And they wandered in
From the city of St. John
Without a dime
Wearing coats that shined
Both red and green
Colors from their sunny island
From their boats of iron
They looked upon the promised land
Where surely life was sweet
On the rising tide
To New York City
Did they ride into the street
See the glory
Of the royal scam

They are hounded down
To the bottom of a bad town
Amid the ruins
Where they learn to fear
An angry race of fallen kings
Their dark companions
While the memory of
Their southern sky was clouded by
A savage winter
Every patron saint
Hung on the wall, shared the room
With twenty sinners

See the glory
Of the royal scam

By the blackened wall
He does it all
He thinks he's died and gone to heaven
Now the tale is told
By the old man back home
He reads the letter
How they are paid in gold
Just to babble in the back room
All night and waste their time
And they wandered in
From the city of St. John without a dime

See the glory
Of the royal scam

Lyrics submitted by tpsully

The Royal Scam Lyrics as written by Walter Carl Becker Donald Jay Fagen

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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The Royal Scam song meanings
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  • +8
    General Commentlisalambchop
    1 hr 31 min ago

    Rated 0 The song is about the arrival of all the Puerto Ricans a few decades ago. (pun intended) The capitol if PR is San Juan which translstes to Saint John. They were told the streets were paved with gold (so to speak) But when they got to New York, it was not all it was cracked up to be. References include: "...wearing coats that shine boath red & green; colors from their sunny island" and "the memory of their Southern sky was clouded by a savage winter" "they are hounded down to the bottom of a bad town amid the ruins"

    lisalambchopon May 10, 2009   Link
  • +4
    General CommentA Puerto Rican couple, or perhaps young family, leave San Juan to NYC in hopes of the American Dream.
    End up living in or near a black ghetto in overcrowded conditions
    One of them begins a heroin addiction.
    Ashamed to tell the truth, they write home with the same lies of riches that brought them there, perpeutating the cycle.

    This is the most transparent and simple song on The Royal Scam album -- both lyrically and musically.

    The first six songs on the Royal Scam album bounce between phenomenal and timeless -- the last three songs taper off, reaching mediocrity with this tune. But I gotta say there is not a bad song on any Steely Dan album before Gaucho.
    bnk87on November 10, 2011   Link
  • +4
    Song MeaningI saw on another site somebody mentioned that this might be about the Poor Palatines, so I looked into it and it seems to hold up. The titular "Royal Scam" is that Queen Anne promised to send them to the Americas but very few ever made it. Most were sent back where they came from or dispersed around England and Ireland. The "red and green colours" are from the flags of Rhineland and Westphalia where many of these people originated.

    I think the 'Dan are drawing a comparison between the plight of these people with the later Puerto Rican immigrants, swapping the imagery back and forth both to show the similarities between the two stories, and so they could feel superior to all the people who couldn't figure out the weird non-PR references in the song.
    DanFan1625on August 16, 2018   Link
  • +3
    General CommentI understand the attraction of Aja...its sophistication...complexity and musicianship. However, there is something about The Royal Scam...the hard edge...the guitars...the anger. Some of us believe that The Royal Scam represents the last of the old Dan...the change. Arguably, the best SD album of them all. -P
    PLA0242on June 17, 2012   Link
  • +2
    My Opinionlisalambchop nailed it, methinks, with the San Juan interpretation. I had immigrants in general coming to the "land of opportunity" only to find their dreams broken, living oppressed and without hope in the bad part of town. They cycle repeats itself as they write letters home to put a good face on things.

    Dang...these are some edgy lyrics:

    "Where they learn to fear
    An angry race of fallen kings
    Their dark companions"

    strangemanon March 14, 2011   Link
  • +2
    General CommentSt. John could be San Juan, but if the song is already so literal, it could just as easily literally be "the city of St. John" on the island of St. John in the US Virgin Islands. The angry race of fallen kings, once again, a literal reference to the involuntary immigrants who were brought to the US centuries ago.

    Far from mediocrity though. Probably one of the best "songs of (or perhaps more aptly about) the 20th century" before Aja.
    Odysseus7on February 17, 2012   Link
  • +2
    Song MeaningSurprised no one comment on the Welfare angle: "How they are paid in gold Just to babble in the back room All night and waste their time". Indeed money flowed to fuel the drug addiction and dole. Heroine users don't work.
    YaddaMinskion December 22, 2013   Link
  • +2
    General CommentAnd they wandered in from the city of St. John without a dime

    Best opening line of any song ever
    bkabbotton January 18, 2014   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think it's pretty relevant nowadays, with the furor over illegal immigration. America is painted as this Utopia overseas, but it's not the reality once people make it here. It can be 3 or 4 generations out before immigrants see prosperity here, if at all. I don't see much metaphor here; it's a pretty straight-ahead commentary on the immigrant experience.
    Nightvoiceon September 22, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThree words: purchasing power parity…
    vanostranon April 23, 2022   Link

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