Listen: Steely Dan Once Wrote a Jingle for Schlitz Beer in the 1970s

Somewhere in between Steely Dan‘s debut, Can’t Buy a Thrill, and the 1973 follow-up, Countdown to Ecstasy, the band recorded a jingle for the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based brewing company Schlitz Beer.

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The untitled song was recorded during an eight-month break between the band’s first and second albums. “It was soon after ‘Reelin’ in the Years’ that someone called and asked if the guys would write a song for the Schlitz commercial,” shared Gary Katz, the band’s longtime producer. “And as I remember it, Donald [Fagen] said, ‘OK, but we’re gonna write it.’ By which he meant, they didn’t want to do a commercial somebody else wrote.”

Co-founding guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, added “The band was still pretty young in its career, so everybody was reaching out for whatever opportunities there were.”

Running just under two minutes, the jingle features Steely Dan jazz fusion along with Fagen singing Once around life / Once around livin’ / Once around beer / And you’ll keep around Schlitz. In the song, Fagen also translates some Spanish narrative into English, When I get home from a hard day’s work / He says he likes to grab for all the gusto he can get / ‘Cause you only go around one time.

“As we were doing it, somebody came by from Schlitz’s ad agency—you know, a guy with a powder-blue sweater tied around his neck and quite literally a stopwatch in his hand,” said Katz, recalling how the band approached working on the jingle. “He walked into the control room and thought he was going to take over, and that just wasn’t gonna happen.”

Katz continued, “He started asking questions about the song. Donald said aloud to me, ‘Do you have your hand near the red button?’ Then he addressed the ad guy: ‘If you say another word about this song, we’re just gonna erase it.’ So the guy left. I didn’t hear about it again.”

Schlitz, which was sold to Pabst Brewing Company in 1999, eventually shelved Steely Dan‘s jingle due to concerns over the Spanish word for “grab,” or “take,” since coger is also a slang term for sexual intercourse. “If I were the Schlitz company,” said Baxer, “I would contact Donald Fagen and pay him a million dollars to do another one.”

An image of Fagen and guitarist Denny Dias from the Schlitz session appeared on the back cover of the band’s 1975 album, Katy Lied.

The band’s long-lost Schlitz jingle comes weeks after Steely Dan’s 1979 song, “The Second Arrangement,” surfaced for the first time, from the archives of Steely Dan’s longtime engineer Roger Nichols.

In 2022, the band embarked on their Earth After Hours tour across North America in 2022 and recently reissued Countdown to Ecstasy, featuring tracks “My Old School,” “Bodhisattva,” and “Show Biz Kids,” as a part of a year-long series that will see Steely Dan’s classic albums return to vinyl.

Steely Dan’s 1974 release, Pretzel Logic, featuring the hit “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” along with Katy LiedThe Royal Scam (1976), their 1977 hit album Aja, and Gaucho are also in line for reissues in 2023.

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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