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.
This 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.
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.
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.
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
Oh – no hesitation
No tears and no hearts breakin’
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
Take me where the music play
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
Who’s this kinky so-and-so?