Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” Lyrics Meaning

The central theme of Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” is that humans often find themselves repeating the same mistakes no matter how much they convince themselves otherwise. The writer through each of the verses explores how men value certain elements or habits though they can be quite destructive.

Verse 1

In the first verse for instance, the singer talks about violence, its needlessness and how the protagonist (one Jack) can’t seem to stop living in that cycle even though the consequences are grave.

What happens is this:

Someone steals Jack’s water. Water is by the way, a commodity that can be found everywhere and is therefore not very precious. But despite the sheer pettiness of this crime, Jack irrationally chases after the water thief and guns him down. Having realized the silliness and magnitude of his crime, Jack tries fleeing the country. However, he is caught by the authorities at the border. They arraign him before court. He is supposed to be sentenced to death for taking someone’s life. However, interestingly the justice system somehow sets him free. This is what Steely Dan refers to in the line “the hangman isn’t hangin’“.

Owing to this, Jack is subsequently set free. He’s literally “put” back “on the street”. It’s not exactly clear how Jack was able to avoid capital punishment for taking a man’s life. And not only that, he was also set free despite killing someone. At this juncture, it is likely Steely Dan might also be subtly criticizing the entire justice system. A man commits a petty crime (the crime of stealing water that is plentiful everywhere). However, he pays for it with his life. But another man commits a horrible crime (the crime of murder). However, the murderer is set free.

So after all is said and done, Jack is lucky to go free. However, he doesn’t learn any lesson from this incident. He therefore goes and continues in his violent ways.

Verse 2

The second verse talks about a woman this Jack is involved with and how she often cheats with other men. At one point, Jack even catches her cheating on him with his close friend. The affair leads to the demise of his relationship with her. It also leads to the demise of his friendship with his friend. At the end of the day, Jack is thoroughly heartbroken and devastated. But shortly after that, Jacks finds a new woman and tries to fill the gap with her. And even though Jack might be aware that this new woman is just using him and is only after his money, he still proceeds with the relationship. Based on the woman’s character, the narrator is very sure that she’ll abandon Jack at the end of the day and he’ll be on his “knees tomorrow”.

What this means is that Jack didn’t learn any lesson from his previous relationship. He moved from one “easy lover” to another. And will keep doing the same thing over and over again, even though it brings him misery.

Verse 3

The third verse carries a similar pattern, but this time it deals with the subject of money and Jack’s addiction to gambling. We see him trying to deny his addiction yet finds himself in the very situation he was trying to avoid, looking to make some more money.

“Jack, do it again”

Throughout the track, the songwriter seems to sarcastically urge the subject to keep pursuing the things that eventually corrupt him and make him feel sorrowful in the long run.

Lyrics of "Do It Again"

Facts about “Do It Again”

Steely Dan members the late Walter Becker (1950-2017) and Donald Fagen composed this tune. And the track was produced by someone the band worked with regularly, Gary Katz.

This track dates back to Steely Dan’s first album – a project titled “Can’t Buy a Thrill”, as released by ABC Records. In fact it is the lead single from the project, the second single from the band’s entire discography and the song that marked their first hit. And its official release date was on 1 November 1972.

“Do It Again” was a massive success. It managed to reach position 6 on America’s famed Hot 100 singles charts. It further charted in at least 5 countries.

This song has had a notable pop media presence, such as being featured on the 1990 film Air America.

Summary

“Do It Again” mainly speaks about things that generally motivate men, namely Money, Violence and Women while capturing how each of them are destructive in nature. The song just explains how generally humans find it difficult avoiding self destructive behaviors. We keep repeating the same negative and unhelpful behaviors again and again without learning any lessons.

11 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    I dunno, down in the desert near Mexico, water was a rather precious commodity…

  2. Greg Williams says:

    Water where I live is exceedingly valuable. Those who live in the city just turn a faucet and out it comes. In the southwest United States, the first verse makes sense. I have seen brothers beat brothers over water.

  3. John says:

    Many people also posit that water in this case is a drug.

  4. Pam says:

    Disagree on the lack of value of water. In many places on this planet clean , safe water is rare and hard to obtain. It could be that Jack’s water was very valuable to him and, in his eyes, justified killing the thief. I also disagree that the songwriter/narrator of Jack’s story keeps urging Jack to return to his vices, I think Jack does fine all by himself. He’s only human after all. 😉 I think it simply a commentary. It’s a rare person who truly learns from his mistakes and avoids repeating them. One of my favorite SD songs.

  5. Laurie says:

    Doesn’t be Jack count cards, play cards?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Back Jack, do it again. Wheel turning round and around. Sounds like the great karma/reincarnation cycle to me. I don’t want to keep coming back!!!

  7. MarkO says:

    “Jack” is a somewhat dated term meaning everyman, or dude. There is no particular Jack in this song, each verse is about being a particular kind of Jack or dude. All the detailed peccadilloes of these particular Jacks – drug dependence, sexual domination, compulsive gambling, keep them locked in a karmic cycle in a greater sense, and a self destructive cycle in the nearer sense. The lyrics referring to going back and the wheel turning around and round as part of the hook is brilliant placement, reinforcing the idea on both material and spiritual levels, which is what makes it brilliant. And it speaks of the great destructive cycles humans can lock themselves into until they really see what they’re doing, if they ever do. A fate left undecided by the lyrics.

  8. From east LA says:

    They should play this song at the Mexican border over loud speakers, facing Mexico, go back Jack, over and over and over, drug cartels are stealing the water and polluting it for pot, go back jack

  9. JB "CUZ'IN Eddies Cuz'in" FAGAN says:

    I couldn’t ask for a better translation than this, and at the depth I was looking for.

    Thank ya Amanda London

  10. Anonymous says:

    Water = Life. Without we die. Think there’s a greater meaning to the ‘water’ reference.

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