"Ninety minutes from New York to Paris (More leisure for artists everywhere)"
I remember reading about this album in 1982, when my then favourite Hi-Fi magazine Stereoplay featured this as album of the month. It celebrated Donald Fagen's genius and raved on about the quality of it's songwriting in view of the absence of one Walter Becker, some chap who apparently formed a band called Steely Dan with Fagen. It didn't know any of these guys, and Steely Dan I only knew from "Do it again", a song I didn't particularly like, so I quickly forgot about the album.
Fast forward 5 years later:
I was sitting on my sofa, the lights dimmed down, and listening to my favourite radio show: Late from London on BFBS, the British Forces Broadcasting Service. The DJ explained tonight he would play each and every song of his favourite album, Fagen's The Nightfly, and suddenly my room was filled with this unbelievably cool, jazzy and meticulously crafted music: I stayed up for the whole show until 3 am, just to listen to each and every song. This collection of songs opened a completely new book of music for me: until that moment, I was mainly into Jazzpop and Jazzfunk, both areas of contemporary music not particularly known for their complexity, but suddenly there were these complex harmonies, clever hooks and cool basslines, and I was hooked. This was truly music for grown ups and I was ready for it!
When we kissed we could hear the sound of thunder
As we watched the regulars rush the big hotels
"The Nightfly" was Donald Fagen's first solo album after splitting up from his difficult and gnarly partner Walter Becker, released only 2 years after Gaucho. Being a latecomer to the joys of The Dan, I didn't at first realise how closely this album resembled Aja with it's intricate harmonies, but listen to The Dan's Deacon Blues and the album's title track The Nightfly and you can hear the similarities. Nevertheless The Nightfly is easier to listen to than most of Steely Dan's oevre, surely due to the missing Becker (listen to Kamakiriad where Becker's back in the fray and you instantly miss the genuine optimism and lightness of "The Nightfly").
This was always going to be a concept album about the time when America was a nation more naive and optimistic than the deeply divided dystopic wreck it is now. All this observed by Fagen, seeing himself in the role of that iconic, chain smoking radio DJ on the graveyard shift. Fagen described the album as follows:
“the songs on this album represent certain fantasies that might have been entertained by a young man growing up in the remote suburbs of a northeastern city during the late fifties and early sixties, i.e., one of my general height, weight, and build."
To transform these optimistic teenage dreams of a better american future, full of thinking machines, nuclear power and flying cars into music, Fagen assembled a superb cast of musicians, led by the most outstanding keyboard genius Greg Philinganes, drum legends Steve Porcaro (of Toto)and Steve Jordan and Michael and Randy Brecker. Together they weave a almost fluffy tapestry of jazzy and latino grooves, always juxtaposed with Fagen's slightly ironic observations (fortunately lacking the sometimes forced intellectual mindgames of the late Steely Dan albums). Although relying heavily on early eighties synthesizers, the album never feels dated, probably due to the discreet production and the natural sounding percussion.
This was only the fifth CD I've bought, but it still travels with me everywhere I go (albeit on my Ipod and Ibook), as it will always stay one of my favourites.
- I.G.Y. (International Geophysical Year) 6:05
- GREEN FLOWER STREET 3:40
- RUBY BABY 5:38
- MAXINE 3:50
- NEW FRONTIER 6:23
- THE NIGHTFLY 5:45
- THE GOODBYE LOOK 4:47
- WALK BETWEEN RAINDROPS 2:38
Buy this album. I'm sure Dannye would approve.