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.