on April 3, 2000
Not many albums have influenced me as much as Steely Dan's Aja. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker have created a most unique flavour of Jazz meets Rock where beatiful melodies, genius production and perfect performance blend to produce a timeless masterpiece. This album should be on the A-List of everyone who appreciates the beauty of music. The album is full of complex musical concepts which immediately remind the progressive rock fan some of the common manoeuvres in classic progressive rock albums. Take the title song "Aja" for example. This piece takes you on a eight minutes ride to diverse musical patterns that vary between rock and jazz moods, amplified by rich orchestration. Other songs such as "Decon Blues" and "Home At Last" constantly prove to be intriguing while "Black Cow" is captivating. The presence of saxophonist Wayne Shorter on "Aja" is blessed - as a serious Shorter's fan I was delighted to see his inclusion on the album and I regard this decision as a wise one - the solo part he plays is terrific, bringing his genius and gifts to combine perfectly with the different environment he plays in. I would also like to add it is worthwhile for Steely Dan fans to get the remastered version of the album, just for the sound quality. Usually I cannot tell the difference, but since I had the original CD release and heard it so much, I could compare. The difference is amazing, the quality is much better - you can actually hear new sounds and appreciate the separation of the different instruments. The liner notes are quite disappointing, so I ordered the DVD to learn more about making of this unusual album. This album made me buy all of Steely Dan's albums, so if you like it I would recommend underrated "The Royal Scam" and "Countdown to Ecstasy" albums, although all are excellent. Get this album, it may be one of your best musical purchases ever. I know my getting to know it was a bless.
I've lived my life with Aja as a chief soundtrack since it came out. I got it as a kid for Peg, and it has matured like excellent wine since.
The older I get, the better this album gets. On the walkman throughout my travels in various continents, in my car as I went coast to coast many times a year, on the turntable for many sweet evenings watching sunsets fade into the gloaming....Aja never fails. Perfect background music that opens up like a 100-year lotus to reveal, upon serious listening, many layers of harmonic and melodic and rhythmic sophistication.
Plus you can play it over and over back to back, and it just never seems to get boring. I can't think of many other recordings of any sort of music that hold up this well after a thousand or so listenings; maybe Kind of Blue, certain Bach pieces, Segovia's finest moments, and that's all that comes immediately to mind. Whatever mood you're in, Aja will heighten its highs and temper its lows. It's magic!
Don and Wally hit it way out of the park with this one. Seven perfect songs, not one second of fluff, some insanely great guitar solos, one of the best drum solos on record (Steve Gadd on the title track), a great Wayne Shorter alto solo on the same cut, Larry Carlton's inimitable snappy edge on Josie, lyrics that never grow old in their elliptical irony ("I cried when I wrote this song, sue me if I play too long"), and simply gorgeous production make this a gem beyond gems.
This may have been the peak of analog production; the ride cymbals breathe and shimmer, the Strat tones are snappy and fat, Chuck Rainey's bass on Peg pumps and pops, and on and on. Some of the greatest studio players ever are here, and at their best.
The title track is my favorite Dan tune of them all, except maybe Your Gold Teeth II. You can just float away into heaven behind this song.
No praise is too high for Aja; if you don't own this, no matter what kind of music you like, buy it. You will not be disappointed. It's like a friend that never lets you down.
on February 10, 2003
I've been listening to this album (started with the LP in 1977, wore that out until the CD came out) for a long, long time. Each listen still brings a previously unheard riff. Be careful if you are not a jazz fan. Prior to getting into Steely Dan in 1977, I was listening mostly to Top 40 pop. Having listened to Aja and absolutely being engrossed by it, I read the liner notes, noted the talented musicians who played and next thing I know, I'm buying albums by Lee Ritenour, Victor Feldman, Larry Carlton, etc. For me, Steely Dan's Aja suddenly became a one way bridge from pop to the wonderful world of jazz, it changed my musical tastes. This is the album for me to take "If you would be sent to a deserted island with only one CD..."
on August 22, 2003
Ask yourself this, if you have a decent "classic rock" station in your hometown: when you look at the track list to Aja what songs do you see that you might have heard played?
Chances are you will have said "Deacon Blues," "Peg," "Josie." Dig a little deeper and you might have heard "Home At Last," "Aja" and "Black Cow." Heck, I know I have heard "I Got The News" on a deep cuts show or two. That's every durn cut on the album. That's how classic this set is.
Yes, it is the height of the California sound- smoothed out jazz flavored mellow weed influenced yuppie music, but damn if there has ever been any record that goes down smoother. This is math music, every note laid down precisely. No room here for the wonderful noise of punk that was bubbling up at the time.
And unlike say, Gaucho or Everything Must Go, Aja manages to inject some real soul into the music. Simply put Aja is Donald and Wally at their best of best.
on August 3, 2007
There's an old joke that goes something like this: Never eat anything bigger than your head, and never eat anything that looks like puke. But I break both those rules every time I eat pizza.
I have a few musical rules - not hard and fast, but things that describe my tastes fairly accurately. I don't like music that is pretentious, jazz that is too clean, rock that doesn't rock, or bands that don't perform live. I break all those rules every time I listen to any of my Steely Dan albums, which include all of them up to Gaucho.
Aja is a record that has an inexplicable hold over me. I was already a Dan fan when this crown jewel was released. I was turning 20, maybe that just has more to do with it than anything else. Aja is anti-punk... it's the epitome of musicianship applied to pop/rock/fusion/jazz. It is everything punk set out to puncture. If Aja taught me anything, it taught me not to make rules.
Oddly enough, though I consider an album of this stature to be timeless, every track on it sounds, well, so 1977 to me. It still evokes the same emotions, the same drifting images, the same self-definition I was making for myself then. It IS timeless, but at the same time, re-living these sensations makes me very much aware of the 30 years that have passed in between. It makes me feel old, because it conjures up my youth in such a specific way. And I first noticed this about it 18 years ago.
I don't know what else to say that hasn't been said. Black Cow got stuck in my head earlier this week, and that caused me to get out Aja for a play, and it all came back to me again. The title song Aja may be the only purely sonic narcotic ever burned onto a master tape. It's not just a song about drugs, it IS a drug. And I can get wasted on it stone cold sober. After Wayne Shorter's orgasmic tenor sax solo, there's one more chorus and the song fades - with the trailing piano chords still unresolved. The song haunts me like some unfinished love affair from those days, until it calls out to me again.
What I find fascinating is the comparison to the Doobie Brothers of the same time period. I see the similarities, and recognize the names - many of the same personnel playing on the recordings. But to me the Doobies are just take-it-or-leave-it pop, and I could never stand Michael McDonald's pretentious vocals. Yet I can listen to Donald Fagen's ultra-pretentious delivery and sarcastic lyrics over and over and over.
I guess I just don't know what's good for me, or how to make rules.
Simply one of the best albums ever, of any genre.
on February 26, 2008
I am a music fan who enjoys a wide diversity of genres, and as far as classic rock bands go, I will always consider Steely Dan one of the best. I have to agree with many of the reviewers here who state that this is their masterpiece. While I do own several of their other albums (and definitely plan on purchasing more of them), "Aja" is one collection of songs I find myself playing repeatedly if nothing more for the good, positive feelings it evokes in me. When I am tired/down/sad, is truly one album that ranks up there with making me feel better instantly upon hearing it; although I honestly don't have to be in any particular mood to recognize it for the sheer brilliance that it is. Smooth, uplifting, sensual, trippy, clever, intelligent, and just plain amazing!! I own a literal ton of albums, but "Aja" ranks up there easily with my Top Ten favorites. I am so glad I bought it years ago, and I can't imagine ever tiring listening to it (and the title track is incidentally my favorite Steely Dan song, as well). Donald Fagen and Walter Becker truly outdid themselves with this remarkable work!! :-)
on February 28, 2008
Steely Dan's Aja (1977), like most of the band's work, is thoughtful and sophisticated. It's also smooth, polished and neat as a pin. The songs themselves are uniquely deceptive in the way they paint detached, sometimes sarcastic, cinematic images of life, but draw you in emotionally at the same time. The sad resignation of Black Cow with it's upscale nightlife, and the dreamer's lament Deacon Blues with it's romantic last stand poetics, are themes you just don't hear everyday in rock music. Deacon Blues has to be my favorite of all of Steely Dan's songs. It's over seven minutes long, and the music is jazzy, sleek and melodic. It's an imaginative look into the world of a down-on-his-luck dreamer holding on for dear life...
My back to the wall
A victim of laughing chance
This is for me
The essence of true romance
The title track is eight minutes of delightful and jazzy expressions juxtaposed with smooth rock, and augmented with orchestration and rich vocal harmonies. Peg and Josie are pleasant and catchy pop tunes, and both were hit singles. The music on Aja is quite relaxing, actually. It's so orderly and comfortable that there's no real need to chase after it, and it doesn't leave you wishing it was something other than what it already is... an excellent and satisfying album of intelligent, soulful and sophisticated jazz/pop/rock. Aja is also Steely Dan at their highest peak. A classic.
On Aja, Steely Dan reached the perfect synthesis of their jazz, pop and rock mixture. The album contains a scant seven songs, but they are packed with classic Dan lyrics, slick production and tight musicianship. The first three songs, "Black Cow", the title track and "Deacon Blues" best typify the jazz-pop merger as they are lengthy cuts with stirring riffs, great musician interplay and Donald Fagen's all knowing vocals. "Josie" & "Peg" are bouncy, playful and chock full of big hooks. They show that the band aren't just cynics, but can be light as well. What makes Steely Dan such an interesting band is that they are willing to push the musical envelope and blur the lines between different musical styles.
on April 12, 2005
Man, I loved Steely Dan. One of the luckiest coincidences of my life is that my college years pretty much tracked the career of Donald and Walter. Freshman year - Can't Buy a Thrill. Sophomore year? Countdown to Ecstasy. And so on - every year brought a new album from two guys whom I was convinced were stalking me. And the general disillusionment felt by all liberal arts grads in '76 was exactly summed up by The Royal Scam.
Skip a year - my live-in GF of three years has left, I'm working 60 hour weeks, my best friend's father has died suddenly and I drove 14 hours straight to get her home in time for the funeral. I get back from all that and want nothing more but to sleep for a couple days. But my main man is waiting for me with a copy of Aja, hot off the press. We put it on and begin to deconstruct the music. Or attempt to, anyway - we're still listening almost 30 years later, trying to figure out how they did it.
This is a document, a text (for all you lit crit fans) of brilliant form and function. I sincerely hope that musicologists and sociologists are studying this album in 100 years. Why sociologists? As the old joke goes, it's hard to explain the late 70s unless you were there. Post Nixon, post Vietnam, post everything. America at that point was a truly ugly place, a kidney stone of a decade. And here comes Aja to prove that artistic endeavor wasn't dead after all. There was something in that smooth cynicism that was actually hopeful.
And the music hasn't lost any of it's allure. It's a wonderful CD to have in the car on a long trip and I'll always catch myself wondering how they got those harmonies on Peg.
After Aja? I found Gaucho to be a little too self-conscious, as if Walter and Dan were a bit puzzled at their critical acclaim. In truth, I thought The Nightfly was a better album and heralded a new direction to their work. But after that, silence for a long time.
True story: in the early days of the web, SD had a website on the old Pathfinder network, tended by Walter behind his usual facade. I sent a note expressing the hope that he had fully recovered from his injury and illness. To my great surprise, he responded. After a paragraph or two of murky allusions, he admitted it was indeed good to be alive and well. Good on ya, Walter. Long may you run.
on March 14, 2008
These guys always produce great music. I was able to see the in the early years perform, Realing in the Years, period. They were so tight, true professionals. I was suprised with Aja. So different, but well written music and expertly preformed. "Hay 19" is my feels on getting older. Wait, wrong album, but same smoooth jaz.