Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

A Song For This Day (and year): I.G.Y.

Another year over and upon us, and like I’ve done before (alright, it’s a habit), highlighting a song that just felt right at this point in time. Let’s be honest, the year that just finished should have had less drama than the previous, but given our political climate, is now par for the course. Thus, went back four decades to another tempestuous period1 to select a tune to christen 2023 with. I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World), the first solo hit by Donald Fagen, post-Steely Dan. Allmusic writer Stewart Mason noted what made this single something special…

“The opening track and first single from Donald Fagen‘s solo debut, “I.G.Y. (International Geophysical Year)” is a dryly ironic take on the prevailing optimism of the late ’50s. The International Geophysical Year — 1958, to be precise — was a combination research project and public relations move by the world’s scientists, who banded together to collect and share information across geographic boundaries. In terms of Fagen‘s lyrics, the I.G.Y. is the symbol of all the promises that science held in his Popular Mechanics youth: ordinary people traveling to permanent space stations, undersea high-speed rail travel between New York and Paris, solar-powered cities, etc. The irony, of course, comes in the payoff line, “Well, by ’76, we’ll be A-OK.”

Well, as one who survived the ’70s, the Bicentennial Year of 1976 didn’t come close in any of that and wasn’t the haven those in the ’50s foresaw. As Donald Fagen himself noted:

“I was compelled to make this. I’d reached a certain age where I could feel some kind of internal dissonance compelling me to examine where I came from, who I was, that kind of thing,” Fagen told Uncut in 2016. “It was essentially an identity crisis – a little late-coming identity crisis. But it was that all the same. Musicians being a kind of perpetual adolescent, I was able to postpone my appointment with the reality principle. It just happened.”

Fagen continued to give fans whipsmart lyrics, intricate instrumentation, and complex melodies with The Nightfly album2, even if Steely Dan had disbanded in June 1981. The Nightfly would go platinum and I.G.Y. would consistently chart within the top 30 on the Billboard Hot 100, Mainstream Rock, R&B Singles, and even the Adult Contemporary charts. The latter many of us were becoming aware of back then since we weren’t getting any younger.

Perhaps, in this instance irony is something I turn to regularly in my day-to-day existence. Yet this forty-year-old tune still feels fresh to me compared to many of the songs popular on Spotify or whatever streaming service you use, nowadays. Or maybe I’m secretly hopeful or feeling a tad optimistic about where we’re headed. “The fix is in”, for all one knows. Perchance, it is all possible because it’s a new year. Either way, as always, I sincerely hope it is a happy one for us all.

Standing tough under stars and stripes, we can tell
This dream's in sight, you've got to admit it
At this point in time that it's clear
The future looks bright
On that train, all graphite and glitter
Undersea by rail
Ninety minutes from New York to Paris
Well, by '76 we'll be a-okay

What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free
What a beautiful world this will be (Ooh, ah)
What a glorious time to be free

Get your ticket to that wheel in space while there's time
The fix is in
You'll be a witness to that game of chance in the sky
You know we've got to win
Here at home we'll play in the city
Powered by the sun
Perfect weather for a streamlined world
There'll be spandex jackets, one for everyone

What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free
What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free
Whoo-hoo

On that train, all graphite and glitter
Undersea by rail
Ninety minutes from New York to Paris
(More leisure for artists everywhere)
A just machine to make big decisions
Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision
We'll be clean when their work is done
We'll be eternally free, yes, and eternally young, ooh

What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free
What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free
What a beautiful world this will be (Yeah)
What a glorious time to be free
What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free

  1. In the early years of Reagan’s presidency is when he started to gut the Middle Class and shift the wealth to his plutocratic donors. 
  2. With buyers beginning to pick up more and more Compact Discs rather than Long Playing 12 inch records back then. 

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