Acoustic Sounds

Steely Dan

Countdown to Ecstasy



Label: Analogue Productions/Geffen Records

Produced By: Gary Katz

Engineered By: Roger Nichols

Mixed By: Roger Nichols

Mastered By: Bernie Grundman

Lacquers Cut By: Bernie Grundman

By: Michael Fremer

December 29th, 2022





Do These Guys Look like They're Counting Down to Ecstasy?

the Dan's second album was recorded " a desultory, haphazard fashion."

Other than Donald Fagen, the boys hanging in the studio control room in the back jacket photo look either pissed (Denny Dias), mildly bemused and/or disgusted (Walter Becker), or completely stoned and/or exhausted (Jeff "Skunk" Baxter). Drummer Jim Hodder, too far from the camera to read and noticeably isolated physically from the others, would soon exit the band after being pushed out of the drummer seat by Jim Gordon and Jeff Porcaro on the third album Pretzel Logic. "Thing", with fingers on the board was probably played by engineer Roger Nichols.

Fagen, hands on hips with an enigmatic and/or mildly disgusted expression on his face, appears to be the man in charge telling photographer Ed Caraeff with his stance, "When you get what you need leave, we have an album to finish." Whatever was up when the photo was taken, creating a coherent group image was not on the agenda. If there's meaning behind the red buttons—especially the single one off by Hodder's leg— and the glowing butt in the ashtray, not to mention the orange "thing" on the board in the foreground, in the otherwise black and white photo, Fagen didn't reveal it in his notes written for this UHQR release.

What Fagen does reveal in his often hilarious annotation is that the album was recorded "in a desultory, haphazard fashion", following an expanded touring schedule "devised by corporate devils" at a time when the band was an opener, not a headliner. "A lot of the material was worked out in front of audiences whose responses ranged from enthusiastic, to medium hostile to deeply apathetic."

This was/is hardly a celebratory album, though it begins with a intensely uptempo and severely retro-30's dance era Lindy-hop tune with the mysterious Indian name. We didn't have Google in 1973 and a trip to the library to look up "Bodhisattva" was out of the question, but even after finding out it referred to someone who could reach nirvana but delays it out of compassion for others, what did that have to do with the lyrics? Fagen reveals in the notes here that swing era musicians used the term to refer to "flag waver" up tempo numbers intended to wake up audiences. "It came in real handy during the Qualude era," he adds. Listening to Dias and Baxter duel it out made it easy to ignore pondering the lyrics about selling a house in town and shining in your Japan.

Things go south from there to a song about loss courtesy of a knife wielding criminal, and women behind bars followed by a Boston reminiscence dated 1965, though "Lady Bayside" is from Queens where Becker grew up and 7th Avenue is in Manhattan so that leaves you with a drug kingpin Lonnie, who was messing with the narrator's girlfriend and who either tried to get blotto or kill himself. Good times!

"Show Biz Kids" is a classic kiss off of the L.A., scene written by disaffected East Coasters, propelled by Rick Derringer's gritty slide guitar. How an Ohio county fair (Guernsey fair) fits in here or the Washington zoo for that matter is something Fagen didn't explain in his notes. Doesn't matter. The starkly autobiographical and joyous tale of a drug bust "My Old School" is an album emotionally liberating high point, with "35 sweet goodbyes" an apparent oral sex reference and "daddy Gee" a reference to G. Gordon Liddy, who, at the time prosecuted the bust. The album closes with a New Orleans-based "I fell in love with a hooker" song and the darkly ironic "King of the World" about a survivor of a nuclear war. Good times!

The album is filled with stellar guitar riffs, catchy, jazz-inflected, toe-tapping rhythms and fills, and as on the debut, help from jazz friends like, once again, Victor Feldman on percussion, Ray Brown on bass ("Razor Boy") and on "My Old School", a sax choir of Lanny Morgan, Bill Perkins, Ernie Watts and John Rotella playing an arrangement by the late, great Jimmie Haskell (I worked with him on "Animalympics"). What a pleasure. The group sound was more fully focused thanks to touring as was the songwriting duo's lyrical dark streak aimed at losers and the marginalized as well as their well-aimed cultural swipes.

It will annoy some the that a 40 minute album has been spread to 4 sides at 45rpm but remember that's how the contract was offered as a "take it or leave it" deal and Analogue Productions chose to take it. I compared this costly reissue to a black label ABC Records original as well as a 1980 Japanese reissue (VIM-4043). The original scores "fresh tape" points in the higher frequencies, the new UHQR easily betters the original on bottom as well as in terms of image focus and drop dead black backgrounds.

The mix is relatively dry. The Japanese reissue sounds more like the UHQR than it does the original in terms of clarity and bass weight, but it's clearly a generation down, with a somewhat flat perspective. If you can't easily and cleanly hear the left channel triangle on "Razor Boy" your system needs some work. Roger Nichols's tight and "in the pocket" mix serves the music more than it provides a "sonic spectacular".

A newly produced full color laminated "one sheet" gives you both master tape boxes showing them to be 30 IPS Dolby masters and not EQ'd copies. This after years of hearing and reading that Nichols had digitized the tapes and then for "safe keeping" destroyed them, or that they were destroyed in the UMG fire.

The UHQR packaging is of course Stoughton Press "Tip-on" laminated deluxe with lyrics on the inside gatefold with some pithy Fagen commentary. While some UHQRs are revelatory, this one compared to the original and Japanese is merely better overall, but it's sure to buy a thrill for Dan hard core devotees who will now own the definitive edition. Limited to 20,000 numbered copies housed in the familiar premium slipcase with wooden dowel spine.

Music Specifications

Catalog No: UHQR 0010-45

Pressing Plant: Quality Record Pressings


Speed/RPM: 45

Weight: 200 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Source: original master tapes

Presentation: Multi LP


  • 2022-12-30 02:05:56 PM

    Anthony J Russo wrote:

    An eight for music / sound for that for that price. Talk about a Royal scam lol. I would be better if the UHQR was released in a 33 1/3 version and in a gatefold. Saving us on money and the world on natural resources. I will pick up the OBI pressing thanks M

    • 2022-12-30 06:27:31 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      The recording is no better than an 8. But as a reissue it would get a 10 meaning it's as good as it can possibly sound....

  • 2022-12-31 01:00:23 AM

    David wrote:

    This may be my favourite Steely Dan record because it was my first. Subsequent records were different but I don’t think they ever quite matched this one in terms of a variety of interesting tunes. The Royal Scam comes close and maybe Pretzel Logic.

  • 2022-12-31 01:22:42 AM

    AlGreen wrote:

    Here is as a good a place as any to say this: The writing and editing of Tracking Angle is far better than that of a certain other site. I say this as a reader and as a former magazine editor. I cringe when I read a certain other site editor insert himself into every writer's story with a parenthetical comment, apparently believing himself to be far funnier and more interesting than the author alone. Michael and his team are pros through and through.

  • 2022-12-31 02:18:35 AM

    Danny wrote:

    I got this last week, and listened front to back. I was not very impressed with the sound. It still sounds better than the MCA 1980-ish copy I have. I suspected this wasn't a great recording to begin with, but I always think AP does the best with what they have to work with. Glad to see your rating, Michael. Thought my ears were going.

  • 2023-01-02 05:47:19 AM

    Analog Man wrote:

    If that 4th Japanese issue VIM-4043 from 1980 sounds closer to the UHQR than the Original it would be interesting to hear a comparison of the 1st Japanese issue IPP-80872 from 1973.

  • 2023-01-11 02:07:47 AM

    Zimmer74 wrote:

    Just listened to my copy, certainly the best release in my experience. 8 for sound, okay, but 8 for music? You cannot be serious! 11, at least! I remember back in the mid-70s, it took me awhile to warm up to the Dan, but they were the house band on WBCN, and soon I was all in. This album and Pretzel Logic are my favorites; the later albums were great too, but increasingly arty and self-conscious. Bodhisattva, wow; for the record, Japan is an original word for lacquer, hence the lyric “shine of your Japan. “

    • 2023-01-28 01:26:08 AM

      Rob wrote:

      Absolutely a 10 or 11 for the music, absolutely brilliant overall. One of my three favorite Dan albums, first Royal Scam, second Pretzel Logic, and third this one, but all extraordinary, and none actually inferior to the others, just personal preferences. Perhaps not revelatory for UHQR, but for a Steely Dan fanatic such as myself, still obviously worth the expense.

  • 2023-01-29 03:41:15 PM

    Steve wrote:

    Triangle? You mean Victor Feldman's marimba?

    • 2023-02-08 03:14:03 PM

      Erik wrote:

      Hard to confuse a marimba with a triangle! The latter is very audible in the last 30 seconds of the song. Great album: it jostles with PL for my most-played Dan album, though I'm also very fond of CBaT. As with many (most?) bands, the early work is best: fresher and livelier.

  • 2023-02-13 05:48:10 PM

    bwb wrote:

    interesting that the other site MF used to run has this as a 10/10. I think I will wait a while before jumping on the $150 bandwagon since I see so many sealed copies (36+) on Discogs for sale. With 20,000 copies of each and 30,000 of Aja it looks like the speculators/flippers are going to get stuck with some inventory. Curious that people list them for $500+ when you can still buy a new one, and they may never sell out.

  • 2023-04-07 04:33:44 PM

    Rick Ayre wrote:

    Now more than ever: