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