Can't Buy a Thrill

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Can't Buy a Thrill
Cant buy a tcant buy a thrill.jpg
Studio album by Steely Dan
Released November 1972
Studio The Village Recorder, Los Angeles
Genre Soft rock,[1] folk rock,[2] pop,[3] jazz rock
Length 40:39
Label ABC
Producer Gary Katz
Steely Dan chronology
Can't Buy a Thrill
Countdown to Ecstasy
(1973)Countdown to Ecstasy1973
Singles from Can't Buy a Thrill
  1. "Do It Again"
    Released: November 1972
  2. "Reelin' In the Years"
    Released: March 1973

Can't Buy a Thrill is the debut studio album by the American rock band Steely Dan, released in November 1972 by ABC Records. It was produced by Gary Katz and written by band members Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. The album was recorded at The Village Recorder in Los Angeles.[4]


The album was originally released in two-channel stereo and also in a special four-channel quadraphonic mix. There are some significant musical differences between the two mixes, such as extra lead guitar fills in the quad mix of "Reelin' in the Years".[citation needed]

Two songs recorded during the Can't Buy a Thrill sessions were left off the album and released as a single ("Dallas" and "Sail the Waterway"). This is the only Steely Dan album to include David Palmer as a lead vocalist, having been recruited after Donald Fagen expressed concerns over singing live. Drummer Jim Hodder also chips in lead vocals on one song, as well as singing the "Dallas" single. By the time recording of the next album began, the band and producer Gary Katz had convinced Fagen to assume the full lead vocalist role.

Music and lyrics[edit]

According to writers Marjorie Galen and Gordon Matthews, Can't Buy a Thrill features an upbeat soft rock style.[1] Music journalist Paul Lester said that it incorporates mambo, swing, jazz, and Latin musical elements.[5] Music critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine noted that "there are very few of the jazz flourishes that came to distinguish their [later] albums," but added that the first single from the album, "Do It Again," incorporates a tight Latin jazz beat, while the second single, "Reelin' In the Years," features jazzy guitar solos and harmonies.[3] Robert Christgau described the former song as a toned-down mambo song with "tragic" lyrics about a "compulsive" loser.[6]

"Fire in the Hole", which features strident piano by Fagen, takes its title from a phrase used by American soldiers in Vietnam, and alludes to how so many students evaded the draft in the late 1960s and early 70s (Becker and Fagen included).[7]

Cover art[edit]

The album cover features a photomontage by Robert Lockart. It includes an image of a line of prostitutes, standing in a red light area waiting for clients, chosen because of its relevance to the album title.[8] The title of the album is taken in reference to the opening line of the Bob Dylan song "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry".[9] Walter Becker and Donald Fagen themselves commented on the album art in their liner notes to the reissued The Royal Scam, saying that the album possessed "the most hideous album cover of the seventies, bar none (excepting perhaps Can't Buy a Thrill)." The cover was banned in Francisco Franco's Spain and was replaced with a photograph of the band playing in concert.[10]

Release and reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4.5/5 stars[3]
Christgau's Record Guide A[6]
Creem B+[11]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 4/5 stars[12]
The Great Rock Discography 8/10[12]
Music Story 4.5/5 stars[12]
MusicHound Rock 5/5[12]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 4/5 stars[2]

Can't Buy a Thrill was released in the United States by ABC Records in November 1972 and in the United Kingdom by Probe Records in January 1973.[13] The album peaked at number 17 on the Billboard Top Pop Albums,[14] and was reissued on August 22, 1973, by Dunhill Records.[15] On May 31, 1973, it was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), for shipments of 500,000 copies in the US, then certified platinum by RIAA on September 7, 1993, for shipments of 1,000,000 copies in the US.[15] In a contemporary review for Rolling Stone, James Isaacs said Can't Buy a Thrill is "distinguished by three top-level cuts and scattered moments of inspiration," but felt the band occasionally sounded "limp".[16] Christgau deemed it "a good album attached" to a hit single in his review for Creem; he found the lyrics "oblique, even philosophical ... as befit a band named after a dildo in a William S. Burroughs novel."[11]

Christgau later wrote of the record, "Think of the Dan as the first post-boogie band: the beat swings more than it blasts or blisters, the chord changes defy our primitive subconscious expectations, and the lyrics underline their own difficulty—as well as the difficulty of the reality to which they refer—with arbitrary personal allusions, most of which are ruses."[6] In a retrospective review for AllMusic, Erlewine said the songs "subvert traditional conventions" and are "tightly constructed, with interlocking chords and gracefully interwoven melodies, buoyed by clever, cryptic lyrics." However, he critiqued that vocalist David Palmer "oversings the handful of tracks where he takes the lead", which caused Walter Becker and Donald Fagen to temper "their wildest impulses with mainstream pop techniques."[3] Writing for BBC Music, Lester said the album was so "fully-formed ... that you would scarcely believe that it's their debut", and observed "tightly constructed songs with dazzling hooks, clever, cryptic lyrics, and vocals that offer teasing critiques for those that want them."[5] In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked Can't Buy a Thrill number 238 on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[17] Rob Sheffield was less impressed in The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), regarding the record as "mellow folk rock" that was "softened" by Palmer, who "sounds like he's nervous about where his wallet is".[2]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker.

Side one[edit]

  1. "Do It Again" – 5:56
  2. "Dirty Work" – 3:08
    • Saxophone solo by Jerome Richardson
    • Vocal by David Palmer
  3. "Kings" – 3:45
    • Guitar solo by Elliot Randall
    • Vocal by Donald Fagen
  4. "Midnite Cruiser" – 4:07
    • Guitar solo by Jeff Baxter
    • Vocal by Jim Hodder
  5. "Only a Fool Would Say That" – 2:57
    • Guitar solo by Jeff Baxter
    • Vocals by Donald Fagen and David Palmer

Side two[edit]

  1. "Reelin' In the Years" – 4:37
  2. "Fire in the Hole" – 3:28
  3. "Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)" – 4:21
    • Steel guitar solo by Jeff Baxter
    • Vocal by David Palmer
  4. "Change of the Guard" – 3:39
    • Guitar solo by Jeff Baxter
    • Vocals by Donald Fagen and David Palmer
  5. "Turn That Heartbeat Over Again" – 4:58
    • Vocals by Donald Fagen, Walter Becker and David Palmer



Steely Dan
Session musicians


  • Reissue producers: Walter Becker, Donald Fagen
  • Remastering: Roger Nichols
  • Art direction: Vartan
  • Liner notes: Tristan Fabriani (Walter Becker & Donald Fagen)
  • Reissue design: Red Herring Design, New York City
  • Consultant: Daniel Levitin



Year Chart Position
1973 Pop Albums 17

Pop Singles[18]

Year Single Catalogue number Position
1973 "Do It Again" (3:57 edit) (B-side: "Fire in the Hole") ABC 11338 6
1973 "Reelin' in the Years" (B-side: "Only a Fool") ABC 11352 11


  1. ^ a b Galen & Matthews 2007, p. 120.
  2. ^ a b c Sheffield et al. 2004, p. 778–89.
  3. ^ a b c d Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Can't Buy a Thrill - Steely Dan : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved February 27, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Can't Buy A Thrill CD". Retrieved September 1, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Lester, Paul (February 19, 2012). "Review of Steely Dan - Can’t Buy a Thrill". BBC Music. Retrieved February 27, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c Christgau 1981, p. 370.
  7. ^ Sweet, B. (2007) Steely Dan: Reelin' In The Years, Chapter II: Shuffling Up Your Downs, Wise Publications; 3rd ed., ISBN 978-1846-09881-9
  8. ^ "Steely Dan Reviews on Yahoo! Music". 2006-09-11. Archived from the original on 2006-09-11. Retrieved 2012-06-18. 
  9. ^ Andy Gill (1998). Don't Think Twice It's Alright. p. 85. ISBN 1-56025-185-9. 
  10. ^ Steely Dan – Can't Buy A Thrill Probe J062-94.410 (Spain, 1973) Discogs. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  11. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (April 1973). "The Christgau Consumer Guide". Creem. Retrieved February 27, 2013. 
  12. ^ a b c d "Can't Buy a Thrill". Acclaimed Music. Retrieved December 26, 2016. 
  13. ^ Strong, Martin Charles (2004). The Great Rock Discography. Canongate U.S. p. 1449. ISBN 1841956155. Retrieved September 1, 2013. 
  14. ^ a b Can't Buy a Thrill - Steely Dan > Charts & Awards > Billboard Album at AllMusic. Retrieved 27 October 2004.
  15. ^ a b "American album certifications – Steely Dan". Recording Industry Association of America. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH. Retrieved February 6, 2013. 
  16. ^ Isaacs, James (November 23, 1977). "Can't Buy a Thrill". Rolling Stone. New York. Retrieved February 27, 2013. 
  17. ^ Levy, Joe; Steven Van Zandt (2006) [2005]. "238 | Can't Buy a Thrill - Steely Dan". Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (3rd ed.). London: Turnaround. ISBN 1-932958-61-4. OCLC 70672814. Archived from the original on February 5, 2012. Retrieved 21 March 2006. 
  18. ^ Steely Dan > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles at AllMusic. Retrieved 27 October 2004.


External links[edit]