Saturday, July 8, 2023

The Albums of 1973: Steely Dan: Countdown to Ecstasy


Release Date: July 1973

Members: Denny Dias (guitar); Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (guitar, pedal steel guitar); Walter Becker (bass, harmonica, vocals); Jim Hodder (percussion); Donald Fagan (piano, vocals)

Produced by Gary Katz

Side One: Bodhisattva; Razor Boy; The Boston Rag; Your Gold Teeth

Side Two: Show Biz Kids; My Old School; Pearl of the Quarter; King of the World

Steely Dan's impressive second album Countdown to Ecstasy features their trademark of pristine arrangements and superior musicianship. Lyrically, there's a cinematic flourish with all the tracks spanning many genres from film noir, Sci-Fi, satire, and regionalism. 

"Bodhisattva" has the hallmarks of 50's jukebox rock record by way of a John Coltrane record. The song satirizes trendy 1970s Eastern spirituality on the West Coast. The metaphorical, xylophone punctuated "Razor Boy" creates a mood of dread and exhaustion. Heavy, infectious riffs on "The Boston Rag" describe a figure who may be a petulant child or part of an underworld. "Gold Teeth" is more of a jam track, the electric organs and frantic guitars conjure a heady atmosphere.

"Show Biz Kids" stomps along with a hypnotic chorus and describes surreal scenes in Las Vegas. "My Old School" goes for more of a straightforward narrative, describing a 1969 drug bust at Bard College when Donald Fagan was arrested, Watergate conspirator and Nixon associate G. Gordon Liddy made the arrests. But the girl who turned them in is the central figure of the song, a track could easily be mistaken for a pleasant nostalgia trip. "Pearl of the Quarter" describes a New Orleans scene, more sentimental than the rest. "King of the World" describes a post-Nuclear War world, musically like a '70s Dystopian film soundtrack. 

Musically and thematically adventurous, Countdown to Ecstasy can be read in a few ways, a snide response to prog rock, a proto hipster record, or a series of private jokes. 

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