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Dirty Work (Steely Dan song)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Dirty Work" is a song written by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan, which appeared on the band's 1972 debut album Can't Buy a Thrill.


The song's lyrics describe an affair between a man and a married woman, sung by the man.[2] Steely Dan FAQ author Anthony Robustelli describes "Dirty Work" as a "song of self-loathing",[3] while The Guardian describes the narrative as soap operatic.[4] The singer recognizes that the woman is using him, but is too infatuated to end the affair.[4][5] The second verse features the lyrics: "Like a castle in its corner in a medieval game", referencing the chess-piece the rook, chess being a hobby of Becker's.[5]

Style and arrangement

The song's music has been described as more commercial-sounding than most of the band's other material.[2][5] The Guardian says that it sounds like "a radio-friendly stroll of a song," at least at first.[4] AllMusic critic Stewart Mason attributes this, in part, to the "upward-modulating" refrain and "soulful" clavinet (incorrect, it is a Wurlitzer Electric Piano) as well as the tenor saxophone part played by guest musician Jerome Richardson.[2] Steely Dan biographer Brian Sweet describes Richardson's sax solo as being "perfectly understated."[5]

"Dirty Work" is one of the songs on Can't Buy a Thrill on which David Palmer provided the lead vocal.[2][3][5] Brian Sweet hypothesizes that Fagen did not want to sing the song himself because he and Becker did not even want to include it on the album, but the executives at ABC Records wanted some more conventional tunes on the album and therefore insisted that "Dirty Work" be included.[5] The ABC executives had also thought the song would be ideal for Three Dog Night or The Grass Roots to record.[5] After Palmer left the group, touring vocalist Royce Jones would sing the song live in concert.[citation needed] It was revived in 2006, however, with the band's female backing vocalists singing it from the perspective of a woman having an affair with a married (or attached) man.[2]

Release and reception

The song was included on the band's 1973 debut album Can't Buy a Thrill. The same year it was released as single, on the Probe label, in the Netherlands.[6]

AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine describes "Dirty Work" as a "terrific pop song that subvert[s] traditional conventions" and is one of the best songs on Can't Buy a Thrill,[7] while MusicHound author Gary Graff refers to it as being "instantly memorable."[8] Rolling Stone critic James Isaacs attributes the song's success to the fact that it "juxtaposes David Palmer's sweet tenor voice with misogynistic lyrics."[9] Robustelli similarly agrees that part of the song's effect is the contrast between Palmer's smooth voice and the harsh lyrics.[3] "Dirty Work" was included on several Steely Dan compilation albums, including Citizen Steely Dan in 1993, Showbiz Kids: The Steely Dan Story, 1972–1980 in 2000 and Steely Dan: The Definitive Collection in 2006.[2]

Later use

The song was used in the first episode of season 3 of The Sopranos, "Mr. Ruggerio's Neighborhood," as Tony Soprano sings it while driving his SUV.[3][10] The song was also used in the 2013 film American Hustle, although Fagen and Becker did not give permission for it to be included on the soundtrack album.[3] In the eighth episode of season 28 of The Simpsons, "Dad Behavior," Homer Simpson sings a parody of the song’s chorus.[citation needed] It's also featured in the 2018 documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind. It also appeared in the first trailer for the 2021 film The Suicide Squad.[11]


(from album cover credits)

Other recordings

Ian Matthews recorded the song, appearing on his 1974 album, Some Days You Eat the Bear...Some Days the Bear Eats You.

The Vancouver-based studio group Songbird - comprising Mike Flicker, Howard Leese and Rob Deans[12] - had a Mushroom Records single release of "Dirty Work" which was a minor hit in Canada, peaking at #75 on the national hit parade in the autumn of 1974.[13]

It was the first track of the 1974 album I'm Not Making Music for Money, the thirteenth and final studio album by The First Edition that was only issued in New Zealand.

The Pointer Sisters recorded a version for their 1978 album Energy.


  1. ^ "Can't Buy a Thrill by Steely Dan". November 7, 2012. Retrieved July 14, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Mason, Stewart. "Dirty Work". Allmusic. Retrieved 2017-05-14.
  3. ^ a b c d e Robustelli, Anthony (2017). Steely Dan FAQ: All That's Left to Know About This Elusive Band. Backbeat Books. pp. 65–66. ISBN 978-1495025129.
  4. ^ a b c "Old music: Steely Dan – Dirty Work". The Guardian. Retrieved 2017-05-14.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Sweet, Brian (2016). Steely Dan: Reelin' in the Years. Omnibus. ISBN 978-1468313147.
  6. ^ "Steely Dan - Dirty Work" – via
  7. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Can't Buy a Thrill". Allmusic. Retrieved 2017-05-14.
  8. ^ Graff, Gary (1999). Graff, Gary; Durchholz, Daniel (eds.). MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide. Schirmer Trade Books. p. 1084. ISBN 0825672562.
  9. ^ Isaacs, James (November 23, 1972). "Can't Buy a Thrill". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2017-05-14.
  10. ^ Long, Christian (April 14, 2016). "'Sopranos' Music Moments That Helped Define Tony Soprano". Uproxx. Retrieved 2017-05-15.
  11. ^ "'The Suicide Squad' red-band trailer".
  12. ^ Billboard vol 86 #49 (7 December 1974) p.63
  13. ^ RPM Vol 22 #9 (19 October 1974) p.8

External links

This page was last edited on 8 June 2021, at 20:00
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