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Steely Dan - Countdown To Ecstasy CD (album) cover

COUNTDOWN TO ECSTASY

Steely Dan

Jazz Rock/Fusion


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Chicapah
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars The first time I heard "Countdown to Ecstasy" it stopped me dead in my tracks. It satisfied every aspect of my sensibilities both as a musician and as a music lover and it still does to this very moment. The difference between this album and their pop-oriented debut is like night and day. So much for the sophomore jinx! In most cases bands use up all their best material for their music biz grand opening and have nothing to equal it on #2 but here the West Coast prog creations of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker reflected the mood of the disillusioned peace & love generation in a uniquely abstract and sublime way. The album and its compelling cover art is nothing short of brilliant. It is also the only one in their catalogue that was written and arranged for a working ensemble because the band as a performing entity would cease to exist after its release. It seems the group HATED touring with a passion and the fact that they had to interrupt their recording sessions to go play "Do It Again" on amusement park stages led to the unheard of decision (a secretly-made decision, at that, shared only between Don and Walt) to stop doing concerts altogether. Like The Beatles before them, they eventually abandoned the road to further explore their true calling as a pack of studio rats. But that would come to a head later on. This album was made in the heat of battle between artist and management and it bristles with raw energy because of that. If I'd been keeping a journal back in 1973 my entry would have been something along these lines:

Dear Diary - From the moment Jim Hodder's naked drum strokes on "Bodhisattva" reached my ears I knew that this was something fresh and new to absorb. The onslaught of Denny Dias and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter's amazing triple guitar harmonies as they flew over the driving rock & roll beat below sealed the deal for me before Fagen even opened his mouth. What WAS this I was hearing? Then Donald sang "can you show me/the shine of your Japan/the sparkle of your China/can you show me?" and I was drawn into a Salvador Dali-like dimension with melting watches hanging off tree limbs and such. Skunk then delivered a hair-raising guitar solo followed by a call & answer segment with Fagen's cool synthesizer and I couldn't hoist my jaw up off the floor. This stunning track alone signified a radical departure from everything they had shown me before and I am hooked. These guys are for real.

Was I impressed? Ya think? Thus began a lifelong affection for most everything Steely Dan manufactured and now my hope is that others who may not know of their charms and only think of them as the guys who did "Hey Nineteen" will venture into their fascinating world with an open mind. Now back to the review.

Next up is the piano and vibraphone-colored "Razor Boy" as it glides atop a swaying jazz rhythm. It has a very unconventional and intriguing chord structure that even Baxter's lazy steel guitar can't take away from. Here Fagen's charismatic voice creates its one-of-a-kind timbre as his stacked three-part harmonies give the tune a distinct flavor that will resonate throughout the rest of their career. My interpretation of the lyric is that he's referring to a girl's drug habit when he sings "I guess only women in cages/can play down the things they lose/you think no tomorrow will come/when you lay down/you can't refuse." Chilling. That's followed by the awesomeness that is "The Boston Rag," just one of the many sparkling gems included in this album. It has a very progressive and dynamic arrangement with Donald's vocal giving it his indelible stamp as he delivers a bittersweet view of a man's reckless youth with lines like "Lonnie swept the playroom/and he swallowed up all he found/it was 48 hours till/Lonnie came around." The middle section builds up gracefully as the guitar swirls around it like a wild vine. What a great song.

The playful "Your Gold Teeth" has a swift, jazzy groove that won't quit and the complex melody lines streaking across its face are breathtaking. It's about avoiding the lure of a flirtatious lady. "Your fortune is your raving eye/your mouth and legs/your gift for the runaround/torture is the main attraction/I don't need that kind of action," Fagen sings. The bridge is about as different as is imaginable and the sly electric piano solo trailed by another stellar guitar ride is excellent. This is Jazz Rock/Fusion coming at you from a completely foreign angle. And, speaking of oddities, "Show Biz Kids" just may be the most unusual and simple track they've ever recorded. Its mantra-like, droning edginess coupled with guest Rick Derringer's dangerous slide guitar makes for a song that has no reason to be as delightful as it is. A scathing dissection of the L.A. star scene with words such as "show business kids making movies of themselves/you know they don't give a f**k about anybody else" accompanied by a chorus of "lost wages," this belongs in a class unto itself.

Did I say class? "My Old School" is magnificent from start to finish. Despite having to compete with a devastating horn arrangement (courtesy of Jimmie Haskell) and performance, Skunk literally steals the show with his blazing guitar licks as he slashes and dashes in and out of the crisp horn accents striking like lightning all around him. It's one for the ages. The tune's sarcastic look at memories of a heartbreak reads like beat poetry. "Oleanders growing outside your door/soon they're gonna be in bloom up in Annandale/I can't stand her/doing what she did before/living like a gypsy queen in a fairy tale." The fabulous horn run after the "California tumbles into the sea" line is pure genius and when they turn Baxter loose on the fadeout he becomes a maniac on the fretboard. Yowza! After that barnburner a change of pace is in order and the gentle "Pearl of the Quarter" fits in nicely. This song about a man being in love with a New Orleans hooker is a much more "normal" number but engaging nonetheless in spite of another dose of whiny steel guitar.

The album closer, "King of the World," is spectacular prog rock. It's one of the best post-apocalyptic tunes ever written because it never submerges into maudlin territory. The last guy on earth is just looking for company. "If you come around/no more pain and no regrets/watch the sun go brown/smoking cobalt cigarettes/there's no need to hide/taking things the easy way/if I stay inside/I might live till Saturday." The seamless track cruises along effortlessly before the arresting middle section pops up like a surprise party. In the end the melodic synthesizer line slinks across the ever- moving chord pattern like a snake in the sand and the guitar solo weaves a hypnotic tapestry in the fading light.

In the very entertaining liner notes included with the '98 remastered version Fagen and Becker tell the story of showcasing the finished product for the label big wigs, "Hawaiian shirts, cigars and all." Expecting another pop blockbuster like the previous LP, they were sorely disappointed to hear what must have sounded like "German art music, or worse." Of course, that meant the album would have immense appeal to proggers like me but not so to the public at large. It produced nary a hit single but FM radio ate it up (to my delight). One man's loss is another man's gain, as they say. If 90% of prog comes from thinking outside the box then this is prog in its very essence. This is the first of several masterpieces these talented visionaries would present to the world and one you should experience often.

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Send comments to Chicapah (BETA) | Report this review (#180723)
Posted Sunday, August 24, 2008 | Review Permalink
Chris S
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Round two in the Steely Dan offering and what an epic release. From the opening foot tapping Bodhisattva to the grand King Of The World closing the album off there is not a single below par song. The high standard SD displayed on their studio albums especially from Countdown To Ectasy onwards shows that they are complete perfectionists. Seldom have I personally experienced such attention to perfection in output of albums other than say perhaps Pink Floyd ( a debateable point for many I am sure). A different band and different music I know, but the same work ethic is there right before your eyes or ears which makes an album like this such a pleasure to listen to. My personal favourite off this second album is The Boston Rag closely followed by the insidious ' Show Biz Kids. Everything is here from Brooklyn, to East Coast varsity nuances to L.A. California lifestyle. The glitz, the glamour, the fame, the big deal, sex, drugs and rock and roll. Hard to define but SD manage to convey a whole generation of sound on Countdown To Ectasy. The album needs to be listened to in it's entirety to full appreciate what essential progressive jazz rock is all about. To coin a phrase from another band, it is art as a Moving Picture. No session listening to this album will be the same.

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Send comments to Chris S (BETA) | Report this review (#180753)
Posted Monday, August 25, 2008 | Review Permalink
progrules
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars This was always the release I was least familiar with because I only knew Bodhisattva and My old school thanks to "A decade". In the end I bought the album, played it a few times but was never as impressed with this as with most other SD albums. There was already the opening track I never realy liked. It appears to be popular one amongst the fans but I always considered it the least of "A decade", the compilation I possess for over 15 years now. My old school is much more to my liking mainly because of the great guitar work.

Later on I got to know the other tracks and also with those it's a 50-50 score for my appreciation. My favourites are Razor Boy (great atmosphere), Your gold teeth (great composition and a lot better than part II on Katy Lied) and Pearl of the quarter (one of those country songs SD made in the early years, a delicious easy listening track). The other three are far less for me and interesting enough it's in all three cases due to repititive phrases dragging on too long, a feature I don't like on this album.

In the end it's positiv and negativ that even out on this release and that's why I can't go for the 4 stars this time, so 3.

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Send comments to progrules (BETA) | Report this review (#180853)
Posted Tuesday, August 26, 2008 | Review Permalink
micky
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars *Steely Dan Act II: An Artist maturing *

I'm a huge fan of what the BBC once called one of the most important and intelligent bands the US has produced: Steely Dan. Their music is characterized by complex jazz-influenced structures and harmonies, literate and sometimes obscure or ambiguous lyrics, filled with dark sarcasm. They are known for their adroit musicianship and studio perfectionism.

Barry Litholtz

Picking up where we left off yesterday. After releasing 'Can't Buy A Thrill' and having a surprise hit in Do It Again followed by another hit in Reelin' in the Years MCA forced the band to hit the road to tour in support of the album. All the while pushing the group to record another 'hit' album to replicate the success of the album. So in between bus tours to promote the album the group made trips to the studio to work on a followup album. The experience would have a profound impact on the band within the next year, but for now they played the game that ABC demanded they play. The song were hurriedly recorded, which offended the perfectionist streaks in Becker and Fagen to no end. However in doing so created an album completely unlike the first.. and also an album unlike any they would ever make again. The songs have a less compact feel to them, a rougher edge and a much looser feel than any other of their albums. The poor souls at ABC Records found out though that what they wanted... they didn't get. This album was not 'Can't Buy A Thrill' Pt. 2. What they got was the progression of an artist into one that found it's own voice, and was determined to make music on its own terms. As Becker and Fagen describe it: 'Coming on the heels of the commercially successful first album, the company had been hoping for a second blockbuster that would zoom to the top of the charts. Instead they found themselves with what must have sounded like weird German Art music.. or worse.' The company wondered where Palmer was.. he had been fired. Thought the cover was too weird and objected to the fact the group choose a song with the conspicuous use of [%*!#] in the lyrics to be the lead single. The album as one might expect.. came no where close to finding the same amount of success on the charts. Show Biz Kids, with the f-word edited out, stalled out high in the charts. Another single was released and fared even worse. This was not an album for finely crafted songs.. but a quantum leap forward in progressive terms from the first album, later would come the shine and gloss of music arranged to where not ONE note was out of place and everything sounded slick and produced to a glossy shine.

The album kicks off which ...ooohhh.. Bodhisvatta. You will find this on greatest hits albums, and will be putting it on as a sample soon, as exhibit A of why this group is here. For [&*!#]s and giggles it will be featured in the upcoming music video game Rock Band 2, and is rumored to be one of the most difficult songs in the game on the guitar instrument. The song eschews typical verse verse chorus structure and is pretty much a full bore Jazz-Rock workout. The lyrics.. typical Dan.. a biting satire on the fickle perception of Eastern Mysticism held by the West. Razor Boy is next and is one of my favorite albums on the album. It crafts odd-shaped verses, vibes, string bass, and pedal steel into a wistful and wise with a mezmerizing latin beat. The lyrics on this one.. good luck... just who the HELL is the Razor Boy. PM me if you can answer that. Next up in The Boston Rag, a menacing piece of prog... pop.. noir..What would have been any other band's instrumental break (provided they had the chops to do ithahhah), they ate for an starter. The tempo was stately, and deliberate; all hi-hat, piano, and acoustic guitar. There was some sort of story at play, something about a kingpin named Lonnie and was another homage to their days in New York City. The highlite is right after after the chorus, as everything drops out save that hi-hat and Fagen's piano. Soon Dias' guitar enters..one note ..then another. And another. You're on your seat for each following note, but he parcels them out slow leaving the listener completely hooked. A complete change in tempo and dynamic that is an aspect of prog that I absolutely love. Your Gold Teeth is next up and is a a jazzed up journey into the world of . Featuring a great electric piano solo by Fagen. Really a J-R instrumental with words. There is no lyrical structure here. Again the standard verse verse chorus structure typical of pop music is gone. Great song and closes side one of the album.

Side two opens with a kick... a real kick. Did I forget to mention that even though this album is known for being the one album arranged and composed by.. and for a working group. There are no less than 8 studio ringers on the album. Here on Show Biz Kids, the failed single that ABC had to have released, we get the mighty Rick Derringer brought in to star on slide guitar. Even WITH such killer slide work.. the star of this song are the lyrics. A SCATHING indictment of the LA lifestyle.. many years before the Eagles had a word to say about it. With the immortal line 'Show biz kids making movies of themselves you know they don't give a [%*!#] about anyone else' Grab your Steely Dan t-shirt and enjoy the hell out of his one. Next up is the most radio friendly track on the album. My old School... horns galore, jazz chords, and another biting commentary.. this time on Bard College. No wonder this didn't make a dent in the charts either. Why would it.. though released as a single.. this is not pop music hahaha. Pearl of the Quarter is up next. A song about a hooker.. with Steel Pedal guitar. Enough said hahhaa. Tend to skip that song.. not exactly a favorite. However.. ask we why I tend to skip it... because that means I have can save four minutes to get to the gem of this album. The mighty King of the World. A tale of a post apocalyptic survivor searching for others.. and musing over his own fate. From the string bass intro to guitar riffs that simulate the tap tapping of morse code going over the air on this old ham radio. Love the choice of instruments here. The electric piano sounds perfect in the song instead of Fagen's peferred grand piano which would have lacked the same effect within the song. That is what gets me most of the song. IF there was a song that could take the listener and place them in the ruins of Santa Fe. This song could do it. A prog masterpiece. I think I'll have a cobalt cigarette before I do my summary and finish the album.

Ranking the album... this one is an easy one.. probably the best album up through The Royal Scam. For reasons I'll touch upon in further review. In fact among many Dan fans.. it IS the best Steely Dan album. I don't know about that... maybe they liked Pearl of the Quarter better than I do. For the site. 5 stars. This album is a J-R/F classic.. but again.. this is not in the style of groups like Mahavishnu Orchestra. As I said before.. you have not heard another group LIKE Steely Dan. All the complexity and chops of the J-R/F bands you love... yet delivered with lyrical wit and in easy to digest songs. For me.. 5 stars.. next to .. oh saving that... this I would have to say is my 2nd favorite Dan album. Will come to my favorite down the road some.

Cheers from the land of Xover Prog... when Prog meets popular music. The results.. may surprise you

Michael (aka The Big Dick)

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Send comments to micky (BETA) | Report this review (#181230)
Posted Sunday, August 31, 2008 | Review Permalink
Finnforest
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars "If I stay inside, I might live 'til Saturday"

Steely Dan never made a bad album but they did make a few average ones. My opinion is that their debut is a classic with fresh, quality songs and that some of the next several dipped a bit as they slowly changed from the live band they were into the studio whizzes that gave us Aja. That doesn't mean these early album lack character, on the contrary they really deliver more intimacy and smiles than the later stuff and for that reason will appeal more to some Dan fans. But for chops fans they simply are not on the same sophistication level as the later stuff would be. The Dan themselves in their endearing and extensive liner notes admit as much, noting that Countdown was the result of working while still being put through the painstaking live shows they apparently did not enjoy. Despite the abuse they were going through they note that there are a few fans in the Steely Dan ranks who consider Countdown to be the best of the Dan recorded catalogue, and they strongly suggest one keep their distance from anyone who holds this view. Reading through the waist deep sarcasm and jokes one can sense a bit of reluctant pride the boys have in this work. They take further fiendish joy in describing the scene of the record company listening party when the suits who were hoping for more hits like "Dirty Work" ended up convinced they had just been handed an album of "weird German art music, or worse."

From my perspective Countdown is a decent album but less fresh and consistent than the debut. It happens to contain two of my least favorite SD tracks which doesn't help, the overblown twaddle of "Bodhisattva" (which I skip every time I play the album) and the obnoxious repetition of "Show Biz Kids" which makes me want to put a nail gun to my head. But some fine early morsels remain. The two which sound like they could come from the debut are "Razor Boy" and the hit "My Old School," both of which contain that precious sense of nostalgia that have an interesting effect on me. Those kinds of SD tracks trigger memories from my own past that seem connected to the songs even though that is logically impossible. It's a testament though to the power of good emotional songwriting skills when an artist can make the listener relate on more than a superficial level. In short, the gift is not just delivering a sweet melody but making the listener actually give a damn about the track. "Razor Boy" just won't leave my head.I hear it in the shower, in the car, and I have to smile. The last track "King of the World" is another highlight of the album. A really spacious, snappy track with wonderful guitar noodlings just around the edges and cool sounding synths accompanying some truly Hunter Thompson-esque lyrical images. Great ending track. The extensive personal liner notes from the boys make every album worth getting if you appreciate their humor. They take you on their journey through each period with great flair and constant laughs. They are great storytellers in addition to their musical talents, they are an American treasure.

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Send comments to Finnforest (BETA) | Report this review (#184510)
Posted Thursday, October 02, 2008 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
3 stars SD's second album Countdown To Ecstasy is IMHO much closer to the band's potential and most likely closer to what the group viewed as their artistic direction. Recorded between bouts of touring in promotion of their hit debut album, CTE might have been even better a record had the time and money not run out. One thing is clear though, the reception of this album was not a commercial success, as there was no evident single and the album was less and longer songs allowing for good interplay between the solo instruments. The album's rather ugly artwork seems to point to a concept album or at least a dominant theme, but it doesn't jump in your face either. The group invited what was to become the usual crowd of suspects on a SD album including the guitarslinger Rick derringer on one track.

Starting on the rockiest and jazziest Bodhisattva track was certainly a surprise for anyone knowing its predecessor and its successor. Indeed while not perfect, mostly the drumming bothers me, it is quite a departure from the pop with its twin guitar attack that's obviously enjoying itself, leading to great moments of ideal interplay, while the vocals are plainly up-beat and enthralling. The even jazzier Razor Boy enjoys some typical jazz chords, enforced by vibraphones, but the only drawback is Skunk's lapsteel solo. Boston Rag has some of the more decent guitars and its middle section growing from a single piano chord gets an impressive progressive rebuilding to give us back the original tune, but this time with a menacing tone given by the guitars. The side-closing Gold Teeth is also the album's longest tune and has that typical up-tempoed Dan-esque feeling, a jazzy groove dictated by echoing piano chord, while Becker's bass is dancing around and Skunk pulls a superb solo in the mid-section.

The flipside starts on another guitar bonanza, this time led by Derringer's slide, while the repetitive back vocals underline both the verse and the solos and the marimba covering the bottom shelves and harmonica to end the tune; while it might be the album's would-be hit single, but on the previous or following album, it would've ruled every song there. My Old School is solid brass rock track, but while it does feature impeccable musical execution and very tight songwriting, its problem is residing in repetitive choirs and chorus. Definitely the album's weakest track, the country-sounding Pearl Of The Quarter is probably the only track on Countdown that might be called a filler, but it's probably one of the weakest SD track ever. It sticks out like a sore thumb on the album track list, but at least it's one of the shortest tunes of the present album. Closing up the debate is King Of The World, an Apocalyptic tale of the sole survivor, which sounds prog indeed, especially the cheap irritating synth sound that comes in halfway above the funky bass and guitars. Most likely their idea of a tongue-in-cheek humour they're capable of.

Don't get me wrong, despite being fairly different from the two albums sandwiching it, with CTE you're still unmistakably on a Steely Dan album, but a better more refined version even if the general feel is rawer and fresher, due to a more discreet production and a splurge of energy given the tense situation between the group and its management/label managers. While CTE is probably not of the calibre of their latter albums (Scam, Aja & Gaicho), it's certainly the album preferred by a vast majority of progheads (yours truly included) in their early group era. The only one of their early albums to gain the three stars, partly because they told the frigging music industry to screw themselves and took advantage of the little freedom that had been bestowed upon them.

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Send comments to Sean Trane (BETA) | Report this review (#185958)
Posted Thursday, October 16, 2008 | Review Permalink
UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Countdown To Ecstasy is the second studio album from US act Steely Dan. I was pleasantly surprised by the cool and laidback pop/ rock style on their debut album, even though it doesn´t really fit my taste in music. The same can be said about Countdown To Exstasy.

The music is still laidback pop/ rock but some cocktail/ lounge jazzy parts has sneaked into the already pleasant soundscape. Songs like Razor Boy, The Boston Rag and Your Gold Teeth profits greatly from this new feature in Steely Dan´s music. As a consequence those three songs plus the opener Bodhissattwa and the closer King of the World are the best tracks here. The latter should even interest more hardcore progressive rock fans with its synthesizer themes. The low points here are Show Biz Kids which leaves me indifferent because it´s too repetitive and trivial and My Old School which has some female soul/ gospel backing singing which is just something I generally loathe ( of course with a few exceptions like Over-Nite Sensation by Frank Zappa).

The musicianship is plain excellent. There are so many things going on in these songs that really makes them worth listening too even though the overall sound is very commercial. In that respect I would put Steely Dan in the same catagory as Supertramp and 10CC.

The production from star producer Gary Katz is fantastic. Pleasant and warm.

Countdown To Ecstasy is the kind of sunday album you put on when your hung over from the night before. Great chill out music that´s still intelligent and clever enough to not become average pop/ rock with no interest for prog heads. I can feel a smile creeping unto my face while listening and that´s always a good sign. 3 stars is well deserved here even though there are a few lesser exciting moments among the good ones.

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Send comments to UMUR (BETA) | Report this review (#187785)
Posted Monday, November 03, 2008 | Review Permalink
Seyo
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The sophomore act of SD presents a big step forward into a crossover/fusion territory, if compared with the debut. Compositions are bit longer, better produced and developed with full advantages of the studio technology. The sound is impeccable - Fagen's voice is excellent in delivering those darks, twisted and cynical lyrics about Hippies' fake embrace of the Eastern philosophies (Bodhisattva), low life and misery of the American suburbia (The Boston Rag, Pearl of the Quarter, Razor Boy) or the consequences of facing the images of American Dream (Show Biz Kids).

The overall album is much darker than its predecessor while several songs are noticeably influenced by both progressive rock of the era and by classic jazz. Wonderful instrumental passages of Fagen's piano and amazing guitar work of Dias, Baxter and especially Derringer on Show Biz Kids are nothing short of masterpiece. The Boston Rag and Your Gold Teeth are two longer pieces which should satisfy even the more demanding prog listeners.

Countdown to Ecstasy also contains one of the most unusual songs I ever heard - Show Biz Kids. Singing about lost wages in Las Vegas (female backing voices allegedly sing these lines in a rhythmic manner throughout the song), the song is complex but yet sound simple due to unchanged rhythm. There are many overdubbed layers on top of which rests the phenomenal slide guitar bursting out courtesy of the guest player Rick Derringer.

Even if you consider STEELY DAN too mainstream or pop-song oriented for your unique prog/avant/psycho collection, you should try with this album. The crooner-like ballad Pearl of the Quarter and pop-soul of the hit My Old School prevents me from giving full 5 stars.

PERSONAL RATING: 4,5/5

P.A. RATING: 4/5

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Send comments to Seyo (BETA) | Report this review (#190798)
Posted Saturday, November 29, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars Later Dan has its advocates - Ian MacDonald, for one, argues strongly for the merits of 'Gaucho' in his very fine 'The People's Music' - but I belong to the 'first 3 albums are the best' fraternity. Unlike 'Katy Lied', which, for me, marks the beginning of the Dan's decline, there's not one ounce of filler on this record. A much more cohesive affair than 'Thrill', the Dan's second album benefits from having a singular vocalist and, unlike the slick, session-man concoctions of the later years, is greatly enhanced by being the product of a working band (+ illustrious guests). The record is packed with musical incident and variety: the vibes on 'Razor Boy', the Rhodes workout on 'Your Gold Teeth', slide guitar on 'Show Biz Kids', synth on 'King of the World', etc. The Dan make a virtue out of combining mordant lyrics with a jaunty 'beat', the superb 'Razor Boy' being a case in point. But top honours go to 'King of the World'. Easily passed over at the back end of the album, this is surely one of the Dan's finest creations. Written from the point of view of a post-nuclear survivor, the lyrics are bleak, yet not without the customary wit - 'Watch the sun go brown/Smoking cobalt cigarettes' - and the upbeat arrangement, oddly enough, works with rather than against the 'story'. I find it all rather moving in an unsentimental kind of way.

Anyone thoroughly cheesed off with the Kaiser Chiefs/Arctic Monkeys/Scouting for Girls hegemony and U2/Coldplay-style corporate rock would do well to give this a spin. Not all 70's stuff involved sticking knives into Hammond organs or writing 'meaningful' lyrics about goblins and the like.

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Send comments to tads51 (BETA) | Report this review (#191799)
Posted Thursday, December 04, 2008 | Review Permalink
Raff
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars When Steely Dan were added to the database, there were many who doubted the legitimacy of their presence on this site. Now, while their music has definitely little in common with 'traditional' prog rock, its sheer complexity, sophistication and technical brilliance (not to mention Donald Fagen's literate, sarcastic lyrics) deserves a place on any self-respecting, comprehensive account of progressive music.

Though I was already vaguely familiar with the band, it was only in the past couple of years that I really got to know them in depth - thanks to the man who became my husband two months ago today (OK, you all know his name...). Having listened to all of their albums, I can safely state that I consider Countdown to Ecstasy their best offering, superior even to the much-praised Aja. Almost every track on it is a gem, a perfectly crafted example of music that is at the same time accessible and demanding, intricate and smoothly flowing. Steely Dan can do great hooks with the same ease as any seasoned pop band, and stun you with such complex instrumental interplay that would do any 'classic' prog band proud. Their choruses are infectiously memorable, but a dark, often seedy reality is hidden beneath those apparently happy, carefree strains.

Coundown to Ecstasy opens in upbeat mode with Bodhisattva, which targets the hippie fad for Eastern philosophies (I especially love the pun in 'the sparkle of your China'). Rich with horns, guitar and piano, the song has an almost danceable, brisk rhythm, but (unlike other songs on the album) no recognizable verse-chorus-verse structure. Razor Boy follows with its melancholy, laid-back vibe underlying one of the many seedy SD tales of lost lives: Will you still have a song to sing/When the razor boy comes and takes your fancy things away.... The presence of an unusual instrument like the vibraphone makes this song even more haunting. The initial triple-whammy is closed by my favourite track, the moody, somewhat menacing The Boston Rag, another tale hinting at crime and punishment with one of the best choruses ever known to man (Bring back the Boston rag/ Tell all your buddies that it ain't no drag), and the closest SD can get to guitar power chords.

Out of the remaining songs, the hit My Old School and the romantic, French-flavoured Pearl of the Quarter lean more towards the more commercial side of things. The former is a real delight for lovers of brass rock, but as a whole leaves me somewhat cold; while I agree with those who think the latter is the weakest track on the album. Your Gold Teeth, the longest song at over 7 minutes, is instead an exercise in slinky elegance, deceptively lazy and effortlessly sophisticated. That leaves us with another couple of crackers - the venomous Showbiz Kids, punctuated by relentless background chants of 'outrageous', and featuring some killer slide guitar courtesy of Rick Derringer; and album closer King of the World, another lyrically intriguing tour-de-force enhanced by the distinctive, slightly cheesy sound of synths.

Even though at a superficial first listen the Dan may sound like an entertaining, but ultimately hollow pop/jazz band, if you bother to peel away the layers you will find a lot to keep most demanding prog fans on their toes. Everything is there - the technical proficiency, the sterling production values, the intelligent lyrics, the expressive singing, the flawless songwriting. So, forget any labels and preconceptions, and get hold of a copy of this masterpiece. You won't regret it.

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Send comments to Raff (BETA) | Report this review (#204156)
Posted Monday, February 23, 2009 | Review Permalink
snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars So, when I finished with Sd debut album, I had started with the second one.

The same melodies, same perfect arrangements, same pleasant warm sound. Less r'nb or blues rock, more jazzy feelings.

First song, "Bodhisattva", is one of the worst their songs for me. Rhythmic and sharp, it is absolutely out of the contest of their comfortable sound/melody atmosphere. Step by step, song after song you are deeper and deeper in tasty world of their sweet-sour melodies and arrangements.

As with any SD album, again you can accept them as pop/soft rock band with intelligent arrangements and jazzy clothes, or just hate them as commercial unit. In that sense, their second album doesn't change your opinion. More complex and jazzy than their debut, it is firmly placed between similar musicians, like 10 cc or Supertramp.

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Send comments to snobb (BETA) | Report this review (#235134)
Posted Wednesday, August 26, 2009 | Review Permalink
Matthew T
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars This was the follow up "To Can't Buy a Thrill" and was released in 1973. Donald Fagen has taken over the lead vocals and David Palmer who also shared the lead duties on Can't Buy a Thrill is only doing backing vocals with numerous others listed on this album, "Countdown to Ectasy". The sound of the band has started to evolve and with this album there is a far more jazz and funk influence but still Rock primarily. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker share the song writing credits.

The band is still the same with the omission of David Palmer. With Denny Dias, Jeff Skunk Baxter on guitars (pedal steel as well for Skunk), Walter Becker on Bass, Jim Hodder on drums and Donald Fagen doing lead vocals, keyboards and piano. Gary Katz is the Producer on this one as he is on all of their albums from this time, up to and including Gaucho. On the early albums of Steely Dan the contribution of the two guitarists is extrraordinary with great solos and all round playing with that qiuck skippy jazz sound Denny Dias played and Jeff Baxters great solos that really make this album come alive.

There is not one bad track contained within this album and Bodhisattva is still performed in concert recently with that great groove that it contains. Vibes are provided on the next track, Razor Boy by Victor Feldman and really gives the tune its distinct sound. Track 3. The Boston Rag was the least liked song for me when I first purchased this record way back when and has grown to be the standout for me with that slow drag feel and that guitar solo from Skunk Baxter. The jazz influence is all over the next track Your Gold Teeth. Show Biz Kids is one rock,funk song that seems to stick in your head forever with the repeated line While the poor people sleepin' with the shade on the light: While the poor people sleepin' all the stars come out at night. Great stuff

There were singles that were taken off the album in the U.S but in Australia if they were issued they sure did not play them on the radio and the band was only found out by word of mouth or the odd rock paper or magazine at the time.

Another great Steely Dan record as all of them are from this period and the next album that they were to do, Pretzel Logic would really cement the bands position in rock as Steely Dan with that distinctive sound and style they had.

Masterpiece ? You Betcha

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Send comments to Matthew T (BETA) | Report this review (#261158)
Posted Saturday, January 16, 2010 | Review Permalink
Flucktrot
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars For their second album, Steely Dan have kicked up the punchiness, tightened up the production, and generally kept up the good songwriting.

However, beyond the hits and few additional songs, the general catchiness is a bit lacking.

Most of us know the hit singles (Bodhisattva, My Old School), but the rest is quite solid too. My Old School is one of my favorite by the Dan, particularly with that berry sax really digging in and piano ragging away throughout. King of the World is also an absolute classic, and classic rock stations did all their listeners a monumental disservice by not including this track in their regular playlists alongside Bodhisattva and My Old School.

As for the rest, nothing really grabs me. Sure, I'll hand-drum along with hand drums on Your Gold Teeth and chant in my head--in watered-down Zeuhl fashion--to Show Biz Kids, but they just lack that "something". Well played, produced, and arranged, but perhaps could benefit from a bit more classic rock and a bit less "yacht rock" flavor.

A solid album, and probably a progression from their debut: to butcher a phrase, good but only sporadically great.

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Send comments to Flucktrot (BETA) | Report this review (#316223)
Posted Friday, November 12, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is a cracking album and a lot more polished than it's predecessor. It's also catchier and more upbeat. It's even jazzier and a lot more bluesy too.

The opening "Bodhisattva" really shows some clever fusion with the jazz piano playing over a rock beat before the blues rock riff kicks in. The solos are excellent, including some rock and roll guitar. 'Razor Boy" is a classy number with nice piano as well as some electric piano parts and pedal steel guitar. I like "Boston Rag" very much as well as the classic "My Old School", but actually everything on here is consistently striking right to the ending track "King of the World".

It's cool, sophisticated music by one of the greatest American artists of the 70's. This one is among the best of Steely Dan. It simply can't be missed. 5 shining stars.

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Send comments to Frankie Flowers (BETA) | Report this review (#350249)
Posted Sunday, December 12, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars COUNTDOWN TO ECSTASY is a perplexing album. They went from the somewhat straightforward and in many ways (but less than its detractors may say) CAN'T BUY A THRILL to some very spacious, jazzy and prog-inflected rock tunes. A great deal of this stuff wouldn't be out of place on the more open Zappa albums that are less focused on claustrophobic and highly precise unison runs or controlled freak-outs.

"Bodhisattva" kicks off the album in a rather broad jazz-rock atmosphere and features a beautiful solo section where the two lead guitarists of the group toss lines back and forth with some piano popping in from time to time as well. Meanwhile, the closer "King of the World" always struck me as a prog rock track trapped on this album against its will; it features some very interesting and esoteric melody and harmony decisions, as well as usage of certain effects that distort the sound not unlike how a more controlled (stay with me here) MARS VOLTA might go about things. These two songs set up the two poles of the record and the rest of the tunes move between them with a certain amount of freedom; in many ways, this is a very proggy record due to the amount of songs that are built around generally prog rock ideas about how to combine jazz and rock.

However, it's nagging fault is the degree of subtlety on this record. None of the songs are bad; far from it. The Dan had grown too wise by this point to knowingly place a poor cut on their albums. But the tunes are generally so esoteric, not quite comfortably fitting as rock tunes, jazz tunes, fusion tunes, pop tunes, or prog tunes, but somewhat splitting the difference between all four, shifting in unkind ways at inopportune moments in order to keep you off your feet. This is a strength in the way that it gives depth to the songs, but it also provides a barrier that even several mighty prog listeners, we who are accustomed to listening to records sometimes up to 10 spins before clicking with it, can be put off by. Even still, the quantum leap in song-writing acumen and the sonic depth of this record make it 4 stars, easy. I can't imagine a prog fan not enjoying this.

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Send comments to Gorloche (BETA) | Report this review (#415014)
Posted Sunday, March 13, 2011 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars I've known about STEELY DAN since the seventies and have enjoyed their many hits which I heard on the radio back then. I never took the plunge though as far as actually buying one of their albums until now. I honestly thought (like with a lot of records) that the albums would have a few good tunes and the rest would be throwaways. Well "Countdown To Ecstacy" is one of the most consistant albums i've ever heard. No weak links and every track sounds really good.This is all about well crafted melodic music that makes me feel good.

"Bodhisattva" opens with a beat as piano then guitar joins in. Catchy stuff.Vocals a minute in. Such a feel good tune.The guitar solo before 4 1/2 minutes to the end is cool. "Razor Boy" is more laid back and still very melodic. Some slide guitar after 2 minutes followed by vibes. "The Boston Rag" is like the soundtrack for a sunny day. And how good is that chorus. Some fairly aggressive guitar 4 minutes in and I like the drum work too.

"Your Gold Teeth" is fairly uptempo and intricate. I like the drums and vocals especially. Don't forget the piano solo as well. "Show Biz Kids" is a toe tapper. Gotta love the vocals and backing vocals on this one.The guitar sounds great too. "My Old School" opens with piano as vocals and a beat join in.This got a lot of radio play didn't it. Lots of horns and I like the intricate guitar late to end it. "Pearl Of The Quarter" is where they slow it down and the guitar gives it a Country flavour. "King Of The World" is a great way to end the album. Cymbals and intricate sounds to start as vocals join in. Love the synths after 2 minutes and later around 4 minutes.

4 stars for this one.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#426620)
Posted Saturday, April 02, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars Countdown to Ecstasy ? 1973 (3.4/5) 11 ? Best Song: Bodhisattva

Still utilizing the vasty unpredictable session musician menagerie, the band steps things up a notch, stepping an inch away from pop and an inch toward pure jazz in the process. It seems the first song in any given Dan album will be destined to be a fiery dueling number where guitars, pianos, organs and all manner of instruments crash together in a slew of smartly written and fluidly performed solos. 'Bodhisattva' fills this role perfectly. It rocks as hard as you will, but maintains the line between wittiness and commercial success ? a goal the band always had set their sights upon. 'Razor Boy' is a shift toward more lightweight theatricality, with a smooth singing, and a soothing backing instrumentation. I'm actually surprised at how much I enjoy the band. Fagen and Walter Becker sure know their musical [&*!#]. The numbers are consistently exciting, just like before, if maybe a little more experimentation causes a distinct sacrifice in accessibility. It's as if a band took the Brian Wilson approach to songwriting a la 1966, but instead of focusing such 'forced perfection' in making a 'masterpiece' they focus it on just being accessible and smart ? smarter than half the shmucks who buy their records or so they'd think. So, this is perfectly accessible music. Their focusing on one side of the story does tamper with the other sides, however. Much of the music this time around feels derivative of itself as opposed to the sporadic nature of the debut, and in all the songs see a little boring when stacked together this way. Still, how can you argue with such impeccable playing ability?

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Send comments to Alitare (BETA) | Report this review (#440466)
Posted Friday, April 29, 2011 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars A striking improvement over their debut, Steely Dan's Countdown to Ecstasy sees the duo of Becker and Fagen honing their cynical, often satirical wits and their songwriting abilities to produce a classic set of jazz-rock songs. The emphasis, as always, is on light rock with a few jazz elements creeping in here and there, but the sound they attain on this album will be of interest to most art rock afficionados. Standout tracks include the post-apocalyptic anthem King of the World and the infectious My Old School, and of course the famous Bodhisattva, which has the heaviest guitar playing of any Steely Dan song.

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Send comments to Warthur (BETA) | Report this review (#508111)
Posted Wednesday, August 24, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars Of all the early classic Steely Dan albums I think this is my least favourite. Not sure why, maybe it just has less memorable numbers than the others. Good tracks are the opener, "Show Biz Kids", and "Pearl of the Quarter", which is my personal fav here. This is weaker in my mind than the pure all over greatness of their first release or THE ROYAL SCAM. It is not a bad album, just not a great album. Maybe 5th or 6th on my Steely Dan list somewhere around the level of GAUCHO. Thus I can reward it with only 3 out of 5 stars.

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Send comments to mohaveman (BETA) | Report this review (#744218)
Posted Wednesday, April 25, 2012 | Review Permalink
b_olariu
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Steely Dan from USA is the branchild of Donald Fagen (vocals, keyboards), Walter Becker (bass, guitar, vocals). Helped by some skilled musicians on every album among others Rick Derringer on guitars or Jeff Porcaro (later on from Toto fame) on drums, they released some respectable albums across the years. Their second offer from 1973 named Countdown to ecstasy is to me their best album. Here everything works perfectly, from the top notch musicianship to the great ideas involved by the all memebers. This is quite more up tempo and with more balls the later releasease. Light jazz rock what is all about in Steely Dan music with some pop rock, art rock moments added, the result is quite entertaining most of the time. Smooth and elegant arrangements like on Your Gold Teeth, the best tune of the album to my ears and the ending track King of the world being another highlight. Maybe at first spin might be easy listning for some , but this is definetly not comercial music, is quite diffrent then most light jazz rock bands from the '70's, because Walter Becker and Donald Fagen has an unique style in composing, specially the vocal department is very good. All in all very solid album, maybe their best release, some considered Aja to be their peak, but I'll have to go with Countdown excsasy because everything from here is excellent and very tight. 4 stars easy

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Send comments to b_olariu (BETA) | Report this review (#973582)
Posted Saturday, June 08, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars Have you ever avoided listening to a release by one of your favorite bands, for fear that it would not meet up to your expectations? Steely Dan has been one of my favorites for decades, but I've always avoided Countdown to Ecstasy. I think it has to do with the fact that the album is lesser known and the songs are relatively unfamiliar. Might be an interesting forum discussion, if it hasn't been done already. Why would you avoid particular releases, even by a band you like?. I never listened to Countdown to Ecstasy in full until just recently, and I definitely waited too long! This is a 4 star release in my book. This is a major step up from Can't Buy A Thrill. SD's first album has some great songs, and a few that are mediocre. Countdown to Ecstasy shows a lot of progress (isn't that the point?) in songwriting and the combination of elements that makes Steely Dan great. There isn't a bad song here; they're all good to great. I wonder if Becker and Fagen were keeping their brilliance under wraps for their first album, or if they actually progressed so far between Can't Buy a Thrill and the current release. My personal favorites are "Bodhisattva", "My Old School", and "King of the World". "My Old School", in particular, has some of the best guitar soloing ever. I don't know why Becker/Dias/Baxter (since individual solos aren't listed) aren't considered some of the best guitar players in rock music. I think Pretzel Logic/Aja/Katy Lied are Steely Dan's masterpieces. However, I should know that our friends Becker and Fagen would never steer me wrong! Countdown to Ecstasy gets a full four stars from me.

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Send comments to thwok (BETA) | Report this review (#1198442)
Posted Thursday, June 26, 2014 | Review Permalink

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