“Turn That Heartbeat Over Again” — last song, side two of Can't Buy a Thrill (1972)

This is one of many, many songs about minor underworld losers who make the wrong choices and would probably make no mark on the world—save an unflattering police lineup or crime-scene photo—but whose actual good fortune is to be immortalized in a song with an intriguing title that I'm going to do my best, from this day on, to use in casual conversation as a slippery, metaphorical, slang expression. I never gave this song much attention, honestly, until I realized one day that the beginning of the chorus—“Oh Michael, Oh Jesus”—was coursing through my head, not so much as a curse or a prayer, but... I don't know what, actually. Listening more closely, then, I rediscovered how much I like the seemingly simple guitar during that part (though nothing is really simple with Steely Dan). Going deeper, then, lyrically, I have especially come to love the lines: “Now the food here ain't so good no more / And they closed the package store” as a kind of brilliant, concise short story setup that is all you need to describe this shadowy place—and its tipping point that puts a set of doomed characters on their tragic path.

—Randy Russell 8.9.18

Current ranking: No. 37