Steely Dan is one of those bands’ bands. I only have one mate who has ever raved about them, and he’s a musician himself. Maybe back in the day they attracted casual music fans, but today, it seems like I hear about them more from other bands talking about their influences than I ever do for just a music listener, talking about whatever they’re listening to.
I know very little about Steely Dan. In fact, all I do know is that they’re responsible for the song Reelin’ in the Years and that they’re considered one of the most musically accomplished bands to have ever strapped on guitars. So when I decided to give them a go, I chose an album completely at random, with no idea on where it falls in their discography chronologically, or critically. So here we go, with Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy a Thrill.
Opening with a trippy sound, Do It Again is some far out, groovy 70s gear, complete with a guitar solo trying to sound like a sitar solo, and an organ solo that has undoubtedly been used in dozens of TV and movie montages depicting some sort of stoned hilarity.
Then comes Dirty Work, a song it turns out I’ve heard plenty of times over the years. Most recently in American Hustle. But the version that’s infinitely more prominent in my mind, is the Tony Soprano interpretation.
Kings and Midnite Cruiser are the kind of pristine, impeccable song writing, production and performance (vocally and musically) that I expect from a band so famous for their pristine, impeccable song writing, production and performance. They’re air tight and so exact in every way, but still have their own personality. In fact, that can be said for all of Can’t Buy a Thrill.
Then comes the entirety of my knowledge of the Steely Dan catalogue before today… Reelin’ in the Years. I challenge anyone to listen to this song and not sing along with the chorus. It’s impossible, and it’s great. And that’s even before you get the kick ass guitar solo.
It’s testament to Can’t Buy a Thrill that it doesn’t deliver anything even close to a disappointment until the final third. And compared to everything that comes before it, Four in the Hole is a pretty big disappointment. With its overly jaunty piano and clunky speak-sung vocals, it sounds like it’s straight off the soundtrack of a terrible 70s musical. Even the infallible Steely Dan musical execution can’t save this one.
Having now heard an entire album, Can’t Buy a Thrill more than justifies Steely Dan’s lofty reputation. And it makes me fully appreciate why they are such a band’s band. I imagine they’ve inspired more musicians and song writers than most other bands who shared similar 70s heydays. It’s the kind of album that would make any half decent musician or writer want to be a better musician or writer.