1973, Music

Countdown to Ecstasy (1973) by Steely Dan

I don’t like Steely Dan. I’ve given them four albums (if you include this one), and I find their early stuff way too poppy for my liking and their “mature” stuff to be way too “hipper than thou,” but also far, far too slick.
But lo and behold, I like this record. And it’s making me think that there may be other records of theirs I like out there. It’s still mostly too slick for me. It’s still hipper than thou, but there are more of the things I like here than on other Steely Dan records, and I find for once the appreciation I have for their musicianship isn’t muted by their obsession over polish and snark.

Maybe it’s just me, but it sure sound to me like, at this stage of their career, they were still willing to let a little grit into their performances. The solos on Steely Dan records are pretty much all impressive, but some of the guitar solos in particular sound so much rawer than they do on later records, either because Fagen and Becker are allowing more freedom or their tastes would change (or something).

I still have a love-hate relationship with Fagen’s (very good) lyrics. And I still think this band (such as it is) would sound so much better if they rehearsed less, and spent less time on endless takes. But this is one Steely Dan album I can actually get behind. I hope the next few are like this too.

8/10

All tracks written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.

  1. “Bodhisattva” 5:18
  2. “Razor Boy” 3:11
  3. “The Boston Rag” 5:40
  4. “Your Gold Teeth” 7:02
  5. “Show Biz Kids” 5:26
  6. “My Old School” 5:48
  7. “Pearl of the Quarter” 3:50
  8. “King of the World” 5:04
  • Donald Fagen – acoustic and electric pianos, synthesizer, lead and backing vocals
  • Walter Becker – electric bass, harmonica, backing vocals
  • Denny Dias – electric guitar, mixing
  • Jeff “Skunk” Baxter – electric and pedal steel guitars
  • Jim Hodder – drums, percussion, backing vocals

Additional musicians

  • Ray Brown – string bass on “Razor Boy”
  • Ben Benay – acoustic guitar
  • Rick Derringer – slide guitar on “Show Biz Kids” (recorded at Caribou Ranch, Nederland, Colorado, courtesy of Columbia Records)
  • Victor Feldman – vibraphone, marimba, percussion
  • Ernie Watts, Johnny Rotella, Lanny Morgan, Bill Perkins – saxophones (6)
  • Sherlie Matthews (6), Myrna Matthews (6), Patricia Hall (6), David Palmer, James Rolleston, Michael
  • Fennelly – backing vocals

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