July 1973: Steely Dan Releases "Countdown to Ecstasy"

UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 20: RAINBOW THEATRE Photo of STEELY DAN and Donald FAGEN, Donald Fagen performing on stage (Photo by David Warner Ellis/Redferns)
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(David Warner Ellis/Redferns)

Steely Dan hit the music scene like a sarcastic smart-bomb with the release of 1972 debut, Can't Buy a Thrill. Featuring such chart hits a "Do It Again" and "Reelin' in the Years," the album crashed the top 20 to peak at #17 on the Billboard charts.

RELATED: February 1974: Steely Dan Releases "Pretzel Logic"

When it came time for the group to return with sophomore effort, Countdown to Ecstasy, Walter Becker, Donald Fagen and company were tasked with creating new tunes that would play well on the road. Working on the new songs, singer David Palmer was odd man out and soon was no longer in the band.

“He was a good singer for us early on,” Fagen said later (via Best Classic Bands), “but he didn’t really have the attitude to put the songs over. So, I started doing it myself, much to my chagrin. It seems to have worked out.”

A new sophistication seeped into the music, which apparently alienated many of the listeners turned on by Can't But A Thrill. The first single from the album, "Show Biz Kids," stalled at #61 on the Hot 100 at the end of August 1973. Another attempt at a single, "My Old School" peaked at #63.

Still, critics loved the release, lavishing it with praise as a bold new direction in rock. Allmusic.com's assessment is that Countdown to Ecstasy is "rich with either musical or lyrical detail that their album rock or art rock contemporaries couldn't hope to match." Across the pond in the England, BBC Music raved that Steely Dan was "setting a benchmark that few have ever matched."

Countdown to Ecstasy made a decent chart run for a record that seemed to fly over the heads of many 1973 music fans. Released in July 1973, the LP peaked at #35 for the week of September 22, 1973. The #1 album in America that week: The Allman Brothers Band's Brothers and Sisters.

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