The Nightfly At Twenty-Five

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"The Nightfly," Donald Fagen's 1982 album, has shown enough staying power to get an anniversary edition from Reprise Records. The inescapable album draws on obscure corners of American pop for its musical settings.

One of pop music's sneakiest masterpieces has turned 25.

Often, an album rises from regular best-seller to classic status because it captures the temper of its times. "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," for instance, simply sounds like 1967, trippy and disarrayed. But "The Nightfly," the 1982 album from songwriter Donald Fagen, gives that standard a twist. Instead of evoking the early '80s, Mr. Fagen captures a different time -- the Eisenhower and Kennedy years, when America was starting to simmer but the '60s hadn't arrived in earnest. Along the way, he pulls off an unmatched bit of alchemy, blending satire and affection without letting one overwhelm the other.

If the album doesn't ring a bell, don't worry. "The Nightfly" has sold more than a million copies and shown enough staying power to get a soup-to-nuts anniversary edition in November from Reprise Records. Yet it never quite made itself inescapable. If you've heard one of the songs, it was probably either "I.G.Y.," a catalog of World's Fair forecasts about the future, or "New Frontier," a frantic, jazzy number about a "summer smoker underground" in a fallout shelter.

You might also know Mr. Fagen, who has a long history of misdirection. As the front man for the band Steely Dan, he co-wrote a decade's worth of hits that hid snarky lyrics under silky harmonies and slick musicianship. "The Nightfly," which arrived a couple of years after the band broke up, was something else altogether. For once, Mr. Fagen stopped being cryptic and opened up to his audience.
[From 'The Nightfly' Still Lives at 25]

I've read about this album for years, but have never actually heard it. One of these days, one of these days.

(Digg-enabled full access to complete article here)

1 Comment

I wrote an entire novel while listening to nothing but this album and only one song, "The Good-bye Look," ended up in the story. And I still listen to this album.

I want the other two that I just found out about that go with it. They're in the Amazon cart for...someday. I think Eric Alterman was saying good things about them. I don't always agree with Eric, but he's probably right about these CDs.

So much music, so little time.

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on January 9, 2008 11:12 AM.

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