Steely Dan – Countdown to Ecstasy

Not entirely sure if that is water damage or part of the painting.


I bought Countdown to Ecstasy last year at She Said Boom on Roncesvalles. I bought it with a store credit I’d had sitting in my wallet ever since I sold them all my Friday the 13th DVDs because my wife is a scaredy cat who would never watch them with me and watching Friday the 13th movies alone isn’t fun enough to merit owning seven of them. Maybe I should have held out to see if my daughter ends up liking horror movies, but I made my choice and I’m going to have to live with it.

I don’t know a lot about the Steely Dan brain trust, apart from them seeming to be total pervs (but we’ll save that for the Gaucho write up), but I get the impression that the lyric “Bodhisattva, won’t you take me by the hand,” as well as the deceptively simple (until it isn’t) blues progression that anchors the track “Bodhisattva,” are both taking the piss. I never thought of it before, but Steely Dan is the spiritual forebear to Jim O’Rourke’s singer-songwriter material. Clever, judgemental, effortful, and more than just a little pleased with itself.

The first side of Countdown to Ecstasy has a jammier feel to it than the other Steely Dan records I’m familiar with. Much bluesier guitar tone than the hyper-slick rounded tone from what I would consider their better albums.

“Show Biz Kidz” rolls out like a cynical, L.A.-based, variation on Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut.” The poor are poor, the rich don’t give a fuck and there’s no doctor to call up to relieve that bellyache.

The piano-lead “My Old School” is a wonderful, horn laden, up-tempo FM radio tune. Sounds halfway between Todd Rundgren and Billy Joel. This is one of my favourite Steely Dan songs. Love the melody. Love the horn lines. Love the group vocals on the chorus. Love the steady drum beat that runs through the entire length of the song.

It’s funny with Steely Dan. I first came to them sometime around 2004 with their debut album Can’t Buy a Thrill. I love that album and it lead me to explore some of their other records when I found them for cheap. And I loved those records, too. Steely Dan is one of those bands that is always at the fore of my mind when I’m thinking of something to put on the record player. But 12 years later and I still only have four Steely Dan records. Countdown to Ecstasy, the aforementioned Can’t Buy a Thrill, Aja, and Gaucho. I have a mental block with this band where I’m afraid that the next album I check out will stink. Like I’m playing Press Your Luck with the Steely Dan catalogue and know it’s only a matter of time before I hit a Whammy. It’s a mental trick that I play on myself sometimes that keeps me from potentially discovering some of my favourite records. Like, Pretzel Logic is probably good, right?

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Favourite song: My Old School

 

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