Anniversary Albums: Edition Five – Steely Dan "The Royal Scam"

The Royal Scam is the fifth studio album by American jazz rock band Steely Dan. Released in May 1976, this album is often overlooked in the Dan’s cannon as it was released the year before the all time classic Aja.
Despite this though it forms part of Steely Dan’s classic streak of albums between 1972 and 1980, one of the best album streaks in popular music history.

By the time of the recording of this album, Steely Dan was very much Donald Fagen and Walter Becker’s project, with the other original members removed in favor of a revolving cast of session musicians (22 played on this record).
With this, they had also mastered a slick jazz rock sound which would reach its zenith on the following album Aja. Some would malign this style labelling it yacht rock, or as I like to describe cocktail jazz.
Despite the cynical labels, in all honesty this was some of the best music to come out of the 70’s and at the end of the day who doesn’t like drinking cocktails while slick studio jazz rock plays in the background.
Despite developing this slick studio sound, Fagen and Becker left a lot of the jazz influences out on this album instead favoring a more guitar-heavy sound, whilst also bringing in funk and reggae influences.
Prominent jazz fusion guitarist Larry Carlton provided a lot of the guitar licks on the record, with his solo on the opening track Kid Charlemagne voted #80 in Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 greatest guitar solos. 

The Royal Scam is probably the least rated Steely Dan record with many saying it didn’t represent any musical advancement from previous records. This doesn’t mean, however, that it is a bad record (is there such a thing as a bad Steely Dan record) and given what came before and after it, it still holds up well musically with some stunning tracks and slick studio arrangements. 

– Sam 

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