Steely Dan’s ‘Black Friday’ Isn’t About Holiday Shopping
Years before the day became an international shopping extravaganza, Steely Dan's song "Black Friday" told the tale of a corrupt Australian speculator who makes off with his fraudulent gains.
Though the term has been applied to many problematic events in history, the original Black Friday can be traced all the way back to Sept. 24, 1869. American investors, eager to turn an enormous profit, began buying as much gold as they could to drive the price up. But when President Grant caught on to the plot, the U.S. government flooded the market with $4 million worth of gold, effectively causing the price to plummet and the financiers to lose a fortune. But it wasn't until the '50s that "Black Friday" was used in conjunction with the bustle of post-Thanksgiving shopping, an eventual staple of the holiday season.
Steely Dan's version of the Black Friday story, however, is largely fictitious, centering around a made-up Australian investor deeply involved in the devious business scheme.
"When Black Friday comes, I'll collect everything I'm owed," sings Donald Fagen. "And before my friends find out, I'll be on the road."
The investor hightails it to Muswellbrook, a small rural town about two hours north of Sydney. Why? Even Fagen admits the choice was random, so long as it was as far away as possible.
"I think we had a map and put our finger down at the place that we thought would be the furthest away from New York or wherever we were at the time. That was it," he said to Steely Dan Reader.
Meanwhile, Walter Becker reportedly provided the song's guitar solo on a Fender Telecaster borrowed from regular contributor Denny Dias, who also played on the album. Released in 1975 as the first single from their album, Katy Lied, "Black Friday" only reached No. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, but neither Fagen nor Becker were all that concerned.
"We write for effect. Lately we've been getting into the social protest thing, like 'Black Friday' on the new album," Fagen said, seemingly sarcastically, as documented in Brian Sweet’s biography of the band, Reelin’ In The Years. "We may even do a song about Gerald Ford, the Kennedy assassination or Da Nang. We write topical music. I don't think audiences have a problem relating."
While most listeners had likely never plotted an intricate and illegal gold-grabbing plan, relatable or not, "Black Friday" remains a key highlight on a record overflowing with well-crafted songwriting.