Alyson’s Archive #2 – Old Magazines, Steely Dan and “Haitian Divorce”

As everyone who visits here must realise by now I’m a bit of a hoarder, but it’s all well catalogued and stored so when I heard the other day that Walter Becker from the band Steely Dan had died, I just had to have a search for this. Why would I want to search for a magazine with a picture of The Glitter Band on the cover I hear you ask? (They had just changed their name to The G Band by the way, perhaps having had the foresight to distance themselves from the former “Leader Of The Gang”). Well, between 1976 and 1978 I had a subscription to this publication and along with snippets of pop news and gossip, they also printed the lyrics to 25 chart, or smash hits.

img004.jpgThis was the first edition of 1977 and because the Steely Dan song Haitian Divorce was in the current UK Singles Chart, the lyrics appeared on page 3 (although credited to Steeley Dan I see – tut, tut, Mr Words editor). Now how is it possible that I can remember which page a set of lyrics appeared on from over 40 years ago but I can’t remember really important work-related stuff from just last week? Beyond me, but I imagine it all stems from the sheer amount of time that was spent pouring over such publications.

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During the mid ’70s I spent an awful lot of hours in a day listening to the radio. Combine that with the regular purchase of a fair number of music-related magazines during those years and it means that I still have a fairly good knowledge of just about everything that made it to even the lower reaches of the ’72-’78 charts. Haitian Divorce was the first Steely Dan single to enter the UK Top 20, and I was mighty impressed by it. First of all much use was made of that device called a talkbox, which created the distinctive robotic intro. Secondly it was about a couple called Babs and Clean Willie – None of the mums and dads I knew were called that, it was all Bill and Ann, or Mike and Fiona, so all very exotic. Finally it just had a great sound and feel to it because Steely Dan’s music was characterised by “complex jazz-influenced structures and harmonies”.

Haitian Divorce by Steely Dan:

What I wouldn’t have known back in 1977 was that the lyrics to Haitian Divorce were about the tourism ploy that led foreigners who were dissatisfied with their marriages to the country of Haiti. A simple and easy divorce could take place with hardly any restrictions and only one member of the married party had to be present. Of course this is what Babs planned to do but somehow the zombie cocktail, a Charlie and a bit of Merengue dancing leads to a tearful reunion back in the USA. Nine months later a kinky-haired baby is born, but nothing is said of it.

At 16 I really wouldn’t have got any of this and there was no internet in those days to offer up an explanation but it didn’t really matter as it was still just a great sounding song and started me out on a journey of Steely Dan fandom – Not in a big way like many of you out there but I do have a fair bit of their music on my digital database and unlike many of the songs that would have appeared in Words magazine (Haitian Divorce shared a page with Grandma’s Party by Paul Nicholas!), theirs have very much stood the test of time.

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Walter Becker in 1977

So, we say farewell to yet another of the artists of our youth and this time at the suddenly very young-sounding age of 67. This year has not been quite so brutal as last (so far) in terms of the sheer number of shock deaths from the world of rock and pop, but never a month goes by without someone’s name appearing amongst the obituaries, which is now to be expected I suppose.

Before I go, as I have added this post to the Alyson’s Archive series I should really share something else from that edition of Words magazine. I give you the “Sounds Around” feature where amongst other stories there is a piece about the New York club CBGBs – It was a place where, “If the music’s good, punk bands don’t need to degrade both themselves and their audiences to attract attention”. Nice to know.

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Until next time…., RIP Walter

Haitian Divorce Lyrics
(Song by Donald Fagen/Walter Becker)

Babs and Clean Willie were in love they said
So in love the preacher’s face turned red
Soon everybody knew the thing was dead
He shouts, she bites, they wrangle through the night

She go crazy
Got to make a getaway
Papa say

Oh – no hesitation
No tears and no hearts breakin’
No remorse
Oh – congratulations
This is your Haitian Divorce

She takes the taxi to the good hotel
Bon marche as far as she can tell
She drinks the zombie from the cocoa shell
She feels alright, she get it on tonight
Mister driver
Take me where the music play
Papa say

At the Grotto
In the greasy chair
Sits the Charlie with the lotion and the kinky hair
When she smiled, she said it all

The band was hot so
They danced the famous Merengue
Now we dolly back
Now we fade to black

Tearful reunion in the USA
Day by day those memories fade away
Some babies grow in a peculiar way
It changed, it grew, and everybody knew
Semi-mojo
Who’s this kinky so-and-so?
Papa go

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was recorded for the film of the same name and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might finally work out the answer to his question, "What's it all about?"

20 thoughts on “Alyson’s Archive #2 – Old Magazines, Steely Dan and “Haitian Divorce””

  1. Another wonderful post, Alyson, although it’s a shame that we had to lose Mr. Becker for you to post this. Many Steely Dan songs continue to reveal themselves as we “get on in years,” and there are probably a number of lyrics I’ll never understand…but it doesn’t stop me from singing along. It’s one of numerous reasons why they were so unique, and their music is so timeless. Mr. Becker did some nice production work, notably for China Crisis and Rickie Lee Jones, and his two solo albums are really enjoyable (especially his debut, “11 Tracks Of Whack,” which for some reason included 12 tracks….always wondered which song lacked that “whack” factor).

    Nice to see two favorites, 10cc and Jethro Tull, covered on that Sounds Around page.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have always loved the sound of Steely Dan but certainly didn’t always understand the lyrics – A lot easier now we have this tool at our disposal though.

      Ha ha – I see I will have to reciprocate and do a quick edit on your comment as Rickie Lee Jones seems to have typoed into Rockie – No problem and glad it’s not just me! Now that I look at this bundle of Words magazines sitting beside me I realise they would make for a very good reply post to FYF – There were 12 published in 1977 and there are enough weeks left in the year to pick something from each edition. Having said that, there will be many artists and songs that never made it across the pond and somehow I doubt if Paul Nicholas and his Grandma’s Party was a big hit on Staten Island!

      Some things on the Sounds Around page that just wouldn’t get published today but what can I say, it was 40 years ago so a different time. Thanks for dropping by.

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      1. Haha…thanks for pointing out my typo. Nice to know that I’m not prefect (that one was intentional).

        Would be great to see how much overlap there is between those ’77 magazines and FYF. As for Paul Nicholas…nope, never heard of him or the song, but will have to check it out soon. I’ve always enjoyed reading magazines from the UK (for years it was Q, Mojo, Uncut, Classic Rock, etc, although my reading time has been limited lately) and I’m always curious about those artists & songs that are mentioned multiple times which never crossed over the pond.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. No please don’t waste time looking for Paul Nicholas – He was more of a star of the stage and (small) screen but kept popping up in the music charts in the mid ’70s.

          I don’t really think Words Magazine would be your thing either as seemed to be aimed more at teenage girls but I’ll have a quick peruse to see how much overlap there was with the artists you share as and when they arise!

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  2. Until today I hadn’t figured out what I felt, but a line from one obituary summed it up – “Becker’s death meant more to me than I thought.” Despite all the big names in rock who have passed away the last few years, this one really hit home. Your pick of “Haitian Divorce” made me smile.
    RIP Mr Becker.
    “I cried when I wrote this song
    Sue me if I play too long
    This brother is free
    I’ll be what I want to be”
    (from Deacon Blues – written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought this one would affect you as you have been a fan since the beginning (mentioned recently on another post). RIP Mr Becker – too young.

      A bit of advice please? With your background you will know if what I am doing here in terms of adding pages from old mags is ok – From 40 years ago but any copyright issues? I worry!

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      1. I very much doubt you’d have any problem with copyright. I imagine the publishers are long gone. There are websites which publish entire magazines from the last half of the 20th Century and I’ve not heard of any of those having any problems. There’s one, the name of which escapes me, which publishes pages and pages of “Smash Hits” (see link below) on a weekly basis. It would be different if someone was making money out of it – but you’re not. You’re a music fan who invested a lot of your own cash in a long-forgotten publication. If anything, you’re doing the pop world a favour!

        http://likepunkneverhappened.blogspot.co.uk/

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks – I was hoping that was the case. And I can see I could have a new career on my hands reproducing the contents of my loft on the internet – Then again maybe the world isn’t ready for any more words of wisdom from the long-retired journalists of “Words” magazine!

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  3. I’m not a Steely Dan fan but of course still very sad news about Walter Becker – so young.
    Absolutely love these magazine snippets that you’ve included – glad you kept them. Interesting selection of artists on that Words cover – several of which brought back memories, like seeing 5000 Volts and Pussycat on ToTP (hmm!) Also that’s an interesting piece of journalism about CBGBs and “…certain British punk groups have a lot to learn – mostly about music!” I wonder who they were referring to? No-one seemed to be able to admit that the Pistols, the Clash, Buzzcocks, etc. genuinely were competent and imaginative musicians – I always thought it seemed like an easy, lazy option to simply dismiss them as not being so!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Plenty more magazines where these come from but again, we end up with selective memories and I’d forgotten just how school-marmish they were about punk in the early days. Yes it seemed they thought that “certain” British punk groups had a lot to learn! Wonder which ones they were referring to.

      Yes, suddenly 67 doesn’t seem that old although back when I bought these magazines and poured over Walter’s lyrics, it probably did – It’s all relative. RIP Mr Becker.

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  4. I wouldn’t worry about reproducing the odd page or two from old mags, Alyson. You’d be more likely to receive a DMCA takedown notice one of these days for posting some song or other via your wordpress player. It’s only happened to me once, and for a very obscure song, too, but it was upsetting as you can imagine.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Heck I was thinking more of copyright and didn’t think too much about the player as it’s really just another way of playing the music for anyone who can’t play the YouTube clip. Cross fingers it will be ok but thanks for the heads up. Hoping that because the songs I feature are all very mainstream (and old) just about everyone will have them anyway, but you never know.

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      1. When it happened to me (about five years ago now), the song removed by Google after a DMCA complaint was from 1961. What’s always bothered me is that even when the downloading option is turned off, some sneaky folks use browser add-ons that enable them to download whatever plays through their computer, which makes it riskier for the blog owner. I’ve always worried that it’s the owners of the mainstream hits (a regular feature of my own blog) that have the manpower to check for “violations.” Just out of curiosity, I checked for “Haitian Divorce Steely Dan blog” and you’re fourth from the top. You might never have a problem – I just think you should be aware of the possible risks. Many of the blogs listed in our blogrolls feature only youtube videos, rather than players. Maybe that’s why.

        When I was actively blogging, I preferred to have a player because I find the majority of youtube videos for my kind of vintage music to be aesthetically unappealing, with some even having photo montages of the wrong artists. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ok now I understand it all a bit more. I am thinking that the whole blog wouldn’t be disabled, just the offending track. Hope that’s the case anyway as I’ve put too much work into this now to have it go offline!

          You are right about the YouTube clips – Someone else’s idea of what fits the song and not always images I would use, but easy to insert. Can really mislead what the lyrics are about though as not always (in fact rarely) literal.

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  5. With blogger, as I recall, it’s three strikes you’re out. In other words, they’ll delete the entire blog after three notices. (That’s why I back-up every single time I post anything.) Two of my blogging pals from a few years ago had their accounts deleted – one gave up entirely and the other one still runs an invite-only R&B/Jazz blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Alyson. I hadn’t noticed this article in my Reader.

    One of my nephews went to Bard College. My wife and I visited him there a few times. I always thought that Bard should have placed a plaque somewhere on campus in honor of Becker and Fagan, who attended Bard in the 1960s. But as far as I know there is no plaque.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s ok – I was a bit prolific last weekend so quite a few posts all came together. Interesting to think that so many colleges will have had people who went on to great things in the music business but often not honoured with plaques quite so much as those who went on to do great things in politics or academia. We have a blue plaque scheme in the UK where the former homes of famous people (including musicians) get a plaque – It could be a fun holiday doing a tour of them all. I’ve just had a look and even Jimi Hendrix’s old flat in Mayfair has a plaque!

      http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/

      Liked by 1 person

  7. A great series and a great tribute. I love seeing those old magazine pages and reading your memories. I think Steely Dan’s lyrics have a wonderful ambiguous quality which allows them to be interpreted in many individual ways. You can look up the true meanings but it’s surely more fun to come to your own conclusions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the personal diary entries are more fun in this series but it is fascinating now to look back at what was being written by journalists all those years ago – Like my entries, at odds often with how things turned out.

      You’ve got me worried – The meaning I found now makes total sense but as you say there could still be ambiguity I’m missing which wouldn’t surprise me. Took me nearly 40 years to work out where their name came from.

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