Steely Dan: still hip-cool and sophisticated after all these years

Steely Dan's debut album Can't Buy A Thrill, freshly polished to appear on SACD and audiophile vinyl

Steely Dan - Can't Buy A Thrill cover art
(Image: © Geffen/UMe)

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Whether 1972 or ’73 was the best ever year for rock releases is endlessly arguable, but those fabulously rich years – which brought us Exile On Main St, Ziggy Stardust, Bridge Over Troubled Water, The Dark Side Of The Moon, Tubular Bells, Quadrophenia and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – were a freakish non-stop conveyor belt delivery of shit-hot vinyl.

Slap-bang in the middle of that golden period, in January ’73 (two months earlier in the US), Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy A Thrill arrived, with its knowing artistry and its stylishly crafted pop-and-rock mix, splashed with country and jazz flavours and wrapped up in a seductive aura of musical and lyrical sophistication. 

Right from the off, with the summer-zephyr feel of Do It Again and its tricksy guitar and keyboard solos, the following Dirty Work, and the ‘class’-stamped Only A Fool Would Say That, it’s clear that Cant Buy A Thrill is not going to be an album of three-chord tricks. 

For many its big sell will be the bouncy Reelin’ In The Years, with its celebrated twin-guitar solo (often cited as a favourite of Jimmy Page), while Midnight Cruiser and Brooklyn (Owes The Charmer Under Me) – the former with yet another hot, gritty guitar solo – are mature rock-pop songs that grow in stature with repeated listenings. 

Can’t Buy A Thrill not only became a period classic, it also helped usher in a new type of album, one bought not only by rock-pop fans but also the hip-cool sophisticates.  This 50th-anniversary remaster reissue comes on SACD and audiophile vinyl pressings, but even on a battered and scarred original the music’s class is clear.

Paul Henderson

Classic Rock’s production editor for the past 22 years, ‘resting’ bass player Paul has been writing for magazines and newspapers, mainly about music, since the mid-80s, contributing to titles including Q, The Times, Music Week, Prog, Billboard, Metal Hammer, Kerrang! and International Musician. He has also written questions for several BBC TV quiz shows. Of the many people he’s interviewed, his favourite interviewee is former Led Zep manager Peter Grant. If you ever want to talk the night away about Ginger Baker, in particular the sound of his drums (“That fourteen-inch Leedy snare, man!”, etc, etc), he’s your man.