Not the Pazz and Jop 1972 – #14

Steely Dan – Can’t Buy A Thrill

Steely Dan are, apparently, having a moment, which is excellent news. I’ve always enjoyed their music, though this is yet another band that I listened to passively. And they’ve been pretty much unavoidable throughout my listening life: lots of acts have three (or more) hits off their first album, but not so many have three songs that are iconic. “Do It Again” (sort of a Latin feel), “Dirty Work” (very melancholic) and “Reelin’ in the Years” (great guitar riffs) are classics of 1970s FM radio (and the band’s three most streamed tracks on Spotify). So, it made sense that when a film called “FM” came out in 1978, Steely Dan were recruited to deliver the theme song. I had this double album on vinyl, for reasons I can’t even slightly recall (maybe to fill out my introductory Columbia House selections), but it’s a great record that included my first introduction to Tom Petty. (Mostly great – who, even in 1978, needed back-to-back cover versions from Linda Ronstadt?) It isn’t available on Spotify, but it took me less than 5 minutes to create a playlist, populated as it was with hit after hit after hit.

Everything about Steely Dan radiates cool. It’s easy to be lulled into thinking it all sounds very similar, because the band definitely leans into a smooth jazz vibe on pretty much every track. I’ve never thought of these guys as making danceable music, but maybe that’s because we dance very differently in our 50s as compared to younger years. Dancing now is sort of embarrassing: head bobbing, jaw clenched, silly faced, arms chugging, switching from hip to hip. (Not that the flailing around of our youth was any less horrible to observe.) My cats look at me with confused eyes. There were lots of tracks here that brought that out in me, which was (thankfully) within the safety of my home. Of the unfamiliar tracks, I especially liked “Only A Fool Would Say That” and “Fire in the Hole”. “Change of the Guard” is one of the poppier things I’ve heard from them. I’ve been returning to this record again and again since the first listen, taking enormous comfort in the familiar rhythms. All in all, not too shabby for a band named after a steam-powered dildo.

(Originally posted on Facebook, August 2, 2021)

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