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Rikki Don't Lose That Number by Steely Dan

Album: Pretzel LogicReleased: 1974Charted:
4
58
  • The keyboard riff was taken from "Song For My Father," which was released in 1964 by Jazz composer and pianist Horace Silver. The opening of both songs is nearly identical. It's a good example of how Steely Dan used elements of jazz in pop songs.
  • According to a 2006 interview with Entertainment Weekly, the Rikki of the title is Rikki Ducornet, a New York writer and artist. Steely Dan co-front Donald Fagen had met her while both were attending Bard College, a small liberal arts college located in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. Ducornet says they met at a college party, and even though she was both pregnant and married at the time, he gave her his number, although not in the same context as the song. Ducornet was intrigued by Fagen and tempted to call him, but she decided against it. A complete write-up of this incident is at ew.com, and it kind of sounds like it came straight out of a Doonesbury strip.
  • This is Steely Dan's highest-ever charting single, reaching #4 on the Hot 100 in 1974. The B-side was "Any Major Dude Will Tell You."
  • Frank Zappa fans of course have a different context for this song. Go to your CD collection and get out You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore (volume 2), select disc 2, and play track 2 - "Dupree's Paradise." Zappa sings a couple of joke lines from "Rikki Don't Lose That Number," with a hilarious deadpan. It's just after the bass-player rant and just before Frank makes another crack about Suzi Quatro cassettes. Zappa and his gang around this time frequently commented on whatever music was popular at the moment.
  • Speaking on the subject of playing their hit songs in concert, Donald Fagen told Rolling Stone in 2013: "Walter and I aren't fond of 'Rikki Don't Lose That Number.' It's not a bad song. I think it's 'well-written,' but it's so simple. I just have listening fatigue. It's been played so much. Same with 'Reeling in the Years.'"
  • The beginning of this song features a flapamba, a rare and unusual instrument that is a variant of a marimba. Although the introduction, played by British Jazz musician Victor Feldman, was cut from the original ABC single version, the MCA single reissue restored the flapamba intro but fades out just before the actual end of the track. (thanks, Annabelle - Eugene, OR)
  • John Mahoney sings part of this song in the movie Say Anything... when he finds out his daughter was accepted into a prestigious study program.
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Comments: 73

Silly Rarebits, the song is clearly about a dental hygienist, Rikki, with a propensity for misplacing the tools of her trade. She was assisting Dr. Dan in an extraction, and he, wary of her flaw, admonished her to keep tabs on the numbing agent. Steely enough for yas?Rex - Fishers, In
Donald Fagen told Rolling Stone in 2013: "Walter and I aren't fond of 'Rikki Don't Lose That Number.' It's not a bad song. I think it's 'well-written,' but it's so simple. I just have listening fatigue. It's been played so much. Same with 'Reeling in the Years.'"
Hey Donald, guess what, millions of people bought your albums, CD's and Itunes for that song. Be happy it's "listening fatigue". How would you like it if no one listened to it. Better to be a little humble that open your mouth and sound stupid.
Brent - Denair, Ca
I always heard that Rikki, was Rikki Lee Jones.Doglvr - Raleigh, Nc
Good Lord I have read it all. The song is simple. When I was young a "Number" was a Joint . The song was about a time when the post office did not search anything and as per the songs instructions, we bought a bag and rolled a fattie and put in a envelope and mailed the envelope to our home address. Thus we didn't have to call nobody else. We had a joint coming when the bag was dry.Jeff - Covington, Tn
The song came out just at the end of my first year of college when I’d started liking a guy named Ricky. I figured we’d go our separate ways and he’d find someone else and that would be the end of that. Well, I gave him my phone number – he DID NOT LOSE THAT NUMBER, and 37 years later we are still happily married.♥Lynn - Russellville, Al
Wow. You guys are something else. Thanks for the laugh! I'm sure Walter and Donald are guffawing too.Fontaine J - Rancho Palos Verdes, Ca
I have read some inane, misguided, and igorant comments in my time, but this collection takes it all. Ignorance so vast and commentary by people who are so deluded...it is exsquisitely imbecilic. Manson's take on Come Together seems cogent compared to such feverish stupidity. Kudos to all.Chilcox - Atchison, Ks
They wrote music that no other band could write. Truly amazing song writing talents.Percy - Lawrence, Ks
Oh Lord. I REALLY hope Fagen and/or Becker read these comments/theories. People, a big part of SD's "aura" was the deliberate obfuscation and mystery they KNEW many of their lyrics would create by fans trying to "decode" them. If you've ever seen/heard an interview with them, you might understand a little better. Interviewers could NEVER get a straight answer out of them, especially Becker. Again, I can just imagine the two of them taking a big vaporizer hit and laughing their asses off at what they hath wrought. Just DIG the unequalled groove. PeaceRich - Hickory, Nc
i just read all the comment and i guess i'm the only person in the world who thought that steely dan were blackMichelle - Mcdonough, Ga
Some of you are right and some of you are wrong. At a live college show, similar to the story-teller program Donald Fagen answered the question by saying that the title was set in stone after saying it to Rick Derringer but that the lyrics were something of a collection of thoughts about many of his friends. He said that he sat down to write a song about someone in particular but ended up with a hodgepodge of memories and it sounded good, so he kept it. He also said that the someone he was originally writing about was "none of the above" (not ever mentioned in any of the rumors)Marcia - New York, Ny
I usually like this site because its' usually very informative but after reading everything written here I have more questions now than ever before.The information at the top of this page about the keyboard riff is of no real use to me.I came to this site to find out the meaning of this song.What the hell is it about?Brian - Boston, Ma
Judy from Arlington TX is right on, it use to be refered to as " a poor mans copyright ". Write a song, seal it in a letter, and send it to yourself. You will recieve a federal, dated postmarked song in a sealed envelope. The theory being if anyone ever challenged your intellectual claim to that song you would have the evidence. However, though a great and valid idea, in truth its an urban myth. No court has ever recognized one. why? because if they did thier useless copyright lawyers would be out of a great deal of money. Thier services would become academic. That is the reality of american justice people, follow the money and you'll learn the truth. Money talks BS walks in America baby, if you ever in front of a judge better put up or shut up. I digress the song was ridiculing another band.Don - Gladwin, Mi
I love this love, it has a catchy tune, but I don't think I ever really paid much attention to the lyrics, just the chorus. However, I really paid attention to lyrics the last time I heard this song, and was actually under the impression it was about drugs and Rikki don't lose that number is the number for the drug dealer. Slow Hand Rd, is what I thought they sang, although most people on this blog seem to think it's slow hand roll, also a drug reference. Eric Clapton's Heroin issues are what came to my mind, for "we can go driving on Slow Hand Rd". But I guess it makes sense if this is a love song, I suppose, about a woman he may never see again.Gary - Fairless Hills, Pa
I always thought this was about a guy trying to convince a girl at a party to take drugs. She is already drunk and not in the mood to party ("you might use it if you feel better/when you get home") so he gives her his phone number in case she is interested in trying drugs at a later point. This would explain the lyric "It's the only one you want" - i.e., don't get your drugs from somebody else that you might not trust. This would still be compatible I think with the identification of Rikki as Rikki Ducornet if the character singing is Becker or Fagen.Jeff - Boston, Ma
My interpretation: A young, well-to-do girl, Rikki, goes away for the summer on vacation, stays at some kind of resort, meets and falls in love with a slightly older, exciting but poor guy (maybe he works at the resort). She loses her virginity to him but then becomes conflicted ("you tell yourself you're not my kind") because she has a preppy boyfriend back home. "You don't even know your mind"--the good little rich girl who does what her parents tell her. "We heard you're leaving"; employees at the resort know she's heading home. "I have a friend in town, he's heard your name"--because she's from a wealthy family that everyone knows, so now the singer of the song is aware of who she is, too. Rikki thinks she just wants to go back to how simple life was before she took this vacation, safe with the old boyfriend, but when she gets home, she "could have a change of heart" and want to call the singer of the song. This song was popular in the summer; this is the story my mind built around it. No way it's sung about a guy or is number referring to a joint.Camille - Toronto, Oh
I love Steely Dan...I love this song. I do an acoustic version of it at my gigs. I have no idea what it's about but only wish I could write a song with so much mystery and discussion surrounding it.Johnnys Cousin Steve - Villas, Nj
It's about Donald Fagens relationship Rickie Lee Jones Check it out. Was ThereSteve - Tampa, Fl
You're all wrong! The original lyrics were "Rikki don't bruise that lumber" about a guy who touched himself too often. Walter Becker told me this!Adam - Rhinebeck, Ny
the guitar player for realing in the years is elliot randell
http://www.elliott-randall.com/
John - Bournemouth, United Kingdom
What difference does it make what the song means to anyone else. The question is -- what does it mean for you. For me, this song is about a beautiful woman named Riki whom I knew and loved. It's a haunting reminder for me of her sweetness, softness, beauty and her elegance. And so it will always be. Rikki don't lose the number!Bob - Wilmington, Nc
In the March 24, 2006 issue of Entertainment Weekly, in an article titled "Back To Annandale", it was revealed that Ducornet was the apparent inspiration for the 1974 Steely Dan hit "Rikki Don't Lose That Number", due to a friendship songwriter Donald Fagen had with Ducornet while he attended Bard. Ducornet was pregnant and married at the time, but recalls Fagen did give her his phone number at a college party while attending Bard. Although Fagen himself would not confirm the story, Ducornet was quoted that she believed she was indeed the subject of the song.Wayne - Hudson, Fl
I don't claim to know the background of this great song, but I sure know what BUBBLING BONG WATER sounds like, and that bubbling in the intro of the song sure ain't an aquarium pump, folks! That tune was a sure signal to light up when I was in college back in the 70's. I still get a Pavlovian urge when the bubbling starts. Are you all sure their not saying slow hand roll? (*_*)-~Butch - St. Louis, Mo
I always interpreted this song as some kind of secretive sexual tryst going bad. "We could go driving down "slowhand road"" - sounds like a (gay) cruising/parking spot to me people. "Stay inside and play "games". I think we get the picture. The leaving a drug addictive relationship (with dealer friend trying to keep him around)is also plausable. Perhaps its both of theses situations rolled into one.
I think the writer likes the ambiguity of his secret - hence the spelling "Rikki". It all seems like a grey admission of something seedy -which Fagen and Becker do in many songs! "Gaucho" also reads as someone bringing home some guy in a Gaucho get-up for a 3-way.
Whether or not either member of the group is gay is irrelevant as they are telling stories - made up or real - they can put themselves in someone elses position (Turn That Heartbeat Over) as all good writers do.
(I personally think they are kinda seedy and some of these things are from life!)
Mark - Mars, Nc
Becker, by the way, is straight, and so is Fagan. I think your dad is one confused dude.Mark - Atlanta, Ga
The number is in fact a number. A phone number. And "Rikki" has long been established as Rikki Ducornet, who was the young wife of a professor when Fagan and Becker were in college (and who is now a well-known writer and artist).Mark - Atlanta, Ga
I love this song, you don't find many songs with my name in it. Many people have used this line on me..Pretty funny!Riki - Dingmans Ferry, Pa
D.B. -- Well, either way, it's a great anecdote. Have you thought about writing an old-fashioned snail mail to Walter Becker (probably care of his record company or talent agency) and asking him if he could confirm or debunk the story?S.d. - Denver, Co
The end to the mystery.

My father has been telling me story's about when he was a kid since i can remember. One story in particular has never changed. This story i will share with you.

When my father was 18 (1972) he was hitchhiking across America. In the desert just outside of LA a young man stopped and picked up my father and took him in town to his house. The man told my father his name was Walter Becker and was in a band, but never told my father the name of the band. My father told Walter his name was Ricky, even though it was not. Ricky was the name of one of the neighbor kids my father had grown up with. Walter cooked my father dinner and allowed him the use of his shower. They sat around for sometime talking, Walter played the guitar for a bit and then my father felt his time to go had come, as Walters constant flirtation was a bit troublesome to a young straight male. So Walter gave my father a lift to the freeway but before my father got out he gave him a piece of paper that said "Give walter a call..." with his phone #. He then told my father the next time he saw a post box to mail it home so when he returned he would have it and could give him a call. My father never did call.

2 years later "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" was released. It wasn't till sometime after that my father realized that Walter Becker was the guitarist in Steely Dan and the song was about him.

I have asked myself many times if this story is true and my father swears that it's the truth. After much research i have yet to find anything to confirm or falsify this besides the fact that over the past 20 years not a single detail has changed in the story. I suppose the only person that could confirm this would be Walter Becker himself if he in fact remembers the young boy he picked up in the desert outside of L.A. in 1972.
D.b. - Rehoboth, De
well I think it isnt that hard or complicated,
the song is about someone who was getting into the drug life, and is leaving his friend in order to stay out of it, and throwing away the dealer number, since he got so hi, he got scared and stuff....but the other guys knows that that happpens and once he becomes stable or sover again he wouldl want to give it a shot again....and mailing it to him , assures that he can decide about it later, when he gets home (out if the kaos or home as a mental state.)
Jonathan - Barranquilla, Columbia
I have listened to this song forever and always found it pretty haunting. Having read some of the comments I am now conflicted between the interpretation of Number as song, or phone number. The doobie idea doesn't work for me because why would you mail it to yourself? But it could have two meanings... a song and joint. hmmm. Nice to know I'm not alone...Kim - Toronto, On
"Song For My Father" great tune, makes a nice openner for Rikki.Andy - Rockaway , Ny
hi guys. i reckon its more about the fact that everyone likes smoking but that some people (despite enjoyin the odd toke) dont like the guys who seem to always have itDan - Dublin, Ireland
Here's my take on this one.
In 1969-70 in Bard College Becker and Fagen were busted for drugs, also involved were Fagen's girlfriend, several students and a professor. (My Old School). The Professor's wife was pregnant and flipped out over the whole deal and left him. Her name? Rikki Ducornet
Joe - Somewhere In Fla, Fl
Rikki is a young guy pursued by someone in Steely Dan who is gay. "You don't even know your own mind" is what all gays say because they believe that all men are REALLY gay at heart. I'm not gay and I am female but I have always loved this song. It's hauntingly sad and filled with the pain of unrequited love and lust.Nikki - Rancho Santa Margarita, Ca
I dated a woman named Rikki several years ago that claimed that she had dated Donald Fagen and that the song was written for her. Based on other things that she claimed, I always doubted her truthfulness.Mike - Magnolia, Tx
I never read the lyrics ofthis song before. The lines;
"You tell yourself you're not my kind
But you don't even know your mind"
I heard as;
'You tell yourself you're not my kind
But you don't even know you're mine.'

It seem to change the meaning of it all but only slightly in my meaning.
Even if those are the official textlines it could be that a hidden intention is as I always thought it.
So I'm still not convinced that the whole song text is about what a stalker would express in voice or writing to a girl with the slightly unusual name Rikki.
Anders - Järvsö, Sweden
Speaking of Rikki lee Jones ... the song "Chuckie's in Love" is a song about a local LA musician Chuck E Weiss who was obviously in love with Rikki. FYI I happen to know for a fact that the "number" in Rikki Don't Lose that Number" is a joint. That came straight from Walter Becker's ex-wife with whom I worked.Ron - Pittsburgh, Pa
It's the only song I have ever seen or heard that uses my name, "Rikki". I hope it has a more positive meaning than all of those I just read!Rikki - Santa Ana, Ca
...It's just about a guy who kind of accepts his girlfriend breaking up with him, but tells her to keep his number just in case she has a change of heart. (Then he kind of encourages her a bit, but that's besides the point.)Matthew - Milford, Ma
Maybe it was just a bunch of guys really drunk or high writing random thoughts and turned it into a hit. Maybe there really is no meaning to the song.

Or maybe it was a practical joke by Steely Dan to make us sit back and go, "What the heck is that song about?" Hmmmmmm
Jennifer - Portland, Or
After reading all of these posts, I am now more confused than ever on what this song is about? "Big and Tall" makes a good point.Bill - Schererville, In
The song is about a gay man, marijuana, Eric Clapton, Rick Derringer, and copyrighting, all rolled up into a catchy singable tune. And Don Fagan, born a Jew, took up Nazi beliefs later on in life.Big And Tall - Yeehaw Junction, Fl
Okay - I can't believe you guys didn't know this. An old musician's trick is to mail a song to themselves to get a post mark on it which is an indication of proof of ownership. It's a lot cheaper than hiring a lawyer. 2 bands were thinking of merging. Rikki had written a song, a number, and did not want to share the copy right on it with the merging band, so he held out. This song is simply making fun of him. The rest is rock and roll fluff to make it fun for those "not in the know". That's the real story. Gospel.Judy - Arlington, Tx
In an episode of Nickelodeon's "Fairly Oddparents", there's a scene where the character Vicky (voiced by songstress Grey DeLisle) screams the first half of the chorus to her boyfriend, who has just cleaned her out to marry Denzel Crocker's mom.King - Starkville, Ms
I'm agreeing with Bill from Florida.

The song is absolutely fabulous, but comesacross as a read between the lines message.

I beleive it's a song about a heterosexual that found himself in a homosexual situation and can't deal with it.
Rietta - Hollywood, Ca
Okay, the song may have been named in relation to Rick Derringer but the contents are about Clapton.
Just a little tidbit for you "I have a friend in town, he's heard your name." The drummer on Rikki Don't Lose That Number is Jim Gordon who also played with Clapton and co-wrote "Layla" in Derek and the Dominos. There's one connection. "We could go out driving on Slowhand Road" Clapton's nickname. The "don't lose that number" is in relation to Clapton's then contemplating giving up the music business back in the early '70's.
Just a little piece of trivia for you, apparently Jim Gordon is now in a prison for the criminally insane after he killed his own mother.
Ben - Toronto, Canada
First of all, my name is Rikki. That is the way it is spelled in the song. Uncle Joe Benson once told me it was written for a Michigan State coed, but that doesn't sound right. It is the only song that has my name, spelled correctly in it, so all of you who spelled Rikki any other way were wrong to begin with! I was named for a girl from Minnesota, Rikki Sanders, so I wonder. It's a great conversation piece and I love Steely Dan's chord progressions!Rikki - Santa Ana, Ca
I have one friend who thought that "Jenny/867-5309" and "Ricky Don't Lose That Number" were the same song with different lyrics. They are not. In fact, they are actually very different. On the other hand, I used to work with a man who hated Steely Dan in any form, and even now, I often dedicate "Ricky Don't Lose That Number" to him because it was the song that he hated most.Darrell - Eugene
its about secretary quitting her job and she was going to have a affair with a coworker but she backed out, "we hear your leaving thats ok. i guess you kinda scared yourself"- like they stopped off at the regal begal for cocktails one night & they almost hooked up but she got scared. & now he cant forget it b/c it almost happened but was never to be.Rikki - Prattville, Al
No, seriously: as someone else mentioned here, it's written for Rikki Ducornet, the novelist. She just completed a residency at the school where I work, and has a great, sweet, thoroughly plausible story about its genesis. Seriously.Sturtle - New Orleaqns, La
Just to settle this...here's a quote from an interview with Rick Derringer that at least explains the titling of this song.

Is it true that Steely Dan's song, "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" was inspired by you?

Yeah, the title was something that came about when we were at a session together. I think Donald Fagen just said that. He gave me a telephone number or something, and said "Ricky, don't lose that number." They called me "Ricky." And obviously the song has nothing to do with that, but that was where the title came from."

This has been a fun discussion....and I dug up my answer after a recent discussion we had on the Edgar Winter Forum at www.winternet.us Cmon by and say Hi!
Kirk - Lake Arrowhead, Ca
The notion that the "number" Rikki shouldn't lose is a joint is also suggested by the next line, "Mail it in a letter to yourself", which was, supposedly (I wouldn't know) a way to get pot from Point A to Point B -- mail it general delivery to yourself, and go get it at the post office where you're going. This is not recommended.James - Lexington, Ky
I believe (number) in the song refers to a 1960s 70s term for a marijuana cigarette. Steeley Dans use of this metaphor was brilliant. The expression as I remember was "lets do a number" or smoke a joint. When you hear the song the next time you will pick up the double meaning.John - Williston Park, Ny
The full version of the song includes a keyboard solo intro meant to sound like bubbling water in an aquarium. Most radio stations skip the "aquarium" intro when playing the song.Joshua - Twin Cities, Mn
If this isn't about Clapton, whats with the "we could go our driving slow hand row" lyric?Rob - Vancouver, Canada
Pretzel Logic was likely NOT a Nazi reference, since Donald Fagan is Jewish. And he didn't have a torrid affair with Ricki Lee Jones in college, since she would have been in her early teens in the late 60's.
Great tune, though.
Garrett - Nashville, Tn
an interview with D.F.in Entertainment Weekly 3/24/2006 suggests that it was Rikki Ducornet, novelist and artist, who was the young wife of a professor at Bard Collage (My Old School). At least she seems to think so.
Paul, Tucson AZ
Paul - Tucson, Ca
I always thought that this song was about a homosexual proposition. -- A homosexual man propositions a heterosexual man, who then rejects his advances, but still parties with the guy. The homosexual man then gives his phone number to him and says not to lose that number because the heterosexual guy "could have a change of heart" someday and decide to engage in the homosexual relationship.Bill - Southeastern Part Of, Fl
i thought it was elliot randall who played the open guitar licks on reelin' in the yearsAdam - Wolverhampton, England
Wow ! Are you guys WAAAAAAAAAAAY off ! The "Rikki" is Rikki Lee Jones ("Chuckie's in Love") who had a torrid affair with Donald Fagen in the late 60's !Caldina - San Francisco, Ca
Tony from San Fran's got the idea, there might have been some hidden messages here, but it only makes it all the funnier.Ben - Mount Vernon, Ia
The band took their name from William S. Burroughs 'Naked Lunch', in which Steely Dan is the name of a large favorite sex toy of one of the charactersJim - Pittsburgh, Pa
I heard it was some reference to copyrighting songs - 'send it off in a letter to yourself'Liquid Len - Ottawa, Canada
The opening guitar licks on "Reelin' in the Years" were played by Elliot Randall and "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" is not about Rick Derringer, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker got the name from a girl they knew at their college.Andrew - Raleigh, Nc
The guitarist this song was written about is Rick Derringer (Rock n' Roll Hoochie Koo). He played the opening guitar licks on "Reelin' in the Years" among other things.E - Tacoma, Wi
From the summer of '74 when I was turning 13 and playing the radio all the time - remember it well!David - Nitro, Wv
This song was written for a one time guitarist for steely dan who left,not sure of his name.The song is reminding him that if he ever wants to come back he is welcome,"don't lose that number""you could have a change of heart",it's a great songAntoin - Dublin, Ireland
Some thought it was about Eric Clapton to but it wasn't.John - Wilmington, Nc
some thought that a number was another name for a jointSarah - Missoula, Mt
"You tell yourself you're not my kind,
--but you don't even know your mind
and you can have a change of heart"

--what else is there to say?
Tony - San Francisco, Ca
Sung by John Mahoney's character (poorly) while driving in the Cameron Crowe movie "Say Anything."Seth - Brooklyn, Ny
Some interpretations of the album title believe that it is not only a reference to any type of twisted thought patterns, but more specifically, a reference to the Nazis.(Pretzel=Swastika, also some of the songs lyrics support this. The Dan, never gave many interviews, and usually preferred to leave their songs open to inerpretation).Anonymous