STEELY DAN — Countdown to Ecstasy

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STEELY DAN - Countdown to Ecstasy cover
4.40 | 19 ratings | 6 reviews
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Album · 1973

Filed under RnB


A1 Bodhisattva 5:20
A2 Razor Boy 3:11
A3 The Boston Rag 5:41
A4 Your Gold Teeth 7:02
B1 Show Biz Kids 5:26
B2 My Old School 5:47
B3 Pearl Of The Quarter 3:50
B4 King Of The World 5:05

Total Time: 41:12


- Ben Benay /Acoustic Guitar
- David Palmer /Backing Vocals
- James Rolleston /Backing Vocals
- Michael Fenelly /Backing Vocals
- Myrna Matthews /Backing Vocals
- Patricia Hall /Backing Vocals
- Royce Jones /Backing Vocals
- Sherlie Matthews /Backing Vocals
- Walter Becker /Bass Guitar, Harmonica, Vocals
- Jim Hodder /Drums, Percussion, Vocals
- Denny Dias /Guitar, Mixed By [Stereo Mixmaster General]
- Jeff "Skunk" Baxter /Guitar, Steel Guitar
- Donald Fagen /Piano, Electric Piano, Synthesizer, Vocals
- Victor Feldman /Vibraphone, Marimba, Percussion

About this release

ABC Records – ABCX-779 (US)

Recorded At The Village Recorder & Caribou Ranch

Thanks to snobb for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

The first time I heard "Countdown to Ecstasy" it stopped me dead in my tracks. It satisfied every aspect of my sensibilities both as a musician and as a music lover and it still does to this very moment. The difference between this album and their pop-oriented debut is like night and day. So much for the sophomore jinx! In most cases bands use up all their best material for their music biz grand opening and have nothing to equal it on #2 but here the West Coast prog creations of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker reflected the mood of the disillusioned peace & love generation in a uniquely abstract and sublime way. The album and its compelling cover art is nothing short of brilliant. It is also the only one in their catalogue that was written and arranged for a working ensemble because the band as a performing entity would cease to exist after its release. It seems the group HATED touring with a passion and the fact that they had to interrupt their recording sessions to go play "Do It Again" on amusement park stages led to the unheard of decision (a secretly-made decision, at that, shared only between Don and Walt) to stop doing concerts altogether. Like The Beatles before them, they eventually abandoned the road to further explore their true calling as a pack of studio rats. But that would come to a head later on. This album was made in the heat of battle between artist and management and it bristles with raw energy because of that. If I'd been keeping a journal back in 1973 my entry would have been something along these lines: Dear Diary - From the moment Jim Hodder's naked drum strokes on "Bodhisattva" reached my ears I knew that this was something fresh and new to absorb. The onslaught of Denny Dias and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter's amazing triple guitar harmonies as they flew over the driving rock & roll beat below sealed the deal for me before Fagen even opened his mouth. What WAS this I was hearing? Then Donald sang "can you show me/the shine of your Japan/the sparkle of your China/can you show me?" and I was drawn into a Salvador Dali-like dimension with melting watches hanging off tree limbs and such. Skunk then delivered a hair-raising guitar solo followed by a call & answer segment with Fagen's cool synthesizer and I couldn't hoist my jaw up off the floor. This stunning track alone signified a radical departure from everything they had shown me before and I am hooked. These guys are for real.

Was I impressed? Ya think? Thus began a lifelong affection for most everything Steely Dan manufactured and now my hope is that others who may not know of their charms and only think of them as the guys who did "Hey Nineteen" will venture into their fascinating world with an open mind. Now back to the review.

Next up is the piano and vibraphone-colored "Razor Boy" as it glides atop a swaying jazz rhythm. It has a very unconventional and intriguing chord structure that even Baxter's lazy steel guitar can't take away from. Here Fagen's charismatic voice creates its one-of-a-kind timbre as his stacked three-part harmonies give the tune a distinct flavor that will resonate throughout the rest of their career. My interpretation of the lyric is that he's referring to a girl's drug habit when he sings "I guess only women in cages/can play down the things they lose/you think no tomorrow will come/when you lay down/you can't refuse." Chilling. That's followed by the awesomeness that is "The Boston Rag," just one of the many sparkling gems included in this album. It has a very open-minded, dynamic arrangement with Donald's vocal giving it his indelible stamp as he delivers a bittersweet view of a man's reckless youth with lines like "Lonnie swept the playroom/and he swallowed up all he found/it was 48 hours till/Lonnie came around." The middle section builds up gracefully as the guitar swirls around it like a wild vine. What a great song.

The playful "Your Gold Teeth" has a swift, jazzy groove that won't quit and the complex melody lines streaking across its face are breathtaking. It's about avoiding the lure of a flirtatious lady. "Your fortune is your raving eye/your mouth and legs/your gift for the runaround/torture is the main attraction/I don't need that kind of action," Fagen sings. The bridge is about as different as is imaginable and the sly electric piano solo trailed by another stellar guitar ride is excellent. This is Jazz/Rock fusion coming at you from a completely foreign angle. And, speaking of oddities, "Show Biz Kids" just may be the most unusual and simple track they've ever recorded. Its mantra-like, droning edginess coupled with guest Rick Derringer's dangerous slide guitar makes for a song that has no reason to be as delightful as it is. A scathing dissection of the L.A. star scene with words such as "show business kids making movies of themselves/you know they don't give a f**k about anybody else" accompanied by a chorus of "lost wages," this belongs in a class unto itself.

Did I say class? "My Old School" is magnificent from start to finish. Despite having to compete with a devastating horn arrangement (courtesy of Jimmie Haskell) and performance, Skunk literally steals the show with his blazing guitar licks as he slashes and dashes in and out of the crisp horn accents striking like lightning all around him. It's one for the ages. The tune's sarcastic look at memories of a heartbreak reads like beat poetry. "Oleanders growing outside your door/soon they're gonna be in bloom up in Annandale/I can't stand her/doing what she did before/living like a gypsy queen in a fairy tale." The fabulous horn run after the "California tumbles into the sea" line is pure genius and when they turn Baxter loose on the fadeout he becomes a maniac on the fretboard. Yowza! After that barnburner a change of pace is in order and the gentle "Pearl of the Quarter" fits in nicely. This song about a man being in love with a New Orleans hooker is a much more "normal" number but engaging nonetheless in spite of another dose of whiny steel guitar.

The album closer, "King of the World," is spectacular jazzy rock. It's one of the best post-apocalyptic tunes ever written because it never submerges into maudlin territory. The last guy on earth is just looking for company. "If you come around/no more pain and no regrets/watch the sun go brown/smoking cobalt cigarettes/there's no need to hide/taking things the easy way/if I stay inside/I might live till Saturday." The seamless track cruises along effortlessly before the arresting middle section pops up like a surprise party. In the end the melodic synthesizer line slinks across the ever- moving chord pattern like a snake in the sand and the guitar solo weaves a hypnotic tapestry in the fading light.

In the very entertaining liner notes included with the '98 remastered version Fagen and Becker tell the story of showcasing the finished product for the label big wigs, "Hawaiian shirts, cigars and all." Expecting another pop blockbuster like the previous LP, they were sorely disappointed to hear what must have sounded like "German art music, or worse." Of course, that meant the album would have immense appeal to jazzers like me but not so to the public at large. It produced nary a hit single but FM radio ate it up (to my delight). One man's loss is another man's gain, as they say. If 90% of jazz/rock fusion comes from thinking outside the box then this is jazz/rock fusion in its very essence. This is the first of several masterpieces these talented visionaries would present to the world and one you should experience often.

This was the follow up "To Can't Buy a Thrill" and was released in 1973. Donald Fagen has taken over the lead vocals and David Palmer who also shared the lead duties on "Can't Buy a Thrill "is only doing backing vocals with numerous others listed on this album, "Countdown to Ectasy". The sound of the band has started to evolve and with this album there is a far more Jazz and Funk influence but still Rock primarily. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker share the song writing credits. The band is still the same with the omission of David Palmer from lead vocal duties. With Denny Dias, Jeff (Skunk )Baxter on guitars (pedal steel as well for Skunk), Walter Becker on Bass, Jim Hodder on drums and Donald Fagen doing lead vocals, keyboards and piano. Gary Katz is the Producer on this one as he is on all of their albums from this time, up to and including Gaucho. On the early albums of Steely Dan the contribution of the two guitarists is extraordinary with great solos and all round playing with that qiuck skippy jazz sound Denny Dias's style is and Jeff Baxters great solos that really make this album come alive.

There is not one bad track contained within this album and" Bodhisattva" is still performed in concert regulary with that great groove that it contains. Vibes are provided on the next track, Razor Boy by Victor Feldman and really gives the tune its distinct sound. Track 3. "The Boston Rag" was the least liked song for me when I first purchased this record way back when and has grown to be the standout for me with that slow drag feel and a wonderful guitar solo from "Skunk" Baxter. The jazz influence is all over the next track "Your Gold Teeth". "Show Biz Kids" is one rock,funk song that seems to stick in your head forever with the repeated line "While the poor people sleepin' with the shade on the light: While the poor people sleepin' all the stars come out at night". Great stuff

There were singles that were taken off the album in the U.S. but in Australia if they were issued they sure did not play them on the radio and the band was only found out by word of mouth or the odd rock paper or magazine at the time.

Another great Steely Dan record as all of them are from this period and the next album that they were to do, "Pretzel Logic" would really cement the bands position in rock as Steely Dan with that distinctive sound and style they had.

Masterpiece ? You Betcha

Members reviews

The sophomore act of SD presents a big step forward into a crossover/fusion territory, if compared with the debut. Compositions are a bit longer, better produced and developed with full advantages of the studio technology. The sound is impeccable - Fagen's voice is excellent in delivering those dark, twisted and cynical lyrics about Hippies' fake embrace of the Eastern philosophies ("Bodhisattva"), low life and misery of the American suburbia ("The Boston Rag", "Pearl of the Quarter", "Razor Boy") or the consequences of facing the images of American Dream ("Show Biz Kids").

The overall album is much darker than its predecessor while several songs are noticeably influenced by both progressive rock of the era and by classic jazz. Wonderful instrumental passages of Fagen's piano and amazing guitar work of Dias, Baxter and especially Derringer on "Show Biz Kids" are nothing short of masterpiece.

"Countdown to Ecstasy" also contains one of the most unusual songs I ever heard - "Show Biz Kids". Singing about lost wages in Las Vegas (female backing voices allegedly sing these lines in a rhythmic manner throughout the song), the song is complex but yet sound simple due to unchanged rhythm. There are many overdubbed layers on top of which rests the phenomenal slide guitar bursting out courtesy of the guest player Rick Derringer.

Even if you consider STEELY DAN too mainstream or song- oriented for your unique jazz/prog/avant collection, you should try with this album. The crooner-like ballad "Pearl of the Quarter" and pop-soul of the hit "My Old School" prevents me from giving full 5 stars.
A striking improvement over their debut, Steely Dan's Countdown to Ecstasy sees the duo of Becker and Fagen honing their cynical, often satirical wits and their songwriting abilities to produce a classic set of jazz-rock songs. The emphasis, as always, is on light rock with a few jazz elements creeping in here and there, but the sound they attain on this album will be of interest to most art rock afficionados. Standout tracks include the post-apocalyptic anthem King of the World and the infectious My Old School, and of course the famous Bodhisattva, which has the heaviest guitar playing of any Steely Dan song.
This is an album quite unlike any other in the Steely Dan catalogue. The band note wittily in the liner notes to the remaster that their label probably thought some German art music album had been thrust on them when they heard it.

Indeed, it sounds a lot more like the art rock of the time than any of their other albums. Listen to the keyboards just after the guitar solo on Boddhisatva or on King of the's a far cry from their generally careful adherence to what was acceptable sonically as per the mainstream norm.

Through their career, Steely Dan have mastered the art of experimenting audaciously within the narrow confines of mainstream rock and pop music (a song like Night by night is a prime example of this). But on this album, they actually do sound 'different' or 'weird' even to an inattentive pair of ears. If you think stuff like Quadrophenia is pushing off and would really get off with Fragile or Brain Salad Surgery, you will probably feel annoyed and irritated by parts of this album. But if you love that kind of stuff, chances are this turns out to be one of your favourite Steely Dan albums.

I largely agree with Sean Trane's assessment in the matter. The best Steely Dan lead guitar is concentrated on Royal Scam and Aja and Gaucho is chock full of lovely chord progressions so in that respect, Countdown to Ecstasy loses out in comparison because it rarely approaches THAT quality. However, it is a very solid effort with some of their best songs like My Old School or Boston Rag.
Sean Trane
SD's second album Countdown To Ecstasy is IMHO much closer to the band's potential and most likely closer to what the group viewed as their artistic direction. Recorded between bouts of touring in promotion of their hit debut album, CTE might have been even better a record had the time and money not run out. One thing is clear though, the reception of this album was not a commercial success, as there was no evident single and the album was less and longer songs allowing for good interplay between the solo instruments. The album's rather ugly artwork seems to point to a concept album or at least a dominant theme, but it doesn't jump in your face either. The group invited what was to become the usual crowd of suspects on a SD album including the guitarslinger Rick derringer on one track.

Starting on the rockiest and jazziest Bodhisattva track was certainly a surprise for anyone knowing its predecessor and its successor. Indeed while not perfect, mostly the drumming bothers me, it is quite a departure from the pop with its twin guitar attack that's obviously enjoying itself, leading to great moments of ideal interplay, while the vocals are plainly up-beat and enthralling. The even jazzier Razor Boy enjoys some typical jazz chords, enforced by vibraphones, but the only drawback is Skunk's lapsteel solo. Boston Rag has some of the more decent guitars and its middle section growing from a single piano chord gets an impressive progressive rebuilding to give us back the original tune, but this time with a menacing tone given by the guitars. The side-closing Gold Teeth is also the album's longest tune and has that typical up-tempoed Dan-esque feeling, a jazzy groove dictated by echoing piano chord, while Becker's bass is dancing around and Skunk pulls a superb solo in the mid-section.

The flipside starts on another guitar bonanza, this time led by Derringer's slide, while the repetitive back vocals underline both the verse and the solos and the marimba covering the bottom shelves and harmonica to end the tune; while it might be the album's would-be hit single, but on the previous or following album, it would've ruled every song there. My Old School is solid brass rock track, but while it does feature impeccable musical execution and very tight songwriting, its problem is residing in repetitive choirs and chorus. Definitely the album's weakest track, the country-sounding Pearl Of The Quarter is probably the only track on Countdown that might be called a filler, but it's probably one of the weakest SD track ever. It sticks out like a sore thumb on the album track list, but at least it's one of the shortest tunes of the present album. Closing up the debate is King Of The World, an Apocalyptic tale of the sole survivor, which sounds prog indeed, especially the cheap irritating synth sound that comes in halfway above the funky bass and guitars. Most likely their idea of a tongue-in-cheek humour they're capable of.

Don't get me wrong, despite being fairly different from the two albums sandwiching it, with CTE you're still unmistakably on a Steely Dan album, but a better more refined version even if the general feel is rawer and fresher, due to a more discreet production and a splurge of energy given the tense situation between the "group" and its management/label managers. While CTE is probably not of the calibre of their latter albums (Scam, Aja & Gaicho), it's certainly the album preferred by a vast majority of progheads (yours truly included) in their early "group" era. The only one of their early albums to gain the three stars, partly because they told the frigging music industry to screw themselves and took advantage of the little freedom that had been bestowed upon them.

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