Now they lay his body down
Sad old men who run this town
I still recall the way
He led the charge and saved the day
Blue blood and rain
I can hear the bugle playin'

[Chorus:]
We seen the last of Good King Richard
Ring out the past his name lives on
Roll out the bones and raise up your pitcher
Raise up your glass to Good King John

While he plundered far and wide
All his starving children cried
And though we sung his fame
We all went hungry just the same
He meant to shine
To the end of the line

[Chorus:]
We seen the last of Good King Richard
Ring out the past his name lives on
Roll out the bones and raise up your pitcher
Raise up your glass to Good King John


Lyrics submitted by ponchopunch

"Kings" as written by Walter Carl Becker Donald Jay Fagen

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Royalty Network

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Kings song meanings
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17 Comments

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  • +5
    General CommentThe song is about Magna Carta. Richard the Lionhearted was a grand king of England who had total rule. He was succeeded by his younger brother John. John was weak and had to cave in to the English noblemen who wanted to share in the rule of the country. By asserting that the king had less than total rule over his country and all his subjects, Magna Carta became the initial basis for many prinicpals which are now part of what we consider to be basic human rights. Richard was a much more valiant king, but he ruled without regard for the common people. John was a terrible king, but his weakness made his government less despotic.
    smitty-atlon July 20, 2007   Link
  • +4
    General CommentI don't think Richard and John refer to Kennedy and Nixon. I think it's about how we immortalize the memory of our past leaders. History ignores their faults. King Richard is dead. A bunch of guys hang out in the pub/bar and toast the memory of his conquests. However, while he acquired great wealth for the nation, the common people didn't benefit. King John succeeds King Richard, and you can only expect more of the same.

    It seems to be the recurring theme of Can't Buy A Thrill: life is a grind and unjust to the point where it seems to be not worth living -- and don't you dare even think that ordinary people can change the way the world works. But since you're alive anyway, you may as well deal with it. Raise up your pitcher to the powers that be because they are the power and you have none. NONE!!!!
    ZinbobDanon August 15, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song and Steely Dan are both great. It's about the english monarchs, like in Robin Hood. Could it also be about Nixon and Kennedy?
    pakaloloon May 20, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI don't know... Nixon was before my time, but how many people really regard him as a good king?
    Stone Freeon January 22, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song is definitely a reference to Nixon and Kennedy. Can't Buy a Thrill (the album from which this comes) came out in October 1972, just before the 72 Presidential Election. Though Nixon would go onto win this election in a landslide, his policies were still in question, especially among the Dan and people like them. The references to "good King Richard" as an able leader refer to the fact that he ended American involvement in Vietnam, a conflict that had been enraging the nation for a decade. Nevertheless, the Dan realized that at the same time, he was ignoring problems at home such as poverty and hunger, which is where the line "And though we sung his fame/ We all went hungry just the same" comes from. The speaker is harkening back to the glory days of what was really the last great president, John F Kennedy. Very cleverly written. One of the Dan's best.
    moodyzeppelin12on March 11, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI was never sure if he wasn't referring to Chicago mayor Richard Daley.

    Does anyone know what the official story is?
    joe1020928on April 15, 2017   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationMaybe my favorite Dan song. No, it isn't as epic or experimental as "Aja" -- it's radio-ready soft rock, maybe even a little Laurel Canyon-ish. But between the percussive piano, dramatic background vocals, and amazing fuzz guitar playing, it has a throbbing, manic tension that I can't help but (gently) bang my head to.

    As to the meaning: Richard Lionheart might be there in the verses, but I think we all assume that "King Richard" is allegorical.

    I'd be surprised if it was *directly* about Nixon, in the way that Kid Charlemagne is about Bear Stanley. Don't forget that JFK preceded Nixon, with LBJ in between. But perhaps he did inspire it.

    Richard Daley, on the other hand, didn't start his six-term run as mayor of Chicago until 1989. I doubt even Fagen is nerdy enough to have written a song about a DNC backroom boy running for Illinois state government. (Robert Hunter, on the other hand...) And when had he "plundered far and wide?"

    Anyway, since so much of the song is about the narrator's experience, no one person strikes me as the subject -- his "subjects" are. More than once, we're shown a group of people pretending to praise a ruler who doesn't deserve it. Richard obviously doesn't, because he let people starve. And "Good" King John has only been king for a day, tops.

    So I think it's mostly a song that's about how folks are obliged to carry water for a leader or idea that doesn't warrant it, as with groupthink, or the "The Emperor's New Clothes."

    Moreover, and I think this is the true point of the song, there's a sense of resignation about all this, like it's just another day at the office. "Roll out the bones!" Wheel that damn corpse out here so we can toast him and go home. These arrows aren't going to fletch themselves. (Or, if you like, "Pick up my guitar and play / Just like yesterday"...)

    So, in my view, even if it was about Nixon running for re-election in '72, it's still not so much direct satire as an ode to political malaise.
    jmc1on February 11, 2019   Link
  • +1
    General CommentGood lyricists, and good artists in general, rarely restrict the meaning of their works. If the literal meaning of this song resonates with other parts of life, then the artists have accomplished their goal. "Kings" tells one story, but the story repeats throughout history in various ways. The song describes a single historical story, but the lessons learned from that story were not learned well enough to keep them from happening again and again.

    Here's a more detailed synopsis of the story in the song:
    "Kings" describes a hypothetical meeting of people toasting the memory of King Richard Coeur de Leon, who died in 1199, as well as the conditions among the common folk at the time. There is a glaring disconnect between the "greatness" in the memory of "good" King Richard and the lot of the impoverished lower classes. It's juxtaposed as an ironic statement, that when we elevate a person such as Richard, we might, knowingly or not, forget or ignore the dark side of their legacy.

    He never learned to speak English, though he was born and spent most of his childhood in England. He was regarded by some to be a great king, but of his 9-year reign, he spent less than one year in England. The rest he spent "plunder[ing] far and wide" in the 3rd Crusade, and he spent a few months in captivity.

    When they raise a glass to "Good King John," who is remembered as a rather incompetent king, and historians believe he killed Arthur, his young nephew and potential rival to the throne of England, that is another ironic juxtaposition. But there was good in John's reign. He agreed with the barony that the king is also subject to the law (Magna Carta, a concession to get funds for his wars in France), though the gesture has more meaning today than it did during John's reign.

    Bottom line: Nobody is all good or all bad. Raise a glass!
    beena10374on February 23, 2019   Link
  • 0
    General CommentHow can there only be two comments for this song? I think this is one of the most musically satisfying songs on Can't Buy A Thrill - admittedly, less out-there than most of the Dan songs, but still a fantastic musical effort.
    Lukasaon May 28, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentInteresting, on the back of the sleeve of my copy of Can't Buy a Thrill, it actually says "no political significance" under Kings on the list, so it's definitely political.
    lambdaon December 29, 2011   Link

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