STEELY DAN — Aja

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4.61 | 24 ratings | 4 reviews
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Album · 1977

Tracklist

A1 Black Cow 5:07
A2 Aja 7:56
A3 Deacon Blues 7:26
B1 Peg 3:58
B2 Home At Last 5:31
B3 I Got The News 5:03
B4 Josie 4:30

Total Time: 40:00

Line-up/Musicians

Backing Vocals [Uncredited] – Clydie King, Michael McDonald, Rebecca Louis, Sherlie Matthews, Timothy B. Schmit, Venetta Fields
Bass [Uncredited] – Chuck Rainey
Clavinet [Uncredited] – Don Grolnick
Guitar – Walter Becker
Composed By, Lead Vocals, Synthesizer [Uncredited], Backing Vocals [Uncredited] – Donald Fagen
Drums – Steve Gadd (tracks: A2)
Drums [Uncredited] – Bernard Purdie, Ed Greene , Paul Humphrey, Rick Marotta
Drums [Uncredited], Percussion [Uncredited] – Jim Keltner
Electric Piano [Uncredited], Backing Vocals [Uncredited] – Paul Griffin
Electric Piano [Uncredited], Clavinet [Uncredited] – Joe Sample
Electric Piano, Piano, Percussion [Uncredited], Vibraphone [Uncredited] – Victor Feldman
Guitar [Uncredited] – Dean Parks, Denny Dias, Lee Ritenour, Steve Khan
Guitar [Uncredited], Soloist – Larry Carlton
Horns [Uncredited] – Bill Perkins, Chuck Findley, Jackie Kelso, Jim Horn, Lew McCreary, Pete Christlieb, Plas Johnson, Slyde Hyde, Tom Scott, Wayne Shorter
Lyricon [Uncredited] – Tom Scott
Percussion [Uncredited] – Gary Coleman
Piano [Uncredited] – Michael Omartian
Electric Piano, Soloist – Victor Feldman (A1)
Saxophone [Tenor], Soloist – Tom Scott (A1)
Saxophone [Tenor], Soloist – Wayne Shorter (A2)
Saxophone [Tenor], Soloist – Pete Christlieb (A3)
Electric Guitar, Soloist – Jay Graydon (B1)
Piano, Soloist – Victor Feldman (B3)

About this release

ABC Records – AB 1006 (US)

Thanks to snobb for the updates

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Aja (Remastered)Aja (Remastered)
Remastered
MCA Records 1999
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Aja: LimitedAja: Limited
Limited Edition · Super Audio CD - DSD
Imports 2014
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Aja [1977]Aja [1977]
Original recording
ABC Records
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Aja Mobile Fidelity MFSL1-033Aja Mobile Fidelity MFSL1-033
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Steely Dan - Aja - MCA Records - 201 389-320Steely Dan - Aja - MCA Records - 201 389-320
MCA Records
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AjaAja
Single · Remastered
Universal 2002
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Aja: Classic AlbumsAja: Classic Albums
IMPORTS 2008
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STEELY DAN AJA reviews

Specialists/collaborators reviews

Chicapah
The 1970s was my decade. I was a relatively free adult, burdened with only a few responsibilities. Music was my world. I ate, drank, slept, lived and breathed music. I must have bought an average of an LP per week (and often more) for those ten years. I listened to and absorbed all kinds of great (and not so great) aural art. So when I say that Steely Dan's "Aja" is the best American mainstream album from the 70s you'll know that I don't bestow that grandiose title lightly. It is the perfect combination of the high level of creative composition, musicianship, and studio recording technology that had grown by leaps and bounds since the revolutionary sixties came to an end. It has endured and aged incredibly well. It still excites my senses today every bit as much as it did when I first put needle to vinyl back in September of '77.

The humble, simple beginning of "Black Cow" belies the magnificence that lays in wait for your anxious ears. The ever-morphing entity known as Steely Dan creates a fitting, somber aura to surround the heartbreaking storyline that defines the song. It's about a man finally having to turn his back on the girl he loves with all his heart because he's come to realize that the object of his adoration has problems that his commitment to her will never solve. He has become her enabler. "I can't cry anymore/while you run around/break away/just when it seems so clear/that it's over now/drink your big Black Cow/and get out of here," Fagen sadly sings. Victor Feldman's electric piano solo flows effortlessly and Tom Scott's horn arrangement is subtle but effective. When Mr. Scott delivers his fluent saxophone ride over the female chorus's soft refrains of "so outrageous." you share in the poor protagonist's sorrow-filled surrender to the painful truth of the matter.

The mystical atmosphere of "Aja" is almost beyond description. I'll say this. Anyone who thinks that Steely Dan isn't worth their time hasn't really listened to this amazing track. Like all fine music, the tune takes the listener on an eight minute journey and this one is as good as it gets in Jazz Rock/Fusion. Here Fagen & Becker let their words about fidelity and loyalty ("When all my dime dancin' is through/I run to you.") take a back seat to the wondrous collaboration of musicians they brought together for this recording. While the saxophone work of Wayne Shorter is brilliant, it is the heavenly bliss of Steve Gadd's drumming that ushers this piece into the sacred halls where legends dwell. It's not a drum solo. Not at all. He plays his finely-tuned instrument completely within the framework of the song, displaying not only awesome technique but an unbelievable ability to maintain the tune's strict tempo requirements. And that's just the halfway point! When Steve shakes, rumbles and rolls like a force of nature over the exciting piano accents and the near-psychedelic drone during the end segment and subsequent fade out it's like watching and hearing a powerful storm moving away over the horizon.

Donald and Walter's beautiful ode to musicians, "Deacon Blues," is next and it's my all-time favorite composition by that duo. It speaks to all artists who have dedicated themselves to their calling, but especially those who seek to manipulate sound waves. Opening with those intriguing "Steely Dan guitar chords" that you never forget once you learn them, this tune features Tom Scott's elite horn section as they create a lush background as full as a cathedral organ under Fagen's soulful vocals and the soaring female chorale that backs him. The message pulls no punches. If you are an artist, you will be an outcast in the eyes of society, not to mention your own family. You choose to live on the fringe. "You call me a fool/you say it's a crazy scheme/this one's for real/I already bought the dream," he admits. But what Gadd did for the previous cut, saxophonist supreme Pete Christlieb does for this one. He injects all the passion, blood, sweat and tears of a musician's life into his horn and it is sublime. It sends chills up my backbone. During the fadeout I always form a mental picture of a musician just getting off work at the nightclub, strolling down an empty street in the quiet pre-dawn hours on his way back to his modest, lonely apartment. Fagen's final verse always hits me where it means the most. "I cried when I wrote this song/sue me if I play too long/this brother is free/I'll be what I want to be." Amen.

"Peg" is one cool, funky dance number. (And it's okay for jazzers to dance.) Here the rhythm track supplied by drummer Rick Marotta and bassist Chuck Rainey ignites the studio with their irresistible groove. If you don't understand why they used Chuck so often then take a moment and lend an ear to what he's playing on this tune. The words are a stinging, sarcastic poke at just one of the horde of disillusioned starlets they probably ran into on the streets and in the cliques of Hollywood each day. Michael McDonald's unique tenor is unmistakable on the chorus and Jay Graydon's spectacular guitar break is one that never gets old. The story is that for this song's solo he was the seventh professional session guitarist to attempt to dazzle Don & Walt and the only one that succeeded.

"Home at Last" has always been special to me. In that autumn of '77 I had turned my existence upside down by moving lock, stock and barrel to Los Angeles in a last-ditch effort to go nationwide. The first year out there went so splendidly for me that I easily related to Mr. Fagan when he sang "could it be that I have found my home at last?" I especially admire their use of open space between Feldman's opening piano jabs to build anticipation. The melody and vocal delivery are both superb and, once again, Tom Scott's horn arrangement creates a soft but dense wall of sound as deep as that of a Mellotron. In a rare occurrence, the writers step in to supply the leads with Donald tossing in some playful synthesizer and Walter displaying his underrated, nimble guitar style.

"I Got the News" is a very up-tempo jog through the suburban streets of the city with various instruments jumping in and out of the mix. The bridge, with Michael McDonald's trademark chops rising to the surface again, is a surprise turn and the lyrics about pretty ladies who believe they could get away with murder are very tongue-in-cheek. "Broadway Duchess/darlin', if you only knew/half as much as/everybody thinks you do." Fagen & company sings. "Josie," with its familiar chiming guitar intro, takes the album out on a celebratory note. This cut has a funky feel that's truly infectious and its catchy hook line made it a hit that will never leave the airwaves. I don't know who Josie is but the hometown folks are happy to see her return. "Strike at the stroke of midnight/dance on the bones till the girls say when/pick up what's left by daylight/when Josie comes home." (I might add that I didn't get that kind of reception when I retreated to the homestead after my California experience 3 years later. But few do. P.S. I don't regret a thing.)

True artists aim for immortality with their every creation. They are constantly driven to sculpt a Pieta, paint a Starry Night or compose an Ode To Joy with every try. For Steely Dan, this is their magnum opus. In a career that can only be considered extraordinary, this album of songs towers above the clouds like Mount Everest. I will never grow weary of hearing its magic and I suspect that it will still be respected and revered a thousand years from now. It exists forevermore on a lofty plane inhabited by only a handful of other albums and, thusly, it should most definitely inhabit a place on your shelf.
Matt
They got a name for the winners in the world I want a name when I lose . Well that was not the case for the slick sixth album that was released by Steely Dan in 1977 with a sound that seemed just right for the time. Heavily influenced by Funk,Jazz and Rock and considered the bands best album by many of the critics. Once again Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are at the helm and are Steely Dan as there is no one left but Denny Dias on guitar from the the original band and his appearance would be the last. Denny Dias was a true original as he could have been considered the actual founder of the band as it was he who advertised for the two main members. The three girls are here. Venetta Fields.Sherlie Matthews, Clydie King and a few others,including Mike McDonald doing backing vocals. There are seven guitarists alone making contributions to this album including Walter Becker and a different drummer is used on every song except Bernard Purdle ( Highly regarded session musician) gets to do two, Deacon Blues and Home at Last. Massive Production that had to be as close to perfect that Donald Fagen and Walter Becker could achieve as usual with thir approach to recording. An absolute giant of Jazz makes a contribution that being Wayne Shorter who provided the solo to the title track "Aja" and most likely at the time was glad to have the work.

"Black Cow" is the song that gets the album underway and is one funk cocktail from begining to end with the backing vocalists singing the highs and Donald Fagen doing the rest.. The title track is up second with a jazz and rock influence and Wayne Shorter leaves his stamp on the tune and could be considered the best track of the album.The following "Deacon Blues" and the song "Home at Last" are really the only primarily straight rock songs on the album and too this day are still my favourites as they were back in 1977 when I purchased the record. There is not a shabby track on this album as the prevoius album The Royal Scam but this was the album that made the band a legend in modern contempary music.

I often wonder at the time of release if the music would have been funked up as much if the music scene at the time was not primarily disco and soul and that was really the only style getting the majority of airplay but whatever it really was a hybrid sounding album and one that I immediately liked and around then for me rock music was in a bit of a decline.

Masterpiece definitely but no more than their other albums that I have reviewed. I started to miss the more rock and pop sound of the band from earlier days. All the same this is a must have album and one that I still play 32 years later.

Members reviews

Warthur
I readily acknowledge that Steely Dan - and Aja in particular - isn't for everyone. There are plenty of people who find the band's blend of smooth jazz and soft rock intolerable, particularly on Aja, which has so much studio polish it gleams with the stuff. Words like "overengineered" could be fired at the album with some credibility.

That's fine. Everyone's got their own tastes. Me, I can't get enough of this album. Sure, it's a slickly engineered product with crisp, commercial harmony vocals and poppish numbers like Peg and Josie rounding it out. But the compositions and their delivery are just too perfect not to win me over, particularly in the way they establish a calm, tranquil atmosphere quite at odds with the angry cynicism of the preceding Dan albums. Sure, it's plastic studio jazz-rock produced by an army of session musicians at the beck and call of Becker and Fagen, but sometimes slick 1970s yacht rock isn't all bad. Aja is one of those times.
Sean Trane
Aja is the album that introduced me to Steely Dan, although I must say that it’s mostly through AOR FM airplay, and to be truthful I didn’t think much of these slow/smooth jazz for the third age, or so I thought at 14. So I must say that outside the hit of Peg, that allowed me to peg down (pun intended) every other SD songs I’d already heard as SD, I set the group aside and vowed to return at retirement should I survive that long….. Little did I know that the previous Royal scam was also a small chef d’oeuvre. But some 15 years later, a girlfriend got me to reassess SD’s oeuvre although I certainly didn’t start with this one. My new reassessment confirmed to me a few things, but allowed me to see that SD’s music was always immaculate and the songwriting, although mostly standard, always impeccable and implacable, too professional in many ways. And indeed with Aja, SD reaches the top of the profession’s professional peak: rarely has an album sounded so slick and smooth-gliding, so industry and radio-friendly, so commercially viable…. In a way sickeningly professional, although the album’s almost all black artwork was intriguing, but not enough for me to find out what it was about.

I believe that more than half this album hit the airwaves in one way or another, and so I now realize that I have been very familiar to this album: indeed the title track (either edited or in its full length), Deacon Blues, Peg had gone to gain heavy rotation airplay, but even now I understand why I didn’t like it at age 14. What puzzles me most, is that neither Becker nor Fagen play much on this album, Donald content on singing and playing the odd synth and Becker bassing it up once and taking three lead guitar solos. Minimal input, really!! For the rest, the album calls upon the usual suspect studio rats and therefore this album takes its whole dimension as a professional music industry product. With Aja, we are in 77 and next year is coming out Toto’s first album, a similar product that will also hit the airwaves

After a relatively unremarkable opening Black Cow (another song about drugs), the lengthy title track is a relatively quiet, borderline boring jazz piece with some fake Caribbean feel (the percussions and whistle in the background) that only brightens up with a dynamic last minute ending with some diabolic drumming. But ironically that great ending is underlining just how twee and listless the rest of the track was: not bad per se, but they could’ve made it all so much better. Almost as long (and almost as boring, if not more so) is Deacon Blues, a song that filled the airwaves in all its length or part of it. , which will brig the same reaction

On the flipside, of course past the usual top 40 hit song Peg (and its usual awful Mike McDonald choruses) and its slightly disco/danceable feel, the album was certainly not going to waste itself entirely as the album’s best track (IMHO) is the excellent Home At Last, a brass-laden jazz rock track that simply is irresistible and its lyrics flowing at an incredible rate, while the brass section is superb and Becker’s guitar solo at the end is outstanding AND astounding. The bimbo-dedicated I Got The News is a full piano and drums groove (most likely it’s deceptively simple and very intricate) that doesn’t do that much to change the album’s generally smooth and gliding and it’s not the closing Josie, which after a jazzy intro, sails on an intricate and complex funky and reggae-ish groove, a bit like its predecessor.

Fundamentally my mind hasn’t changed much: Aja is still a boring album, but an impeccably-played album. And despite my relatively bad comments above, I still view this album as SD’s apex, and it is certainly an excellent album by most standards, even those that progheads call their own, including yours truly!!! BUT, this album takes its whole dimension as professional music industry product. With Aja, we are in 77 and next year comes out Toto’s first album, a similar product and more proof that the music scene was moving away from freedom and into the industry’s stranglehold that it had lost back in 65…..

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