The Meaning Behind Steely Dan’s ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number’

The Meaning Behind Steely Dan’s ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number’ | Society Of Rock Videos

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“Rikki, don’t lose that number / You don’t wanna call nobody else / Send it off in a letter to yourself / Rikki, don’t lose that number / It’s the only one you own / You might use it if you feel better / When you get home”

These are the iconic lyrics to Steely Dan‘s highest-charting single, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.” The song found its way into the Billboard Hot 100 charts, reaching #4 in 1974. But what do you think is the real inspiration behind this song?

Well, there’s an interesting story that the “Rikki” mentioned in the song is a New York writer and artist, Rikki Ducornet. Steely Dan co-founder Donald Fagen said he met Ducornet while attending a college party in a small liberal arts school, Bard College.

Although, it wasn’t in the same context as the song, the story goes that Ducornet was pregnant and married at the time, but that didn’t stop Fagen to give his number to her. It made Ducornet intrigued and she was tempted to call him, but decided not to go with the feeling.

However, in 1988, Rikki herself commented on the meaning behind the song and offered a more philosophical explanation rather than assuming the track to be just an unrequited love song. She said:

“Philosophically it’s an interesting song; I mean I think his ‘number’ is a cipher for the self.”

Other than the fascinating story behind it, the musicality is compelling as well. It was clear that the keyboard riff was taken from 1964 “Song For My Father” by jazz composer and pianist Horace Silver. It was the song that influenced other popular classics over the years, including the opening horn riff for Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” and Earth Wind & Fire’s opening bass notes for the song “Clover.”

In 1975, Fagen said about the group’s jazz influence:

“We’re basically all jazz fans and most of the records we listen to are jazz.

“The people who made them are dead or they were recorded so long ago that they’ve been forgotten. We’re definitely pretty cold at the moment. We’ve more or less abandoned hope of being one of the big important rock ‘n’ roll groups, simply because our music is somehow a little too cheesy at times and turns off the rock intelligentsia for the most part, and at other times it’s too bizarre to be appreciated by anybody.”

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