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Black Cow by Steely Dan

Album: AjaReleased: 1977
  • "Black Cow" was written by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, the co-front, core members of the band Steely Dan. It was released as the B-side of the single version of "Josie," which reached #26 on the US Hot 100. Two other singles released from the same album charted even better.
  • Note the deceptively simple disco-era instrumental starting out with a bass line and drums, then sneaking in layers of complexity with saxophone accompaniment and an electric piano solo. Steely Dan made a name for themselves for having highly polished productions. It was considered nothing special for them to take a year and dozens of session musicians to produce an album of less than ten songs.

    Speaking extra praise for Aja's perfectionism, it won the 1978 Grammy Award for Best Engineered Non-Classical Recording. Not only was Aja certified platinum, it was also one of the first to go platinum.
  • Theories as to what this song means: Take your pick of a troubled relationship, an ode to self-doubt, a commentary on nightlife, a reference to Hindu culture (cows are sacred), or it could be about Thelonious Monk, the American jazz composer who is often regarded as the father of bebop.
  • Do you have the multitrack masters for "Black Cow"? If so, Donald Fagen will give you a $600 reward, since their copy went missing. For this reason, remastering the album as a Super Audio CD has been put on hold indefinitely.
  • Tom Scott, who did the horn arrangements on the Aja album, also played tenor sax on this track. Here are the other credit on the track - note that Walter Becker sat this one out:

    Lead Vocals, Synthesizer: Donald Fagen
    Guitar: Larry Carlton
    Bass: Chuck Rainey
    Drums: Paul Humphrey
    Clavinet: Joe Sample
    Electric Piano: Victor Feldman
    Backing Vocals: Clydie King, Rebecca Louis, Sherlie Matthews, Venetta Fields
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Comments: 3

The subject matter of this song is self-evident: a man has had enough of his philandering, drug-addled girlfriend. My only question has always been whether there's a racial element, that the woman has taken a black lover, (assumed by the narrator to be "big"). Otherwise the title/metaphor is pretty random, no? Fagen and Becker don't say this in the "Making of Aja" documentary, but why would they?Ira - San Francisco, Ca
A "Black Cow" for children is a root beer float. As someone mentioned elsewhere on the internet " a black cow the Steely Dan way

2 shots of Kahlua (the Dude abides)

2 shots of half n’ half

3 shots of cola

4 incendiary missives about society?"

To me Black Cow always felt like it was about dumping a troubled woman at a bar in a very dismissive way. Anybody who has dated someone really good looking, someone outside your league can relate to the lyrics. You have more emotional capital in the relationship than they do. But after a while when your street cred is dropping and your self-esteem has been battered enough you finally have to call it quits.
Steve - Chino Hills, Ca
I always understood the song being about realizing that he couldn't go on in his realtionship.Simon - Atlanta, Ga
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