In an interview at the time, Morton said, "The whole basis of the song was explained to us that it came from when he was a kid in the '50s in New Jersey. He used to go down into an old air raid shelter that his father had built, and that was just a springboard for lots of ideas, and the whole story that we built around it just kind of evolved, really. But we didn't want to have a linear story from A to B, we wanted to interweave it with other ideas as if somebody was thinking about the story and other thoughts were coming in."
The video fades in at night with a teenage couple climbing into a car. He is a bespectacled Fagen-lookalike wearing a suit and bow tie; she, a beautiful blond in a short white dress and pearls. As he switches on the car radio the familiar strains of New Frontier begin. They drive back to his parents' house, which is situated in a new development called Multi Vista homes in New Jersey. There, a yellow light burns through an upstairs window and the sealed entrance to the fallout shelter is illuminated in the headlights as they park. She prances down into the shelter. As she descends the steps we get a tantalizing upward glimpse of her long, shapely legs and an even more tantalizing close-up of her suspenders.
Down in the shelter they have an incongruouse mixture of items: a survival handbook, provisions, a television, a shelf full of jazz albums and a guitar. Sandwiched between the couple's early scenes are animated references to the Cold War and Russia in general -- a gigantic red hand with a yellow hammer and sickle emblazoned on the back pressing the button; grain being harvested on some vast steppe.
They nuzzle noses; she flips through the survival book and as the words "Atomic Fallout" appear a mushroom cloud blows the hair off a James Joyce-like caricature. By now they're ready to dance; she self-assured and flirtatious, he all nervous and edgy. Whilst watching a science program on the TV he loosens his bow tie, inadvertently pours his drink over himself and shakily lights her cigarette.
All the while Donald Fagen surveys proceedings from a poster on the wall in his Nightfly cover pose (he never actually makes an appearance, but what else is new?). She removes his horn-rim glasses and playfully tries them on while he straps on his guitar and tries to look cool beating out time on the body. Three animated figures appear one by one to complete his imaginary jazz group.
Exhausted after their night's activities, they fall asleep, just as lovers will, with her head on his shoulder. When he wakes up she has gone, leaving a white glove on his shoulder. As he opens the lid of the shelter, he is confronted by a menacing figure wearing a radiation suit and hood. The hood is slowly removed to reveal his amused girlfriend. The fear drains from his face and they both laugh, embracing as the camera pans backward and up.
In their "Rock Videos Hot 100," Rolling Stone was unstinting in its praise: warm and witty and stunningly crafted, New Frontier is a treat for the eyes and ears, and emotionally penetrating and uplifting. Easily the most awesome of Cucumber's consistently great accomplishments, and possibly the greatest rock video ever.
It is an exceptional video -- imaginative, amusing and, true to Jankel and Morton's tradition, stylish, too. It's a shame, though, that Fagen and Becker earlier didn't realize the potential that video offers for selling a song to the public (particularly since they are so opposed to playing live). Having said that, I'm sure that they'd much rather let each listener's unique visual interpretation of their music remain untouched by any one video-maker's version.