Following the recent release of Steely Dan's debut album Can't Buy a Thrill in vinyl, audiophile vinyl, and hybrid stereo SACD formats, the jazz-rock heroes' second set will be receiving the same treatment. This Friday, May 26, Countdown to Ecstasy will be issued by Geffen/UMe on 180-gram black vinyl as remastered by Bernie Grundman at 33-1/3 RPM. A 200-gram, 45 RPM version on Ultra High-Quality Vinyl (UHQR) is already shipping from Acoustic Sounds with the SACD (playable on all CD players) due soon. All formats have been overseen by Donald Fagen.
Countdown to Ecstasy, produced by Gary Katz, arrived on ABC Records in July 1973. With the departure of vocalist David Palmer, the LP found the Dan operating as a tight five-piece band led by Fagen on lead vocals and keyboards, Walter Becker on electric bass, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter on lead guitar, Denny Dias on guitar, and Jim Hodder on drums and percussion. (Palmer was still credited on the album for his background vocals.) Becker and Fagen wrote in the liner notes to the 1998 reissue, "Countdown to Ecstasy is unique amongst the Steely Dan albums in that it is the only one written and arranged for a working ensemble. For this reason, the arrangements were influenced for the better by the known instrumental textures and musical personalities of the band itself, and also for the worse by the horror and prolonged ennui of the odious weekend outings forced on us by our manager during the very recording process itself."
Despite the songs being road-tested and written for the core band unit, the album nonetheless welcomed such guests as vibraphonist/marimba player Victor Feldman and string bassist Ray Brown (both of whom can be heard on the jazz/bossa-inspired "Razor Boy"), Rick Derringer on slide guitar (featured on "Show Biz Kids"), saxophonists including Ernie Watts and Johnny Rotella (showcased on "My Old School"), and background vocalists Sherlie Matthews, Myrna Matthews, and Patricia Hall; the trio added mightily to both "My Old School" and "Show Biz Kids." While Countdown to Ecstasy isn't as overtly jazz-influenced as later albums such as Aja would be, Fagen and Becker's love of the genre shines through whether via the subtle textures of "Razor Boy" or the updated bop sound of "Your Gold Teeth." The Dan could rock out, too, as on the showstopping "Bodhisattva" or the sly "My Old School" with its jagged guitars, but their lyrical wit, quirky worldview, and expansive musical sensibility always won the day.
Though critical plaudits were quick to come, Countdown to Ecstasy wasn't an instant commercial success; it was eventually certified Gold. "Show Biz Kids" and "My Old School" both charted in the 60s on the Hot 100 but are today among the Dan's best-loved songs.
Bernie Grundman has mastered from the original analog tapes. Lacquers for UMe's standard 33 1/3 RPM 180-gram version will be cut by Alex Abrash at AA Mastering from high-resolution digital files of Grundman's new masters and pressed at Precision. The LPs will be housed in reproductions of the original artwork. The UHQR version is housed in a lavish box set and pressed at Analogue Productions' Quality Record Pressings on 200-gram Clarity Vinyl. It includes a booklet delving into the process of making a UHQR along with a certificate of inspection. Each UHQR is pressed using hand-selected vinyl.
UMe's 180-gram reissue of Countdown to Ecstasy is due on May 26, with further Steely Dan releases to follow later this year. You'll find the track listing and pre-order links below.
Steely Dan, Countdown to Ecstasy (ABC LP ABCX-779, 1973 - reissued UMe, 2023)
- Razor Boy
- The Boston Rag
- Your Gold Teeth
- Show Biz Kids
- My Old School
- Pearl of the Quarter
- King of the World