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Josie by Steely Dan

Album: AjaReleased: 1977Charted:
  • This song tells the story of a very popular girl who's the desire of all the young men in a blue-collar neighborhood. She creates quite a stir any time she returns. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Mike - Santa Barbara, CA
  • Timothy B. Schmit, who also appeared on the Steely Dan albums Pretzel Logic and The Royal Scam, sang backup on this track; he later joined the Eagles as bass player and vocalist (that's him singing lead on "I Can't Tell You Why"). Other musicians on Josie were:

    Bass: Chuck Rainey
    Guitar – Dean Parks, Larry Carlton
    Drums, Percussion: Jim Keltner
    Electric Piano: Victor Feldman
    Guitar Solo: Walter Becker
    Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals, Synthesizer: Donald Fagen
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Comments: 27

This song is about Holly Holm. Steely Dan are time travelers. I'm surprised nobody knows this. Ask the band, they'll tell you!Bill - Florida
I've enjoyed reading all of these really interesting back stories about the character of Josie. But I've got one of my own. Given that Steely Dan had a penchant for telling stories about people from the rougher side of town (Do it again) and none of characters are ever normal - Why would they write songs about normal mundane lives? Josie isn't dead or a hooker. She's not your everyday popular girl either. She's a fighter - a street fighter. Hometown girl makes a name for herself on the fight circuit. She is wild and is wildly popular back home- pride of the neighborhood in fact. The rough boys in the neighborhood dig her too:

She's the raw flame
The Live Wire
She preys like a Roman (like a gladiator)
with her eyes on fire (she's going to beat the crap out of her opponent)

The crowd she runs with is getting ready to celebrate her homecoming. They are getting in party mode and they are fixin' to tear up their town with their motorcycles and their revelry, including a wild beach party (I hear 'sleep on the beach a' naked'), as well as engaging in a street brawl. The last verse tells how it's going to go down:
Jo would you love to scrapple (scrap, fight)
She'll never say no
Shine up the battle apple (street weapon)
We'll shake 'em all down tonight
We're gonna mix (rumble) in the street...

You know the rest. They're going to strike at midnight, win the fight, pick up the pieces in the morning. And a good time will be had by all! I know Steely Dan lyrics are cryptic and mysterious and don't always make sense, but this storyline makes sense to me! Hope you enjoyed it!
Mc - Usa
"Josie" may very well be dead.
"We're gonna break out the hats and hooters
When Josie comes home
We're gonna rev up the motor scooters
When Josie comes home to stay
We're gonna park in the street"
This could be a funeral procession. Also, "home to stay" what makes the
storytellers so sure that Josie will never leave again?
The next few lines describe her was a party girl but a telling line is,
"Sleep on the beach and make it
Throw down the jam till the girls say when"
They are not talking about romance with Josie but other girls,
as if they are throwing a major party in Josie's honor.
The most telling line,
"When Josie comes home, So bad
She's the best friend we never had."
That is clearly an "N" sound, even though most lyric versions say,
"ever." Josie appears to not be a recent friend but a town legend, especially among
the local girls who try to emulate her wild legend.

Josie appears to book end the opening track, "Black Cow" where a childish, drug taking
party girl is being dumped.
Met - Charlotte, Nc
On August 20th 1978, "Josie" by Steely Dan entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #77; and on October 8th, 1978 it peaked at #26 {for 2 weeks} and spent 11 weeks on the Top 100...
It reached #44 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Tracks chart...
Between 1972 and 1981 the duo had fifteen Top 100 records; three made the Top 10, with "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" being their biggest hit, it peaked at #4 {for 1 week} on July 28th, 1974...
They just missed having five Top 10 records when "Reeling in the Years" {1973} and "Peg" {1978} both peaked at #11 on the Top 100...
Donald Fagen made the Top 100 as a solo artist in 1982 when his "I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)" entered the chart on October 3rd and peaked at #26 {for 3 weeks} on November 21st...
Note: I.G.Y. stand for 'International Geo-Physical Year - July 1957 to December 1958'.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
Think female Dionysus. I like the "god [or in the song's case, goddess] of [among other things] ritual madness and ecstasy" from wikipedia (looking up Dionysus, not Josie).

Maybe it's my flawed MP3, and I know the "official" transcripts show it as "ever", but I'm pretty sure I'm hearing:

When Josie comes home
So bad
She's the best friend we never had (2:04)

Doesn't *that* put a slightly cosmic spin on it!

But no matter how often I listen I hear (once I got "plays" out of my system) "prays" and not "preys" (oh wait, they sound the same)...

Don't let anything stop you!
Elliott - Alameda, Ca
I used to think Josie was a really hot, popular drug dealer who would come home with something special from someplace exotic. 30+ years later and I decide to really think about the lyrics. I now really think Josie is a high-class ,er.. woman of the night. She's a high class hooker. When she "comes home" it's not to "the neighborhood" (though she's the pride there), it's to your/my home. Well respected street walkers are like escorts, they come to your home and that is "so good...so fine". " like a Roman with her eyes on fire" is how she makes 'love'. She's into it, baby. Possessed like a pagan priestess --eyes aflame with lust, ecstasy, etc.Will - New York, Ny
At the time the song came out I thought that it was about Josie and the Pussycats.:)Steve - Whittier, Ca
I've been listening to SD for 40 years and still get into most of their songs. Battle apple is another word for penis and steely dan is a term for dildo and they seem to use many
really obscure words/terms in their songs. Most of their songs don't have much meaning but they sound really good! Best jazz/rock ever.
Brog - Jacksonville, Fl
Did anyone ever consider that the lyric is, "preys like a Roman with her eyes on fire"? It makes much more sense than "prays".Doglvr - Raleigh, Nc
I just recently found an old steely dan cassette tape and wonder what this song meant, JOSIE maybe it's his CAT after all there was Josie and the pussycats back then. Yes I think it just might be the CAT he is singing about!Lori - Bethpage, Tn
Redsails: A "stretch," indeed. Very, very few Christians ever pray like Romans with their eyes on fire (not even preadolescent boys with their youth pastors). The picture I have in mind - and I'm quite certain Fagan had in mind when he composed it - has nothing to do with Jesus, with religion, nor with "mystical or superhuman qualities." If that's the picture you have, I believe you really need to get out (and in and out) more, think with your ventromedial hypothalamus, and come to your senses.Dryattz - Atlanta, Ga
I think the song is a metaphor for the second coming of Jesus, and the subsequent apocalypse. May be a stretch, but I like it more than the "hot girl" explanation, which doesn't really explain why all these weird things are going to happen just because one girl visits the neighborhood. Also the line "she prays like a Roman with her eyes on fire" seems to endow Josie with mystical or superhuman qualities.Redsails - Birmingham, Al
When Josie comes home
So bad
She's the best friend we ever had
Matt - Washington, Dc, Dc
Where's Josie been? She doesn't sound like a college girl, was she incarcerated?Bill - Lodi, Ca
". . . prays like a Roman with her eyes on fire. . ." 'nuf sed.Dryattz - Atlanta, Ga
Home-coming queen perhaps?Defn - Newcastle-upon-tyne, United Kingdom
I was 16 years old, and got hired as keyboardist for a 20's-ish working band when this song was number one. My bandmates simply could not work out the changes and the intro rhythm in rehearsal, so I brought back some charts to the next rehearsal. For this outrage, I was kicked out as soon as they could find a replacement. Ah, the good old 70's!Thegripester - Wellington, New Zealand
"Battle Apple" was a kind of round, hardwood truncheon used in gang fights in the mid 1900s. Before fighting, it would be oiled, hence "shine up the battle apple" -- not to mention "mix in the streets... dance on the bones."Tim - Golden, Co
Is there any information on who/what Steely Dan might have said was their inspiration for this song? I'm wondering the same thing about "Don't Take Me Alive", although it seems to me it's in reference to a real event.Kosh - Dallas, Tx
Josie is about the finest girl in the neighborhood returning home. She electrifies the streets when she walks.

I'm sure every hood had a girl like Josie.

Well at least I hope so !!
Joe - Somewhere In Fla, Fl
I heard this song live last night it was awesome!!!! wonderful song! I think i know a girl like josieTony - Chicago, Il
I knew a girl like that once.
Andy - Rockaway , Ny
The lines:
"Jo would you love to scrapple
She'll never say no
Shine up the battle apple"
are definitely a Jaz reference maybe hinting that Josie is a musician, most likely a Saxophonist. Specifically - Scrapple From The Apple by Charlie Parker.
Liam - Leeds, United Kingdom
The song is a lyrical tribute to a gang-bang.Lori - Alexandria, Va
Again another great song from Steely Dan. The man might have stage fright but still is a awesome song writer.Big Ed - Pulaski, Tn
I thought this song was more about an orgy and what happens when she comes home.John - Springfield, Ky
From all the roughhousing the guys promise they'll do when Josie arrives, I've started to wonder where she's been -- in jail for inciting to riot, perhaps? *grins*Ekristheh - Halath, United States
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