Gaucho (album)

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Steely Dan - Gaucho.jpg
Studio album by Steely Dan
Released November 21, 1980
Recorded 1978–1980
Studio Sigma Sound Studios, New York City;
Village Recorders, West Los Angeles, California;
Soundworks, New York City;
Automated Sound, New York City;
A&R, New York City;
Producer's Workshop, Hollywood
Genre Jazz rock
Length 37:58
Label MCA
Producer Gary Katz
Steely Dan chronology
Alive in America
Singles from Gaucho
  1. "Hey Nineteen"
    Released: November 1980
  2. "Time Out of Mind"
    Released: 1981

Gaucho is the seventh studio album by the American jazz rock band Steely Dan, released on November 21, 1980 by MCA Records. The sessions for Gaucho represent the band's typical penchant for studio perfectionism and obsessive recording technique.[1][2] To record the album, the band used at least 42 different musicians, spent over a year in the studio, and far exceeded the original monetary advance given by the record label.[3]

During the two-year span in which the album was recorded, the band was plagued by a number of creative, personal and professional problems.[4] MCA, Warner Bros. and Steely Dan had a three-way legal battle over the rights to release the album. After it was released, jazz musician Keith Jarrett threatened the band with legal action for plagiarism in the title song.

Gaucho marked a significant stylistic change for Steely Dan, introducing a more minimal, groove and atmosphere-based format. The harmonically complex chord changes that were a distinctive mark of earlier Steely Dan songs are less prominent on Gaucho, with the record's songs tending to revolve around a single rhythm or mood, although complex chord progressions were still present particularly in "Babylon Sisters" and "Glamour Profession". Gaucho proved to be Steely Dan's final studio album before a 20-year hiatus from the recording industry.


Exceptional difficulties plagued the album's production. By 1978, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker had established themselves as the only two permanent members of Steely Dan, using a revolving cast of session musicians to record the songs they wrote together. However, the pair's working relationship began to strain, largely because of Becker's increasing drug use.[4]

During the course of the Gaucho sessions, Becker was hit by a car late one Saturday night while walking home to his apartment on the Upper West Side.[5][6] Becker managed to push the woman he was with out of harm's way, but sustained multiple fractures in one leg, a sprain in the other leg, and other injuries.[5][6] During his six-month recovery,[7] he suffered from secondary infections.[5] While Becker was in the hospital, he and Fagen continued their musical collaborations via telephone.[6]

Becker's personal problems continued to mount when his girlfriend, Karen Roberta Stanley, died of a drug overdose at his home on January 30, 1980.[8][9] Her family attempted to sue him for $17.5 million in January 1981, claiming that he had introduced the woman to cocaine, morphine, barbiturates, and heroin.[9] The court later ruled in Becker's favor.


Hal Leonard's Best of Steely Dan explains that Gaucho is "a concept album of seven interrelated tales about would-be hipsters."[10] The lyrics of "Hey Nineteen" are about an aging hipster attempting to pick up a girl who is so young that she does not recognize "'Retha Franklin" playing on the stereo.[11] The song closes with the ambiguous line, "The Cuervo Gold, the fine Colombian, make tonight a wonderful thing", leaving it up to the listener whether the narrator is consuming tequila and drugs with the love interest, or if he is in fact alone.[11]

Resemblances between the subject of "Glamour Profession" and then-second year NBA player Magic Johnson have been noted but not confirmed as intentional, particularly as the recording of the album coincided with the player's arrival in the city and the onset of the "Showtime" era of the Los Angeles Lakers and how it paralleled the L.A. lifestyle at that time.[12] Years later, the line "living hard will take its toll" would almost seem to have been prescient after the player's HIV announcement.[13]

Stewart Mason of AllMusic says that "Time Out of Mind" is "a barely veiled song about heroin, specifically a young man's first experience with the drug at the hands of a pretentious, pseudo-religious crank talking of 'chasing the dragon' with the 'mystical sphere direct from Lhasa.'"[14]

Keith Jarrett sued Becker and Fagen for copyright infringement over the title track of the album, claiming it plagiarised "Long As You Know You're Living Yours" from his 1974 album Belonging. As a result, Jarrett has since been included as a co-author of the track.[15] In an interview after Gaucho was released, Fagen said that he loved the Jarrett track and had been strongly influenced by it.[16]


Recording sessions[edit]

With 1977's Aja, the duo had become accustomed to recording with Los Angeles-based session musicians. Sessions for Gaucho began in New York City during 1978.[7] The transition to using New York City players during the Gaucho sessions proved difficult, because the musicians were unenthusiastic about Becker and Fagen's obsessive, perfectionist recording style.[15]

Fagen and Becker hired Mark Knopfler to play the guitar solo on "Time Out of Mind" after hearing him play on Dire Straits' hit single "Sultans of Swing". Several hours of Knopfler's playing were recorded at the session, but his contributions as heard on the record are limited to a matter of seconds.

The album's mixing sessions proved to be just as difficult as the recording sessions. It took Becker, Fagen, Nichols and Katz more than 55 attempts to complete a satisfactory mix of the 50-second fade-out of "Babylon Sisters".[5][17]

Drum recording[edit]

Platinum record awarded to Gaucho drum machine "Wendel" invented by recording engineer Roger Nichols

Even though the session players hired for Gaucho were amongst the most talented from both the East and West Coast session fraternities, Fagen and Becker were still not satisfied with the basic tracks for some of the songs, particularly with regard to the timing of the drum tracks.[18] In a 2006 interview for Sound On Sound Magazine, Donald Fagen stated that he and Becker told recording engineer Roger Nichols:

"'It's too bad that we can't get a machine to play the beat we want, with full-frequency drum sounds, and to be able to move the snare drum and kick drum around independently.' Nichols replied 'I can do that.' This was back in 1978 or something, so we said 'You can do that???' To which he said 'Yes, all I need is $150,000.' So we gave him the money out of our recording budget, and six weeks later he came in with this machine and that is how it all started."[19]

Nichols named the drum machine "Wendel".[18] Subsequently, Wendel was awarded a platinum record.

According to Ken Micaleff in an article in Modern Drummer, the title song's drum track was assembled from 46 different takes. The drummer on the session, Jeff Porcaro, is quoted as saying:

"From noon till six we'd play the tune over and over and over again, nailing each part. We'd go to dinner and come back and start recording. They made everybody play like their life depended on it. But they weren't gonna keep anything anyone else played that night, no matter how tight it was. All they were going for was the drum track."[20]

Drummer Bernard Purdie plays his signature half-time shuffle beat, the Purdie Shuffle, on "Babylon Sisters".

"The Second Arrangement", outtakes and bootlegs[edit]

"The Second Arrangement" had been a favorite of producer Gary Katz and Nichols.[21] In late December 1979, after weeks of working on a particular recording of the track, approximately three-quarters of the song was accidentally erased by an assistant engineer who had been asked by Katz to ready the track for listening.[4][21] The band attempted to re-record the track, but eventually abandoned the song entirely.[21]

Steely Dan biographer Brian Sweet has written that the group abandoned the song in favor of focusing on "Third World Man".[22] "The Second Arrangement" was never played live by Steely Dan until a rarities show on September 17, 2011, and a studio recording of the song remains unreleased.[21] However, a handful of demo and outtake recordings of the song exist in bootleg form.[23]

In addition to "The Second Arrangement", a number of songs were written for the album which were not included in the final release. Some of them were included on a bootleg titled The Lost Gaucho, which features recordings from early in the sessions for the album. Song titles include "Kind Spirit", "Kulee Baba", "The Bear" and "Talkin' About My Home", as well as "The Second Arrangement".[22] An early version of "Third World Man", with alternate lyrics, is included under the title "Were You Blind That Day".[22] That recording dates from the Aja sessions. During a clinic in 2011, Larry Carlton said about "Third World Man": "When Billboard Magazine came out ... about Gaucho, it's writing about the news 'Steely Dan released ... bla bla bla ... and great guitar solo by Larry Carlton', and I said, 'but I didn't play on Gaucho!, they'd cut it in New York, I didn't play on it!'. So I found out later: they had finished mixing in New York, and one of the second engineers erased one of their master tracks. So "Third World Man" was in the can from The Royal Scam (sic) and they had to reach back into the old tapes and find something to finish the album, and that's how I ended up on Gaucho playing "Third World Man".[24]


The cover art is based upon a wall plaque entitled "Guardia Vieja – Tango" (Old Guard – Tango), located in a southside Buenos Aires promenade known as Caminito, by Argentine artist Israel Hoffmann.[25]


Just prior to the album's release, the band members had another argument with MCA over the retail list price. MCA made Steely Dan a test case for its new "superstar pricing" policy, whereby new albums by top-selling artists would sell for $9.98, one dollar more than those of other artists.[citation needed]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic4/5 stars[26]
The New York Times(positive)[27]
Robert ChristgauB−[29]
Rolling Stone4.5/4.5 stars[30]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide1/5 stars[31]
Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music3/5 stars[33]

The album was greeted with mostly positive reviews. It was given 4½ stars from Rolling Stone's Ariel Swartley, who said of the album: "After years of hibernation in the studio, the metamorphosis that began with The Royal Scam is complete. Steely Dan have perfected the aesthetic of the tease."[34] The New York Times gave Gaucho a positive review,[35] later deeming it the best album of 1980, beating out Talking Heads Remain in Light and Joy Division's Closer.[36] The album also received positive reviews from the Montreal Gazette[37] and PopMatters.

Not all reviews were positive. The second edition of The Rolling Stone Album Guide, which gave all of Steely Dan's previous releases at least 3 stars (out of 5), gave Gaucho a 1-star rating; critic Dave Marsh called it "the kind of music that passes for jazz in Holiday Inn lounges, with the kind of lyrics that pass for poetry in freshman English classes."[31] Gaucho also received a lukewarm review from the Pittsburgh Press's Pete Bishop.[38] Robert Christgau of the Village Voice gave it a tepid review and rated it B-.


Gaucho won the 1981 Grammy Award for Best Non-Classical Engineered Recording.

Commercial performance[edit]

The album reached #9 on the U.S. Album Chart and was certified Platinum. "Hey Nineteen" reached #10 on the U.S. Singles Chart, and went to #1 in Canada. The album reached #27 on the UK Albums Chart.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, except where noted.

Side one
1."Babylon Sisters"5:49
2."Hey Nineteen"5:06
3."Glamour Profession"7:29
Side two
4."Gaucho"Becker, Fagen, Keith Jarrett[39]5:32
5."Time Out of Mind" 4:13
6."My Rival" 4:34
7."Third World Man" 5:15



Weekly charts[edit]

Year Chart Peak position
1980 UK Albums 27
1981 Black Albums 19
1981 Pop Albums 9


Year Single Label & number Chart Peak position
1981 "Hey Nineteen" (B-side: "Bodhisattva" (live)) MCA 51036 Black Singles 68
1981 "Hey Nineteen" MCA 51036 Pop Singles 10
1981 "Time Out of Mind" MCA 51082 Pop Singles 22
1981 "Time Out of Mind" (B-side: "Bodhisattva" (live)) MCA 51082 Adult Contemporary 13
1981 "Time Out of Mind" (B-side: "Bodhisattva" (live)) MCA 51082 Mainstream Rock 13


  1. ^ Steely Dan still feeling the groove Archived 2009-07-03 at the Wayback Machine..
  2. ^ MSN Inside Music – Re:Masters: Steely Dan Think Fast and Tour.
  3. ^ PopMatters review: "Steely Dan - Guacho."
  4. ^ a b c Mojo article: "The Mojo Interview."
  5. ^ a b c d The Tuscaloosa News article: "Steely Dan Keeps Tackling Tough Topics."
  6. ^ a b c Anchorage Daily News article: "Rockers in need find a friend indeed Link not working."
  7. ^ a b Sutherland, Donnie (1980-12-28). "Recluses Who Speak Through Music". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2018-01-26.
  8. ^ The Madison Courier article: "Personalities."
  9. ^ a b The Miami News article: "Steely Dan founder named in drug death allegation."
  10. ^ The Best of Steely Dan songbook, published by Hal Leonard. pp. 5.
  11. ^ a b Allmusic song review: "Hey Nineteen."
  12. ^ Lazenby, Roland (2006). The Show: The Inside Story of the Spectacular Los Angeles Lakers in the Words of Those Who Lived It. McGraw-Hill. pp. 297–8. ISBN 978-0-07-143034-0.
  13. ^ Dworkin, Sharon Lee; Faye, Linda Wachs (2000). "The Morality/Manhood Paradox: Masculinity, Sport, and the Media" Masculinities, Gender Relations, and Sport. Eds. Jim McKay, Michael Messner, and Donald Sabo. SAGE Publications. pp. 53–54. ISBN 076191272X.
  14. ^ AllMusic song review: "Time Out of Mind".
  15. ^ a b "Gaucho by Steely Dan". Classic Rock Review. River of Rock Music Network. Retrieved 2018-01-26.
  16. ^ Breskin, David (1981-03-01). "Steely Dan interview". The Steely Dan Reader. Retrieved 2018-01-26.
  17. ^ AllMusic song review: "Babylon Sisters."
  18. ^ a b Steely Dan – Gaucho (2000 Reissue) (CD liner notes by Walter Becker & Donald Fagen). MCA Records. 088 112 055-2
  19. ^ Tingen, Paul. "Donald Fagen – Recording Morph The Cat". Sound On Sound Magazine. Retrieved 2015-05-06.
  20. ^ Payne, Jim (2010-09-08). The Great Drummers of R and B Funk and Soul (Paperback ed.). p. 146. Retrieved 2015-05-05.
  21. ^ a b c d Steely Dan: Reelin in the Years by Brian Sweet – page 137
  22. ^ a b c Big O Worldwide article: "The Lost Gaucho."
  23. ^ Steely Dan Database: "The Second Arrangement" song info.
  24. ^ Youtube : "335 Records - Larry Carlton Clinic - Third World Man".
  25. ^ SteelyDanDatabase: "[1]." Archived August 11, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  26. ^ AllMusic review
  27. ^ Holden, Stephen (18 January 1981). "STEELY DAN'S NEW SONGS" – via
  28. ^ "Music Reviews, Features, Essays, News, Columns, Blogs, MP3s and Videos – PopMatters".
  29. ^ "Robert Christgau: CG: steely dan".
  30. ^ "Gaucho".
  31. ^ a b Marsh, Dave, and Swenson, John (1983). The New Rolling Stone Record Guide. New York, NY: Random House/Rolling Stone Press. p. 488. ISBN 0-394-72107-1.
  32. ^ Powell, Mike. Stylus review 2006-06-27.
  33. ^ "Acclaimed Music – Gaucho".
  34. ^ Rolling Stone page: "Gaucho review."
  35. ^ The New York Times article: "STEELY DAN'S NEW SONGS."
  36. ^ New York Times article: "The Pop Life; The 10 best of the albums issued in 1980."
  37. ^ Montreal Gazette article: "Steely Dan's Gaucho takes a smooth ride."
  38. ^ Pittsburgh Press article: "Spontineity, Energy Missing in Latest Album By Steely Dan."
  39. ^ Initial copies of the album credited Becker and Fagen as the authors of this track. Keith Jarrett was added as co-author on all subsequent reissues.
  40. ^ "Steely Dan – Gaucho". Discogs.
  41. ^ "Gaucho Album".

External links[edit]