The cover of Can’t Buy a Thrill is a visual metonym for the music contained therein. The record sleeve’s front, designed by Robert Lockart, is a pastiche of roughly a dozen images spliced
together into a sexually surreal graphic loosely representing the thrill-buying alluded to in the album title. Although Walter Becker and Donald Fagen have since dismissed the cover as
one of the decade’s most hideous, it is oddly appropriate. Whereas the album’s sonic product is the result of musicians cutting and splicing in the recording studio, the cover image is the
product of a designer cutting and splicing in a graphic studio.
Capping the front cover image is the band’s name in script. A careful inspection of this seemingly straightforward logo reveals another clue to the artifice that made Steely Dan’s musical
commodity a reality. The band’s name is written in script, seemingly drawn by a careful penman — yet not one working in the usual fashion. The lower-case “a” in “Dan” could not have
been written by a pen utilizing forward motion. The same goes for the loops in the “eely” portion of “Steely”: a person would have to write ursive script backward in order to present
the band name the way it appears on the album cover. The absurdity, though, does not stop there: the cross of the “t” in “Steely” is unnaturally inserted into the middle of the loop. The
capital “S” and “D” could neither be written forward or backward by a calligrapher’s pen in real time. The bottom swirl of the “S” is pulled back under the main part of the letter; the
terminal upward slash of the letter “D” is firmly tucked under its opening swoosh.
The logo is craftsmanship, not penmanship. It is a careful absurdity, a surrealism crafted by an artist with the imagination, time, and ability to rework the image until it was just right.
Like a band that created its magic in the studio — a magic that could rarely, if ever, be recreated on stage in real time — the artist was using the tools of his trade to openly mask the
artifice of his creation. The designer seemed to be saying something about the modern (or postmodern) world that created art such as Steely Dan’s music. To make the representations
that thrill, one has to embrace the artificial. The rehearsal must become the performance. You have to go back and do it again.
"Steely Dan Postmodern: A Meditation on Sonic and Visual Artifice" by Brian M. Ingrassia on Matters of Sense
The album cover features a photomontage by Robert Lockart. It includes an image of a line of prostitutes, standing in a red light area waiting for clients,
chosen because of its relevance to the album title. The title of the album is taken in reference to the opening line of the Bob Dylan song "It Takes a Lot to
Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry". Walter Becker and Donald Fagen themselves commented on the album art in their liner notes to the reissued The Royal Scam,
saying that the 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. wikipedia
Here's the original album cover art design.
|Previous: Jane's Addiction - Nothing's Shocking|
|Next: Kiss - Destroyer|