Countdown To Ecstasy: all hail Steely Dan's idiosyncratic visions of jazz-charged contemporary rock

Steely Dan's initially overlooked sleeper Countdown To Ecstasy is back on wax

Steely Dan: Countdown To Ecstasy cover art
(Image: © Geffen/UME)

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Although Steely Dan are routinely hailed as one of the last century’s most subversively brilliant bands, when their second album Countdown To Ecstasy was released 50 years ago the UK remained largely unmoved by its virtuoso complexity, hyper-intelligent broadsides and luminous confessionals. 

Following 1972’s Can’t Buy A Thrill debut with another Brit-flop, it took years to be recognised as the evocative crystalisation of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker’s idiosyncratic visions of jazz-charged contemporary rock, digging deeper lyrically and musically within NY’s classic pop framework. 

With singer David Palmer replaced by Fagen’s distinctive vocals and guitarist Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter on dazzling form, the songs gestated on the road while touring behind Thrill, throwing US rock a subtly insidious curve with skilled studio precision as they hotwired lyrics (lacerating Hollywood on Showbiz Kids), esoteric blues (Bodhisvatta), melodic drama (The Boston Rag) and myriad jazz-fusion flashes flaring amid pristinely swinging arrangements. 

Supernaturally contagious melodies deal the irresistible sting, whether cool jazz horns elevating My Old School, or Fagen’s swooning vocal on prostitute’s love ballad Pearl Of The Quarter. Such seductive nuances shine brighter than ever on this new high-tech remaster, including heavyweight 45rpm UHQR deluxe incarnation.

Kris Needs

Kris Needs is a British journalist and author, known for writings on music from the 1970s onwards. Previously secretary of the Mott The Hoople fan club, he became editor of ZigZag in 1977 and has written biographies of stars including Primal Scream, Joe Strummer and Keith Richards. He's also written for MOJO, Record Collector, Classic Rock, Prog, Electronic Sound, Vive Le Rock and Shindig!