Can't Buy a Thrill

Can't Buy a Thrill is the debut studio album by American rock band Steely Dan, released in November 1972 by ABC Records. The album was written by band members Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, recorded in August 1972 at The Village Recorder in Los Angeles, California and produced by Gary Katz. It features tight song structures and sounds that vary from soft rock, folk rock, and pop, alongside philosophical, elliptical lyrics.

Can't Buy a Thrill
Cant buy a tcant buy a thrill.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedNovember 1972
RecordedAugust 1972
StudioThe Village Recorder, Los Angeles
ProducerGary Katz
Steely Dan chronology
Can't Buy a Thrill
Countdown to Ecstasy
Singles from Can't Buy a Thrill
  1. "Do It Again"
    Released: October 1972 [4]
  2. "Reelin' In the Years"
    Released: February 1973 [5]

The album was a commercial success, peaking at number 17 on the Billboard chart and eventually being certified platinum. It was also met with positive reviews and later appeared on many professional listings of the greatest albums, including Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums (2000) and Rolling Stone magazine's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" (2003).


Steely Dan recorded the album in August 1972[6] at The Village Recorder in Los Angeles.[7] Two songs recorded during the Can't Buy a Thrill sessions were left off the album and released as a single: "Dallas" b/w "Sail the Waterway".[8] 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, "Midnite Cruiser" (sometimes spelled "Midnight Cruiser"), 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 lyricsEdit

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.[9] 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.[10]

"Fire in the Hole", which features "angry, 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 1970s (Becker and Fagen included).[11]

Title and packagingEdit

The title of the album is a reference to the opening line of the Bob Dylan song "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry".[12] The album cover features a photomontage by Robert Lockart.[13][14] It includes an image of a line of prostitutes, standing in a red-light area from Rouen in France waiting for clients, chosen because of its relevance to the album title.[15] Walter Becker and Donald Fagen themselves commented on the album art in their liner notes to the reissued The Royal Scam, saying that The Royal Scam 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.[16][better source needed]

Marketing and salesEdit

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.[17] The album peaked at number 17 on the Billboard Top Pop Albums,[18] and was reissued on August 22, 1973, by Dunhill Records.[19] 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.[19]

Critical receptionEdit

Retrospective professional reviews
Review scores
AllMusic     [3]
Chicago Tribune    [20]
Christgau's Record GuideA[21]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music     [22]
The Great Rock Discography8/10[23]
Music Story     [23]
MusicHound Rock5/5[23]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide     [2]
Tom Hull – on the WebA[25]

Reviewing in November 1972 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".[26] 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."[a][30] In Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981), he expounded on his original praise: "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."[21]

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, Paul 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."[9] Rob Sheffield was somewhat 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]

Can't Buy a Thrill has appeared on many professional listings of the greatest albums.[31] In 2000, it was voted number 207 in Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums.[32] In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked it number 238 on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time,[33] and 240 in a 2012 revised list,[34] and number 168 in a 2020 revised list.[35] Based on such rankings, the aggregate website Acclaimed Music lists Can't Buy a Thrill as the 557th most acclaimed album in history, as well as the 154th most from the 1970s and the 13th most from 1972.[31] The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[13]

Track listingEdit

All songs written by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker.

Side one
No.TitleLead vocalsLength
1."Do It Again"Fagen5:56
2."Dirty Work"Palmer3:08
4."Midnite Cruiser"Hodder4:07
5."Only a Fool Would Say That"Fagen with Palmer2:57
Side two
No.TitleLead vocalsLength
1."Reelin' In the Years"Fagen4:37
2."Fire in the Hole"Fagen3:28
3."Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)"Palmer4:21
4."Change of the Guard"Fagen with Palmer3:39
5."Turn That Heartbeat Over Again"Fagen with Palmer and Becker4:58


Steely DanEdit

Additional personnelEdit



  • 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[36]

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 Would Say That") 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. ^ "Steely Dan singles".
  5. ^ "Steely Dan singles".
  6. ^ "Can't Buy a Thrill by Steely Dan". November 7, 2012. Retrieved July 14, 2020.
  7. ^ "Can't Buy A Thrill CD". Retrieved September 1, 2013.
  8. ^ "Steely Dan - Dallas".
  9. ^ a b Lester, Paul (February 19, 2012). "Review of Steely Dan - Can't Buy a Thrill". BBC Music. Retrieved February 27, 2013.
  10. ^ Christgau 1981, p. 370.
  11. ^ Sweet, Brian (2007). "II: Shuffling Up Your Downs". (2007) Steely Dan: Reelin' In The Years (3rd ed.). Wise Publications. p. 94. ISBN 978-1846-09881-9. Retrieved July 14, 2020.
  12. ^ Andy Gill (1998). Don't Think Twice It's Alright. p. 85. ISBN 1-56025-185-9.
  13. ^ a b Sampaio, Gerard (2006). "Steely Dan: Can't Buy a Thrill". In Dimery, Robert (ed.). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Universe Publishing. p. 257. ISBN 978-0-7893-1371-3.
  14. ^ "Can't Buy A Thrill Album Cover | Pure Music". April 5, 2019. Retrieved May 11, 2020.
  15. ^ "Steely Dan Reviews on Yahoo! Music". 2006-09-11. Archived from the original on 2006-09-11. Retrieved 2012-06-18.
  16. ^ "Steely Dan – Can't Buy A Thrill: Probe J062-94.410 (Spain, 1973)". Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  17. ^ Strong, Martin Charles (2004). The Great Rock Discography. Canongate U.S. p. 1449. ISBN 1841956155. Retrieved September 1, 2013.
  18. ^ a b "Steely Dan Chart History: Billboard 200". Billboard. Retrieved 8 February 2020.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ Kot, Greg (August 16, 1992). "Thrills, Scams and Nightflys". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved September 30, 2019.
  21. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: S". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved March 9, 2019 – via
  22. ^ Larkin, Colin (2007). Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0857125958.
  23. ^ a b c "Can't Buy a Thrill". Acclaimed Music. Archived from the original on March 6, 2016. Retrieved December 26, 2016.
  24. ^ Geffen, Sasha (November 20, 2019). "Steely Dan: Can't Buy a Thrill". Pitchfork. Retrieved November 24, 2019.
  25. ^ Hull, Tom (n.d.). "Grade List: Steely Dan". Tom Hull – on the Web. Retrieved November 23, 2020.
  26. ^ Isaacs, James (November 23, 1972). "Can't Buy a Thrill". Rolling Stone. New York. Retrieved February 27, 2013.
  27. ^ "The Return of Steely Dan". Mojo Magazine. October 1995. Retrieved December 15, 2006.
  28. ^ "Official Steely Dan FAQ". Archived from the original on December 27, 2011. Retrieved January 18, 2007.
  29. ^ Burroughs, Williams S. (1962). Naked Lunch (1991 reprint ed.). New York: Grove Press. p. 77.
  30. ^ Christgau, Robert (April 1973). "The Christgau Consumer Guide". Creem. Retrieved February 27, 2013.
  31. ^ a b "Steely Dan – Can't Buy a Thrill". Acclaimed Music. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
  32. ^ Colin Larkin (2000). All Time Top 1000 Albums (3rd ed.). Virgin Books. p. 102. ISBN 0-7535-0493-6.
  33. ^ 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.
  34. ^ "500 Greatest Albums of All Time Rolling Stone's definitive list of the 500 greatest albums of all time". Rolling Stone. 2012. Retrieved September 16, 2019.
  35. ^ "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time". Rolling Stone. 2020-09-22. Retrieved 2021-09-16.
  36. ^ "Steely Dan Chart History: Billboard Hot 100". Billboard. Retrieved 8 February 2020.


  1. ^ The novel is Burroughs's Naked Lunch; Becker and Fagen were fans of Beat Generation literature.[27][28][29]


External linksEdit