Home > Album cover art > Great covers: Donald Fagen – The Nightfly (1982)

Great covers: Donald Fagen – The Nightfly (1982)

January 15th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

The cover of The Nightfly is my default answer when the question of favourite LP sleeves comes up. I”m not sure whether it actually is my favourite (how can there be just one anyway), but it is not a false answer either.

Released in 1982 and Donald Fagen'”s first solo outing, The Nightfly album evoked the sounds and spirit of the 1950s and early “60s, without sacrifice of Steely Dan”s jazz-tinged rock. The cover concept clearly seeks to communicate the content, and it is simply executed with Fagen as an old-school radio DJ burning the nightshift with the help of Chesterfield Kings and copious amounts of black coffee. He is the sardonic DJ Lester, still unfettered by playlists, on the independent Baton Rouge station WJAZ who speaks to us on the title track.

Look long enough at the cover and listen to the title track, and armed with clues you may begin constructing your own backstory. In front of him is a Sonny Rollins album, so we know DJ Lester specialises in jazz and, as the lyrics advise, communication. What else does he play when he is not condescending his listeners with cynical tales about the absence of love in his life (which explains his nightfly existence)? Surely some more jazz, Coltrane or Parker perhaps. I like to think he branches out into some R&B to lighten up the pre-dawn darkness of 4:10am.

There is a rich irony in the cover”s relationship to the music it seeks to illustrate. Where the graveyard shift DJ is spinning crackling vinyl platters and the lyrics recall the Cold War (just on New Frontier, there are references to The Reds and nuclear shelters, Dave Brubeck as the latest thing, the young Tuesday Weld) , The Nightfly was one of the first albums to be recorded entirely digitally. Issued before we were dealt the cursed dominance of the compact disc, this is a quintessential CD album whose charms are not, unlike much other music, boosted by the warmth of vinyl.

The photo itself, by James Hamilton, was shot in Fagen”s New York apartment, in which the radio studio (presumably just the two walls we can see) was temporarily built. Fagen might have assumed the collective persona of the DJs he listened to when he was much younger, but he cannot be accused of method acting: the photo had to be reshot when an engineer in the recording studio pointed out that the microphone had been incorrectly positioned”¦


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  1. January 15th, 2009 at 09:12 | #1

    Thanks for these informations. This is a pretty cover ! And one of my favorite record too !

  2. January 15th, 2009 at 17:53 | #2

    I’ve not listened to this record in years, I should really dig it out and give it a spin. Great late night listening.

  3. January 15th, 2009 at 18:43 | #3

    Great cover. Excellent album.

  4. January 16th, 2009 at 00:59 | #4

    And it’s all capped by that wonderful sleevenote…

    Note: The songs on this album represent certain fantasies that might have been entertained by a young man growing up in the remote suburbs of a northeastern city during the late fifties and early sixties, i.e., one of my general height, weight and build.

    Love it.

  5. Rich WAGES
    January 17th, 2009 at 00:33 | #5

    i love this album, i am 36 so i did not grow up in the 50’s era that the art depicts, but there is something idealized about the that time that just seems cool. i LOVE this and all Fagan / Becker / Steely Dan records. the Nightfly takes me back to a special time and place when I first heard it.

  6. Flashman
    January 20th, 2009 at 12:13 | #6

    Best cover? Ah, sweet ignorance! Follow this link and be enlightened. http://www.stevecarter.com/albumcovers.htm

  7. February 8th, 2009 at 16:45 | #7

    Love this album, despite matey’s whiny voice. Stay-At-Home Indie Pop was a doubter, but perhaps he’s now seen the light.


  8. February 8th, 2009 at 17:44 | #8

    Stay-At-Home Indie Pop is mostly a man of discerning taste. I cannot conceive of the notion that he would not see the light.

  9. Vic
    September 3rd, 2009 at 23:52 | #9

    Is that a Neumann Mike?
    And what about the Turntable?
    Anyone knows?

  10. Vic
    September 4th, 2009 at 00:36 | #10

    Just found out that it’s not a Neumann but probably the RCA Type 77-DX microphone ca 1955. (see : http://www.coutant.org/rca77dx/index.html )

    But howabout that turntable?

  11. Jason
    June 28th, 2014 at 12:54 | #11

    Love this album and never get tired of it. Once heard Bjork doing a cover of ‘Ruby Baby’ and was physically sick. There should be some law preventing such drivel.

  1. January 17th, 2009 at 17:52 | #1
  2. January 11th, 2010 at 01:31 | #2