STEELY DAN — Can't Buy a Thrill

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STEELY DAN - Can't Buy a Thrill cover
3.53 | 20 ratings | 4 reviews
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Album · 1972

Filed under RnB


A1 Do It Again 5:56
A2 Dirty Work 3:08
A3 Kings 3:45
A4 Midnite Cruiser 4:09
A5 Only A Fool Would Say That 2:54
B1 Reelin' In The Years 4:35
B2 Fire In The Hole 3:26
B3 Brooklyn (Owes The Charmer Under Me) 4:20
B4 Change Of The Guard 3:28
B5 Turn That Heartbeat Over Again 4:58

Total Time: 41:01


- Walter Becker/Bass [Electric], Vocals
- Jim Hodder / Drums, Percussion, Vocals
- Snooky Young /Flugelhorn
- Elliott Randall/Guitar
- Jeff Baxter / Guitar [Normal, Pedal Steel & Spanish]
- Denny Dias /Guitar, Sitar [Electric]
- Victor Feldman /Percussion
- Donald Fagen /Piano [Acoustic & Electric], Organ [Plastic], Vocals
- Jerome Richardson /Saxophone [Tenor]
- David Palmer /Vocals
- Clydie King /Backing Vocals
- Sherlie Matthews /Backing Vocals
- Venetta Fields /Backing Vocals

About this release

ABC Records – ABCX-758 (US)

Recorded at The Village Recorder, Los Angeles, California

Thanks to snobb for the updates


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Naming a band after a dildo in William Burroughs's novel "Naked Lunch" is definitely a radical, humorous act but it pretty much set the tone for the unorthodox direction this "group" would boldly take in the decades to come. I loosely apply the term "group" because Steely Dan is really more of a conceptual project put together by keyboardist Donald Fagin, bassist/guitarist Walter Becker and wiz- kid producer Gary Katz than a normal rock and roll band. Katz's relocating the two musician/songwriters from New York to Los Angeles in 1972 had to be a severe, overwhelming culture shock for them both but it also proved to be the most significant turning point in their creative careers. It landed them smack dab in the middle of the whirlwind of tradition-smashing, wholesale changes occurring minute by minute in the music world of the early 70s. That being said, their debut, "Can't Buy a Thrill," is the least jazz-realated album they ever made. After years of honing their craft by trying to write hit songs for other artists like Barbara Streisand, this calculated collection represents the Top 40 pop mentality they had been forced into by the industry. But the cold, hard fact was that widespread airplay was the name of the game and the overnight success of the opener, "Do It Again," put them on the map and it sent this album soaring into the top 20 of the crowded LP charts. As a reviewer, the catchy tune has been so overplayed that I can't be objective about it at all. I'll admit that I never liked it all that much, though. It offers the first exposure to Fagin's unique voice but the song's absolute lack of dynamics makes it difficult for me to sit through. I'm no fan of the faux sitar effect. Its overextended ride, along with the boring, cheap-sounding organ solo, leaves me unimpressed (although it places me in the minority of society as it peaked on the singles charts at #6). Next up is "Brooklyn," a good pop ditty but far from being of any interest to jazzers. Singer David Palmer has a passable but nondescript voice on display here and the inclusion of the dreaded C&W-style steel guitar tends to make me cringe.

I've always admired "Dirty Work" for being a well-crafted tune with a nice horn arrangement but, unfortunately, it shows its age and won't attract the attention of many jazzers. The obligatory saxophone solo is routine, at best. "Kings" is a return to Donald's svelte vocal tones and at least the number's arrangement is somewhat unconventional but overall it's a weak entry despite Denny Dias' cool guitar ride. "Change of the Guard" is a better song but it still resides firmly in the pop category. The strong electric guitar break is worth mentioning. Palmer mans the microphone again on the pedestrian "Midnight Cruiser" with the usual droll results and it marks the nadir of the proceedings. Even the dull guitar solo will put you to sleep.

Fagin returns to sing "Only a Fool Would Say That" and the track's slick, jazzy feel is a big step up in quality from the previous cut. The highlight comes in the form of the hot but short-lived guitar ride. "Fire in the Hole" hints at future jazz-related leanings with its offbeat progression and here Donald gets to show off his under-appreciated piano skills. I make it a point to ignore the corny steel guitar that appears just before the fadeout. The #11 hit "Reeling in the Years," with its brittle, edgy guitars is yet another horribly overexposed, played-to-death tune that, while it grates on my nerves to this day, made the band a household name. Sure, guest Elliot Randall left an indelible imprint on pop music with his flashy guitar spasms but Steely Dan was destined to showcase much better six-string performances in the years to come. The album ends with the quirky "Turn That Heartbeat Over Again" that stays consistent with the atmosphere they created, yet the impressive jazz chordings they employ are a harbinger of what's to come on their next outing.

As debuts go, this one was remarkably successful in establishing them as a radio-friendly entity but it is so pop-oriented that I would never recommend it to a Steely Dan-as-crossover-jazz newcomer. The lack of imagination contained within compared to the astounding inventiveness that would come to be their trademark can be very misleading. The group deserves to be listed here without a doubt and I understand the attachment some have to this album but I could do without "Can't Buy A Thrill." What a fitting title.

Way back in late 1972 my older brother came home with a bunch of records that he'd borrowed off a friend, "Can't Buy a Thrill" was one. I have been playing this album ever since.This would be my number one album,desert island disc, etc in rock I only came to this conclusion about 2 years back when I was about to play the album and realised that I really can not remember at least playing this every year at some time since 1972 and through sheer repetition alone it has to be the one. This is the first Steely Dan album released and the only one where Donald Fagen did not do all the lead vocals as ABC records wanted David Palmer to as they were concerned about Donald Fagen's. David Palmer did lead vocals on "Dirty Work" and "Brooklyn" ( owes the charmer under me) and shared vocals on three other tracks. Jim Hodder also appeared and did lead vocals on the track" Kings".

Denny Dias played guitar and electric sitar on "Do it Again" and remained on every album as a full time member or a guest till "Gaucho" which he did not appear on. Jeff (Skunk) Baxter who later left the band to join the Doobie Brothers also plays steel guitar on "Fire in the Hole". One other notable mention is the backing vocalists Shirley Matthews,Vanetta Fields and Clydie King who were originally "Ikettes" till 1966 and left to form the group the "Mirettes". They quickly became one of the top session backing vocalists around and appeared with practically everybody, Bob Dylan,Pink Floyd,Rolling Stones,Aretha Franklin,Diana Ross,Leonard Cohen and the list goes on and on. One other mention is Walter Becker who plays bass and guitar and contributes a small vocal part and Donald Fagen who also sings lead vocals, piano,keyboards and even a melodica which he still uses in concert today.

There are 10 tracks on the album and the two most well known would "Do It Again" with its percussion intro and with Fagen's keyboards quickly coming in this keeps that groove throughout and is an absolute brain sticker." Reelin in the Years" is guitar from wo' to go and rock is something you like well this will surely fit the bill but another standout is "Dirty Work" with its slow melancholic feel. My personal favourite although not as catchy is "Midnite Cruiser".The album has a jazz influence throughout but is basically a rock/pop album which does need to be heard a few times to appreciate it which I found even when I was 13 which after the first listen I couldn't see what the fuzz was about but things quickly improved with the next play. One of my other favourite tracks would be "Changing of the Guard" with that Skunk Baxter guitar solo and even in the chorus you even get Na nana na na.(Great hey). They are all favourites the whole ten of them.

This album always appears in those top 100's normally and I know that everyone will say what about "Aja and "Gaucho" but at the time I heard this "Countdown to Ecstasy "had not long been released and "Gaucho" was still six albums away. No matter that the jazz is minimal in those days I played Rock and I still do today as Old dogs are difficult to teach new tricks and this is one I will always hang on to.The first is still the best for me and this was different when it was released way back.I do feel a little dudded these days as I have the Jap Mini Lp replica and on the original Australian release on record the inner sleeve was just plain white paper and there was no poster with lyrics. I have always had to sing along with a bit of a guess now and again

Members reviews

STEELY DAN debut is a remarkable record because of two things at least: a sophisticated musical hybrid of rock, pop, jazz and R'n'B along with cynical, sometimes cryptic lyrics and campy cover art in the vein of LITTLE FEAT or ROXY MUSIC on one hand; and on the other the phenomenal piece of art in the shape of the opening mega tune "Do It Again". Distinguished rhythmic pattern, melodic Fagen's vocals and interplay between the solo parts of electric sitar and organ made this track one of the DAN highlights right from the start of their career.

Still, the rest of the album is not on par with the promising opener. David Palmer's vocals on "Dirty Work", "Midnight Cruiser" and "Brooklyn" are too cheesy and better suit to a crooner-type vocalists. Music is often a too straightforward rock'n'roll with an occasional blues or jazz chord that approaches a type of easy-listening soft-rock. I read somewhere that someone had assessed SD as the first "Adult-Oriented Rock" (AOR) band, even before the term was coined. Even if we agree with that, the later work of the duo would certainly overpass any categorization and would be highly evaluated among jazz, rock and soul-pop listeners alike. The hints of the better works to come are present here in the classically arranged "Kings", anti-Hippie vignette "Only a Fool Would Say That" and a fiery boogie-rocker "Reelin' In the Years".

This LP is not essential for jazz collections, but I would surely advise you take a chance and listen to it. If only more songs were done in the way of "Do It Again" (and without Palmer vocals) I would consider 4 stars...
Steely Dan are a unique jazz-rock combo who instead of blending hard rock with cutting-edge jazz instead combine the conventions of smooth jazz and soft rock, with their quirky, sardonic sense of humour and exceptional virtuosity saving the mixture from becoming overly saccharine or cheesy. Their debut album takes this model and crafts it into beautiful, haunting, sarcastic pop classics. Of particular note is Daniel Palmer's lead vocals on Brooklyn and Dirty Work. This is the most commercial of Steely Dan's albums, as well as being one of the least dark and least technically flashy with later albums providing a better showcase for the musicianship of Becker and Fagen and their gallows humour.

Ratings only

  • Phrank
  • Fant0mas
  • luger7
  • KK58
  • zrong
  • esset55
  • Lynx33
  • Vano
  • progshine
  • Rokukai
  • Pr0fundus
  • Drummer
  • Sean Trane
  • Zarathustra
  • The Manticore
  • Tychovski

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