The Nightfly

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The Nightfly
Donald Fagen - The Nightfly.jpg
Studio album by Donald Fagen
Released October 29, 1982
Recorded 1981-82
Soundworks Digital Audio/Video Recording Studios, N.Y., Village Recorders, L.A. and Automated Sound, N.Y
Genre Soft rock, jazz rock
Length 38:46
Label Warner Bros.
Producer Gary Katz
Donald Fagen chronology
The Nightfly

The Nightfly is the first solo album by Steely Dan co-founder Donald Fagen, released in 1982. It was an early example of a fully digital recording in popular music.[1] Although The Nightfly includes a number of production staff and musicians who had played on Steely Dan records, it is Fagen's first release without longtime collaborator Walter Becker.

Unlike most of Fagen's previous work, The Nightfly is almost blatantly autobiographical.[2] Many of the songs relate to the cautiously optimistic mood of his suburban childhood in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and include such topics as late-night jazz disc jockeys, fallout shelters, and tropical vacations.

The Nightfly was certified Platinum in both the US and UK, and produced two popular hits with "I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)" and "New Frontier". It also received several 1983 Grammy Award nominations. This relatively low-key but long-lived popularity led The Wall Street Journal in 2007 to dub the album "one of pop music's sneakiest masterpieces."[2]



A message in the liner notes of The Nightfly reads: "Note: The songs on this album represent certain fantasies that might have been entertained by a young man growing up in the remote suburbs of a northeastern city during the late fifties and early sixties, i.e., one of my general height, weight and build. - D.F."[2]

Recording sessions[edit]

The Nightfly was recorded in 1981-82 at Soundworks Digital Audio/Video Recording Studios and Automated Sound in New York City, and at Village Recorders in Los Angeles. The producer was Gary Katz and the album engineer was Roger Nichols; both men had worked on all seven of the previous Steely Dan albums. Many of the musicians had also played on Steely Dan records, including Jeff Porcaro, Rick Derringer and Larry Carlton. Similar to the Aja and Gaucho albums, a large number of studio musicians were employed, with the liner notes crediting a total 31 musicians.[3]


The album's cover artwork features a photo of Donald Fagen as a disc jockey, wearing a collared shirt and tie, speaking into a RCA 77DX microphone. In front of him is a turntable (16 inch '50s model, with a Para-Flux A-16 tonearm), an ashtray, and a pack of Chesterfield King cigarettes. Visible on the table with the record player, is the cover of the 1958 jazz album Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders (credited in the liner notes). On the wall behind is a large clock, indicating that the time is 4:09.

Gale Sasson and Vern Yenor are credited with the cover's set design. George Delmerico acted as art director, and the picture was taken by noted art photographer James Hamilton. The Wall Street Journal writes, "The cover adds another layer of autobiography. On the front, we see Mr. Fagen as a crew-cut deejay on the graveyard shift. On the back is his audience, a single lighted window in a row of tract homes -- or maybe the artist as a young man, drinking in inspiration."[2]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4.5/5 stars[3]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 4/5 stars[4]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[5]
Smash Hits 8/10[6]
Uncut 9/10[7]
The Village Voice A[8]


The Nightfly was met with almost universally positive reviews. Rolling Stone,[5] The Village Voice[8] and Uncut[7][9] all gave the album high marks. Jason Ankeny of AllMusic rated The Nightfly at 4.5 out of a possible 5 stars, calling it "lush and shimmering, produced with cinematic flair by Gary Katz; romanticized but never sentimental... crafted with impeccable style and sophistication."[3]

In February 2010, Vatican City's L'Osservatore Romano selected The Nightfly as one of its official Top 10 Albums.[10] EQ Magazine rated The Nightfly as among the Top 10 Best Recorded Albums of All Time, alongside The Beatles's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds.[1]

Sales charts[edit]

The Nightfly reached the #11 position on the US Billboard Charts, and the #24 position on the US Billboard R&B charts.[3] In the UK, the album was certified Platinum in 2004, despite reaching only #44 on the charts. It has since also gone Platinum in America.[citation needed]

"New Frontier" video[edit]

In 1982 "New Frontier" was issued as a single and as a CDV maxi single. The video was produced, for Cucumber Studios, by Annabel Jankel and was directed by Rocky Morton.[11] The song centred on an early-1960s teenager enticing his girlfriend into spending a romantic weekend with him in his family's backyard fallout shelter. AllMusic said of the video for the song that it was "widely considered one of the great videos of the early MTV era." Fagen appears only in a poster seen in the video, underscoring him as the anti-celebrity.[12]


Legacy in the digital music community[edit]

Paul White, editor-in-chief of Sound on Sound magazine, said The Nightfly "is always a good reference for checking out monitoring systems and shows what good results could be obtained from those early digital recording systems in the right hands."[13] In addition to its use in recording studio tests, Clive Young of Pro Sound News called Fagen's I.G.Y. the "Free Bird" of pro audio, claiming that almost every live sound engineer uses the song to test the front-of-house system's sound response.[14]

Cover versions[edit]

A number of prominent artists have covered songs from The Nightfly. Howard Jones covered "I.G.Y." on his 1983 album The Best of Howard Jones, while Mel Tormé included "The Goodbye Look" on his 1988 album Mel Tormé and the Marty Paich Dektette – Reunion, as well as recording "Walk Between the Raindrops" on another album. Tormé also reportedly covered "Maxine" at some of his live shows in the 1980s.[15] John Pizzarelli covered both "Raindrops" and Fagen's arrangement of Leiber and Stoller's "Ruby Baby" on his 2012 album Double Exposure.

Track listing[edit]

All songs by Donald Fagen, except where noted

  1. "I.G.Y." – 6:03
  2. "Green Flower Street" – 3:42
  3. "Ruby Baby" (Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, arranged by Donald Fagen) - 5:38
  4. "Maxine" - 3:50
  5. "New Frontier" - 6:23
  6. "The Nightfly" - 5:45
  7. "The Goodbye Look" - 4:47
  8. "Walk Between Raindrops" - 2:38

Bonus tracks, from The Nightfly Trilogy MVI Boxed Set[edit]

  1. "True Companion" – 5:09
  2. "Green Flower Street (Live)" – 4:24
  3. "Century's End" – 5:31



  • Producer: Gary Katz
  • Engineers: Daniel Lazerus, Roger Nichols, Elliot Scheiner
  • Assistant engineers: Robin Lane, Mike Morongell, Cheryl Smith, Wayne Yurgelun
  • Mixing: Elliot Scheiner
  • Mastering: Bob Ludwig
  • Digital editing assistant: Mike Morongell, Wayne Yurgelun
  • Project assistant: Ginger Dettman, Steve Pokorny, Steve Woolard
  • Tracking: Elliot Scheiner
  • Authoring: David Dieckmann, George Lydecker
  • Sequencing: Roger Nichols
  • Overdub engineer: Daniel Lazerus
  • Design: Greg Allen
  • Art direction: Greg Allen, George Delmerico
  • Liner notes: Donald Fagen
  • Editorial supervision: Cory Frye
  • Photography: James Hamilton
  • Screen design: Andrew Thomas


The Nightfly was reissued on various disc formats four times in recent years, each time with a multichannel mix: on DVD-Audio in 2002, on DualDisc in 2004, on MVI in 2007 and on hybrid multichannel SACD in The Warner Premium Sound series by Warner Japan in 2011.[17][18]

The DualDisc has the CD version of the album on the first side, and the DVD-Audio version on the opposite side.[17] This edition is rare—it was among a group of 15 DualDisc releases that were test-marketed in just two cities, Boston and Seattle, and was never reissued after the very limited test market run.



Year Chart Position
1982 Black[citation needed] Albums 24
1982 Pop Albums 11
1982 UK Album Chart 44


Year Single Chart Position
1982 "I.G.Y." Adult Contemporary 8
1982 "I.G.Y." Black[citation needed] Singles 54
1982 "I.G.Y." Mainstream Rock 17
1982 "I.G.Y." Pop Singles 26
1983 "New Frontier" Adult Contemporary 34
1983 "New Frontier" Pop Singles 70


  1. ^ a b Bad Monkey X article: "Donald Fagen: The Nightfly."
  2. ^ a b c d Wall Street Journal article: ""'The Nightfly' Still Lives at 25" by Robert J. Toth].
  3. ^ a b c d Ankeny, Jason. "The Nightfly – Donald Fagen". AllMusic. Retrieved July 29, 2015. 
  4. ^ Larkin, Colin (2006). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music 10 (4th ed.). ISBN 0195313739. 
  5. ^ a b Fricke, David (November 25, 1982). "Donald Fagen: The Nightfly". Rolling Stone (383). Archived from the original on May 9, 2006. Retrieved July 29, 2015. 
  6. ^ Hepworth, David (November 11, 1982). "The Nightfly". Smash Hits: 41. 
  7. ^ a b Uhelszki, Jaan (December 2012). "How to buy Donald Fagen". Uncut. 
  8. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (November 2, 1982). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved March 3, 2012. 
  9. ^ Scoppa, Bud (February 28, 2012). "Donald Fagen – Nightfly Trilogy". Uncut. Archived from the original on July 26, 2008. Retrieved March 3, 2012. 
  10. ^ Squires, Nick (February 14, 2010). "Vatican picks the Beatles and Oasis among its top ten albums". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved May 25, 2010. 
  11. ^ "Donald Fagen - New Frontier (CDV) at Discogs". Retrieved November 7, 2015. 
  12. ^ Rockdog (2012-11-15). "Eighties Rare Videos: Donald Fagen - New Frontier". Retrieved November 7, 2015. 
  13. ^ BBC: Big George's Business of Sound - Industry Interview: Paul White
  14. ^ "Prosoundnetwork Blogs - The "Freebird" of Pro Audio". Retrieved March 3, 2012. 
  15. ^ Steely Dan Interviews: "Interviews - Ben Sidran On Record, interview with Donald Fagen, Part 2. WHA Madison, WI.
  16. ^ "The Nightfly". Retrieved November 7, 2015. 
  17. ^ a b "Donald Fagen - The Nightfly re-releases"
  18. ^ "More Warner albums coming to SACD 5.1"

External links[edit]