Countdown To Ecstasy

Steely Dan

MCA, 1973

http://www.steelydan.com

REVIEW BY: George Agnos

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/06/1998

Steely Dan is definitely not for everyone. It is the kind of band you are either going to love or hate, which makes it difficult to review one of their albums. One reason for the wildly different opinions on this band is that they were a rock-jazz-pop hybrid with a unique vision and disquieting lyrics that somehow managed to compile a string of pop-hits. With this warning out of the way, here is a review to Steely Dan's follow up album to their first successful album, Can't Buy A Thrill.

Was 1973's Countdown To Ecstasy produced to capitalize on Steely Dan's newfound success? Not a chance! I could never figure out if this was a jazz band performing rock or a rock band performing jazz, but on this release the jazz side is more prominent. They were definitely not playing it safe as the songs have extended solos and an even more eccentric world-view. They paid the price, though, as this album was not as successful as its predecessor. The album kicks off on a rocking note with the old-timey rock raveup "Bodhisattva." Note how they add little jazz touches on Donald Fagan's piano part making this song sound like Elvis Presley and his band jamming with Dave Brubeck. And then there's the mystical lyric reminding me of Todd Rundgren's spiritual doo-wop "Hodja."my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The next song "Razor Boy" plants the band firmly in the jazz section (and in this case, Latin jazz) with the vibes and percussion aptly handled by Victor Feldman. Another "real" jazz artist, bassist Ray Brown, guest stars on this cut, but then here comes Jeff "Skunk" Baxter with his steel guitar to keep things unpredictable. The skewered lyrics contain the line in the chorus. "Will you still be singing that song/when the razor boy comes and takes your fancy things away?" Like I said, this music is not for everyone. "The Boston Rag" boasts nice harmonies by lead singer Fagan and songwriting partner Walter Becker. I like the strident rhythm provided by drummer Jim Hodder andbassist Becker which shows that even slow songs can have great playing behind it.

However, it is on the second side where Countdown To Ecstasy really becomes...er...ecstatic. It starts off on a rock note on the R&B-ish "Show Biz Kids" with the background singers chanting "Las Vegas" (and later "Lost Wages"), and some nice help from guest guitarist Rick Derringer. The single "My Old School" is a blast as it boasts a horn section not unlike the band Chicago, and the rhythm section provides a nice shuffling beat. And "Pearl Of The Quarter" reveals the sweet side of Steely Dan. It shows that Becker and Fagan can write a love song after all. I like Baxter's wistful steel guitar combined with Fagan's piano. In short, the song should have been another hit for them.

Countdown To Ecstasy is not a bad place to start a Steely Dan collection despite the dearth of hits, and for those who already like them, this album definitely does not disappoint. Musically the band is very much in top form as it deftly handles through the twists and turns of this eclectic collection. And the lyrics, as eccentric as ever, are part of the fun. I think this is quietly one of Steely Dan's best albums.

Rating: A-

User Rating: B+


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