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The Meaning of Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen”

hey nineteen / gaucho single cover art

Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen” is a song for the old guys out there who have aged out of being of interest to the ladies. The song was released on Steely Dan’s 1980 album, Gaucho, and chronicles an older man’s awkward encounter with a 19 year old girl, when he realizes they have no grounds to connect upon.

However, the physical attraction is there (for the man), and he hopes that she will give him a chance, at least for a one night stand. It’s not going well, of course, because this dude is just way too old and creepy, but a man can dream, right?

Today, we’re going to pick apart the lyrics to this iconic composition by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, also known as Steely Dan, and see what story is being told.

“Hey Nineteen” Lyrics Meaning

Without wasting any more time on small talk, I’m going straight after this one. We’ve got nothing to talk about, anyway, until we get to the lyrics.

Just like our narrator, who begins the first verse with some reminiscence on his younger days:

Way back when, in ’67
I was the dandy of Gamma Chi
Sweet things from Boston
So young and willing
Moved down to Scarsdale
Where the hell am I?

First verse to “Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan.

This man was a stallion back in 1967. He was in a fraternity, and had plenty of attention from the young women in Boston. That was a different time.

Now, he’s in Scarsdale, New York, and he feels totally out of place. He’s getting older, and he isn’t exactly happy about it.

Then, he encounters a much younger woman who catches his eye:

Hey Nineteen
No, we can’t dance together
(We can’t dance together)
No, we can’t talk at all
Please take me along
When you slide on down

Chorus to “Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan.

Despite finding her beautiful, our protagonist recognizes that he’s got nothing to work with. They don’t know the same dance moves, and they struggle to find conversation topics.

Still, he begs that she will take him with her when she “slides on down”. This is line lacks an exact, concrete meaning, but you get the gist. He wants to sleep with her.

The second verse further extrapolates the age gap:

Hey Nineteen
That’s ‘Retha Franklin
She don’t remember the Queen of Soul
It’s hard times befallen
The soul survivors
She thinks I’m crazy
But I’m just growing old

Second verse to “Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan.

Apparently, Aretha Franklin’s music is playing in the establishment where they both happen to be that night. Our narrator points out that this girl is so young that she doesn’t even know about the “Queen of Soul”.

Then, he laments that fact. He says that it’s a hard time for those who remember Aretha Franklin, when the younger generation is clueless. This is pretty comical as it mirrors things we see in real life, with older generations often being quite vocal about their distaste for modern music and “the damn kids”.

As I get older, I catch myself doing this sometimes. And then I remember how much my parents hated the music I blasted from my room in high school, and how much of that is considered “classic” now, and it puts things into perspective.

With all of this knowledge about the age gap, the interlude is just straight-up creepy:

Sure looks good!
Mmm, mmm, mmm
Skate a little lower, now

Interlude to “Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan.

We’re given the image of this old man licking his lips, watching this nineteen year old girl skate around, at a location we can assume is some kind of roller rink. Come on, dude. We almost liked you until this part.

The way that Fagen sings it is quite humorous and subtle, though, almost as if he’s poking fun at the situation and this pathetic old man.

The bridge, though, is the best part. This old man is really reveling in his younger days, and starts to imagine drinking tequila and doing cocaine with this young lady:

The Cuervo Gold
The fine Colombian
Make tonight a wonderful thing
(Say it again)
The Cuervo Gold
The fine Colombian
Make tonight a wonderful thing
The Cuervo Gold
The fine Colombian
Make tonight a wonderful thing

Bridge to “Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan.

Drinking José Cuervo and doing lines of blow, what could be better? Perhaps, if it were reality for this old man. Sadly, the final chorus reveals that this was mere fantasy:

No, we can’t dance together
No, we can’t talk at all

Final chorus to “Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan.

Rejected and defeated, our protagonist returns to his chambers. He’ll be back again next week, same place, same time, to think about the good old days again.

Listen to “Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan below.

Steely Dan – “Hey Nineteen” (1980)