When it comes to cool, nobody does it like Steely Dan, and Aja is their Magnum Opus
Aja is possibly my favourite album of all time. To me, it is a perfect album. Every single track is pure unadulterated genius. Released in 1977, it pretty much blew everyone’s minds. It appears on so many “Top 100” lists it’s unreal. And the crazy thing is, Steely Dan just make it look so effortless and easy.
You may be surprised to learn that there are only 7 tracks on this stellar masterpiece, but that shows you how much effort has gone into each one. The production value on this album is second to none, with Donald Fagen and Walter Becker’s trademark perfectionism being heard on every track. This meticulous strive for amazing sound means that every instrument is heard crisp and clearly, and nothing is wasted. 37 musicians Seriously, if your album gets deemed by the Library Of Congress to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” and added to the United States National Recording Registry, you know you’ve got a good thing going.
Each track is individual, and there is absolutely no filler. The album opens up with “Black Cow” a brass powered tale about a man who’s girlfriend is hooked on drugs. This sad story beguiles you with its groovy baseline, and you can’t help but nod your head to the beat. Next we’re given the album’s title track “Aja” an 8 minute showcase that mesmerises you with the sheer amount of talent at work. Drums, piano, guitar and more all weave seamlessly around each other as Fagen’s vocals lift you up. It flies towards a powerful crescendo that’ll leave you immediately wanting to listen to it again. This is immediately followed by “Deacon Blues” an amazing song about a jazz player who’s down on his luck, but who’ll keep on playing anyway. It really captures the essence of freedom and just makes you want to get in your car and drive. The saxophone plays seductive solos as the music fades out.
The second half of the album kicks off with “Peg” one of Steely Dan’s most popular songs. It takes the gloomy and ethereal atmosphere of the first half and replaces it with a poppy-jumpy beat, making you move to the rhythm. You can head Michael McDonald providing brilliant back-up harmonies, and Jay Graydon’s amazing solo that he worked on for six hours! Next up is my favourite track, “Home At Last” a super smooth song about trying to find home. There’s a lot of allusions to The Odyssey but you can also interpret it as Fagen and Becker being torn between New York and LA, trying to find out which was their home now. Absolutely ingenious, with an awesome piano hook. Following that is “I Got The News” which is pretty awesome. At first you listen to it and think “Hey, that’s a neat song” but look a little closer at the lyrics, and you discover how dirty it is. Throughout it all are awesome piano licks that only Fagen could do. Closing off the album is “Josie” probably one of the straight-up coolest Dan songs. It’s all about how everyone loves this girl called Josie, so much that they throw a party when she comes home. Of course, we all find out why everyone loves Josie so much. Devilishly wicked, with classic Steely Dan wit. If you ever wanted to know what “Praying like a Roman” means…well, look no further. The riff and beat is so addictive you’ll have it in your head all day long.
Aja is an album that anybody with a passion for music should listen to. If you want to broaden your horizons, then you should absolutely give it a go. Even if you don’t like jazz/rock/pop/funk, then you should listen for a lesson in production, as it is pretty much perfect. Any guitarists who need new inspiration? We have it here. Same with piano, trumpet and drums. Aja has it all, and you won’t regret listening to one of the best albums ever created.