Steely Dan - Aja

Steely Dan – Aja

86 / 100

Steely Dan were always a hard band to pigeon-hole, not quite AOR, nor West Coast, nor jazz fusion or country rock, but no denying this was a super album, one of the best from 1977.

Written by: gdmonline

ARTIST: Steely Dan
LABEL: ABC Records
YEAR: 1977
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List

LINEUP: Donald Fagen – synthesizer, keyboards, vocals, backing vocals, whistle * Walter Becker – bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, vocals

Additional Musicians: Chuck Rainey – bass * Timothy B. Schmit – backing vocals

Victor Feldman – percussion, piano, keyboards, electric piano * Paul Griffin – keyboards, electric piano, vocals, backing vocals * Don Grolnick – keyboards, clavinet * Michael Omartian – piano, keyboards * Joe Sample – keyboards, electric piano, clavinet

Larry Carlton, Denny Dias, Jay Gaydon, Steve Khan, Dean Parks, Lee Ritenour – guitars

Bernard Purdie, Steve Gadd, Ed Green, Paul Humphrey, Jim Keltner, Rick Marotta – drums, percussion * Lee Price – fire shards * Gary Coleman – percussion

Tom Scott – conductor, flute, tenor saxophone, lyricon * Chuck Findley – horn, brass * Pete Christie, Jim Horn, Plas Johnson – flute, saxophone * Richard ‘Slyde’ Hyde – trombone * Jackie Kelso, Bill Perkins – flute, horn, saxophone * Lou McCreary – brass * Wayne Shorter – flute, tenor saxophone

Venetta Fields, Clydie King, Rebecca Louis, Sherlie Matthews, Michael McDonald – vocals, backing vocals

TRACK LISTING: 01 Black Cow * 02 Aja * 03 Deacon Blues * 04 Peg * 05 Home At Last * 06 I Got The News * 07 Josie



A couple of months back, Eric took a first stab at reviewing a Steely Dan record for this website. It jolted a few memory leaks for me, big time! Considering the band were a big thing during the 70’s with their run of popular albums and frequent hit singles and equally frequent trips through the maze of the Billboard Charts. Steely Dan were always a hard band to pigeon-hole. Not quite AOR, nor West Coast, nor jazz fusion or country rock.

They were perhaps a mixture of all of them, avant-garde in their ability to be free thinkers in a musical world of cliches and copycats. Snobby discographers will put Steely Dan toward the top of the pile in terms of music history, though I doubt Donald Fagen and Walter Becker could be bothered, instead focusing on turning out some great music for the (then) FM airwaves. 1977’s ‘Aja’ is a case in point. The other artist plying similar territory at the time was L.A’s Boz Scaggs, who’s radio appeal was popular at the time too.

The Songs

A quite beautiful album, with just about every track a timeless masterpiece (there’s only seven of them), appealing across the entire musical divide. Leading off with the cruisy Boz Scaggs sounding ‘Black Cow’, this song borders on ‘cool’, with an Airplay meets Chicago like brass section used as an accompaniment.

Title track ‘Aja’ (pronounced ‘Asia’) is even more restrained and laid back, some passages similar to past material which makes this an easy fit. The piano is used as a lead instrument, and Larry Carlton‘s guitar parts fill this one out. ‘Deacon Blues’ emphasises the acoustic guitar, making for some great Californian sunset music.

‘Peg’s is one of the two popular tracks on the album. The shuffle beat created by drummer Rick Marotta is the backbone of the song, with some funky bass work and clever vocal phrasing all round. A terrific easy-on-the-ear song for sure! The heavy piano and jazz feel of ‘Home At Last’ reminds me Alfie Zappacosta in places, or could it be the other around? lol!

I loved the urban funk extravaganza of ‘I Got The News’ which sounds like a bunch of extremely talented musos going at a musical composition in ad-lib style. The closing ‘Josie’ is probably my favourite track on the album, the familiar motif throughout the song would nominate it fairly highly on my all time list of favourite Steely Dan tracks.

In Summary

As mentioned, a very easy-on-the-ear album, and one that was well liked during 1977. Steely Dan would use up the rest of the decade taking a break, and would return some three years later with 1980’s ‘Gaucho’. The duo missed the end of the disco era, bypassing the punk and new-wave scene, and conveniently tacking onto the burgeoning radio rock era that would only last fleetingly. Steely Dan have navigated the passages of time, leaving a trail of classic pop/rock albums in their wake.


Entire Album (Select Tracks)

Playlist: Steely Dan ~ Aja ~ Full Album ~ (Remastered) HQ Audio.
Watch this playlist on YouTube

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