Thanks to a story in The Hollywood Reporter by Matt Belloni, we may be able to solve a little mystery.
Some time ago I asked the folks connected to David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” why they didn’t include Steely Dan’s track “Dirty Work” on their soundtrack. The song comes on near the beginning of the film and frames the story beautifully. If it had been on the accompanying CD, “Dirty Work” would have found a new audience. The track was included in Steely Dan’s 1972 debut album “Can’t Buy a Thrill.”
The answer I got: Steely Dan refused to sign off on it. They wouldn’t let the song be part of the “American Hustle” soundtrack. Everyone else signed off on the CD full of ’70s songs, except for Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. I did immediately think that it had something to do with the lead vocalist.
David Palmer sang lead on “Dirty Work” and is all over ‘Thrill.” But he left Steely Dan in 1973 when they released their second album. A couple of years later he turned up on Carole King’s album “Wrap Around Joy.” He co-wrote the two hits, “Jazzman” and “Nightingale.”
Now Belloni reports in THR that Palmer is suing Steely Dan over digital royalties concerning “Dirty Work” and those other tracks. SoundExchange, which collects and distributes digital royalties from firms like Spotify, Pandora, and SiriusXM, wants to pay Palmer separately under his original Steely Dan agreement as a featured vocalist. The band doesn’t want to pay him.
I notice on DogstarRadio.com which monitors SiriusXM playlists that once “American Hustle” kicked into high gear at the box office “Dirty Work” started getting four or five spins a day. If that happened on Pandora and iTunes Radio, as well as digital downloads from Steely Dan albums on iTunes and Amazon, Palmer has an interesting case. Imagine how much better the song would have done had it been included on the “Hustle” album.
PS Everyone else on the “Hustle” album signed off on the soundtrack, from Elton John and Paul McCartney to America, ELO, the Bee Gees and Donna Summer. If I were Palmer, I’d be pissed.