Steely Dan: Babylon Sisters
Gaucho (MCA 112055)
Donald Fagen (vocals), Steve Khan (guitar), Don Grolnick (electric piano), Tom Scott (alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet), Randy Brecker (trumpet, flugelhorn), Chuck Rainey (bass), Bernard Purdie (drums), Patti Austin (vocals),
DIva Grey, Gordon Grody, Lani Groves, Leslie Miller, Toni Wine (background vocals), Walter Kane, George Marge (bass clarinet), Rob Mounsey (horn arrangement), Crusher Bennett (percussion).
Composed by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.
Recorded: Los Angeles, CA and New York, early 1979-mid-1980
Rating: 100/100 (learn more)
"Babylon Sisters" is a great reggae influenced tune which utilizes one of Steely Dan's most intricate chord charts. The tale is immediately followed by "Hey Nineteen" on the Dan's 1980 album Gaucho, so you will notice a pattern in the themes that, while plaintively referenced in the lyrics, play out much more quizzically.
Chronicling the plight of characters who have crossed the "point of no return," this particular narrator seems to possess some sort of fetish for women "so fine, so young." Of course, this leaves us wondering a) why are these pleasures "cheap" yet "not free," and why are they being linked to Tijuana when it does not sound as though the rendezvous is happening outside of L.A. ("Here come those Santa Ana winds again"), b) even though it is obvious that the character should not play with the "fire" his desire for "cotton candy" objectifies, why are the characters heading out of town for a "one-night stand" when they could simply stay in their own hometown, and c) why does the speaker characterize himself as not what he "used to be," even though his exploits seem to find him in peak form?
Well, the "Babylon Sisters" can "shake it" all they wish, but that does not resolve any of those unanswered questions. However, if all else fails, focus on the searing horn section, which punches the air with its unison riffs, the slow dirge that definitely plays as a musical oxymoron to the story, and, once again, the challenging chart, which probably features the most chord changes in their entire catalog. All of these elements drown out the vocals, which are mixed so low that it is tough to hear them. However, if you listen closely, they are clear-even if the muse's motives are not.
Reviewer: Marcus Singletary