The Steely Dan Dictionary: B

Listing 15 entries:

The Siegel Bros. were slammin' out a baion / So slick it should have been a crime
Song: Teahouse On The Tracks   Album: Kamakiriad

A type of Brazilian rhythm (also known as a baião in Portuguese).

In its original form, the baião is similar to the samba. Sometime around the late 1950s, it was borrowed and simplified by American music and became one of the most basic rhythmic patterns in pop music. Its distinctive pattern consists of two long notes separated by one of short duration (i.e. long-short-long).

Two well-known songs that have a baion-esque beat are Be My Baby by the Ronettes and It's Not Unusual by Tom Jones.

Link: YouTube: Baião lesson

It's raining boxcars that's for sure / From Bakersfield to Elsinore
Song: Lucky Henry   Album: 11 Tracks of Whack

Bakersfield is a city in California, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles. Its population is approximately 365,000, making it the ninth-most populous city in California.

To the outside world, it's probably best known as the birthplace of the country music genre known as the "Bakersfield sound", of whom Buck Owens and Merle Haggard are the most successful proponents.


Chinese music under banyan trees / Here at the dude ranch above the sea
Song: Aja   Album: Aja

A type of tropical fig tree. The term "banyan" includes many subspecies such as Indian Banyans, Chinese Banyans, Sacred Figs, and the sinister-sounding Florida Strangler Fig!

In all cases, the banyan's distinguishing feature is its branches, which send out shoots that grow down to the soil to form secondary trunks.

Of historical interest is the fact that Siddhartha (the young Buddha) was apparently sitting under a banyan tree when he received enlightenment. The specific tree in question is known as the Bodhi tree — sharing the same root (no pun intended) as the word bodhisattva.

Link: Wikipedia: Bodhi tree

Lost in the barrio / I walk like an injun
Song: Throw Back The Little Ones   Album: Katy Lied

A Spanish-speaking quarter or neighbourhood.

Barrios are especially common in the Southwestern U.S., but the largest and most well-known is in East Harlem, New York City. In case you're wondering, "barrio" literally means "neighbourhood" in Spanish.

Link: El Museo del Barrio

I can see by what you carry / That you come from Barrytown
Song: Barrytown   Album: Pretzel Logic

A neighbourhood in upstate New York, close to Annandale-on-Hudson and Bard College (Becker & Fagen's alma mater).

Its biggest claim to fame would be as the headquarters of The Unification Church, a.k.a. "The Moonies", a religious cult who gained notoriety in the 70s from reports of its mass weddings & alleged brainwashing of members. As a fundraising measure, followers would often stand at street corners, carrying small bouquets of flowers for sale (hence the lyric).

Link: About the Unification Church

Shine up the battle apple / We'll shake 'em all down tonight / We're gonna mix in the street 
Song: Josie   Album: Aja

Fictional type of street weapon.

Unlike many other of Becker & Fagen's imaginary concoctions, we can be fairly sure about this one since Donald Fagen explicitly referenced it in a July 2011 interview with The Wall Street Journal. Quote: "Walter and I both love inventing slang. For example, in 'Josie', there's a street gang using a weapon called the 'battle apple'. It sounded better than any real weapon we could think of."

What exactly a battle apple would look like is left up to the imagination of the listener.

Link: Wall Street Journal interview with Donald Fagen

Biscayne Bay / Where the Cuban gentlemen sleep all day
Song: Doctor Wu   Album: Katy Lied

A bay (technically a lagoon) located on Florida's Atlantic coast.

Biscayne Bay starts at Miami and stretches about 30 miles southwards, towards the Florida Keys. So there are plenty of places for the Cuban gentlemen to enjoy their nap!

Link: Discover Biscayne Bay

Drink your big black cow / And get out of here
Song: Black Cow   Album: Aja

A type of soda.

Depending on who you ask, a true black cow consists of either Coke or root beer mixed with either milk or ice cream (with optional chocolate sauce). There's even an alcoholic version, containing Grand Marnier and cold coffee.

Link: Classic Soda Shop Treat: Black Cow

We'll take Big Red / The Blazer / it's nice inside
Song: Janie Runaway   Album: Two Against Nature

A type of SUV (sports utility vehicle) manufactured by Chevrolet.

First launched in 1969, the two-door, four-wheel-drive Blazer took the car industry by storm and quickly caught on with drivers who would normally never consider off-road driving, leading to the huge popularity of SUVs today — beloved of "soccer moms" and loathed by environmentalists for their inefficient fuel consumption.

Link: Chevrolet Blazer history

Little Eva meets the Bleecker Street brat / She's almost gothic but it's better than that
Song: Almost Gothic   Album: Two Against Nature

A street in New York City, which runs roughly east-west through the Greenwich Village area of Manhattan.

Bleecker Street is probably best known for being the home of "Beat" poetry and a breeding ground for acoustic singer-songwriters back in the 1960s.

Link: World's Best Shopping Streets: Bleecker Street

Bodhisattva / Would you take me by the hand
Song: Bodhisattva   Album: Countdown to Ecstasy

In Buddhism, a being who compassionately refrains from entering nirvana in order to save others and lead them to enlightenment.

Bodhisattvas are themselves worshipped as deities in Mahayana Buddhism.

Link: What is a bodhisattva?

She takes the taxi to the good hotel / Bon marché as far as she can tell 
Song: Haitian Divorce   Album: The Royal Scam

A good deal or bargain price. Literally translates from French as "good market".

The phrase's occasional use in English probably stems from the name of the famed retailer Le Bon Marché in Paris — originally founded as "Au Bon Marché" in 1838 and considered to be one of the first modern department stores in the world.

Its name in turn also inspired similarly-named retail establishments in the US (defunct Seattle-based department store chain The Bon Marché) and the UK (clothing retailer Bonmarché, founded in the 1980s and still in operation).

Link: Le Bon Marché official website

There's a place way down in Brentwood / Out to Georgio's we all g'wine
Song: Selfish Gene   Album: Circus Money

An affluent suburb of Los Angeles — located in West L.A. to be precise, among the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Many Hollywood celebrities live or have lived in Brentwood, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Marilyn Monroe and Steve McQueen to name but four.

However, its biggest claim to fame (or rather, infamy) comes from the "O.J. Simpson murder" in June 1994, which occurred outside Nicole Brown Simpson's Brentwood apartment, where she was brutally stabbed along with her friend Ron Goldman.

As for the song lyric, Walter Becker's personal history with Brentwood is unknown — also, I've been unable to find a restaurant named "Georgio's" anywhere in the vicinity. If you can shed any light on either of these, please get in touch via the Feedback page.

Link: Guide to Brentwood from

I hear you're mad about Brubeck / I like your eyes, I like him too
Song: New Frontier   Album: The Nightfly

Dave Brubeck (1920-2012), American jazz pianist and leader of jazz band The Dave Brubeck Quartet.

Their laid-back yet experimental style was epitomised by the hit single Take Five, found on their 1959 album Time Out — the first million-selling jazz album in history.

Link: Official Dave Brubeck website

Brut and charisma / Poured from the shadow where he stood
Song: Glamour Profession   Album: Gaucho

A well-known brand of men's cologne.

Introduced in 1964 by the Fabergé company of Paris, Brut's distinctively strong ambery scent is classed as a fougère (fern-like) fragrance.

Link: Basenotes perfume directory: Brut by Fabergé