The Steely Dan Dictionary: N-P

Listing 9 entries:

Confess your passion, your secret fear / Prepare to meet the challenge of the New Frontier
Song: New Frontier   Album: The Nightfly

A slogan / rallying cry used by John F. Kennedy, originating in a June 1960 speech he made while accepting the Democratic Party nomination for the 1960 U.S. presidential election.

In the speech, "the New Frontier" referred to the various challenges facing America in the new decade, but over time the phrase became synonymous with the Kennedy election campaign and his administration's policies. To illustrate this, here's a sample line from the speech: "We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier, the Frontier of the 1960s, a Frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, a Frontier of unfilled hopes and threats."

Link: JFK's "New Frontier" speech

So I duck into Nino's / She's barred from the place / The minute I walk out she's right in my face
Song: Lunch with Gina   Album: Everything Must Go

Upscale Italian restaurant in New York, located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan (on First Avenue between 72nd and 73rd Streets).

Named after owner Nino Selimaj, the restaurant is famed for its excellent Northern Italian cuisine, nightly live entertainment and is apparently a favourite haunt of celebrities.

Link: Official Nino's website

Oleanders / Growing outside her door / Soon they're gonna be in bloom / Up in Annandale
Song: My Old School   Album: Countdown to Ecstasy

A poisonous evergreen shrub (Latin name Nerium oleander) with fragrant white, pink or red flowers and narrow, leathery leaves.

Originated in the Mediterranean, but is now in common use as an ornamental plant in gardens around the world.

Now the food here ain't so good no more / And they closed the package store
Song: Turn That Heartbeat Over Again   Album: Can't Buy A Thrill

A liquor store (or "off-licence" in British parlance), i.e. a shop which sells alcoholic beverages for consumption elsewhere.

The slang term originates from the US state laws of Connecticut and Georgia, which declare that purchased liquor must be in a sealed container and/or removed from the premises in a bag or other "package".

There on your nightstand much worse than that / Panatela and old black derby hat
Song: Two Against Nature   Album: Two Against Nature

A panatela (sometimes spelled "panetela") is a long, slender, straight-sided cigar.

In order to be classed as a panatela, a cigar must be between 5 and 7½ inches long (approx 12.5cm to 19cm), and between 34/64 and 38/64 inches in diameter (13.5mm to 15mm).

The song lyric is allegedly a reference to voodoo deity Baron Samedi, usually depicted as a cigar-smoking skeleton wearing sunglasses and a top hat (see derby hat).

When she does the Philly Dog / I gotta have CPR
Song: Planet D'Rhonda   Album: Sunken Condos

A 1966 dance craze, referenced in several songs of the time including "Philly Dog" by The Mar-Keys, "Teach me the Philly Dog" by The Manhattans, and "Baby Do the Philly Dog" by The Olympics.

None of those songs were big hits at the time (although the Olympics' song found some cult success later in England's "Northern Soul" scene of the 1970s) and so the Philly Dog didn't reach the level of mainstream success of other dance crazes like the Twist or the Mashed Potato. However, it was successful enough to inspire some spin-off dances of its own, namely the Philly Freeze and the Philly Barracuda.

Link: Article from The Gettysburg Times, 16th March 1966

Just when I'd spent the last piaster I could borrow
Song: Doctor Wu   Album: Katy Lied

Piaster (also spelled piastre or piastra) is the name for several past & present currencies.

Originally, the piaster was a 16th century silver coin equivalent to the Spanish dollar (better known as a "piece of eight"). Its name came from the Italian word piastra, meaning "thin metal plate".

Piaster is also the name of the fractional currency used by several countries today, including Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan and Syria.

I like your pin shot / I keep it with your letter
Song: Peg   Album: Aja

A glossy pin-up photo. This term was invented specially for the song by Becker & Fagen, so for the exact context I'll turn it over to Donald Fagen, who explained all in an April 2020 interview with the Wall Street Journal:

'In the second verse, the ex is thinking back on their relationship. The ex kept one of her glossy photos in his drawer with a Dear John letter she sent him. But Walter and I didn’t want to use “pin-up.” It didn’t sing well. So we shortened it to “pin shot,” a neologism that was even seedier than pin-up.'

Link: Wall Street Journal interview with Donald Fagen: 7th April 2020

The wind was driving in my face / The smell of prickly pear
Song: My Rival   Album: Gaucho

Type of cactus.

Known as nopales in Spanish, technically speaking prickly pears can refer to any cacti from the genus Opuntia. Typically they have yellow flowers and flat spiny joints, usually studded with tubercles bearing spines or prickly hairs.

They are also edible (minus the spines of course!) although despite the name, they don't taste like pear, but have a somewhat tart flavour that has been described as similar to green beans or asparagus.

Link: Prickly pear recipes