The Royal Scam

Album: The Royal Scam (1976)
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  • And they wandered in
    From the city of St. John
    Without a dime
    Wearing coats that shined
    Both red and green
    Colors from their sunny island
    From their boats of iron
    They looked upon the promised land
    Where surely life was sweet
    On the rising tide
    To New York City
    Did they ride into the street
    See the glory
    Of the royal scam

    They are hounded down
    To the bottom of a bad town
    Amid the ruins
    Where they learn to fear
    An angry race of fallen kings
    Their dark companions
    While the memory of
    Their southern sky was clouded by
    A savage winter
    Every patron saint
    Hung on the wall, shared the room
    With twenty sinners

    See the glory
    Of the royal scam

    By the blackened wall
    He does it all
    He thinks he's died and gone to heaven
    Now the tale is told
    By the old man back home
    He reads the letter
    How they are paid in gold
    Just to babble in the back room
    All night and waste their time
    And they wandered in
    From the city of St. John without a dime

    See the glory
    Of the royal scam Writer/s: DONALD JAY FAGEN, WALTER CARL BECKER
    Publisher: Universal Music Publishing Group
    Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind

Comments: 24

  • Ricco from Tejas@Hck from London, England: Columbus was Italian; his trips across the Atlantic were sponsored by the Catholic rulers on the Iberian Peninsula: Queen Isabella I (Castile) and King Ferdinand II (Aragon).
  • Chuck from TennesseeThe Royal Scam sends a magical ageless vibe that has endured from its beginnings. Many read-between-the-lines theories have evolved its meanings that are simply priceless. This fan is very thankful to have seen them live and had the ability to listen to this amazing music for over fifty years. Live on Steely Dan.
  • Cynical Boy from Braddock, PaSince anyone born in Puerto Rico is automatically a citizen of the United States and can move back and forth between Puerto Rico and any of the fifty states freely any time they want, none of these people are actually immigrants. So to all of the racists below who are posting garbage about 'these immigrants', ya burnt.
  • Jimmy The Super Fly from NjSaint John= San Juan, Puerto Rico, not Rome
  • G From Ca from UsDemocrats are good @ luring people into the US with promises to give them money they don't have anything for other than "vote". Oh yeah, NC's can vote according to the DEM - @John L from Canada - good perspective, REP do nothing for you because they don't think about handouts - the DEM are good at earning nothing but giving away wealth they did not create and think more about living off another's hand than their own. You know, like a lot of Canadians Eh?
  • John L from CanadaSo, Roland from California thinks Puerto Ricans were "scourged" by a program that included the Equal Opportunity Act, Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Higher Education Act, and head Operation Head Start. The increase in Social Security greatly reduced poverty among the elderly. Stick with Republicans, Roland. They'll do absolutely nothing for you, if that's what turns your crank. What does the nonsense you're peddling have to do with Steely Dan, by the way?
  • Fagen from CaliforniaScott from Little Elm, Texas - The black wall mentioned in the song is a famous landmark of Puerto Rico, but that location is not important. It was only an example that was appropriate at the time when Puerto Ricans were a significant part of the immigrant demographic.
    Also forgot to mention The Fez is about rape, but you won't understand the double meaning unless you speak French.
  • Fagen from CaliforniaI can't believe that no one figured this out. This is a concept album about moral crimes. The tracks are:
    Kid Charlemagne - Drugs
    The Caves of Altamira - Pornography
    Don't Take Me Alive - Domestic Terrorism
    Sign in Stranger - Organized Crime
    Green Earrings - Jewel Thieves
    Haitian Divorce - Casual relationships that leave children behind
    Everything You Did - Cheating on your spouse
    The Royal Scam - How the American government entices foreign people to immigrate. They expect that they will have a better life, but usually end up destitute. They send letters home saying how great their lives are in order to make themselves sound happy instead of foolish, which furthers the same cycle to incite more foreigners to move to the U.S. only to discover they are miserable.
  • Roland from CaliforniaAs a fan of Steely Dan's and a descendant of Puerto Rican immigrants, I find great ignorance, if not downright arrogance in the assumptions made by some of this songs' interpreters. In short, Puerto Ricans were immigrating to the U.S. long before 1965 (when LB Johnson scourged us with the introduction of his Great Society and his 5yr progrom - Welfare - to "wipe out poverty"), and the island's flag is red, white and blue. Want to know what The Royal Scam is about? Write Donald Fagen (Steely Dan).
  • Scott from Little Elm, TexasWell, how about Sicily? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OH3JWEv0FBU
  • Scott from Little Elm, TexasI believe the city of St John is Rome. "The Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist in the Lateran is the cathedral church of the Diocese of Rome in the city of Rome and serves as the seat of the Roman Pontiff. Certainly the story fits the Italian immigrants around the turn of the century and the Italian flag is red and green.
  • 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!
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