I.G.Y. (International Geophysical Year) Lyrics

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 seventy-six we'll be A.O.K.

What a beautiful world this will be
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

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

What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free
Song Info
Submitted by
Submitted on
Dec 20, 2004
18 Meanings
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I haven't seen much of Steely Dan's music that isn't tongue in cheek, sarcastic double meanings. It is part of why I LOVE their music! That and their musicianship is amazing...

In this song, I think they're poking fun of idealistic, in some ways sugar coated, American Pride in the 1950's about the Space Program and it's accomplishments would mean.

"You'll be a witness to that game of chance in the sky You know we've got to win" ... Refers to USA vs USSR race to get into space and claim territory.

"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..."

Pokes fun of the outrageous promises made and the sugar coating on the whole project. Everything will be ,in 50's venacular, "A-OK" there'll even be jackets made of the modern miracle fabric, spandex, for everyone.

(Third verse lyrics missing from the lyrics above)

On that train all graphite and glitter Undersea by rail Ninety minutes from New York to Paris Well by seventy-six we'll be A.O.K Just machines that make big decisions programmed by fellas with compassion and vision. We'll be clean when their work is done, We'll be totally free, yes, and totally young...

Once again, sarcastically saying machines will do everything for us and the guys that program them are only interested in pure, good things, even making us all free and young!

Their words invoke a feeling of the naivete of then 1950's and the feeling that all things are possible and everything is "peachy keen".

What a beautiful world this will be What a glorious time to be free

Great song, though. One of my favorites.

My Interpretation

I just "discovered" this song in the past few months, and when I listened to the lyrics I laughed myself silly. IMHO everyone here has pretty much the right idea, but I have a personal experience that colors my reading, and may be on track.

Nice catch on the missing lyrics....but I believe the last line is "eternally free yes, and eternally young."

@marink it’s def 3rd person someone (or people) in the 50’s thinking the techno generation is going to be such a great life. Even the very last two lines he almost seems to purposely sound more nasally as if to invoke the most possible sarcasm and borderline contempt for that line of thinking

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The Wikipedia page for the International Geophysical Year says it well. 1957-1958 featured a concerted effort to use new scientific instruments to get to know the planet Earth better than ever before. The optimism of that time suffuses this song.

"New Frontier", also on this album, describes a similarly heady atmosphere a few years later, with the Cold War adding a touch of excitement for a young man living in a world making rapid progress. IGY is without a protagonist but with all the optimism.

@rikdad I believe the whole album is about the fantasies of Fagen when he was growing up in NJ. It says that on the back of the album cover, IIRC

I.G.Y. is him dreaming of what the future will be like. New Frontier is about having sex with a girl in his dad's bomb shelter.

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I don't it's meant to be sarcastic at all. I think this song (and most of the songs on the album) are the musings of a late 1950's era suburban teenager, perhaps Fagen himself is this idealistic dreamer.

Song Meaning
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This song is about International Geophysical Year from 1957 to 1958.

Song Meaning
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It is rather straight-forward. I.G.Y. has occurred only once. It was a world-wide, scientific effort devoid of political intrigue. The prosperity and relative peace of the era lent to a society truly THAT optimistic with several advancements that made everyday life far 'easier.'

Most features predicting the future - from flying cars and automated houses to space travel and colonization - extrapolated from the rapid advancement of the previous decade to rationalize a 'Jetsons' existence. Everything referenced in the song was cutting-edge technology at the time. From high speed trains (transatlantic flight would not be introduced until 1958) to benevolent computers (media tape, punch card calculators were called computers).

The reference 'Well by 76 we'll be A-OK" is life expectancy, currently up to 87 years. Also the 'spandex jackets' (although not introduced until 1962, it was invented in 1958) refers to futuristic self-washing or stain-resistant clothing often described in Science Fiction.

I must discount several other posts as being too broad. Kennedy and manned spaceflight was long after this time period. The 'Space Race' began in 1955, but actual orbit wasn't achieved until late 1957. Anyone interested can watch the newsreels (color TV was introduced in the mid-50's but too expensive for most households until the next decade) of the time.

My Interpretation

@MarketDemon "The reference 'Well by 76 we'll be A-OK" is life expectancy, currently up to 87 years."

I'm pretty sure the reference is to 1976, the Bicentennial.

I remember the IGY. I lived these years. I lived this optimism. I saw all these promises broken. I love this song, but hearing it chokes me up every time.

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The songs on the whole album take place in very late fifties / very early sixties, that's the key.

There was incredible optimism and idealism in America in the late fifties and than at the beginning of the Kennedy Administration, Camelot.

WWII, the Eisenhower admin, the McCarthy scare over communists everywhere was over , (except in the minds of Fred C Koch and his fellow members of the John Birch Society) There was this feeling that we American was on the brink of a new millennium. There was a feeling that science could and would solve all of the problems of the world. There was a feeling of future plenty for everyone In the world.

The International Geophysical Year (57-58) was a year dedicated to science, science solving all problems, International scientific cooperation especially with the USSR.

Spandex was a new tough "modern" fiber that wouldn't wear out easily

a New York to Paris undersea railroad, nothing seemed impossible for science.

"Just machines to make big decisions/ Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision"

Everyone trusted science to provide all the answers

then there was the Castro takeover, the Bay of Pigs failed invasion, the Cuban missile crisis, the Kennedy assassination by person or persons unknown in Dallas, the Viet Nam war, DDT, the Silent Spring, etc etc and all that late fifties and Camelot optimism collapsed

Fagen, always sardonic, yes.

Song Meaning
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I think most of the people are just a bit off on the whole matter. The majority of comments seem to feel that Fagen is being ironic or sarcastic. But I think that isn't quite what is going on here. I think he is looking back in 1957 when he was 9 and he has fond memories of those times. Sure everything didn't quite work out like everybody thought, but I think he is looking at it from a more wistful vibe than the classic Steely Dan hipster smart alec teenagers sitting in the back row aura.

There is a bit of evidence to support my theory. In interviews and the like he has always said he was kind of embarrassed and somewhat went into hiding because this album was my far his most personal. He was revealing an actual fondness for the good ole days which is most un Steely Dan like. Of course, there IS tons of irony...but the whole album is clearly a loving homage to the 1957-1963 era. Sure...lots of the lyrics in the album may be construed as "wry" but I think the entire album was a loving look back to when he was a sci fi geek kid and saying "Hey maybe the old days were actually pretty good". Remember, at this point he was 34, Steely Dan was done and he was getting older.

My Interpretation

@JamesLove the line “programmed by fellas of compassion and vision” is the utmost sarcasm. May have even been speaking directly of Kruschev and Eisenhower since they were both military guys who probably lacked compassion and vision

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The Nightfly album has a 1950's feel to it.

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I recently told a friend of mine that if I had an accidental death anytime soon (I am in my 40's)... I wanted them to slip a copy of this CD in my coffin... I really need to know I can hear this CD in my afterlife and for all universal time. I know it sounds a bit maudlin, but this album means everythiing to me. This is my single favorite album of all time. God Bless Donald Fagen...

IGY is great... hope, future, environment and even national pride I can be real comfortable with...

I think that as with so many Fagen lyrics, IGY is meant to be heavily ironic. By 1976, none of those predicted developments had taken place. It was the same old world, and the US was on the edge of the (second) energy crisis and then the crass materialism and selfishness of the '80s. Fagen is looking back at those times (this applies to "New Frontier" as well) from his cynical perch in 1982 and saying, "Well, it didn't quite happen, did it?"

@tmjm

If this were a Steely Dan song, I would agree. But for the most part, Fagen's lyrics are not nearly as cryptic as Becker's. Fagen is much more direct with his words, and far less cynical. He likes to paint ideal pictures and scenarios. He covers romantic relationships in his music, which SD would never have done.

@underbanyantrees "I wanted them to slip a copy of this CD in my coffin... I really need to know I can hear this CD in my afterlife"

We regret to inform you that, as they say, you can't take it with you.

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I've totally enjoyed reading the comments. Fagen's lyrics have always fascinated me. He is a quirky genius dude and one I'd love to sit next to at my Ultimate dinner party. The Nightfly was my favorite of the trio. But, I'd buy anything written by Donald. Musically and lyrically, he is a feast for my ears. I just can't get enough.

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