I usually scorn statements like that. When people ask me about my favorite movie, for example, I usually can only narrow it down to 3 or 4, and my favorite song or band depends on my mood. But today, eating lunch in Jason’s Deli, I heard Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, and I was reminded that I believe it to be greatest pop song ever recorded.
On first listen—and second, third, and beyond—it sounds like a catchy pop song, and little more. But I’ve been hearing it for 25 years now, and I’m still hearing things in it that I’ve never heard before. It’s simple in structure, but complex in the details and in its influences (e.g., its quotation from Horace Silver’s Song for My Father). I’ve never heard a song so perfectly crafted, where everything—the words, the music and the arrangement, the singing, and the musical performances—all work together so seamlessly to support each other and tell the same story. Even the guitar solo is whiny, bitter, and desperate, for pete’s sake.
The lyrics are typical Steely Dan: skeletal, allusive, cryptic and ambiguous. It’s just one side of a conversation. But the music fills in the gaps. We hear the anguish, the backpedaling and saving face, the desperation and the pathetic attempts to hide it, the heart in the throat, and the frightened anger. And at the end, we hear the door slam and the deflated resignation. It’s all there, and it’s a whole package. It’s so perfectly disguised and devoted toward the service of the song that most listeners never notice.