Steely Dan

Kid Charlemagne

Composed by Donald Fagen / Walter Becker

Song Review by

The Royal Scam was Steely Dan's darkest album lyrically, a collection of character sketches with little sympathy for their protagonists. Opening track "Kid Charlemagne" is the most notorious of these studies, an unsparing portrait of a San Francisco drug dealer/chemist who was a counterculture star in the golden age of the hippies but whose cultural moment is long since past. Feted around the city in the first verse, the dealer slowly starts to realize that his friends and clientele are either dead or have rejoined the straight world and now consider him a threat to society. In the startling final verse, the former star is reduced to a state of paranoid twitchiness, waiting for the hammer to fall and suspecting that everyone around him is waiting to turn him in. It's one of Donald Fagen's most remarkable vocal performances, full of slowly increasing tension. Despite the song's California setting, it was the first that Fagen and Walter Becker recorded upon their return to their native New York, with a cast of local jazz and soul musicians featuring Larry Carlton, who contributes the stellar guitar solo at the song's heart.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
The Royal Scam 1976 MCA 4:39
Greatest Hits 1979 Island
No Image 1983 MCA
A Decade of Steely Dan 1985 Geffen / MCA / Universal 4:39
Citizen Steely Dan 1993 Geffen / MCA 4:39
Remastered: The Best of Steely Dan - Then and Now 1993 Universal Distribution / MCA 4:38
Alive in America 1995 Giant 5:16
Showbiz Kids: The Steely Dan Story 1972-1980 2000 MCA 4:40
Can't Buy a Thrill/Pretzel Logic/The Royal Scam 2003 Universal Distribution 4:39
The Definitive Collection 2006 Universal / Universal Music 4:39
In Concert 2008 Immortal 5:02
The Very Best of Steely Dan 2009 Universal Distribution 4:40
Collected 2009 Universal / Universal Distribution 4:37
Perfection in Performance 2010 Intergroove
blue highlight denotes editor's pick