Aja (pronounced "Asia"1) is probably the most sophisticated album ever put out by Steely Dan1. Released on ABC Records in September 1977 after a year of production in several studios around Hollywood and West L.A., Aja was a watershed album for the band. Earning a Grammy Award and producing three hit singles (Deacon Blues, Peg and Josie), Aja was proof to Steely Dan's critics that they had finally "arrived". Fagen and Becker, however, couldn't have cared less.

Renowned for their relentless perfectionism in the studio and having a notorious contempt for pop music critics, Fagen and Becker were just hitting their stride with Aja, which went on to become the biggest selling album of Steely Dan's illustrious career, reaching number 3 on the Billboard chart and spending a year in the Top 40. Recorded with a loose network of session musicians, including Steve Gadd on drums in the title track1, Michael McDonald on backing vocals, Larry Carlton, Victor Feldman, Joe Sample, Tom Scott, Chuck Rainey and a host of others, Aja represents a shifting of Steely Dan's conceptual framework of their music from a Rock and Roll pretext to a smoother, cleaner mutation of assorted Rock, Pop and Jazz styles2.

As Steely Dan's sixth studio album, Aja is a continuation of Fagen's cynical and obtuse lyrical predisposition, but reveals considerable musical refinement in the band's ambition to do their "own thing" — not only in overcoming the amorphous quality that had plagued most other jazz-rock fusion attempts at the time, but in reaching further than ever in their songwriting capabilities. Following on the heels of The Royal Scam (1976), the songs on Aja exhibit a carefully manipulated isolation from the band's audience, with no pretense of embracing them. It is quintessential Steely Dan: extreme intellectual self-consciousness, both in music and lyrics. Aja's acclaim solidified Fagen and Becker as the perfect musical anti-heroes for the Seventies.

I shan't say more about this masterful album, on advice from the artists themselves.

From the new liner notes of the 1999 re-mastered reissue:

As for the Aja album proper, so much has already been written about this '70s blockbuster as to put it in imminent danger of becoming somewhat overrated. Not wishing to add greatly to the bulk of verbiage expended so far, we would like to make the following announcement:

When we recently sent for the multitrack masters of Aja so as to make new surround sound mixes of same, we discovered that the two-inch multitracks of the songs Aja and Black Cow were nowhere to be found. They had somehow become separated from the other boxes, which the producer had abandoned here and there (studios, storage lockers, etc.) almost twenty years before. Anyone having information about the whereabouts of these missing two inch tapes should contact HK Management at (415) 485-1444. There will be a $600.00 reward for anyone who successfully leads us to the tapes. This is not a joke. Happy hunting.

Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, 1999

Credits and attributions:
  1. dannye's writeup in this node from Sun Jan 9 2000 at 02:27:20 UTC
    Regarding Steve Gadd, dannye wrote "No better drum work has ever been done in pop music."
    Regarding Gamaliel's comment in this node, dannye wrote "Deacon Blues was the single which mentioned the Crimson Tide, showing that Becker and Fagen were SEC football fans, obviously."
  2. Michael Duffy's article from Rolling Stone, December 1, 1977
  3. Aja liner notes from the 1999 MCA Records release
Many thanks to dannye for his suggestion to produce this writeup. This one's for nate.

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