Steely Dan Sunday: “Kings” from Can’t Buy a Thrill (1972)

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Here’s an early indication that Steely Dan wasn’t going to dwell on romantic themes in their lyrics; songs about love, in fact, soon became the exception, not the rule. But a rock song about a late 12th century English ruler?

Before you think that maybe the references to Richard the Lionhearted’s foreign military adventures was meant to draw a parallel to the Vietnam War still raging on at the time this song came out, there’s a short note about it in the album sleeve that states “No political significance.”

Nah, it was probably just Donald Fagen getting something useful out his then-new English Lit degree from Bard.

Elliot Randall, who immortalized himself with a memorable lead on Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ In the Years,” actually made his first appearance on Can’t Buy A Thrill in the instrumental break of this song. Though it’s not as epic as his “Reelin'” solo, Randall again goes for the jugular, starting with descending, slightly dissonant chords, then chasing notes down rapidly in an almost Chet Atkins fashion. Guitar leads that took some chances and avoided overdone rock phrasing became a Steely Dan hallmark regardless of the soloist.

Not a whole lot else to say about this song. It’s not standout in any other way (though I like the ladies’ backing vocals in the chorus), but it is flawlessly done. The “flawlessly done” part? There’s another Steely Dan hallmark.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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