[Review] Donald Fagen: The Nightfly (1982)

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s the man of Steely!

Kronomyth 1.0: Gaucho, harp and tongue-in-cheek.

Donald Fagen released The Nightfly two years after Steely Dan’s last record, Gaucho, quelling for the moment questions of whether there would be life after Dan. While stylistically similar to Gaucho (many of the same session players appear on both), The Nightfly is lighter on its feet; a sense of optimism (!) also pervades the record.

The songs are based on Fagen’s own recollections of his youth, at a time when Tin Pan Alley celebrated the past and jazz looked to the future. The Nightfly straddles these two styles remarkably well: “New Frontier” and “I.G.Y. (International Geophysical Year)” take a comic look back at a forward-thinking time, while “Walk Between Raindrops” is a fine re-creation of American optimism. The arrangements are less exotic than Aja, less moody than Gaucho, now minus the extended guitar solos and intoxicating bass lines that Walter Becker brought to the table.

Of course, The Nightfly still recalls Steely Dan more than anything. Even the themes are sometimes strikingly familiar, as when jazz fills in the holes left by love on “The Nightfly” (nods to “Deacon Blues”), and the South American politics of “The Goodbye Look” (similar to “Sign In Stranger”). Not everything here is top-shelf stuff; the Leiber-Stoller oldie “Ruby Baby” sounds half-hearted, while “Green Flower Street” is no more memorable than Gaucho’s dry bits. But at its best, as on “I.G.Y.,” “New Frontier” or the tender and languid tale of young love, “Maxine,” The Nightfly soars.

Original elpee version

A1. I.G.Y. (6:05)
A2. Green Flower Street (3:40)
A3. Ruby Baby (Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller, arranged by Donald Fagen) (5:38)
A4. Maxine (3:50)
B1. New Frontier (6:23)
B2. The Nightfly (5:45)
B3. The Goodbye Look (4:47)
B4. Walk Between Raindrops (2:38)

Songs composed and arranged by Donald Fagen unless noted.

DVD reissue bonus track
9. New Frontier (video)

The Players

Donald Fagen (vocals, synthesizers, synth blues harp, electric piano, organ, backup vocals, horn arrangements), Larry Carlton (lead guitar), Hugh McCracken (guitar, harmonica), Greg Phillinganes (electric piano, clavinet, piano solo, piano, synthesizer, synthesizer bass), Jeff Porcaro (drums), Valerie Simpson (backup vocals), Starz Vanderlocket (percussion, backup vocals) with Dave Bargeron (trombone, euphonium), Michael Brecker (tenor sax), Randy Brecker (trumpet, flugelhorn), Ronnie Cuber (baritone sax), Rick Derringer (guitar), Frank Floyd (backup vocals), James Gadson (drums), Ed Green (drums), Gordon Grody (backup vocals), Anthony Jackson (bass), Steve Jordan (drums), Steve Khan (acoustic guitar), Abraham Laboriel (bass), Daniel Lazerus (backup vocals), Will Lee (bass), Leslie Miller (backup vocals), Marcus Miller (bass), Rob Mounsey (synthesizers, horn arrangements), Roger Nichols (percussion), Michael Omartian (piano, electric piano), Dean Parks (guitars), Chuck Rainey (bass), Zack Sanders (backup vocals), Dave Tofani (alto sax). Produced by Gary Katz; chief engineer, sequencing and special effects by Roger Nichols; tracking and mixdown by Elliot Scheiner;  overdub engineered by Daniel Lazerus.

The Pictures

Set design and construction by Gale Sasson & Vern Yenor. Art direction by George Delmerico. Photography by James Hamilton.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette on October 1, 1982 in the US (Warner Bros., 23696), the UK, Canada and Germany (Warner Bros., 92 3696-1/4), Israel (Warner Bros., BAN 923696) and Japan (Pioneer/Warner, P-11264) with lyrics innersleeve; reached #11 on the US charts (RIAA-certified platinum record) and #44 on the UK charts.

  1. Re-released on remastered elpee and cassette in 1984 in the US (Mobile Fidelity, MFSL-1/C-120).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Warner Bros., 23696-2) and Europe (Warner Bros., 92 3696-2).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc on March 31, 1999 in Japan (Warner Bros., WPCR-1094).
  4. Re-released on DVD audio in 2002 in Germany (Warner, 78138) with bonus video.
  5. Re-released on super high material compact disc in 2009 in Japan (Warner, WPCR-13257).
  6. Re-released on super audio compact disc on September 14, 2011 in Japan (Warner Bros. WPCR-14170).
  7. Re-released on 45 rpm 2LP Ultradisc in the US (MoFi, UD1S 2-003).

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