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Steely Dan - Countdown to Ecstasy CD (album) cover


Steely Dan


Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.02 | 217 ratings

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Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
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 fuck 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 shits 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 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 fuck 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)

micky | 5/5 |


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