“Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)” by Steely Dan

Trying to understand Steely Dan’s “Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)” song can be just as mentally painstaking as attempting to make sense of its title. For instance, premise-wise, there’s two completely different directions an interpretation can be taken in.

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Steely Dan's Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me) at Lyrics.org.

Most listeners seem to understand this song as “the charmer” who lives in the same building as the vocalist. And the second verse in particular does come off as if David Palmer is singing about someone other than himself. Said individual is apparently dating a very-beautiful woman, though one who, by the looks of things, is a relentless nag. And such is the type of intimate knowledge of someone else’s relationship an outsider may attain by living in an adjacent apartment, as in being able to hear what’s going on in the unit below him.

But it may also be that that titular “charmer” is an allusion to the vocalist himself. Under this interpretation, the subtitle would more properly read ‘owes the charmer in me’. And such a postulation is not as far-fetched as it may seem, when you also take into consideration how indirect the lyrics of this song are in general.

Even More Confusion

Indeed further lending to the confusion surrounding this piece is that the lyrics are extremely metaphorical. For instance, the first sentence of the song reads “a race of angels bound with one another”.  And as we have noted in the past, whenever mainstream musicians make liberal use of religious-based lingo without explicitly explaining what’s being put forth, it instantly grants the song an air of ambiguity. A phrase such as “race of angels” for instance is bound to conjure up completely different images in the minds of respective listeners.


But that said, it’s clear that the vocalist isn’t just shooting from the lip, and this song is indeed based on a specific narrative. And going back to the neighbor theory, the most discernible part of the storyline features, in addition to it indeed being set in Brooklyn, is the narrator observing a couple who appear to be in a tumultuous relationship.

"Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)" Lyrics

When was “Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)” released?

This song is from Steely Dan’s 1972 hit album “Can’t Buy a Thrill”. It wasn’t released as single from the album. FYI: the album in question is considered one of the greatest in the entire history of recorded music. Accordingly, it was included in Rolling Stones’ 2003 listing of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. In addition to “Brooklyn” other notable tracks from this album include: produced a ton of very sold songs, including:

Credits for “Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)”

The track was written by the band’s frontmen, Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker (1950-2017).  And its producer is Gary Katz.

Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)

12 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Somehow I got it in my confused mind this song is about Grace Kelly…?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Back in the day when this LP was released my girlfriend always thought that I was the charmer in this song.

  3. KP says:

    Donald and Maybe Walter rented an apartment in a Brooklyn Brownstone on President Street before this album came to pass. I recall that having something to do with the Chorus.

  4. Alex Pruteanu says:

    For a while I thought the song referenced William Styron’s novel Sophie’s Choice–the first interpretation listed here certainly matches up the plot of Stingo living underneath Sophie’s and Nathan’s room and hearing the tumultuous (at times) relationship. But then a quick search places Styron’s novel as having been published in 1976—4 years after the tune. This is one of my least fave songs by Steely Dan, mainly because of Palmer’s voice. But nevertheless, it’s a classic.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’ve recently listened to a primitive demo of this song, with Donald singing. The mood is completely different. Intentional or not, Donald’s voice communicates some combination of yearning, loss, and sadness.

      • Carl Paradise says:

        Some of the demos are slower too, because they were trying to play steady… but agreed the mood is more somber.

  5. Slade Barker says:

    The Eden Roc is an apartment building at 1869 83rd Street in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. There are 83 units and six floors, and the “charmer” lives one floor below the song’s narrator.
    Becker and Fagen would have been well aware of ANOTHER Eden Roc, the Miami luxury hotel. The hotel opened in 1955 with a lot of publicity, and whoever built the Brooklyn building, which opened one year later, was probably trying to connote that the building was quite nice, which it is. Before you laugh at the pretentiousness of such a move (I can guarantee that Donald and Walter did), realize that the Eden Roc Hotel itself copped its name from the even more luxurious Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc on the tip of Cap d’Antibes.

    • Joe says:

      “Towel room at Eden Roc, it’s golf at noon for three”? Sorry, THAT is a reference to Cap Cana a GOLF course in Punta Cana. Why the heck that is mentioned in this song, I can’t imagine but there it is. Sorry to complicate things but it’s an easy web search.

  6. MG says:

    The song is so esoteric and I believe it’s by Design. Take from it what you want for it can mean anything when you’re not privy to it. In either event, I think it’s a great song myself

  7. Frederick says:

    For me Steely Dan makes you think Brooklyn is one of Those songs

  8. Joe says:

    “Towel room at Eden Roc, it’s golf at noon for three”? Sorry, THAT is a reference to Cap Cana a GOLF course in Punta Cana. Why the heck that is mentioned in this song, I can’t imagine but there it is. Sorry to complicate things but it’s an easy web search.

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