"Reelin' In The Years" as written by Walter Carl Becker and Donald Jay Fagen....
Your everlasting summer
You can see it fading fast
So you grab a piece of something
That you think is gonna last
You wouldn't know a diamond
If you held it in your hand
The things you think are precious
I can't understand

[Chorus]
Are you reelin' in the years
Stowin' away the time
Are you gatherin' up the tears
Have you had enough of mine

You been tellin' me you're a genius
Since you were seventeen
In all the time I've known you
I still don't know what you mean
The weekend at the college
Didn't turn out like you planned
The things that pass for knowledge
I can't understand

[Chorus: x2]

I spend a lot of money
And I spent a lot of time
The trip we made in Hollywood
Is etched upon my mind
After all the things we've done and seen
You find another man
The things you think are useless
I can't understand

[Chorus]


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"Reelin' in the Years" as written by Walter Carl Becker, Donald Jay Fagen

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Reelin' In The Years song meanings
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  • +5
    General CommentThis is a fantstic song. The guitar work made it on the list of top 100 guitar solos of all time as voted by Guitar World magazine readers. I'm surprised that no one has contributed as to what they think the song means. Ok, this is what i think the song means. My comments are in brackets.

    Your everlasting summer
    You can see it fading fast

    (The writer of this song is writing this song for a girl whom he loves but the girl has chosen someone else. The first two lines in about how the girl can feel that she is aging. "Summer" here refers to the prime of our life, i.e. 15-30 years of age. The girl here is, perhaps, fast approaching her 30s.)

    So you grab a piece of something
    That you think is gonna last

    (The girl quickly grabs on to a man whom she thinks she would be able to spend the rest of her life with.)

    You wouldn't know a diamond
    If you held it in your hand

    (Here the writer of the song refers to himself as a diamond, how he believes that he is the best person or her, but she doesn't know shit. She wouldn't know the material value of a wad of cash or a diamond if hit her in the face, just as she doesn't know how good the song writer is for her.)

    The things you think are precious
    I can't understand

    (The song writer disagrees with the man she has chosen and doesn't understand what he sees in him.)

    CHORUS:
    Are you Reelin' In The Years?
    Stowin' away the time

    (The chorus here is basically the song writier asking the girl whether years of partying and making the wrong choices have taken their toll on the girl.)

    Are you gatherin' up the tears?
    Have you had enough of mine?

    (Here the song writer is asking if she looks back proudly at the hearts she's borken, at the number of man who were crazy for her. It also asks her if she had enough of the attention and love he showered on her, and the tears he cried for her.)

    You been tellin' me you're a genius
    Since you were seventeen
    In all the time I've known you
    I still don't know what you mean
    The weekend at the college
    Didn't turn out like you planned
    The things that pass for knowledge
    I can't understand

    (Here the song writer is generally critical of the girl, of her self-assured wisdom. Crudely-speakng, he thinks the girl is full of herself, thinks that she is smart, but that is quite far from the truth. It also hints that all the ideals that she has during her younger years (college, seventeen) have turned to dust.)

    I spend a lot of money
    And I spent a lot of time
    The trip we made in Hollywood
    Is etched upon my mind
    After all the things we've done and seen
    You find another man
    The things you think are useless
    I can't understand

    (This part is the song writer's reminisences on the good times that he and the girl spent, the things that they have gone through, the memories that would forever be in his mind). Those memories are now corrupted by what the song writer thinks is the wrong man chosen by the girl.)

    Overall, this song is quite straight forward. This is my take on it. Hope to see some other interpretations of this song.
    SRV Blueson February 06, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Commentits about most every young guy does; find the love early in life and blow it
    billkurtisbetterthanpaulwinfieldon June 19, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentWhat I love is how didactic and certain so many of the commenters are about the meaning of the song. I think its a great song, and I love the lyrics. What so many call cynical, I just consider intelligent.

    My guess its that it's about Dorothy White. The weekend in the college didn't turn out like you planned could be a reference to the drug bust at Bard in (I think) 1969 where she, Becker, Fagan, and some 50 Bard students were busted by G. Gordon Liddy & the local sheriff. White was in the sweep, but was not bailed out by the college as all the others were, since she was visiting and not a student. Basically, a reheash of "my old school" is how I hear it.

    "You've been telling me you're a genius since you were seventeen..." is just perfection. The only thing I hate about that line is that someone else said it. Ooh , I knew girls who needed to hear that.
    cbeatleyon April 29, 2011   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationReelin in the years..I think of this phrase as someone who is done with fishing..done with the game..ready to settle down after years of having fun. Stowing away the time to me means she hasn't seen you/him for a long time, putting it away on purpose..gathering up the tears means she's done crying and had enough of mine means she'll not be listening to his anymore..This song is about someone the singer loves who is settling down with another man and he's giving his last farewells to her telling her how though he obviously loved/loves her, he never understood her and she obviously didn't value him
    Yepprdon November 01, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentDid you know Chevy Chase played drums with the originals of Steely Dan?
    MookieBomberon September 17, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI am gonna add an alternative meaning. This song came out during the first wave of a huge nostalgia boom for simpler times. Happy Days was a new show on TV. Capitol Records had released "The Beach Boys Endless Summer" which went double platinum. Disco was rearing it's ugly head on the far horizon.

    The first verse gives it away: "Your everlasting summer..." - obvious reference to "Endless Summer."

    The "girl" in the song was a metaphor for the record buying public. Steely Dan had spent years becoming a top notch jazz/blues/rock act, and now the public wanted "endless summer" rather than progressive music.

    "You wouldn't know a diamond if you held it in your hand, the things you think are precious, I don't understand." - compares the progressive music of Steely Dan to the simplistic music of the nostalgia boom.

    "The college" likely refers to early 1970s college and freeform radio, where obscure artists were played, and the weirder, the better.

    "Reelin' In The Years" - trying not to grow old by trying to relive endless summers of the past.

    "You've been tellin' me you're a genius since you were 17" - obvious references to Brian Wilson, Bob Dylan, and John Lennon.

    "I still don't know what you mean." - I never got it. I'm into a different groove.

    "The things you think are useless, I don't understand." - there was a conscious effort during 1974 - 1976 to reject all things progressive. Maybe it was the advent of the nation's 200th birthday? Maybe just a time? But, the record buying public came to feel that progressive was useless, and nostalgia was in.

    Fortunately, the public came to their senses about 1978. But, can you sense the disdain the the SD lyrics, as they rag on the record buying public, who they compare to a wayward girl who can't make up her mind?

    This may not be the correct interpretation, but it makes sense to me. Add to it that SD never wrote about the obvious, but about the obscure. Attributing these lyrics to a real girl just doesn't jive with their style.
    donutbanditon August 26, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentGood song, yet not one of my favorites by the Dan.
    Hum, Donutbandit, the music business metaphor just can't fit : that song was issued in 1972 !!! And I never thought the Dan was progressive (except, maybe, on the song "Aja")...
    Then, why do you say that disco has a "ugly head" ? It's not just Boney M and all that crap, disco had deep underground roots, and great artists that had nothing to do with the mainstream shit : Loose Joints, Larry Levan, for example. Did you ever mention that on the album "Aja", there were great jazz/funk/disco musicians, say members of the Crusaders ? Hear the sound of songs like "Josie" or "FM", or the bass work on "Peg"...
    To end this, why do people think that every song, every sentence written by Fagen & Becker is "obscure" or "cryptic" ??? They also wrote songs whose meaning is really obvious and which don't need to be over-interpreted : this one, or "Rikki Don't Lose That Number", "Dirty Work"...
    The Dog That Ate...on October 15, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentNice thoughts Donutbandit. I've heard a number of interpretations for this song and that one makes sense. Certainly Steely Dan was not cut from the usual rock'n'roll cloth. They were alternative before the term was used in music. Their chord progressions and the intricacy of their music is unmatched in the rock world.
    One theory I've heard for this song is that he is taking a fictional man and referring to the man's daughter. The chorus fits this very well and the lines about the college work with this theory. Just throwing it out there. The one thing you can be certain of with SD is that there are always going to be some deeper meanings when the lyrics seem shallow. They never did anything shallow.
    Writer17on January 24, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Commentdonutbandit and writer 17 I feel you are properly perspicacious! I always saw it as him talking about his girlfriend who may have been a philistine that was always out to impress him but shallow, perhaps similar to the protaganist's complaint in HEy 19, a younger, less wordly person to be involved with. The diamond in your hand I thought was a reference to her being a plebian in the end who put on a veneer for the world , that he could see through!
    Im obsessed with the Dan as is my boyfriend, I shouldve known better!!
    TheBowieFollieson February 20, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI always took this song the way SRV Blues says above except: the girl is planning to get married.."your everlasting summer you can see it fading fast so you grab a piece of something that you think is going to last..you wouldn't know a diamond if you held it in your hand"... Guess many guys have known a girl who marries because she feels she's gettin' old..
    The line "..you been tell me you're a genius..I don't know what you mean.." is wonderful!
    And the guitar playing! I used to think I could play a little but when I heard this I gave up. How're you ever gonna get this good?
    myfriendvladon June 05, 2008   Link

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