Now the presence of this one in my collection even surprises me, and others I know have expressed surprise too !
Donald Fagen, for those unsure, was the singer with Steely Dan, another band I’ve come to appreciate more with age. 1982’s “The Nightfly” was Donald’s first solo album following Steely Dan’s split the previous year. It took 8 months to record between studios spreading from New York to Los Angeles and, I’ve recently discovered, is a very early example of a fully digitally recorded album.
Which might explain something that drew me into this record…it sounds bloody fantastic! Now I’m sure there are many analogue purists out there sniffing and huffing at that statement, but it’s true. It sounds so clean and spacious and I marvel at the overall sound every time I play it (it was a favourite demo record in Hi-Fi shops unsurprisingly). Production isn’t usually something that overly influences whether I like something or not (one of my favourite singles is “Green Fuz” by Randy Alvey & The Green Fuz who’s production value’s fall somewhere less than 0, go have a listen) it’s all about the songs and the performance for me, but there is something sparkling and shiny about the sound of “The Nightfly” that my ears find pleasing.
It’s not just the production tho’, the songs within ain’t half bad either…yes there’s a hint of supper club inoffensiveness about the whole thing but that shouldn’t detract from the quality and the work that went into making these songs shine. Opening song “I.G.Y” (it stands for International Geophysical Year, an international science project which ran from 1957 to 1958) is somewhat cod reggae in style but the reference to the science project sets a starting time frame for the themes of the songs. The album is supposedly autobiographical in subject matter, dealing with Fagen’s childhood although he has downplayed this angle in later years. All the backtracking you can manage doesn’t erase the note on the albums lyric sheet:
“Note: The songs on this album represent certain fantasies that might have been entertained by a young man growing up in the remote suburbs of a northeastern city during the late fifties and early sixties, i.e., one of my general height, weight and build.”
It’s undeniable however that the influences at play here are centred around the 50’s and 60’s. There’s echoes of Jazz, Doo-Wop (“Maxine”), Bossa Nova (“The Goodbye Look”) and R & B (“Ruby Baby” based around a Drifters tune). The lyrics speak of late night radio DJ’s (“The Nightfly” obviously) and hanging out with girls in your family fall out shelter (“New Frontier” which sees the return of the cod reggae feel).
The lyrics are noticeably less sardonic than those of Steely Dan but as Walter Becker (the other half of the Dan) was mainly responsible for those withering couplets that shouldn’t be a surprise. The whole album is precisely played, by some of the best session musicians around at the time, precisely recorded and represents a style that I would usually turn my nose up at…but I love it.
New Frontier - https://youtu.be/X_xRlpqzl-I