1977 Steely Dan – Josie (US:#26)

“Josie” is a song written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen and first released by Steely Dan on their 1977 album Aja. It was also released as the third single from the album and performed modestly well, reaching #26 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #44 Easy Listening. It has appeared on several Steely Dan live and compilation albums.

Becker and Fagen wrote an early version of “Josie” well before the recordings for Aja took place. While most of the songs on the album fuse jazz with rock, Allmusic critic Stewart Mason describes “Josie” has as the album’s “most conventional rocker.” Nonetheless “Josie” incorporates many jazz chords. Don Breithaupt sees an influence from the Delta blues, particularly in the “stark open fifths and lyric-driven rhythm,” but Breithaupt also notes that it incorporates “exotic open chords derived from the parallel Phrygian scale.” Rolling Stone Magazine critic Michael Duffy describes it has having “tight, modal tunes with good hooks in the choruses, solid beats with intricate counter rhythms and brilliantly concise guitar solos” as well as a complex horn chart and “schmaltzy” L.A. jazz riffs. Mason praises the song’s “sly irony and danceable R&B groove.” J.J. Syrja notes that the song even echoes disco, but doesn’t “fall victim” to it.

Becker plays a guitar solo on the song, one of the few on Aja. Steely Dan biographer Brian Sweet particularly praised his solo, calling it “a real stormer.” Fagen sings the lead vocals. The other musicians on the song include Chuck Rainey on bass guitar, Victor Feldman on electric piano and Larry Carlton and Dean Parks on guitar. The drummer is Jim Keltner, who critic Victor Aaron particularly praises for a fill that restarts the song near the end after a brief pause.

Seguin Gazette-Enterprise reviewer J.J. Syrja describes the song as “a tasty ditty about a community girl in the truest sense of the word.” “The lyrics describe the boys of the neighborhood celebrating the return of a fun-loving girl named Josie who may have a shady past and anticipating the debauchery that may ensue. Sweet suggests that she may be returning from prison.Kentucky musician and songwriter Chris Gast points to the possibility that the Steely dan classic , “Josie”, is in reference to a girl being away at college, and coming home for a visit. Perhaps it is the holiday season, the time of year when many students return home and the bars swell with people. Maybe Josie, or someone like her, was a crush of the songwriter. The lyric, “She’s the pride of the neighborhood”, from Josie, suggests that she got out. Josie is someone to be looked up to, almost untouchable in some way. She remembers her friends at home, but she is moving on in her life, and is rarely seen by her friends in recent years. The line, “When Josie comes home, so bad… She’s the best friend we never had”, suggests her friends at home feel a touch of friendly jealousy towards her for leaving. They still love Josie, however, and whenever she comes back to town, it is cause for celebration. It is also plausible that Josie is a celebrity or star of some kind from the area, and she is returning home to visit. The lyric, “She’s the raw flame, the live wire…”, tells the listener that Josie is held in high esteem by her peers. As for the student interpretation, Fagen also references the college years in Steely Dan’s, “My Old School”.

Album

Video

Musicians

BassChuck Rainey
DrumsJim Keltner
Guitar (solo)Walter Becker
GuitarLarry Carlton
GuitarDean Parks
PianoVictor Feldman
PercussionJim Keltner
Background VocalsTimothy B. Schmit

Produced By

Gary Katz

Charts

US:#26
UK:# –