Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#929 in the Series) is Donald Fagen, The Nightfly
I never would’ve thought that my favorite Steely Dan album wouldn’t even be a Steely Dan album. But as strange as that may seem my favorite work by Mr. Donald Fagan is his first solo album called The Nighfly. It can’t be considered a Steely Dan album because it does not include Fagen’s longtime band partner Walter Becker, but I’ve enjoyed this work more than any of the Dan projects so that’s really what I’m getting at.
One of the complaints that I often hear about Steely Dan is that their albums are so perfectly recorded, so perfectly produced, that they actually become sterile. Yes, I disagree with that as I feel that there is a place for that type of music alongside music that may be recorded in one take and presented to the public “warts and all.” However, while this album is indeed recorded perfectly the last thing I would say about it is that there isn’t sterility to it whatsoever. It still sounds fresh to me 30 years after its original recording.
The Nightfly was actually one of the first all digitally recorded albums, recorded shortly after Ry Cooder’s Bop ‘till You Drop. I’ve seen The Nightfly listed many times over as one of the best recorded albums in rock history which is quite remarkable considering as I mentioned it’s over 30 years old.
I purchased my first CD player around 1983 or 84 somewhere in there. I clearly remember bringing this disc with me to fine audio stores and plopping it into the tray every time I wanted to test the sound of the system I was considering. I ended up finding a nice little Sony player in of all things a music store in Sheboygan, Wisconsin but I ended up making it mine. I was surprised to find it there because this was a music store as in instruments, not recorded music.
In the year 2006, Donald Fagan released his third studio album called Morph the Cat. Upon its release he was quoted in an interview stating that that album was the third and final installment of a trilogy that included The Nightfly and continued through Kamakiriad and then finally Morph. Each of these albums looked at a certain period of Fagen’s life. The Nightfly dealing being mostly about his youth hence many of the 1950s and 1960s feel to it. Kamakiriad was more of a middle period and then finally the latter periods of life in Morph the Cat.
A few hits were spawned here mainly “I.G.Y. (What A Beautiful World)” which stands for International Geophysical Year. The real I.G.Y. was the latter part of 1957 in all of 1958. In a very, simplified nutshell, the real I.G.Y. was about countries coming together and exchanging scientific beliefs and dreams in the era shortly after Joseph Stalin’s death. Fagan took a very optimistic look at the future in the song by referring to things like solar power, space travel for entertainment purposes, high-speed rail and yes, even spandex. It would be his only top 40 solo track peaking at number 17. It was nominated for a Grammy award for Of the Year. It lost out to “Always on My Mind.”
Another song that clearly has an early 60s influence was the other hit on from the album titled, “The New Frontier.” It was not nearly as optimistic as now we’re listening to lyrics about bomb shelters while stocking up on “provisions and lots of beer.”
Donald Fagan wrote seven of the eight tracks with the only cover being Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoler’s “Ruby Baby.”
Not surprisingly he also surrounded himself once again with a Who’s Who of spectacular studio musicians see the list below for the full lineup.
You can listen to the album and its entirety below. I’ve included a video playlist with the full album plus a few live versions of some of the songs and then a couple bonus videos of “The Goodbye Look” and “Walked Between the Raindrops” being performed by The Velvet Fog himself Mel Torme.
All songs by Donald Fagen, except where noted
- “I.G.Y.” – 6:03
- “Green Flower Street” – 3:42
- “Ruby Baby” (Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller), Arranged by Donald Fagen – 5:39
- “Maxine” – 3:49
- “New Frontier” – 6:21
- “The Nightfly” – 5:47
- “The Goodbye Look” – 4:50
- “Walk Between Raindrops” – 2:38
- Donald Fagen – organ, synthesizer, harmonica, horn, keyboards, electric piano, vocals, background vocals, synthesizer harp
- Dave Bargeron – trombone, euphonium, horn, background vocals
- Michael Brecker – tenor saxophone
- Randy Brecker – trumpet, flugelhorn
- Larry Carlton – guitar
- Ronnie Cuber – horn, baritone saxophone
- Rick Derringer – guitar
- Frank “Harmonica Frank” Floyd – background vocals
- James Gadson – drums
- Ed Greene – drums
- Gordon Grody – vocals, background vocals
- Anthony Jackson – bass
- Steve Jordan – drums
- Steve Khan – acoustic guitar
- Abraham Laboriel – bass
- Daniel Lazerus – background vocals
- Will Lee – bass
- Hugh McCracken – guitar, harmonica
- Leslie Miller – vocals, background vocals
- Marcus Miller – bass
- Rob Mounsey – synthesizer, horn, keyboards
- Roger Nichols – percussion, special effects
- Michael Omartian – piano, keyboards, electric piano
- Dean Parks – guitar
- Greg Phillinganes – synthesizer, piano, keyboards, electric piano, clavinet, synthesizer bass
- Jeff Porcaro – drums
- Chuck Rainey – bass
- Zachary Sanders – vocals, background vocals
- Valerie Simpson – vocals, background vocals
- David Tofani – horn, alto saxophone
- Starz Vanderlocket – percussion, background vocals
- Paul Shaffer – organ
- Official Donald Fagen Website
- Official Steely Dan Website
- See our piece on Steely Dan, Aja
- See more album from 1982
- Back to the Cool Album Home Page
Listen to The Nightfly below.