"Kid Charlemagne" sounds like it's starting in the middle -- a little instrumental passage between stanzas, or the middle of a drug bust. Whatever it is, it works: the song drops you right into a seedy, sun-soaked, coke-fueled, sour-tasting hangover of a scene, populated by "Day-Glo freaks" and "low-rent friends."
What makes the song most memorable for me are the two all-too-brief soaring guitar solos unleashed by Larry Carlton (and drums by Bernard Purdie!), particularly the one that still echoes in the ears of the listener on the way out. That and the unforgettable couplet, bracketed in the last verse (and sung by Donald Fagen with a half-faltering note that makes it sound like undisguised joy) for maximum effect:
"Is there gas in the car?
Yes, there's gas in the car."
Sometimes it's just the slightest detail that turns a song into a masterpiece.
from A Decade of Steely Dan, available on CD (MCA)
02 Oct 03 ·tinks: i've never thought much of steely dan. and i still don't. but reading this review set off a frenzy of activity in my little brain trying to figure out where i knew "kid charlemagne" from as a pop-culture reference. at first i thought..."was it the name of a boxer on the simpsons?" was it from mr. show? no...it was the college radio handle of the dad on "malcolm in the middle". 05 Apr 04 ·Latimer: Chuck Rainey's bass work on this track is absolutely great. It's the epitome of his style, a veritable thesaurus of syncopation. - Kid Charlemagne supposedly refers to Augustus Owsley Stanley III, sometime purveyor of high-grade acid to the hippie elite, and raided in 1967.
The great NYFD firefighter and actor Steve Buscemi immortalizes this song in the otherwise forgettable Adam Sandler vehicle "The Wedding Singer:" he winces, he exhales extra H's, he emotes. Spandau Ballet's lead singer, Tony Hadley, would never have done that; dressed in all his Bryan Ferry finery and sporting his New Romantic do, he stood with the mike pinched in the fingers of his hand... and emoted. "Oh I want the truth to be SAIIIIID [then his voice breaks]. [Pregnant pause.] [And then the Uh-huh-huh-huh-hi comes in again.]
Yes, "True." Performed by a band with one of the most stupid band names imaginable, "True" invaded Philippine airwaves, spawned a silly Spandau Ballet - Duran Duran showdown on DWLS 97.1, and jumpstarted the dead-end careers of a million amateur singers. (A good friend of mine, who actually could sing, once performed this during some high school party, and had it choreographed so that the lights would go out during the "pregnant pause." The women screamed.)
But darn it, the song still gets to me -- not every time, God no, but only when I'm in a semi-nostalgic mood regarding the worst years of my life (high school). That cheesy sax instrumental break that still haunts my dreams! The harmonizing Kemp brothers! "Always in time / But never in line for dreams!" The sound of my soul indeed.