Steely Dan Sunday, "Century’s End" (1988)

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*** STEELY DAN SUNDAY INDEX ***

After The Nightfly Donald Fagen continued to work in music but over the next decade, he lowered his profile. For the remainder of the 80s, he contributed a song or his keyboard playing skills for an album here and there for jazz-leaning artists ranging from The Yellowjackets to Rickie Lee Jones. Fagen and Becker actually attempted a reunion in the mid-80’s but couldn’t come up with anything they thought met their standards. Fagen was experiencing writer’s block on his own, too.

The lone recordings credited under either the Fagen solo or Steely Dan names between 1982 and 1993 was a single that came right in the middle of that dry period. Fagen wrote “Century’s End” with Timothy Meher and recorded it for the Michael J. Fox movie, Bright Lights, Big City. Rightly or wrongly, this Fox movie vehicle didn’t catch on like the Back To The Future series, and really, neither did “Century’s End.” I passed on the soundtrack album (even though there’s also a Prince song on it) and opted for the Fagen single instead, listened to it about a dozen or so times, loaned it to my cousin and never saw it again. I forgot about the song for many years.

I suspect a lot of people did; like “True Companion,” it sort of came and went in the night without much of a ripple. The song later ended up on a couple of compilations: an expanded edition of Steely Dan Gold issued in 1991 and The Nightfly Trilogy from 2007. Listening to “Century’s End” twenty-four years later with the benefit of some perspective, it sure seems to have held up better than most other pop songs of the time. Fagen bucked the prevailing trends by using a real drummer, a real bass player, and even had the audacity to write in a bridge for the song. The only obvious nod to the times sonically is a synth that badly approximates the sound of a Wurlitzer. The lyrics seem to tie in with the late 80s urban decadence depicted in the movie, a topic that begged for Becker’s input. Instead, there’s the more pedestrian prose of making “a bid for romance/While the dollar stands a chance/Dumb love in the city at century’s end,” but the poetry is no disaster, it’s just not up to the usual grade.

Yet, for all it’s got going for it, the song now — just as it did then — leaves no lasting impression on me, and I can’t put my finger on the reason for that. Fagen must have thought too that he didn’t have enough of his mojo back, because it would be another five years still before he’d make another record. There, the time is also set at the end of the century, but that’s for another Sunday.

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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 jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, 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 https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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