Steely Dan – Can’t Buy A Thrill

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Reviews and Commentaries for Can’t Buy a Thrill

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  • Both sides of this Steely Dan classic earned outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades for their big, bold, rich, Tubey Magical sound
  • After doing so many shootouts over the years, and hearing the guitars and vocals jumping out of our speakers right into our listening room, we now find the recording a lot more to our liking than we used to
  • A surprisingly difficult record to find these days with good sound and audiophile quality playing surfaces
  • If you made the mistake of buying the Speaker Corner reissue from 2000, this is your chance to hear the record with all the energy that this band put into their debut, the kind of energy and presence the remastering engineers took out!
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were remarkable craftsmen from the start, as Steely Dan’s debut illustrates. Each song is tightly constructed, with interlocking chords and gracefully interwoven melodies, buoyed by clever, cryptic lyrics.”

Dirty Work sounds great here — rich and sweet mids, breathy brass, and lots of texture to the vocals. Often this track sounds dull and dubby, but it’s actually just a case of the mix being smoother than most of the other songs on the album. If this track sounds smooth, and the other songs sound right, the tonality is correct for the whole side because that’s what the best copies sound like.

Flip the record over and the good times begin all over again. Elliot Randall’s guitar on Reeling In The Years has the meaty texture and uncanny presence to take the song to an entirely new level. Fire In The Hole is dynamic with real weight to the piano, and the double-tracked vocals on Turn That Heartbeat Over Again sound rich and poppy the way they should.

What the Best Sides of Can’t Buy A Thrill Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1971
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

One Tough Nut

During a shootout, when we drop the needle on a copy and don’t hear that “Hot Stamper” sound, we toss that one and move on to the next. The difference between a truly Hot Stamper and most copies is so obvious that we rarely waste time on the pressings that clearly don’t have any real magic in their grooves.

Like we’ve said after some of our other Steely Dan Hot Stamper shootouts, you would never imagine how good this album can sound after playing the average copy, which is grainy, compressed and dead as the proverbial doornail. It’s positively criminal the way this well-recorded music sounds on the typical LP.

And how can you possibly be expected to appreciate the music when you can’t hear it right? The reason we audiophiles go through the trouble of owning and tweaking our temperamental equipment is we know how hard it is to appreciate good music which sounds bad. Bad sound is a barrier to understanding and enjoyment, to us audiophiles anyway.

What We’re Listening For on Can’t Buy A Thrill

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Roger Nichols in this case — would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Do It Again
Dirty Work
Kings
Midnight Cruiser
Only a Fool

Side Two

Reelin’ in the Years
Fire in the Hole
Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)
Change of the Guard
Turn That Heartbeat over Again

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were remarkable craftsmen from the start, as Steely Dan’s debut, Can’t Buy a Thrill, illustrates. Each song is tightly constructed, with interlocking chords and gracefully interwoven melodies, buoyed by clever, cryptic lyrics. All of these are hallmarks of Steely Dan’s signature sound, but what is most remarkable about the record is the way it differs from their later albums … Even so, the best moments (“Dirty Work,” “Kings,” “Midnight Cruiser,” “Turn That Heartbeat Over Again”) are wonderful pop songs that subvert traditional conventions and more than foreshadow the paths Steely Dan would later take.