A portrait of the artist as a young man, The Nightfly is a wonderfully evocative reminiscence of Kennedy-era American life; in the liner notes, Donald Fagen describes the songs as representative of the kinds of fantasies he entertained as an adolescent during the late '50s/early '60s, and he conveys the tenor of the times with some of his most personal and least obtuse material to date. Continuing in the smooth pop-jazz mode favored on the final Steely Dan records, The Nightfly is lush and shimmering, produced with cinematic flair by Gary Katz; romanticized but never sentimental, the songs are slices of suburbanite soap opera, tales of space-age hopes (the hit "I.G.Y.") and Cold War fears (the wonderful "The New Frontier," a memoir of fallout-shelter love) crafted with impeccable style and sophistication.
A definite soul based session for Donald Byrd – and that's saying a lot here, because his previous decade's worth of work had all had some sort of R&B focus. The main force behind the set here is Isaac Hayes – who's producing, arranging, and playing most of the keyboards on the album. Oddly, Ike's not singing at all – and vocals are instead handled by Rose Williams, Diane Davis, Pat Lewis, and Myra Walker – plus the Hot Buttered Soul group on backing vocals.