"Dirty Work" as written by Walter Carl Becker and Donald Jay Fagen....
Times are hard
You're afraid to pay the fee
So you find yourself somebody
Who can do the job for free
When you need a bit of lovin'
Cause your man is out of town
That's the time you get me runnin'
And you know I'll be around

I'm a fool to do your dirty work
Oh yeah
I don't want to do your dirty work
No more
I'm a fool to do your dirty work
Oh yeah

Light the candle
Put the lock upon the door
You have sent the maid home early
Like a thousand times before
Like the castle in its corner
In a medieval game
I foresee terrible trouble
And I stay here just the same

I'm a fool to do your dirty work
Oh yeah
I don't want to do your dirty work
No more
I'm a fool to do your dirty work
Oh yeah


Lyrics submitted by dewdrop

"Dirty Work" as written by Walter Carl Becker Donald Jay Fagen

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Dirty Work song meanings
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16 Comments

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  • +5
    General CommentQuite obviously this is a gorgeous bit about a "back-door man" who is aware every moment of how he is being used, and yet submits to this strange woman's every will.
    WritingIsMyReligionon August 31, 2006   Link
  • +5
    My InterpretationI agree it's a song about a guy who knows he is being used but feels powerless to change his situation due to limitations placed on himself.

    Times are hard
    You're afraid to pay the fee
    So you find yourself somebody
    Who can do the job for free

    Times are hard, he is lonely, for whatever reason there's no other lover in his life he's making a serious connection with. So he has to resort to playing second fiddle lover to this woman who is married. He's afraid to pay the fee, he's afraid to have serious relationship with someone and make himself vulnerable. So he finds someone who will 'do the job', have sex with him. But even referring to sex as a job is telling.


    When you need a bit of lovin'
    Cause your man is out of town
    That's the time you get me runnin'
    And you know I'll be around

    She is the one who decides when they see each other. So there is a lopsided power dynamic in the relationship, with her in control. When she says come, he comes running. However when he has needs, she most likely doesn't make time for him.


    I'm a fool to do your dirty work
    Oh yeah

    This is his self awareness. When he says "your dirty work" he's referring to the woman he's having an sexual affair with. This seems to be a purely sexual relationship with not much emotional connection or caring. Her dirty work is cheating on her husband with someone. He is enabling her bad behavior and also not getting anything deeply satisfying out of the experience himself. He could be replaced, any other stud could do her dirty work instead. It's possible that he has feelings for her, which allows for the lopsided power dynamic.


    I don't want to do your dirty work
    No more

    He'd like to stop but, "times are hard" and he doesn't have the self confidence to believe he can find anyone better.


    Light the candle
    Put the lock upon the door
    You have sent the maid home early
    Like a thousand times before

    This seems to be saying that their "romance" has grown stale and become routine. Lighting a candle before an intimate experience is a romantic gesture, setting the mood and ambiance. Like a thousand times before... he has now realized the romantic gestures are shallow, meaningless and he's not feeling fullfilled like he really desires.


    Like the castle in its corner
    In a medieval game
    I foresee terrible trouble
    And I stay here just the same

    He percieves that she's manipulating him and the husband. Maybe since he acknowledges some responsibility for his behavior, or because he is aware of her scheming and the husband is not, he doesn't quite see himself as a pawn in her game but as a rook. I think in chess castling is done when the king is in danger, the rook and the king switch places. The husband would be the king, she obviously would be the queen.
    chowder77on December 04, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis is the first song I remember hearing in my life. The horns at the beginning are so subtle, it's beautiful.
    ikefoxon August 12, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentUhhh guys, hate to break it to you, but this song is pretty obviously sung from the perspective of a dildo, probably their name sake, the steely dan..
    anakin2001on October 30, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAbout a back-door man who feels guilty yet trapped in his sex relationship with a taken woman.
    dcaton December 12, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentmy favorite steely dan song, though i didnt realize it was them until a few days ago...
    avs2006on June 19, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAnd what about that soulful, simmering organ...

    I think the back-door man is in love with her and can't break away, yet knows he's being used.

    Ah, love...
    GreyBlueEyeson August 24, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe vocals are heavenly, so soft.
    A_Mickon May 15, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentDirty work = sex, specifically sex that results in her orgasm.

    The song's about a guy who is the man she cheats on her husband with (when he's out of town, she lights a candle for romance, sends the maid home early), and the moral dilemma - sex or cuckold the hubby. He's unable to overcome his desire for her, despite the terrible risk, every time - thousands of times before.
    Oh wellon January 05, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentDoes anyone else think that this song could not be about a woman? In my opinion, it continues to play on the drug/alcohol abuse trend that is so present in Steely Dan's music. Think about it, he is addicted, knows its bad, doesn't know why he keeps doing it, and can't stop even though he knows the consequences. Hey, it's a stretch, but I sure would continue an ever present theme. Thoughts?
    Bazooka27on May 17, 2009   Link

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