Steely Dan- Countdown to Ecstasy 50th Anniversary- Donald Fagen, Walter Becker

So was Steely Dan’s debut success in 1972 with Can’t Buy a Thrill, spinning off two Top 15 hits and impressive Top 20 sales, a blessing or a curse when it came time, less than a year later, to follow it up with Countdown to Ecstasy? My guests Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker were too smart to get trapped into a simple binary answer, seeing some of concessions to the all-powerful Top 40 radio of the day on the earlier project simply as a means to an end: getting a multi-album deal on a major label where they could compose and arrange for their own band of players with serious chops.

Like Electric Light Orchestra’s Eldorado in the same period, Countdown to Ecstasy by Steely Dan was more sophisticated, more musically adventurous than my limited taste had developed yet fifty years ago, so my appreciation of both albums grew as the years progressed, and ultimately I came to have a growing love affair with each of them. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker looked back over the period when they wrote for their thoroughbreds in the live touring band, including dual guitarists Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and Denny Dias, on songs such as the bebop-meets-rock”Bodhisattva”; the exquisite Latin-rhythmed, vibe-laden, pedal steel-twangin’ “Razor Boy”; the tasty refrain of “The Boston Rag”; the incomprehensible background vocal mantra of “Show Biz Kids”; and the celebratory guitar and horn section workout for “My Old School”. More cowbell! –Redbeard