“Sign In Stranger”—fourth song, side one of The Royal Scam (1976)

There is someone out there who, this is their favorite Steely Dan song, and I'd love to talk to them sometime because it would be an odd one—not because it's not really good, but because it's another one you kind of forget, sandwiched in there as it is, and then sounding, first, like an ad for some otherworldly product, and then evolving to an anthemic theme song—or even a final theatrical number. The piano, guitar, and drums, in particular, are allowed to play right through the roof. There are some musicians on this session who went home happy that day—then might have woken in the middle of the night in a cold sweat—maybe it was all a dream. Who gets to do stuff like that? And get, I presume, paid for it? The day the record came out must have been a good one for those guys. I wish each song said who played what—but sometimes, even if it's right there on the album cover, you can't necessarily believe it. Though more so than some random page on the internet. Becker and Fagen could not have known that in the 2000-teens, zombies would be as prevalent in our entertainment culture as large collars and polkadots once were, but they seem to constantly refer to them either literally, descriptively, or as a cocktail. The lyrics are full of references I could try to track down, but I'm not that far gone, yet, and I'm fine with not knowing what the hell most of them refer to—not unlike my attitude when the record came out. Even without knowing the references, you get that feeling of shady characters, once again—this time maybe in a setting that's noirish, futuristic, foreign, and possibly dangerous, and probably French. “Sign In Stranger” would make a great title for a TV show (not so much a movie or a novel) with Eddie Constantine and low-budget effects. I'd watch that show.

—Randy Russell 12.2.18

Current Ranking: No. 26