Donald Fagen – The Nightfly

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

TWO AMAZING SIDES RATING AT OR NEAR A+++! Super energetic and present, this record is on a completely different level than the typical pressing. We just finished a big shootout for Donald Fagen’s solo effort from 1982 (just two years after Gaucho and the end of Steely Dan) and we gotta tell you, there are a lot of weak sounding copies out there! We should know; we played them. 

We’ve been picking copies up for more than a year in the hopes that we’d have some killer Hot Stamper copies to offer, but most of them left us cold. Flat, edgy and bright, like a bad copy of Graceland, only a fraction had the kind of magic we find on the better Steely Dan albums.

Both sides here are incredibly clear and high-rez compared to the typical pressings, with none of the veiled, smeary quality we hear so much of. The vocals are breathy, the bass is clear and the whole thing is open and spacious.

What to Listen For

The upper mids on certain tracks of both sides have a tendency to be brighter than we would like. Ruby Baby on side one can be that way, and the title track on side two has some of the wannabe hit single radio EQ that makes it the “least likely to succeed” so to speak. On a good copy the first track of each side should be all you need to hear.

Side One

Punchy and high-resolution. Check out the cymbals and muted guitar on I.G.Y. — they sound Right On The Money (ROTM) here!

Side Two

As Good As It Gets (AGAIG). Big, open and spacious with zero smear, this is doing everything we want it to!

Fagen’s Nightfly and Digital Sound — Do All the Pressings Have to Sound Like CDs?

The average copy of this digitally recorded, mixed and mastered LP sounds just the way you would expect it to: like a CD. It’s anemic, two-dimensional, opaque, thin, bright, harsh, with little extreme top and the kind of bass that’s all “note” with no real weight, solidity or harmonic structure. Sounds like a CD, right? That’s the way most of my CDs sound, which is why I no longer listen to them except in the car.

But what if I told you that the best copies of The Nightfly can actually sound like real honest-to-goodness ANALOG recordings, with practically no trace of any of the nasty shortcomings listed above? You may not believe it, but it’s true. I heard it myself. I heard a copy sound so good that I would never have guessed it was digital. On my honor, that’s the truth. The best copies are surprisingly ANALOG sounding.

Allow us to make the case for The Nightfly.

The commentary below is basically a reworked version of the one we wrote about Direct Metal Mastering. Almost all the same principles apply, which allows us to easily make the changes necessary to defend The Nightfly and not Jellyfish’s Bellybutton. Simply put, the question before the house is: Can this record sound analog? We very much believe it can.

The problem with the typical copy of this record is gritty, grainy, grungy sound — not the kind that’s on the master tape, the kind that’s added during the mastering and pressing of the record. When that crap goes away, as it so clearly does on a copy we played recently, it lets you see just how good sounding this record can be. And that means REALLY good sounding.

On most copies the CD-like opacity and grunge would naturally be attributed to the Digital Recording process; that’s the conventional wisdom, so those with a small data sample (in most cases the size of that sample will rarely be more than one) could be forgiven for reaching such a conclusion. Based on our findings it turns out to be completely false.

The bad pressings do indeed sound more like CDs. The best pressings do not.

More Conventional Wisdom

All are digitally recorded, mixed and mastered, proving again that the conventional wisdom is simply mistaken. Conventional wisdom is a term of disparagement here at Better Records for this very reason. What passes for common sense in the world of audiophile record collectors is mostly of dubious value, if not demonstrably false. We refer to many of them as Record Myths and lay out the evidence against them in our listings. (I believe we are alone in the world of record dealers to do so. In fact we are practically alone in the world of record lovers to do so. That’s a much bigger world but it’s full of the same misunderstandings and misinformation.)

If there are “myths” on the list that you yourself believe to be true, we are happy to send you the record that will help disabuse you of such notions. Rarely is there a time when we do not have the record in hand that makes our case, and it would be our pleasure to have you hear just what we are talking about for yourself, on your own system.

How Analog Is It?

The ones we like the best will tend to be the ones that sound the most Analog. The more they sound like the average pressing — in other words, the more CD-like they sound — the lower the sonic grade. Many will not have even one Hot Stamper side and will end up in the trade-in pile.

The best copies sound the way the best copies of most Classic Rock records sound: tonally correct, rich, clear, sweet, smooth, open, present, lively, big, spacious, Tubey Magical, with breathy vocals and little to no spit, grit, grain or grunge.

That’s the sound of analog, and the best copies of The Nightfly have that sound.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

I.G.Y. 
Green Flower Street
Ruby Baby 
Maxine

Side Two

New Frontier 
The Nightfly 
The Goodbye Look 
Walk Between Raindrops

AMG Review

A portrait of the artist as a young man, The Nightfly is a wonderfully evocative reminiscence of Kennedy-era American life; in the liner notes, Donald Fagen describes the songs as representative of the kinds of fantasies he entertained as an adolescent during the late ’50s/early ’60s, and he conveys the tenor of the times with some of his most personal and least obtuse material to date.