Steely Dan Sunday: “Only a Fool Would Say That” from Can’t Buy a Thrill (1972)

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This is probably my favorite deep cut from Can’t Buy a Thrill, which was on the flip side of the Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ In the Years” single. More than any other track from this album, “Only a Fool Would Say That” points the way to what the band would evolve into: mocking lyrics, a fondness for Caribbean styles (most exemplified on The Royal Scam) and, of course, jazzy overtones.

Most of those jazzy overtones come courtesy of Skunk Baxter, whose breezy octaves might be something close to a first for what is technically a rock song. But even this early on, Steely Dan were already cross-genre dressing their songs in a carefully crafted way. Unusually airy and cheery as far as the melody goes, that didn’t compel Walter Becker and Donald Fagen to make “Only a Fool Would Say That” into some love song or some other uplifting topic like any other songwriter would do.

Oh no, this is about putting down some delusional young dude for “talking about a world where all is free.” That’s actually the perfect kind of topic for 1972, when the hippie generation’s hopes and dreams came crashing down to reality in that post ’60s hangover called the early ’70s.

Later on, Becker and Fagen would go on to write many cynically viewed tales of deviancy, debauchery and other failings of the human race. But it’s here where Steely Dan sets forth the credo that drives the plots for those songs:

Anybody on the street
Has murder in his eyes
You feel no pain
And you’re younger
Than you realize

We may all agree with this sentiment, but at least back then, only Walter Becker and Donald Fagen would (come out and) say that.

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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