Friday Night Jazz: The NightFly

Nightfly Here’s an interesting name for Friday Night Jazz: Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly.

The WSJ called The Nightfly "one of pop music’s sneakiest masterpieces" and I think that moniker fits well. The key to this is the music’s timeless quality. It was retro back in
1982, and over the years, has never grown to sound tired or even of a specific era. It remains fresh, even 25 years later.

Fagan is better known as the front half of Steely Dan — the other half being Walter Becker. In 1982, with Steely Dan "retired," Fagen released this disc as his solo debut album.

Not only did the CD win critical acclaim amongst the jazz and pop reviewers, but the disc delighted audiophiles of all stripes. You see, The Nightfly was one of the first fully digital recordings of popular music. Add to that the usual crisp, sleek production The Dan were famous for, and you have a recipe for a phenomenal recording.

A colleague who studied acoustics and audio engineering (and presently works as a documentary film director) notes the album is a favorite of touring bands. In each new venue for a concert, the CD used to "tune" the room almost universally is The Nightfly. Not only is the production musically marvelous, but is brilliant technically as well — "it’s not overcompressed, and all frequencies are well-represented. This makes running the sound board way easier."

Despite the critical review, the disc barely sold a million copies. Now, 25 years later, we see that "The Nightfly" is getting a soup-to-nuts anniversary edition in November from Reprise Records.

Except for hard core collectors, however,  I cannot see purchasing this box set. All the subsequent releases were victims  of The Nightflys greatness. Morph the Cat was rather nondescript, and Kamakiriad was a better effort, but simply didn’t have the same verve or pop as the first disc.

Stick with the single disc of The Nightfly. Its an essential recording . . .


New Frontier



The Nightfly (Wikipedia)

The Nightfly’ Still Lives at 25
WSJ, January 9, 2008; Page D8

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. kevin Crawford commented on Jan 11

    I would disagree with part of the assesment. Kamikiriad by itself is a great disc. Track after track, this one stacks up, particularly if you list to nightfly and this one back to back. But the Nightfly maybe my favorite concept album of all time. It’s a total winner, great call barry

  2. Barry Ritholtz commented on Jan 11

    I’ll give Kamikiriad another listen, but its hard to top The Nightfly as essential Fagen . . .


    OK, Just listened to it on the way to dinner and back — its a good disc, classic Steely Dan (Walter Becker produced it), with some good songs and a great feel to it — but as I suggested, it simply lacks the verve and snap of The NightFly . . .

  3. Bad home cook commented on Jan 11

    “Mexico City…was like another world. Nice this year, they say…”

    GREAT pick. I’ve had this disc since the ’80s and have loved just about every song on it. Fagen’s Steely Dan voice, so evocative of the ’70s, pushing us into the ’80s. God I’m getting old…

  4. gypsy howell commented on Jan 11

    My fave from this album (and yes, I bought it when it was an ‘album’ on vinyl): The Goodbye Look.

    Fabulous. The ultimate early 60s retro song.

  5. CubFan commented on Jan 11

    Morph the Cat gets better with multiple listens. Especially “Mary Shut the Garden Door”, “H Gang”, and “The Great Pogoda of Fun”. Give it another chance. :)

  6. Mary commented on Jan 11

    Absolutely adore The Nightfly and have ever since it was released – almost as much as I love your blog and taste in music!

  7. Sam commented on Jan 11

    Wow, Fagan and the Beastie Boys in one week. Well done Barry.

  8. D H commented on Jan 11

    It’s nice to listen to BR’s Friday Night Jazz and stare at all the green gains columns on my trading account … BigPicture rocks!

  9. Cameron Dean commented on Jan 11


    Thank you for the video. Had not seen it in years. Back when this came out, I was in my head banging mode… even then, it caught my year, or my eye rather… the video at the time was truly unique; hell, it still is, in my opinion. You can tell it got S.D.’s OK, it’s just perfect, like the album. You are right, simply timeless. New Frontier has one of the greatest lines ever in a song, “. . . she’s got a touch of Tuesday Wells.” :-)

  10. Cameron Dean commented on Jan 11

    I meant Weld…not Wells… getting old.

  11. Al Czervik commented on Jan 11

    “There’ll be spandex jackets
    one for everyone
    What a beautiful world this will be” …

  12. nades commented on Jan 11

    Some day I plan on moving to nyc. If that dream comes true I’m going to give you a call to see if I cant buy grab a few beers with you. (On me of course) Great stuff!

  13. donna commented on Jan 11

    A just machine to make big decisions
    Programmed by fellows
    with compassion and vision…

  14. alex commented on Jan 12


    Once again you prove yourself a musical connaisseur. Yes, the Nightfly is one of the most underrated albums of it’s era.

    What this album shows, perhaps even more than any single Steely Dan album, is Fagen’s dense, dramatic lyricism, his ability in a few lines to evoke a specific place and moment, and more importantly, a mood and feeling…in the Nightfly, it’s bright mid century modern american romanticism with a darkly ironic edge.

  15. jock commented on Jan 12

    Barry – GREAT call. I LOVE the Nightfly. PPL, no reason to think we are getting old. Play music like this to smart gen x or y kids, and they GET IT … It’s just quality music – timeless.

  16. Mike F commented on Jan 12

    As Barry so aptly pointed out this is one of those “timeless” recordings that sounds as fresh today as it did 25 years ago. And as a weekend warrior bass player I have to mention that “The Nitefly” has some of the coolest bass lines ever recorded. It features a “Who’s Who” of bassists such as Will Lee (from the Letterman show), Anthony Jackson (on the cover tune “Ruby Baby”), Marcus Miller, Chuck Rainey and Abe Laboriel. These guys are MONSTERS and were the most in-demand studio bassists at the time! This was one of the first CDs I purchased when I moved to the CD format back in the 80s. Today it resides on my Zune (that’s right, I said Zune, sorry Mr. Jobs) Peace and low notes.

    Regards, MjF

  17. Jim commented on Jan 12

    I bought Nightfly back in 1982, when I was 17, and I don’t think 6 months have ever gone by when I haven’t listened to it. Glad to see other folks appreciate it as well. And Barry, you’re right. It stands up very well.

  18. Greg0658 commented on Jan 12

    thanks for the weekend jam … pulled the Citizen dan ’72-’80 four cassette box set out … great sounds abound again … I’ve gotta get Two Against Nature album, got em 4 Grammys in ’01 … I remember that awards show, great one

  19. Donny Hathaway commented on Jan 13

    The DVD-Audio 5.1 versions of his solo albums are some of the best surround studio albums I’ve ever heard. It pisses me off that Aja is missing from the surround catalog because of the stolen master tapes.

  20. atore commented on Jan 13

    i own every dan/becker/fagen album/song/mp3 etc.. and nightfly is very close to the top of the list.. one of my favorites EVER..great music and great memories!! nice to read the article and comments from everyone!!

  21. Louis commented on Jan 13

    Beautiful post Barry – of course I am a Dan/Fagan fanatic (big smile). Although I agree that “Nightfly” is the best of the three Fagan solos, I still love the others as well. I was a little slow to warm to “Morph the Cat,” but man, if you get a chance to hear the 5.1 surround version it really grew on me and the sound quality is wonderful. Two of my “desert island” discs would have to be Aja and Nightfly.

  22. Music Man commented on Jan 13

    good read, thank u

  23. Ken commented on Jan 21

    I just saw that the trilogy was available. There is no debating- I have to have Nightfly and Kamakiriad in 5.1 surround. Bought Morph’ when it was released. I’ve been a Dan fan since a guitar teacher friend gave me an 8 track (I know…)of The Royal Scam. In ’78 I think. My 13 year old son says his friends -radio listeners- are missing something HUGE. He gets it. Nightfly especially is a RARE timeless gem.

  24. Phil commented on Feb 28

    This Fagan masterpiece is also available in the DVD Audio format. My only gripe is that the total length of “The Nightfly” is less than 40 minutes.

Posted Under