This is a song about people from Puerto Rico who immigrated to New York in the '50s and '60s hoping to secure the American Dream only to find discrimination and hate from the native population.
The album cover of The Royal Scam features a homeless man laying on a bench. Behind him are monolithic skyscrapers topped with the snarling heads of a wolf, snake, alligator and bear. This dark, eerie cover sets the stage for a cynical album.
Pedro from PortugalPlease, Steely Dan fans. Dont pay attention to Hbc from london. The poor one is mixing an episode of Lord of the Rings with lets say, a film with Elvis Presley. "Stolen rights of America" ?? What rights ?? Is that an Album ?? Geez BTW, our Flag is red and green, since 1910 !! With the Republic, so no kings involved. Thanks Steely Dan fans.
Paul from AustraliaMy favourite all time Steely Dan lyric is "My life is boiling over, it's happened once before, I wish someone would open up the door" I said this to a foreman trying to be all morbid and ironic. I was working 12 hours a day starting at 6 AM.
Richard from London, UkJust found this site and think it's great. I'm really enjoying all of the comments about Steely Dan's songs, especially the ones that know 'for certain' what the song is about ;-). This one is a case in point. Who's being scammed? Is it the poor Puerto Rican's who are, 'hounded down To the bottom of a bad town Amid the ruins Where they learn to fear An angry race of fallen kings'?
or is it their foolish employers, who don't realise that, 'they are paid in gold Just to babble in the back room All night and waste their time'?
I have listened to this track many many times and as with so many of the Dan's songs the more I listen the more I become aware of the deeply ironic and subversive nature of the work.
BTW, 'Every patron saint Hung on the wall, shared the room With twenty sinners'' Is, I think, my favourite lyric of all time.
Hck from London, EnglandUnsure of date of your first/last post - however: Royal Scam refers to King John II of Portugal (in 1400s) who argued that Christopher Columbus (Spanish) had stolen the rights to America. Columbus had offered King John the chance to 'sponsor' the exploration, before he set sail, but John wasn't interested. King John was annoyed by Columbus offering America to Spain instead and declared it was Portugese - hence red and green (flag). Fallen kings refers to the ailing Portugese monarchy who, eventually, due to marriage, became governed by the Spanish monarchy, returning years later to a Portugese king ruling Portugal.
Abby from Tucson, AzMight just be the Frank in me, but I think this song is about the Poor Palantines, the first mismanagement of human migration on a massive scale. They wore iron shoes, did they not? They fell pray to the first Colonial American land rush that speculators pushed in books, pamphlets and reassuring letters like the old man is reading. If you study what happened to the Palatines and the forty years of politicing around immigration in Britain that follows, you will find the founding arguments of most refugee/migration conflicts. Of course, the Poor Palantines are always the biggest losers caught in between the do nothings and languishing in their fieldsIn a political effort to raise global cane, the British were competing to win the best ruler contest and offered suppressed Palantine Protestants free passage to make headway for the UK and secure navel stores in the New World. It was a miserable existence waiting for word of when one might get passage to go. No jobs, so no money coming in except Royal coin from a charity made up to manage the mass of refugees outside London and Kingston up the Hudson. This charitable org seemed to spread suffering wherever the Palatines were sent. Some said it was the Whigs' fault and some said it was the Torys' but it was Queen Anne who led Palatines to believe all they needed to do was show up and be shipped off to America without a dime.
David from Hastings, New ZealandThe 'seventies was a time when rock albums, particularly those of the progressive genre, succeeded in painting entire galleries of mental pictures within the imaginations of listeners. Simple pop music struggled to achieve this. Occasionally an artist from a peripheral genre would step over the mark and offer similar inspiration for the mind, and aside from the occasional track - most closely on their 1974 album Pretzel Logic - Steely Dan had fallen short in this respect, despite offering a growing collection of noteworthy songs. In 1976, that mold was about to be broken.
In full agreement with Robert of Amityville, I too regard THE ROYAL SCAM as the best Dan album, by a country mile. It was indeed a dark and foreboding album, full of strange and foreign imagery and concepts that had all but escaped attention musically until that time. Couple the lyrics that expressed these stories with a musical formula that Becker and Fagan truly possessed exclusively among rock artists anywhere, and you had an album that was both unique and unparallelled either before or since - I'll go further than Robert to say that for me, this was without hesitation the best album of the 1970s.
Michael from Buffalo, NyLOVE the dan...dildo band...seen 'em twice...both STELLAR!!!
Robert from Amityville, NyThis was the last good, and in many ways, the best Steely Dan album. I feel it was the album they were destined to do, sort of like the Stones doing "Exile On Main Street", after this they descended in a putrid, light jazz, morass that was the likes of Gaucho and so on ... but hey, 5 good albums is a pretty damn good run !
Jp from Cincinnati, Oh"The Royal Scam"...In other words, "Global Climate Change". Absolutely love these guys!
Chip from Stratford, CtI've always been a big fan. I just love Fagan's voice. Chip
Steve from New York, NyBecause Fagan sings "St. John" instead of "San Juan", I never made the connection with Puerto Rico until I read it on Songfacts...
Spence from Brooklyn, NyThis song is very symbolic about Big Corporations looking for cheap labor. A "Royal Scam" indeed!
Andy from Rockaway , NyGreat show opener at the Beacon in NYC last week. The horns blasting a stomping beat, and on to the stage walk Becker & Fagen. You could feel the glory. Great show!