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Steely Dan - Can't Buy A Thrill CD (album) cover


Steely Dan


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.53 | 166 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars * Steely Dan Act I: Artists leaving the womb*

In October 1972 Steely Dan released their debut album onto the market with little to no fanfare, but also with no expectations placed upon them. Steely Dan was a band formed in secret. The brainchild of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, songwriters at ABC Records in Los Angeles. In cahoots with mentor and ABC Records producer Gary Katz they set out on recruiting members for the band. Denny Dias was brought in as a guitarist, whom Becker and Fagen had met earlier in New York through an advertisement Dias placed in The Village Voice newspaper, reading Looking for keyboardist and bassist. Must have jazz chops! He was flown out to LA and along with guitarist Jeff Skunk Baxter and drummer Jim Hodder formed the core of what soon became Steely Dan.

The band begins rehearsing after work during the day as songwriters for ABC, at night in a cramped, abandoned office in the ABC building and began recording with Roger Nichols, a former nuclear engineer, as their recording engineer, a relationship that continues to this day. Since Fagen was uncomfortable as the lead singer, they also decided to sign up vocalist David Palmer as the front man. Since Palmer's vocal style didn't convey the attitude that Becker and Fagen wanted for most of the songs, and the also needed to finish the album, Donald reluctantly sang lead vocals on all but three songs on their debut album, which they named Can't Buy A Thrill. A special note to the cover art.. for a band, like many prog bands that well known for it's interesting artistic covers, this cover is nothing short of ... terrible. I remember seeing a thread on the site which had a link that listed the worst prog album covers of all time. This ranked at 2. Don't remember what the worst was. My paycheck on ELP though.. they always win those kinds of polls hahaha.

Anyway.. on to the album we go.

The song kicks off with ...oh god.. Do It Again. A hit song hahhaha. What did you expect.. Close to the Edge. No but if you expect pop music.... you also have come to wrong album.. and definitely the wrong group. From the first song of the first album a Dan trademark is unleashed upon the listener. Like much of prog, and very much unlike pop music and groups. This group dealt with more highminded lyrical content than simple pop fluff. Do It Again can be seen a number of ways. Like many of their songs, it's hard to make sense of the lyrics, which seem to be about some combination of addiction, second chances and the inevitability of fate. The song has two instrumental breaks both using instruments again.. rarely found in pop.... The instrument used on the first instrumental break is an electric sitar. The primitive keyboard or 'plastic organ' played by Donald Fagen on the second instrumental break is a Melodica. You blow through a reed and depress keys on a mini plastic keyboard attached. Also making an appearence on the this album and forever associated with the group is a quality I have always identified with is a wry sense of humour. This song is described as Trad. (meaning traditional, like many Folk songs) in the album credits. This is a fairly typical Donald Fagen/Walter Becker prank. For entertainment, google an interview of Becker and Fagen. A laugh riot.

Next up is Dirty Work... a song I have never liked. Mainly for what makes it so distinctive. David Palmer is the singer here. While in fact he might be a better singer than Fagen. Palmer's vocals are erstwhile and passionate. The lyrics are typical Dan. dark.. though not as cryptic. The song's about a guy who is the man she cheats on her husband with (when he's out of town, she lights a candle for romance, sends the maid home early), and the moral dilemma - sex or cuckold the hubby. He's unable to overcome his desire for her, despite the terrible risk, every time - thousands of times before. Nice song.. but missing the elements of what Steely Dan.. Steely Dan for me. Good uses of horns though. Next up is Kings, featuring Fagen on the piano and lead vocals, strong vocal harmonies with with Clydid King, Shirley Mathews, and Venetta Fields. Though the group claims no political significance. The song is often thought to be about Magna Carta. Richard the Lionhearted was a grand king of England who had total rule. He was succeeded by his younger brother John. John was weak and had to cave in to the English noblemen who wanted to share in the rule of the country. By asserting that the king had less than total rule over his country and all his subjects, Magna Carta became the initial basis for many principals which are now part of what we consider to be basic human rights. Richard was a much more valiant king, but he ruled without regard for the common people. John was a terrible king, but his weakness made his government less despotic. A song I really like.. edging toward what future Steely Dan would become. Not as out there musicially but still satisfying as hell musically. Midnight Cruiser is next. With Hodder on the vocals. A song easy to peg as a song dedicated to Thelonious Monk. Strong vocal harmonies. A song strangly covered across the ocean by the English band Capability Brown. Not a bad song.. but there is reason Hodder is not a vocalist. Not bad.. but not was sweet as Palmer .. or as biting as Fagen. Side one closes with my favorite from the album, Only A Fool Would say that. The opening line "The world becomes one, of salads and sun" evokes the utopian possibility of "Imagine", only to be derisively dismissed as the musings of a fool. Denny Dias and Skunk Baxter provide a perfect contrast in acoustic and electric guitar to Fagen's sneering vocals. An early Steely Dan classic, foreshadowing the wry, depraved themes featured in much of their later work. I love the song with it' swirling Latin melodies. Great song

Side 2 kicks off with a cover of Close to the Edge.. hahhah.. nah... but something just as good. The overplayed to death.. but still KILLER Reelin' In the Years. Pure decadent pop... with fiery guitar solos. Studio 'ringer' Elliot Randall's guitar solo is OUT OF THIS WORLD. One of my favorites alltime. Yet underneath the shiny musical exterior... something for the prog fan comes peaking through. Have you tried to figure out the lyrics.. a famous prog past time, and one that any SD fan revels in.... try this on for size. Read this somewhere.. makes perfect sense.

'This song came out during the first wave of a huge nostalgia boom for simpler times. Happy Days was a new show on TV. Capitol Records had released The Beach Boys Endless Summer which went double platinum. Disco was rearing it's ugly head on the far horizon.

The first verse gives it away: Your everlasting summer... - obvious reference to Endless Summer.

The girl in the song was a metaphor for the record buying public. Steely Dan had spent years becoming a top notch jazz/blues/rock act, and now the public wanted endless summer rather than progressive music.

You wouldn't know a diamond if you held it in your hand, the things you think are precious, I don't understand. - compares the progressive music of Steely Dan to the simplistic music of the nostalgia boom.

The college likely refers to early 1970s college and freeform radio, where obscure artists were played, and the weirder, the better.

Reelin' In The Years - trying not to grow old by trying to relive endless summers of the past.

You've been tellin' me you're a genius since you were 17 - obvious references to Brian Wilson, Bob Dylan, and John Lennon.

I still don't know what you mean. - I never got it. I'm into a different groove.

The things you think are useless, I don't understand. - there was a conscious effort during 1974 - 1976 to reject all things progressive. Maybe it was the advent of the nation's 200th birthday? Maybe just a time? But, the record buying public came to feel that progressive was useless, and nostalgia was in.

Fortunately, the public came to their senses about 1978. But, can you sense the disdain the the SD lyrics, as they rag on the record buying public, who they compare to a wayward girl who can't make up her mind?'

nice. Great song.. not terribly progressive musically.. but that isn't all that progressive rock was about. Steely Dan is a different animal that you have ever explored.

Fire in the Hole is next. Nice steel pedal from the Skunk and great piano solo from Fagen. Not at the level as some the previous songs.. but one thing you will notice about Steely Dan. Simply.. this group DID NOT MAKE BAD SONGS. Learn that.. and you be on the way to understanding this group. Brooklyn is next from the group. Dedicated to a neighbor while they lived in NYC. Nice slide guitar. again.. quality music. Not much for the prog fan though. Change of the Guard is next. What did I say earlier... oh yeah.. but at times they make songs that really don't say much or do much of anything. This is one of them. Not bad by any means.. not much to write really other than a nice solo by the Skunk. However the number of times you will here 'Na na na na, na na na na' in a SD song after this album are ...ahhh.. like zero. The album closes with Turn That Heartbeat Over Again. Not the best thing SD ever did... but this was somewhat a blueprint for where they would later go. Fulling shifting melodies, rhythms, and moods. The song is a bit of an odd one. Called a solemn prayer for peace by the group. My take on it.. the speaker gets his friend mixed up in some dangerous stuff and his friend dies. Nice happy stuff huh. hahahha

Ranking the album... For the prog fan. Ehhhh.. a bit on the soft side. If you listen to this.. you might ask yourself what kind of shit was the site thinking when adding this band. The elements are there alright. If they had never progressed this band would have never been included here. Which would be developed later on down the road. Not bad for an album conceived in an abandoned office. Ranked by Rolling Stone Magazine as #238 in it's list of the 500 greatest records of alltime. The best part is though.. for the prog fan... it only get better from here. Even Genesis had their FGtR which ..hahha.. I didn't see on that list. If you a died in the wool prog-o-holic. Don't start here.. come back to it if you like what you hear. If you love great music.. you could.. but I woudn't. Unless you were born under a rock you have heard many of these songs already. So what is it I am saying... this is a prog site. 2 stars for the site. If it wasn't.. 4 stars. For me personally.. .3 stars. If you are a Republican.....

Michael (aka Micky)

micky | 2/5 |


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