Steely Dan 1972. Five jaded guys from Gotham City going west to find the American Dream, only to find Los Angeles, where, as they say, you can’t buy a thrill. Lo and behold, what do they find there in the promised land but two smash singles, a gold album and (drum roll) success.
Steely Dan 1973. Countdown To Ecstasy is upon us with another dose of mainstream rock & roll, restating the basic themes of Can’t Buy a Thrill, but this time concentrating a bit more on the rocking side of their style, best exemplified by “Reelin’ in the Years.” Kicking off with “Bodhisattva,” they move out. A hard-driving guitar exchanging leads with Donald Fagan’s straightforward keyboards on top of a pulsating bass — it’s honest to beejeevies rock & roll!! Two rather nondescript ditties follow and then they rock on for 7:30 on “Your Golden Teeth.” This time, with the mildly Latino beat of “Do It Again,” the Steelies strike gold and really boogie; nothing too original, but they combine a wealth of mid-Sixties rock influences in a palatable way.
Side two opens with an absolutely insane chorale called “Show Biz Kids.” The chorus is similar to the hypnotic chants from Nilsson’s “Put the Lime in the Coconut,” and this effort is every bit as successful, as its lyrical inanity is completely overwhelmed by the sheer enthusiasm put forth by the players and singers. “My Old School” is another exuberant exercise in the toe-tappin’ and foot-stompin’ that just seems to be the natural byproduct of this group. Though their playing is hardly unique and their singing is occasionally hampered by patently ridiculous lyrics, they exhibit a control of the basic rock format that is refreshing and that bodes well for the group’s longterm success.
In fact, it is this ability to play four- to five-minute rock songs in a jaunty, up-tempo fashion without becoming redundant or superfluous that may well make Steely Dan the American dance-band alternative to Slade. Countdown To Ecstasy is far from an ambitious’ statement of a progressive musical philosophy; in fact, one could perhaps argue that the Steelies have found a formula and are exploiting it. Well, for my part, if it takes exploitation of a formula to get the dilettantes and the glitter boys back to playing rock & roll, then I’ll go back, Jack, and do it again, with Steely Dan.