunset strip) all the way out to the PCH at the Pacific Palisades. "Jungle music" is an old person's reference to rock and roll. Sunset is a bit busy and hectic to drive on and annoying music makes it that much harder. The idea is that they are going to catch the sunset over the Pacific ocean. It's a total tourist thing to do.

"Like a Sunday in TJ, that is cheap but it's not free." Tiajuna Mexico is about three hours south of Los Angeles, and it's the mecca for deals, cheap food and cheap booze. San Francisco takes six hours to drive to.

The Santa Ana winds occur in the last quarter of the year on very warm days where the winds come out of the desert from the east to the west. They are strong, hot winds.

I think that the song is about touring California, with Babylon New York sisters. They are younger, he's older, and love is not a game for three. Not quite the wild rock star three way sex fueled vacation he was planning.
Steve - Chino Hills, Ca
This is Steely Dan's answer to The Who's"Trick Of The Light"...Jim - Long Beach, Ca