Another long-lost Steely Dan track has finally been brought to light — this time, an early-’70s jingle written for the Milwaukee-based Schlitz Beer.
You can listen to the track below.
The Schlitz Beer jingle comes from the archive of late, longtime Steely Dan engineer Roger Nichols. It arrives roughly one month after the 1979 song “The Second Arrangement” surfaced online, also courtesy of Nichols’ archive.
According to Jake Malooley’s Expanding Dan newsletter, Steely Dan cut the jingle during the eight-month gap between their 1972 debut Can’t Buy a Thrill and their 1973 sophomore LP Countdown to Ecstasy. “It was soon after ‘Reelin’ in the Years’ that someone called and asked if the guys would write a song for the Schlitz commercial,” longtime Steely Dan producer Gary Katz told Malooley. “And as I remember it, Donald [Fagen] said, ‘OK, but we’re gonna write it.’ By which he meant, they didn’t want to do a commercial somebody else wrote.”
“The band was still pretty young in its career,” added co-founding guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, “so everybody was reaching out for whatever opportunities there were.”
The sub-two-minute jingle bears all the hallmarks of a Steely Dan tune, combining airtight jazz-rock arrangements with a winking aloofness as Fagen sings, “Once around life / Once around livin’ / Once around beer / And you’ll keep around Schlitz.” Fagen also translates Baxter’s Spanish narration into English, pronouncing: “When I get home from a hard day’s work / He says he likes to grab for all the gusto he can get / ‘Cause you only go around one time.”
Fagen made it abundantly clear during the studio session that he would not be cowed into appeasing the top brass at Schlitz. “As we were doing it, somebody came by from Schlitz’s ad agency — you know, a guy with a powder-blue sweater tied around his neck and quite literally a stopwatch in his hand,” Katz recalled. “He walked into the control room and thought he was going to take over, and that just wasn’t gonna happen.
“He started asking questions about the song. Donald said aloud to me, ‘Do you have your hand near the red button?’ Then he addressed the ad guy: ‘If you say another word about this song, we’re just gonna erase it.’ So the guy left. I didn’t hear about it again.”
Despite the band’s best efforts, Schlitz ultimately shelved the ad due to concerns over the Spanish word for “grab.” As Baxter told Malooley: “The verb ‘coger’ can be used as a slang term for sexual intercourse.” A photo of Fagen and guitarist Denny Dias from the session later appeared on the back cover to Steely Dan’s 1975 album Katy Lied.
Schlitz was sold to Pabst Brewing Company in 1999, and Steely Dan’s ill-fated jingle was relegated to the dustbin of rock history, which Baxter considered a mistake. “If I were the Schlitz company,” he said, “I would contact Donald Fagen and pay him a million dollars to do another one.”
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