Steely Dan Sunday: “The Nightfly” (1982)

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The Nightfly came out during the time I attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, LA. I recall strolling through LSU’s Quadrangle late one night and as I glanced over to see the library, I noticed that someone had spray painted on the concrete wall fronting the building, in large capital letters, “I’M LESTER THE NIGHTFLY HELLO BATON ROUGE.” I chuckled to myself thinking that at least this vandal’s got good taste in music.

The title song from Steely Dan co-founder Donald Fagan’s solo album is set in this town, but really, the Red Stick was merely used as a prop to tell the story of a lonely DJ spinning jazz records and taking calls from the lunatic fringe in the middle of the night. There was no WJAZ radio station there, nor any “Mount Belzoni” in Baton Rouge, or any mountain anywhere in the state of Louisiana, for that matter.

That tale of a melancholy late-night radio show host belies what’s going on with the music behind it, which is relentlessly bouncy thanks to an unyielding rhythm section of Marcus Miller and Jeff Porcaro, and those are just two of the all-star session players on this date. The musicianship, as usual for anything Steely Dan, makes the song unforgettable. In the case of “The Nightfly,” so does the opening line, because, as Donald Fagen sang on an earlier tune, they wrote it on the wall.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron
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  • Doc Mu

    The caller is from Baton Rouge…the one the DJ (Lester) asks to turn down his radio, and avoid feedback (from the 7 sec delay) when he is placed on the air. The caller exclaims “there’s a race of men in the trees.” The DJ is likely broadcasting in the NYC area…

  • S. Victor Aaron

    Interesting theory you have there.

  • XXO

    There was a vandal at M.I.T. in the late-1970s/early 1980s who spray-painted Sparks lyrics around Boston, e.g. “Life isn’t much but there’s nothing else to do.” Another one with good taste!

  • Dave

    “Hello Baton Rouge” is the Nightfly saying hello to his caller, who is calling from Baton Rouge. The radio show is hosted elsewhere…perhaps in the suburbs of New York?

    • S. Victor Aaron

      Perhaps, but a distance that long (BR to NY) would require satellite communication for nationwide live syndication and that didn’t really take off until the 80s. Assuming this is set in the late 50s/early 60s, I was surmising that this was a local call-in show. I still don’t know where the heck Mt. Belzoni is, though 😉

      • Christopher Osburn

        There are even today clear channel AM stations broadcasting hundreds of miles at night. As a kid in Portland, OR, I could easily pick up KGO and KNBR in SF and KSL in Salt Lake with just a long wire and a crystal set.


        • S. Victor Aaron

          That’s true but it’s 1,200 miles between NYC and BR. I grew up near BR and on a clear night we might have been able to hear St. Louis.

          • Tekneek

            My father used to tell me about growing up in the Atlanta area in the 50s and regularly listening to Yankees baseball games at night via AM radio.

    • Michael Perkins

      wjaz, is shown to be in pennsylvania…