Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography


Steely Dan

Jazz Rock/Fusion

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Steely Dan Aja album cover
4.18 | 394 ratings | 38 reviews | 51% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

Write a review

from partners
Studio Album, released in 1977

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Black Cow (5:10)
2. Aja (7:57)
3. Deacon Blues (7:37)
4. Peg (3:57)
5. Home at Last (5:34)
6. I Got the News (5:06)
7. Josie (4:33)

Total Time 39:54

Line-up / Musicians

- Donald Fagen / lead & backing vocals, synthesizer, whistle (2)
- Walter Becker / bass (3), guitar (2,5-7)

- Larry Carlton / guitar (1-3,5-7)
- Denny Dias / guitar (2)
- Lee Ritenour / guitar (3)
- Jay Graydon / guitar solo (4)
- Steve Khan / guitar (4)
- Dean Parks / guitar (6,7)
- Victor Feldman / electric piano (1,3,7), piano (5,6), vibraphone (5,6), percussion (2,4,6)
- Joe Sample / clavinet (1), electric piano (2)
- Michael Omartian / piano (2)
- Paul Griffin / electric piano & backing vocals (4)
- Don Grolnick / clavinet (4)
- Tom Scott / tenor saxophone (1), lyricon (4), horns arrangements & conducting
- Wayne Shorter / tenor saxophone (2)
- Pete Christlieb / tenor saxophone (3)
- Jim Horn / saxophone
- Plas Johnson / saxophone
- Jackie Kelso / flute & saxophone?
- Bill Perkins / flute & saxophone?
- Chuck Findley / brass
- Lou McCreary / brass
- Richard "Slyde" Hyde / brass
- Chuck Rainey / bass
- Paul Humphrey / drums (1)
- Steve Gadd / drums (2)
- Bernard Purdie / drums (3,5)
- Rick Marotta / drums (4)
- Ed Greene / drums (6)
- Gary Coleman / percussion (4)
- Jim Keltner / percussion & drums (7)
- Venetta Fields / backing vocals (1,3,6)
- Clydie King / backing vocals (1,3,6)
- Sherlie Matthews / backing vocals (1,3,6)
- Rebecca Louis / backing vocals (1,6)
- Timothy B. Schmit / backing vocals (2,5,7)
- Michael McDonald / backing vocals (4,6)

Releases information

Artwork: Geoff Westen with Hideki Fujii (photo)

LP ABC Records - AB 1006 (1977, US)

CD MCA Records - MCAD 37214 (1984, US)
CD Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab - UDCD 515 (1988, US) Remaster
CD MCA Records ‎- MCAD-12056 (1999, US) Remaster

Thanks to micky for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
Edit this entry

Buy STEELY DAN Aja Music

STEELY DAN Aja ratings distribution

(394 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(51%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(31%)
Good, but non-essential (16%)
Collectors/fans only (2%)
Poor. Only for completionists (1%)

STEELY DAN Aja reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by The Pessimist
5 stars 1. Black Cow - 5:10 2. Aja - 7:57 3. Deacon Blues - 7:37 4. Peg - 3:57 5. Home at Last - 5:34 6. I Got the News - 5:06 7. Josie - 4:33

Undoubtedly, the pinnacle of this great band's career. I've always seen SD as being a prog band through and through, and now that Miles Davis has been added to PA's massive discography, it has made way for more and more jazz rock bands that are not as highly recognised in the prog world as say, Mahavishnu Orchestra. I am very pleased with this, and the direction PA's now going in. Now on to the actual tracks.

There isn't a single bad song on this album, as with all legendary albums of any era. Black Cow is a stunning chilled out number with what sounds like Bernard Pretty Purdie on drums, splendid Fender Rhodes and some great backing vox. This is one of my favourite songs by Steely Dan. But then comes the all time classic, arguably one of the best song EVER, Aja is a masterpiece in the highest of rights. From the very first notes on the piano, it is the perfect progression that demonstrates the songwriting genius of Donald Fagen. The jazz style guitar is truly brilliant and the drum solos... Oh my god! The drum solos, courtesy of the great Steve Gadd, are world class and should be listened to by every self-respecting drummer! I really mean it. Enough said, you have to listen to it yourself: a true epic.

Deacon Blues eases down into mainstream territory, but still keeps the musicianship of the previous two songs on a high. A fantastic tune with one hell of a saxophone solo to close it off. Only Steely Dan coined this style of song perfectly, and if you like jazz then you will, without a doubt, love this. Peg is a funky number that puts me in a good mood everytime. The rhythms portrayed by Bernard Purdie and Walter Becker are truly dancing quality and extremely tight. Complex vocal harmonies elevate the chorus to the standard of the rest of the album, so this is yet another strong SD track and a favourite at live shows.

Home At Last is a ballady type number with some tasteful piano and quite a cropped arrangement, once again a skill that is easily recognisable in Donald Fagen. I Got The News is another funky number with some splendid electric guitar and some really solid jazz influences. Underneath the vocal line, i perceive this as quite a complex song with a very classy rhythm in the backing. It almost reminds me of the small jazz groups of the 50s like The Dave Brubeck Group etc... Josie tops the album off very nicely indeed, and is a personal favourite of mine out of the entire SD catalogue. Some brilliant rhythm guitar is a pleasure to listen to, tight drumming and a stylish use of brass even more so. Recommended!

Altogether one of the best albums of all time, for jazz, rock, pop and even prog, there is something for everyone. Of the prog community, you will probably favour Aja the most for its progressive jazz nature, but all the songs are splendid in their own right. 5 stars, a masterpiece of music, let alone prog.

Review by JLocke
5 stars AJA.

''Black Cow'' is the album's opener, and wow, what a song! The chorus is very catchy while still managing to put a new twist on typical song structurer and direction. The drumming featured in this song is quite contagious (go, Paul Humphrey!), while the rest of the instruments are on top of their game, as well. The vocal harmonies work extremely well here, and not one note sound out of place. Truly wonderful.

''Aja'' - is the album's title song, starting out with some of the most beautiful jazz piano work I have ever heard, and the punchy bass lines along with vibraphone really helps fill out the sound. The guitar work here isn't bad, either, and the mysterious, moody vocal melodies can't really be beat. The riff tham cones in at 02:20, then comes to full realization at 02:30 gives me true shivers, and the bluesy guitar solo that immediately follows sends me into a trance. If this album is anything, it is proof that Steely Dan, whatever incarnation, can always play their instruments with an equal amount accuracy and passion. A very beautiful song, complete with sax, keys and some mad drumming from Steve Gadd by the time it's all over. This song is quite the epic, as well, clocking in at nearly ten minutes. The chorus is so dreamy and pleasant that I don't see how anyone could dislike these guys or this album, but hey, it takes all kinds, so perhaps AJA's bad review has yet to be written. You certainly won't see it coming from me, however. As an entire album, Aja truly works, but the title song alone is enough reason to buy it. I truly mean that. Everything dies down with a hauntingly weird yet appropriate keyboard riff helping encase all of the madness during the final fadeout.

''Deacon Blues'' is already wonderful within the first ten seconds of the track. Great, great riff. May I add that the guitar playing on this record is unrivaled in places? No, not in speed, but in emotion. Some really great stuff to be found here across the entire board, but the guitars especially really add something to the exprience. This is a very uplifting song at its core, yet it could be taken as meloncholy if not in the correct mindset at the time of listening. Probably my favorite track on the whole record, along with the title track. The simplicity of Aja also should not be overlooked. The guys in Steely Dan are managing to make these tracks feel extremely epic and 'full' without having to over-play. That is something few other prog bands (or indeed, ANY bands) have been able to pull off over the decades, so it is always a treat to hear it pulled off so effortlessly here.

''Peg'' is probably the most straightforward 'jazz' song to be found on the record, sounding incredibly random at times while also remaining together and never feeling unorganized. The main riff playing so eloquently in the background really gives me a sense of rhythm and joy that sends my heart soaring every time I hear it. Again, a track that COULD be taken as being a 'bummer', but when listened to in the right mood on the right day, nothing could be more enjopyable and uplifitng. ''And when you smile for the camera, I know I love you better, Peg.''

''Home at Last''. Ooh, great, and I mean GREAT piano work here at the start, and all throughout, really. Much mellower and chill, this track is potentially the weakest on the record, and that is saying something indeed, since it's still of fantastic caliber despite the shortcomings. I guess my biggest complaint for this one is that it has already gotten repetetive for me. There isn't enough substance or growth to justify its length. That's just my opinion. The tune is still lovely, and the playing is top-notch as always, but except for the synthed-up bridge in the middle, I don't find it all that compelling or interesting. At least not enough to sit through five minutes and thirty-five seconds of it. Still, on its own, the song could rival anything on the radio these days, so these complaints are trivial, frankly. Still much better than most stuff.

''I've Got the News'' - The drum and bass work here is truly groovy. I think this song gives the best example of Rainey's prowess on his instrument. Ed Greene does great cymbal smashing work as well. Overall, a good track. Very compelling, always adding layers. I never got bored.

''Josie'' serves as the album's closer, and something about it is very 'seventiees' to me, for whatever reason. I like it. I like it alot. Not really much can be said about it other than the fact that it closes yet another master work that I am very proud to have in my collection. Gets many spins, this record. Well deserved, if you ask me. Is it Steely Dan's best? Perhaps, but for me the jury is still out, since I have yet to scourge through their entire back catalogue. Most likely, though. It's certainly the best of theirs I have heard so far.

AJA is truly a masterpiece, with just enough Jazz elements to keep us guessing, and all the rocking elements that make it worthy of being called 'progressive rock'. What truly great a debt we owe to masters like Steely Dan for not being afraid to completely start over in their line-up and sound. The result was AJA, and it was a monumental moment in music. Despite its couple of small hiccups, it is still perfect by most standards. I can't give it any less than a perfect score. Truly essential.

Review by progrules
4 stars In my review of The Royal Scam I stated that that album is along with this one the best of Steely Dan's entire discography. It really is in my opinion and that also means that 1976/77 is the peaktime of the band.

Take this album: it contains three smashing songs and four very good ones. The three best are Deacon Blues (great jazz !), Josie (very nice atmosphere) and of course the title track that is also the most progressive song they ever produced I believe. Peg is also a classic but a little bit less for my taste and the other three (Black Cow, Home at last and I got the news) are relatively new for me (few years ago) but sound absolutely fantastic maybe with exception of I got the news which is the least for me.

This means we are talking about a near masterpiece here, it ends up with a rating of some 4,4/4,5 so I will have to give 4 but that's not with pleasure !

Review by Rivertree
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Band Submissions
4 stars It took quite a long time until I began to listen to my Steely Dan stuff again because it was pushed into the background by other music spontaneously in the past. I'm really convinced of the album's high standard. They started off in 1972 with catchy sophisticated soul and jazz drenched rock/pop music. First of all during the 70/80's they were highlights on parties and filled the dance floors with the debut album hit 'Do it again' and 'Rikki don't lose that number' from the album 'Pretzel Logic'. Donald Fagan and Walter Becker as the masterminds began to expand and modify their style noticably with their next album 'Countdown to Ecstasy'. 'Aja' from 1977 won the Grammy Award for Best Engineered Non-Classical Recording and is the one with the most leanings to progressive rock for me.

Fagan and Becker are known for their meticolous work and the strong intention to reach perfectionism. They even have been able to drive some musicians to desperation whilst recording the songs. But it worked finally. This album proves their songwriting capabilities at the creative peak and they gathered the who is who of jazz (rock) for the recordings - for example Larry Carlton and Joe Sample (Crusaders) or such as Michael McDonald who is one of my alltime favourite vocalists. Speaking of vocals - they always have a dominant role in their albums and 'Aja' is not an exception even though we have longer instrumental passages here and there.

The lyrics don't contain very substantial messages - or they are using metaphors and I don't get it. The opener Black Cow for instance is expressing some sadness dealing with the common subject drug use - 'You were high, it was a cryin disgrace' - and of course with this special eponymous drink - vanilla ice cream combined with root beer - which I've never tried in my life (probably I have to come to the States for that?). Musically a typical SD track I would say - jazzy electric piano and brass dominated and comparable with the Crusaders output.

My favourite track Aja is truly prog, varied, fusion infected and nearly epic with a complex structure and more instrumental portions featuring Wayne Shorter delivering a great saxophone solo - extraordinary drum playing by Steve Gadd included. When you use your headphones you are able to catch all the details without being diverted - a moment of glory. Deacon Blues a very smooth jazzy song is often noticed as another album highlight and for the sake of clarity I listened to it again and again but can't approve this. A nice mellow one but also mainstream all through.

After that the band comes back to familiar surroundings - groovy songs with a high ratio of jazz are following, excellently arranged with catchy melodies and technically skillful without any doubt - Peg for example is convincing with the help of some well-known backing vocalists and together with Josie they are really candidates for animating people to enter the dance floor on your party.

Great album. An extensive prog rock collection should also contain some related examples though - why not? Four stars are well deserved for this extraordinary album.

Review by Chris S
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Like a sleeping giant. Aja is an album that oozes class. Jazz rock with heavier progressive inflections all over it make it debateably their most progressive album to date. Adding to their already perfectionist ' behind the scenes' studio indulgences, Aja took a different direction and in many respects followed on from the ' Royal Scam' track off the same titled previous release. Except Aja has no jagged edges, it is so smoothe you will probably slip off the couch just listening to it. ' Black Cow' sets the album off onto a quality note, great chorus work and note the ubiquitous prescence on Timothy B Schmit of Eagles fame adding vocal work. No bass this time but his voice contributing to the overall vocal sounds. The next song is ' Aja' and is the finest and most complex song off the album. Great keyboards, strong jazz sounds and this song needs to be listened to, to be fully appreciated. ' Deacon Blues' another firm favourite, great melody and distinct sounds. ' Peg' and ' Josie' are more returns to the jazz funky elements but for that steady slowburn emotion ' Home At Last' and ' I Got The News' revisit the Aja soundscape. As I said Aja is a sleeping giant, complex, slumbering but oh so smoothe. Seldom visiting my archives of sound does anything come close to being quite as slick and sophisticated as Aja. Unless you are familar with their following album Gaucho! A solid four and a half stars.
Review by Chicapah
5 stars The 1970s were 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 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 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 prog hasn't really listened to this amazing track. Like all fine progressive 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 proggers 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.

Review by Sean Trane
3 stars 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 a 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...

Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Aja is the sixth studio album from US pop/ rock act Steely Dan. Their last album The Royal Scam ( 1976) was a return to form after a couple of weaker albums and Aja continues the good laid back jazzy pop/ rock style of its predecessor.

The music is unmistakably Steely Dan but the technical level and the jazzy approach is a bit more obvious on Aja than it has been on any other of the preceding Steely Dan albums. All songs are well composed and even better performed but the title track does stand out with its tasteful and challenging instrumental mid-section. Thereīs even a fusion like ending to the song. Really interesting.

The musicianship is as usual excellent. There are so many layers in the music.

The production is excellent. Probably the best production Steely Dan ever had and that says a lot because every album from this band/ project is outstanding if you like polished and detailed productions.

Iīm not totally blown away by Aja, but itīs as close as Steely Dan will ever get to making an excellent album IMO. 3 BIG stars is well deserved. I would start with Aja if I was new to the band.

Review by Finnforest
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The Dan pinnacle, part 2: The favorite

"This is the day of the expanding man."

And that brings us to Aja. More than anything that preceded it Aja represents the culmination of where the boys wanted to be. On the perch, high above the other music of the day and finally on the receiving end of the near-universal acclaim they deserved. They had delivered their masterpiece and a piece of work they would never top again. The level of sophistication and elegance in the arrangements was staggering, the perfectionism of the sound pushed to positively fascist degrees. There is absolutely no trace left of the musical five o'clock shadow that filled their earlier albums. Aja moved further towards fusion and introduced more progressive elements with longer pieces and more elaborate jamming and yet is retains the pop sensibilities that gave the band such a large audience. As mentioned in my Royal Scam review this is where the music turned much dryer for better or worse, the dry sheen would carry into Gaucho making the two albums twins in style.

The album took a year to record with Gary Katz at the helm. The process was sometimes grueling as they would do take after take with various musicians looking for the one that was just right. Five of the seven tracks are radio favorites which gives the album a bit of a "Rumours" overkill factor for some, yet the songs hold up very well today. Both Fagen and Becker love "Josie", Fagen saying it reminds him of the great R and B he so loves, "stuff like Charlie Parker." All of these classic songs are beneficiaries of nuance and precision yes, but with the mission of also being something you want to hear. That's what they emphasized in the documentary I just watched. Yes, they were shooting for perfection, but they wanted to take it beyond that by loosening it up and making it an album that would be enjoyable to hear. Last, they noted that on their previous albums they were New York transplants in LA, writing songs about New York characters to help them deal with being homesick. They acknowledged feeling a bit like characters in a Woody Allen movie where LA made them neurotic and disoriented. Then by the time they were ready to head back to New York in the late '70s, they were writing songs about California and maintain that Aja captures that California vibe. You be the judge.

Lyrically the album is another ode to characters of all sort, women and nostalgic fountain drinks. They claim Deacon Blues is the closest to autobiographical as they would ever get. Familiar characters are discussed, some aspiring losers and fading hipsters they would acknowledge freely. But as Becker said, referring to his character's philosophies in these songs: "whose to say they're wrong?" Indeed.

Review by Queen By-Tor
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Smooth

Those familiar with Steely Dan know their style - pleasant jazz/rock with a hint of prog that makes for a very nice listen. While this is not what all proggers are looking for in their music it certainly makes for a nice combination and a good addition to the crossover category. Aja is often considered to be Steely Dan's best offering out of their limited discography, and it's not hard to see why. The euphoric blend of sounds makes for an album to sit back and indulge in, and while it may not be the most demanding piece of music ever written it still makes fora good time.

One of the most notable qualities of the music is just how 'unoffensive' it is. This works as both a plus and a minus, really - it means that you can put this album on in the background and walk away from it, let it play and come back a little bit later and comment how nice of an experience that was, but it also means that if you're looking for a sonic barrage that could be put on by the likes of Gentle Giant with their complexity, or the aggression of other groups then you're very much in the wrong place. Aja is quite radio friendly (which is probably the best way to put it), and while it may be high ranking on the list of sophisticated jazzy pop-rock it will never have the same amount of oomph as other, more dense records that catch on with the 10th listen and change your life when they do. With this album it's more of a ''what you hear is what you get,'' and while that is some good pleasing music, it never really makes you want to run home and slam the album on so that you can partake in its mysteries.

Still, what they do, they do very well. The musicianship on this album may not be wildly experimental like other seminal artists, but it is very tight and well written. The album is very 'soft' in its approach, but it does go strait to the heart with its melodies, so while it may not be an album that yells at you to listen to it again it does hit the spot when you finally find the time to put it on. The first side of the album is particularly impressive, with opuses like the magnificent title track, Aja and the melodramatic Deacon Blues carrying its sad notes throughout. The second side tends to be a little more 'accessible' with more traditional structures and songs that you've probably heard played to death on fm radio. Peg has some pleasing saxophone stings in the short and catchy tune while Josie is a little bit more upbeat and fun. Home At Last probably makes the best use of the sax in the context of the album, and moments of it even feel like more traditional jazz before coming back into the more rock aspects of it.

In the end this is a very good album. Worth many listens, but it will probably never grab the average prog head quite like other releases will be able to do. 3 stars out of 5 for a good album - recommended for those who enjoy some jazzy rock, but people who may consider the softer end of the rock spectrum to be boring should be warned, because they may just find themselves calling the album just that.

Review by snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Aja is best SD album, I think. It's jazzy comfortable, but very intelligent sound. Golden melodies, perfect arrangements. It is almost unpossible find weak points in album music.

Yes, I think it is not for everyone taste: clever pop-rock in very professional jazzy clothes. Warm and comfortable music, but it has more layers, than it looks from the first listening.

To be honest, it took a long for me just to accept Steely Dan in general. For a long it was just classy pop-band for me, and it wasn't very big mistake. If you never listened their music, I think that your first impression will be the same.

Don't be affraid of it, just take your time, return back when you will be ready to read deeper layers of their music.

One day I realized, that they are whatever you want: it depends on what you want to find there in their music. For classy pop-song or soft rock fans they are idols of the style. If you will try to find difficult arrangements and briliant technics under their catchy,but pop melodies- you will do it.

I think they are both: a bridge between pop-rock and jazz-rock of their own formula.

Review by Matthew T
5 stars 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 but for me 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 either 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 and prog were in a bit of a decline.

Masterpiece definitely but no more than their other albums that I have reviewed and 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.

Review by Flucktrot
3 stars When jazz gets this smooth, we've started down a very slippery slope indeed.

Somewhere in the pursuit of perfection and precision, Steely Dan has lost a bit in the way of melody, texture and soul. Everything is just a little too perfect--the snare just a bit too tight, each vocal harmony just a bit too perfect, and each horn accent just a tad to in sync. The resulting sound have a very sanitized--perhaps at times bland--feel to it.

Of course, I wouldn't be complaining if the songs were great, but Deacon Blues is the only song from Aja that I would truly consider to be great. Peg is certainly toe-tapping, if formulaic, and the instrumental section in the title track is high quality, but I am excited by very little else on the album. There's is definitely nothing that's poorly done or a glaring weakness--indeed, far from it!--but the precision and production, along with the relatively simple rhythms, siphons most of the soul and energy from the tracks.

And so Steely Dan's conversion to the yacht rock genre is nearly complete with Aja, and in my opinion, to the detriment of true progressive jazz fusion.

Review by The Quiet One
5 stars A-ha! The Greatest Pop Album!

Is it really blasphemy to call Steely Dan pop? Well, it really depends on your definition of pop. In this case I use it meaning that the music is instantly catchy, light/smooth in the melody department and tends to have the verse-chorus format. However, Donald Fagen, Walter Becker & Co. are not any catchy pop affair, they have really surpassed themselves and the "pop genre" with their 1977 release, Aja.

Not only the music is catchy and smooth, but the quality of the playing and arrangements is top-notch and that's what makes it one of the finest pop albums ever, in my opinion of course, though have in mind that I'm not the biggest pop aficionado. But Steely Dan not only played pop in a refined and talented way, it's damn original with its nod to jazz.

Donald's vocals, the smoothness, the catchy hooks and occasional original solo, it's just all perfect and up- lifting, it's really hard not to like this. Although Aja is strong throughout, there are definitely some highlights, as you should expect, these are the longer tracks, the title track and Deacon Blues where the musicianship really shines and you really can't say what is better, the hooks or the instrumental parts. Anyway, in terms of catchiness and groove, each listener will have a different favorite; all seven tracks are flawless pop music and of different kind.

The conclusion to this review is a no-brainer, this is simply a must-have record for music fans. Might not be a Prog fan's favorite, but undoubtedly it's an enjoyable ride for anyone. It's pop and it's awesome.

5 stars: sophisticated pop masterpiece with jazz tinges that I recommend to anyone who likes once in a while some really fine smooth music with groove and great instrumental playing.

Review by BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Though popular and get pop radio play, this album was, to me, a masterpiece of almost jazz fusion. I mean, look at the musicians involved with the project it reads like a Who's Who of the Jazz fusion scene in LA in the mid-70s: Joe Sample and Larry Carlton of the Jazz Crusaders, Wayne Shorter, Steve Gadd, Victor Feldman, Tom Scott, Jim Horn, Chuck Findley, Denny Dias, Jay Graydon, Steve Khan, Dean Parks, Lee Ritenour, Pete Christlieb, Don Grolnick, Michael Omartian, Richard "Slyde" Hyde, Plas Johnson, Jackie Kelso, Lou McCreary, Bill Perkins, Bernard Purdie, Chuck Rainey, Ed Greene, and Jim Keltner and Rick Marotta!!! FAgan and Becker orchestrating a fusin big band! Tight, one of the best recorded and engineered albums I had heard up to that point (so far superior to their previous albums in terms of sound engineering). The album sounds, to this day, like a sonic wet dream.

Side One:

1. "Black Cow" (5:10) starts the album off with very cool groove. Once you've played this song you can't stop: you just have to play the whole album. Amazing background vocals and horns. Lyrically astounding. I love intellect in the lyrics. (9.25/10)

2. "Aja" (8:00) is without a doubt the coolest jazz song to get pop air play! The instrumental jam is mesmerizing! I love the electric piano, "Oriental-infused" instrumental section that starts early in the third minute that culminates, of course, with STEVE GADD's amazing drum play beneath Wayne Shorter's sax solo. (14.5/15)

3. "Deacon Blues" (7:37) like "Black Cow" this song just sucks you into the coolness of the groove. Sit back and enjoy the story, enjoy the incredible background vocals and tight jazz performances. Yacht rock at its finest. (14.5/15)

Side Two:

4. "Peg" (3:57)) the "big" hit from the album is, IMO, the weakest song on the album. Tight performances can't overcome a bit too much repetition. Amazing bass line from Chuck Rainey. I love Don Grolnick's clavinet. sweet guitar solo from Jay Graydon. Nice lyricon sax from Tom Scott. I never grew accustomed to (or liked) Michael MacDonald's voice. (8.75/10)

5. "Home at Last" (5:34) a "pop" song about Ulysses! I was and still am blown away by this song (it's my favorite on the album). The extended instrumental parts are sheer magic and bliss. I want to be tied to the mast!! (10/10)

6. "I Got the News" (5:06) sounds like a funked up "Kid Charlemagne"--very cool jazz piano work, nice bass and drum work--and very tight, precise performances across the board--it's just not melodic or engaging enough for my tastes--though I do like the second motif that starts at the two-minute mark. (8.75/10)

7. "Josie" (4:33) has one of the most infectious rhythm guitar riffs ever put to vinyl. Add to that another amazing bass track from Hall-of-Famer Chuck Rainey and super tight performances from the rest of the legions and POW! a great song that hooks you in and never lets go. I always hated that this song had to end! (10/10)

Total Time 39:54

To be sure, one of the iconic albums of the 70s--with every song evoking memories of sunshine and ease (my college days). A masterpiece that stands up over time better than 95% of the stuff that came before or since.

A/five stars; an amazing, sure-fire, timeless masterpiece of pop jazz-rock fusion. It's also one of the best sound productions ever pressed to vinyl. Another on of my Top 10 Jazz-Rock Fusion Albums of prog's "Classic Era."

Review by Mellotron Storm
3 stars I was having difficulty explaining what it was about the "Royal Scam" that turned me off but one listen to "Aja" revealed the answer.1977 and 1978 were not the best of times for me being an insecure 16 / 17 year old trying to fit in and at the same time trying to find that special band or album I could call my own. Sure I had LPs of bands like HEART, STEVE MILLER BAND, STYX and other AOR bands that I liked but it wouldn't be until 1979 when all hell would break loose (in a good way) for me both musically and in my life. I soon found out that those bands I mentioned and many more didn't even compare to groups like RUSH, LED ZEPPELIN, PINK FLOYD, BLACK SABBATH and so on. I had found myself and my music. Is it a coincidence that it happened at the same time ? Liitle did I know that these bands were just the tip of the iceberg. Anyway back to "Aja" which unfortunately reminds me of that time as did "Royal Scam" to a lesser degree. I still remember working at this small airport (cutting grass and pumping gas) on weekends. I was 17, and at lunch time I would sit in my dad's truck he let me borrow and listen to all the crap that was on the radio back then. Well a couple of tracks on here really remind me of that time.Thankfully there are a couple of tracks on here I really like while the rest are just okay.

"Black Crow" is funky to start until the vocals join in. Horns after 2 1/2 minutes followed by piano. Horns are back late to end it. "Aja" is a top two track. I like the way the tempo picks up each time on the chorus. Nice little drums show as well before 5 minutes. Horns and guitar follow then the vocals return. "Deacon Blues" is not good for me at all. Shmaltsy is the word even if it's not a real word. I hated this song back in the day.The backing female vocals don't help either. "Peg" is okay, a catchy little number. "Home At Last" is pretty good, I like the drums, piano and bass. "I Got The News" is one I don't like in the least despite the good drumming. "Josie" is the other top two. I like the intro and the way it is reprised before 3 1/2 minutes.

Review by Warthur
5 stars 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.

Review by b_olariu
3 stars Sixth album Aja from 1977 is considered by many fans and listners their peak of their career. Well, I don't know, I really like Countdown to ecstasy and to me is their most consistent album from the catalogue. Aja as another reviewer said is not for everone, here the blend of smooth jazz and soft rock is very very polished and most of the time very hard to get into. For me this is my least fav Steely Dan album. Ok there are some ok pieces here like Deacon Blues or the Black cow but the rest are only ok to my ears, to smooth and slick to my taste. 3 stars is best I can give, good but far from the gretness of Countown.
Review by rogerthat
5 stars Whether or not you like Aja, or just don't like it as much as Steely Dan fans typically do, you can't deny that it is the album that Donald Fagen and Walter Becker tirelessly strove to make, the logical culmination of their style and approach to music. The duo have all but admitted as much and in any event, the lyrics of songs like Deacon Blues bear it out. Perhaps fighting a nagging feeling that they hadn't quite got to where they should have with their talent, Fagen and Becker made a last ditch effort at writing a masterpiece and, BOOM!, they came back with one for the ages. Aja is to Steely Dan as Paranoid is to Black Sabbath or Moving Pictures to Rush. You may argue that there are better albums to showcase these bands' greatness from a hardcore fan's point of view but they are, for better or worse, the albums by which the popular image of these bands has been defined and the ones that will ensure the bands themselves are remembered for a long time by rock listeners.

That being the case, it cannot be said that this was just another Steely Dan album that the press whimsically talked up for the 'gullible' record-buying public to faithfully lap up. While the essential Steely Dan style is very much in evidence here, there are also significant, even drastic, differences on Aja as opposed to their previous work.

Up to this point, Steely Dan tended to play the West Coast doppelgangers of Sparks, i.e, nerdy, playfully misogynist and daring but not emotional in the conventional sense of the word. I say West Coast to emphasise the difference between them and Sparks. Dan stuck to jazz-rock/pop and kept the basic formula safe and appealing, putting all the adventure in the chords while Sparks were outrageous even at a superficial level. Such music does appeal to, well, nerdy left-brained listeners who have grown tired of the myriad cliches reprised by pop to express a very narrow band of emotions (three words in fact: love, love, love). But perhaps there may be listeners who are not necessarily addicted to cookie cutter pop but not so nerdy as to prefer music without the emotions. They may still want to hear some pain, yearning, warmth in the music and both bands shut themselves out of that market with their approach.

I am not sure that Fagen or Becker have ever admitted to wanting to consciously change that with Aja. It may have been an outcome of their sheer confidence in their songwriting skills at the point combined with their desperation to break through. Whatever it was, for the first time (and possibly the last?), Steely Dan dropped their guard and let go on Aja. Gradually, feelings of love, longing and rebellion began to pour out from their music. But hold it, they were still very much the calculating LA cats (New York in point of fact) so they controlled the flow, resulting in subtly beautiful rather than cathartic music.

A case in point is in the title track. If you feel inclined to pass a jaded judgment on its lengthy interludes, just try listening to Aja on a cool, rainy evening. Preferably gentle rain, not a downpour. Chances are you finally make sense of the song or, rather, connect with its emotions. The sounds almost do seem to gently hit the speakers like little raindrops. Nowhere else does this parallel make more sense to me than Steve Gadd's incredible coda. He is playing complex and furious patterns but the sound is very beautiful and...atmospheric. Steely Dan have never been this expansive and contemplative. As they remark on the Classic Albums documentary (a must watch while we are on that), they were feeling really lucky that day and decided to go with the flow and get a bit more ambitious.

A few cliched ideas seep in on Deacon Blues but Donald Fagen sings it with a lot of heart. He is not meant to sound so melodic but he tries really hard anyhow and with a little help from their army of sessions musicians, pulls it off. The duo reveal on the documentary that it is almost an autobiographical song. Steely Dan plead that they would just like to be famous losers if they cannot make it. In the event, that was fortunately not required but the song reveals a mix of despair and defiance ("Sue me if I play too long").

Just in case you thought they really ought to be sued for playing too long, Steely Dan make it short and sweet again, but with their newfound depth of feeling, on Home At Last. It is often said to be their best song and it is hard to disagree. Beautiful guitar leads and horns bring up the jazz element, but it's all underpinned by a very bluesy riff. If Aja is the culmination of Steely Dan's musical philosophy, Home At Last in itself is the culmination of Aja. It maintains the unhurried, relaxed feeling that envelopes the album but with nary a note too many.

The other tracks are excellent but fall a bit short of the unusual introspection and awareness that the above three possess. Let's just say the smart cats hedged their bets anyway and put in some of the stuff that is bound to work for Steely Dan loyalists. Peg, Josie and I Got The News all have great guitar leads and Black Cow has some exquisite piano. Crucially, they balance the return to snide lyrics by maintaining the relaxed, atmospheric flavour of the album (especially Black Cow).

As an overall experience, Aja is sumptuously consistent and leaves you with the distinct feeling of having had a wonderful, memorable time and longing for some more. As alluded to earlier, Steely Dan achieved this with not a little bit of support from their fantastic session musicians. I repeat myself but do check out that documentary to get an insight into what they brought to the table; they weren't just robots blindly obeying the instructions of the masters, far from it.

At the time, it perhaps seemed like a new beginning. Having battled to earn their own place in the crowd of arena-oriented rock with fret-strutting guitar Gods, Steely Dan had finally triumphed with Aja. It could have heralded a new wave of popularity for studio cats working with brilliant sessions musicians. Instead, Steely Dan themselves ushered in the computer age with Gaucho (never mind that they utilised many sessions musicians for that one too) and musicians could put together the music they wanted on the computer without even having to depend on sessions musicians.

In hindsight, Aja wound up as a strange corporate rock swan song for prog and all that it stood for. It brought curtains down on an era of expensive recordings involving the best musicians and technicians (consider that some prog rock bands utilised an orchestra for some of their recordings). The age of obsessive perfectionism and excess in rock was over and there hasn't really been a revival. Maybe because an album like Aja is so hard to top. Five stars.

Review by TCat
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
5 stars By now, most everyone has probably heard this album, either partially or completely. To review this album again is almost like repeating everything everyone else has already said about it. It is a gem, the perfect pinnacle for Steely Dan's career as a group and a homage to two great jazz rock greats, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. They did have some great material before this album and even after, but nothing matches the perfection of this album. And the amazing thing is, you listen to it and it all seems so effortless. That could have been part of the trouble prior to this album, in that not every album was consistently as good as this one turned out to be, that maybe they were trying too hard.

The jazz is smooth, mostly, and the music is very catchy. The tunes stay in your head, even the instrumental parts. You can search Steely Dan's discography, and yes you will find some great music, but the closest thing you will come to that compares to this album is Donald Fagen's "The Nightfly". This album set the bar for me as far as jazz rock is concerned, and the title track "Aja" set the standard for individual jazz/rock songs. What a perfect song, plenty of smoothness and progressiveness, a perfect blend of both. Trying to describe the title track is impossible, it must be heard and re-heard to appreciate it.

There are other great songs here including "Deacon Blues" with it's amazing sax-led instrumental sections, the somewhat funky "Black Cow" and "Josie", the lilting piano hook of "Home at Last", it's all good. There is quite a line up of jazz musicians contributing to this album also, and even with this many players, everything sounds so cohesive. Even Michael McDonald's supporting and background vocals sound perfect here, and I'm not a McDonald fan at all.

So anyway, for such a masterpiece, this is a short review. But the music here really speaks for itself. You can talk about jazz chord progressions and techniques all you want, and you can analyze the music to death, the best way to experience it is to listen to it, but not just once, several times. Every jazz/rock fusion fan should be familiar with this album.

Review by Menswear
3 stars Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem

When I listen to this album, I cannot see anything else but the Muppets playing. Aja is such a cult record, dare I stab at it?

Less a stab than more of a jab. Completely rooted in the zeitgeist of the 70's, Aja is oozing with what made that style corny. It's light jazz you can hear in every Holiday Inn lobby or at 2am when lottery numbers shows on tv. And played by Muppets. I cannot put it more graphically.

I personnally have to give major thumbs up to Peg, one of the quirkiest and joyful song ever written. Actually my first ecounter with Peg was in De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising album, on the Eye Know track. I also strongly recommend the first DeLa Soul record to anybody looking for intelligent (or nerdy?) old school hip hop.

It's light and breezy (but so is Kenny G) but far from what I expected. I hardly see where all the genius is. I just know that my wife asked me firmly to turn it off. Yes honey, right away.

You know when Saturday Night Live is presenting it's cast on the opening credits? That's the kind of corny-saxophone-beret-with- sunglasses music to expect. Waka Waka!

Good but overrated.

Review by Necrotica
5 stars Throughout the entire Steely Dan discography review, there's one term I've deliberately avoided until now: 'yacht rock'. It's a subgenre that was retroactively created in the mid-2000s to define a lot of the soft rock bands of the 70s and early 80s, often recognized for its association with smooth jazz and R&B influences. You'll often find bands such as The Doobie Brothers and Toto tagged with this label these days, and Steely Dan - particularly from Aja onward - is no exception. The reason I haven't brought it up until now is because it's often used as a pejorative term; in fact, it goes a long way in describing why Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were so hated by younger listeners from the 2000s onward. While it's just seen as a footnote in music history today, Steely Dan's win at the 2001 Grammys for Two Against Nature was a serious point of controversy back when it happened. After all, people were clamoring for a more modern artist like Radiohead or Eminem to win! To many, it was a sign that the boomers had won and gotten their 'revenge'.

The reason I bring all of this up is because Aja, for all of its accolades, is often considered a turning point in Steely Dan's career. It's seen as the moment the duo finally took the final plunge into their jazz influences to create a full- fledged pop-jazz fusion hybrid, especially when examining songs such as the complex title track and the smooth jazz stylings of 'Home at Last'. But if you read the contemporary reviews that were released at the time, you'll come across descriptors such as 'over-polished', 'lacking in edge', 'clinical', and so forth (I'm looking at you, Robert Christgau). The fact that Aja was the immediate successor to The Royal Scam probably didn't help either, seeing as the latter was their most guitar-oriented album to date. But I don't think it should be any surprise at all that this record was the eventual outcome of Becker and Fagen's relentless tinkering with studio technology and guest musician rotations. If anything, it was inevitable.

Say what you want about the yacht rock descriptor, but Steely Dan really took that subgenre's elements as far as they could go. So let's put context aside for a while and zoom in on the music at hand. More than any other record by the group, I would consider Aja their 'character study' album. Each tune focuses on a specific character - some in third person, some in first person - and assigns them their own interesting scenario or mood. Some of these are left open-ended, such as the person drinking the titular 'black cow' in the song of the same name (which is another term for a root beer float) or the vague Chinese imagery surrounding the woman described in the title track. Others, however, are quite painfully clear; the most notable of these would be 'Deacon Blues', which focuses on a dreamer whose imagination always surpasses the reality he lives in. The character simply lives in a perpetual state of longing, which is conveyed brilliantly by the dreamlike R&B-meets-jazz approach of the music.

Speaking of the music, it's easily the most impeccably written and performed work of the band's discography up to that point. The years of Becker and Fagen becoming a studio-only act really found their peak here, as the duo had gotten incredibly proficient at knowing exactly what musicians to use for each track. Many familiar faces return for this project, such as the legendary bassist Chuck Rainey, drummer Bernard Purdie (check out his purdie shuffle on 'Home at Last') as well as the usual roster of amazing guitarists. But there are some really surprising additions to the lineup this time around; the most striking of these would probably be Weather Report saxophonist Wayne Shorter's performance on the title track, once again signifying the group continuing their transition into the jazz realm. Steve Gadd also makes his first appearance on a Dan album with the same song, closing out the tune with a drum solo that's now considered legendary. As with previous records, however, the magic is in how every musician is used. Chuck Rainey, for instance, has a much different style of bass playing to that of Walter Becker's; this leads to an amazing contrast between the approaches of the upbeat and funky 'Peg' and the smooth, slow rhythms of 'Deacon Blues'.

Aja also happens to have the shortest tracklist of any Dan album up to this point (and only rivaled by its followup Gaucho), which means the duo didn't have any time to waste on filler tracks that might have been used in previous records to pad out the runtime ('Pearl of the Quarter' and 'With a Gun' immediately come to mind). Seven tracks, all killer no filler. Every song is unique enough to stand out, while also being consistent enough stylistically to not stand out like a sore thumb. It's worth noting that this isn't the group's jazziest album - either Gaucho and Two Against Nature would take that honor - but that actually works in its favor. Songs like 'Peg' and 'Josie' serve as perfect ways to break up the more dense and progressive sections of the record, not to mention being instantly memorable and impossibly catchy. What makes Aja so amazing lies in the fact that it balances so many different moods, themes, and styles as flawlessly as it does. When you step back and examine the album as a whole, it's pretty astounding how well Becker and Fagen managed to juggle artistic credibility and commercial appeal.

So, getting back to where we started, Aja serves as a perfect example of why Steely Dan shouldn't just be passed off as nothing but 'boomer music'. That pejorative label happens to be the very reason I passed on the band for several years, but this record proves just how incredible the fusion of jazz and rock can be when it's in the right hands. This is the culmination of all the studio experiments and painstaking perfectionism that Steely Dan worked with, and the high standards they set paid off beautifully. Becker and Fagen accepted nothing less than the best, and with Aja they reaped the incredible rewards that came with such a mindset.

Review by jamesbaldwin
4 stars With Aja, Steely Dan achieved worldwide success, stardom. After a long march of perfecting recording technique, mixing, and music studio production, the Fagen-Becker duo, which always had talented musicians at its side, arrives to release a great album with some 40 session-men. Becker himself play the role of a session man: he will devote himself more to composition and production control than to play bass or guitar (once he plays bass, often he plays only the solo guitar parts, in two important songs he is absent, he does not play: the first of the two sides, Black Cow and Peg, the latter will be their main hit). Donald Fagen is the absolute leader: he composes all the songs with Becker, sings (often singing backing vocals as well), plays piano and synthesizer with great taste and balance. And here's to you one of the best-selling records in rock history. A jazz- soul-funky-fusion pop disc, with retro touches of swing and be-bop. Nothing to do with real progressive rock.

1) Black Cow. The first twenty seconds immediately define the atmosphere, genre, and ideological sense of the album: - cocktail-lounge evening in New York for satisfied bourgeois; - languid, relaxing soul-funky-blues music (the drums beat time loosely, lazily, almost tired from the first bars); - reactionary, anti-rebellion music, status quo forever, enjoy Manhattan and capitalism. The squence is: Verse-Chorus with female choruses, arrival of woodwinds, Verse-Chorus, very dull Fender Rhodes solo (Viktor Feldman), Chorus, final one-minute coda where the voices repeat the Chorus while a tenor saxophone (Tom Scott) tries to liven up the song with a crisper solo than the music heard so far (perhaps too much alcohol or too many drugs in the cocktail participants: they are all narcoleptic). Loffy of high-class music, with cynical lyrics: "Like a gangster/ On the run /You will stagger homeward/ To your precious one/ I'm the one/ Who must make everything right/ Talk it out till daylight". Rated 7.

2) Aja. The atmosphere, genre and ideological sense don't change (and will not change, except for a few nuances, throughout the album). The sequence is: Verse-Chrous-Verse-Chorus played and sung with more grit than Black Cow. Convincing especially the rhythmic vocal part by Fagen. Then starts a long instrumental interlude that is perhaps one of the best moments in Steely Dan's entire discography (and also one of the few genuine prog moments in their songs). Whistle solo played by Fagen, then repeated flanked by good work by Becker on electric guitar, then the pace picks up and there is a jam piece where the drummer (Steve Gadd) and saxophonist (Wayne Shorter) give their best. The music seems to go back to where it started, but instead the sax and tribal rhythm starts up again (we are at the climax of the piece, and of the whole album), and then finally back to the beginning: Verse-Chorus-Final coda that picks up the instrumental interlude but pointing to a more sustained percussiveness, which ends on the high notes touching on psychedelia. Masterpiece of the album, almost unclassifiable syncretic jazz-rock fusion music. Rated 8.5.

3) Deacon Blues. Conventional soul floppy and relaxed like the opening, but with a less lazy rhythm. The sequence is: Verse-Chorus, Verse-Chorus, beautiful sax solo (by Pete Christlieb; the woodwind accompaniment is worthy of the 1950s), and then back to Verse-Chorus and ending with woodwinds. Of course, female choruses in the refrains. (Aja is also saved because it doesn't have these sweetish choruses). Clearly the cocktail participants all end up with diabetes, too many Daiquiris. Or too much cocaine? But, in anycase, this is not a bad song, it is just a narcissistic song. Steely Dan are masters in framing bittersweet catchy refrains:

"Learn to work the saxophone I play just what I feel Drink Scotch whiskey all night long And die behind the wheel They got a name for the winners in the world I want a name when I lose They call Alabama the Crimson Tide Call me Deacon Blues"

Rated 7.5

End of the first side. The second side is less relaxed and relaxing than the first side.

4) Peg, a soul-funky rhythm song with the structure Verse-Chorus-Solo-Verse-Chorus-Final Coda. The refrain features the usual soul choruses, this time not female but entrusted to the falsetto of Michael McDonald (Doobie Brothers) and Paul Griffin. The guitar solo is by Jay Graydon. More rhythmic and upbeat song than those on the A- side. Peg was their best 45 rpm: very easy listening. Rated 7+.

5) The next Home at Last is a more serious song, opened by a jazzy piano and a syncopated blues rhythm. The (uncredited) horns trace the sounds of Deacon Blues, at least until, after the Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus sequence, comes an instrumental interlude that breaks out of the dominant musical key with a flicker (finally!) of trumpet (or Fagen's synth?) that gives a fantastic, faux-improvised jazz feel to the piece, which is followed by Becker's solo on electric guitar. Rated 8.

6) I Got The News. Another neurotic song: with this track the listener realizes that the quality of the music has risen. Again a jazzy piano appears and a syncopated rhythm punctuated by great work by Ed Green on the drums. But the best part arrives after the sequence Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus with the bridge structured on horns and a change of musical key, which becomes higher - the chorus of female voices (with in addition McDonald) plays a notable part. The song ends with a nice climax reached by Fagen's vocals, followed by a guitar solo (Becker or Carlton?). Almost improvised ending, the most jazzy part of the entire album thanks to Fagen's almost dissonant phrases on the piano, Rated 8.

With the last two songs, the second side definitely leaves behind the relaxing music of the first side and introduces into the music the neurosis present in the hedonistic bourgeois lifestyle in which it is set.

The final song: 7) Josie is perhaps the grittiest song of the Lp, with a very African-American funky groove: led by the riff of Larry Carlton and Dean Parks on rhythm guitars, the song enchants with its rhythm (Jim Keltner on drums and Chuck Rainey on bass), indulged by yet another catchy melody. Sequence: Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus, then beautiful guitar solo by Becker, new chorus - and Final coda. Excellent, it almost sounds like a rock song! Rated 8+.

With this close, Fagen and Becker end the album on a high note. This snooty, snobbish jet-set music, with its impeccable production, its velvety, soft, glossy arrangement, is tremendously sophisticated and, at the same time, so darn light and catchy that it can't help but put you in a good mood - or at least relax you and make you want a cocktail.

It is a high-class easy-listening that treacherously stimulates your lower instincts, the languid and hedonistic urge to enjoy Western pleasures. You can hate this music, but it's hard, damn hard to hear it as bad, not to take the slightest pleasure in listening to it. Fortunately, there are 3 songs out of 7 that are only a masterpiece of production (as, moreover, is the entire album) and not a masterpiece of inspiration, not a masterpiece of composition (these songs are too light and slurred : I'm talking about Black Cow, Deacon Blues and Peg), otherwise I should have put 5 stars on this album. So, instead, I can stop at 8.75/10, which is 4 and a half stars.

Latest members reviews

4 stars This album marked a more distinct change in style, with the full embrace of the cool jazz-funk sound and arrangements, and less rock elements. Remarkable and meticulous production, arrangements, and musicianship throughout raise this above their previous couple albums (Katy Lies and Royal Scam), eve ... (read more)

Report this review (#2874511) | Posted by BBKron | Wednesday, January 11, 2023 | Review Permanlink

5 stars My oldest son, now 36, grew up in a household in which the music of the Beatles, Yes, Genesis, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer and King Crimson "loomed large in the background." As time has passed, he's made me aware of Dream Theater, the Liquid Tension Experiment, Porcupine Tree, Symphony X, and the Cla ... (read more)

Report this review (#2639248) | Posted by ken_scrbrgh | Friday, December 3, 2021 | Review Permanlink

3 stars When i discovered Aja i was surprised because i thought the sound quality was impeccable and the musicianship was... well, perfect. A 70's album could not sound like this if you asked me. Music wise, i feel there's a lack of energy. Not speed, energy. The arrangements are not interesting enough ... (read more)

Report this review (#2506482) | Posted by marcobrusa | Tuesday, February 16, 2021 | Review Permanlink

5 stars I have to admit that I came to this review with more than a little bit of trepidation. How does one even try to write about their favorite album of all time? Aja has been with me for as long as I can remember?through most every major and minor life event pretty much since childhood?so long that it's ... (read more)

Report this review (#1450034) | Posted by cfergmusic1 | Friday, August 7, 2015 | Review Permanlink

5 stars We should use 5 star ratings very sparingly in our reviews. A masterpiece should be a rare thing, otherwise the term begins to lose its meaning and effectiveness. There are perhaps a dozen bands/artists listed on Progarchives which are deserving of a 5 star rating. The fact that I give two St ... (read more)

Report this review (#1092173) | Posted by thwok | Thursday, December 19, 2013 | Review Permanlink

4 stars One such musical that transcends all boundaries. I believe that there are works that, beyond the musical style is appreciated by every good music art lover. Defining the word here with art music, composition, interpretation, performance, production, arrangements and lyrical. And obviously, the ... (read more)

Report this review (#969442) | Posted by sinslice | Sunday, June 2, 2013 | Review Permanlink

4 stars One of the previous reviewers was wondering if it was appropriate to classify Aja as pop. I guess it is, in a broad sense, and as long as there is no condescending undertone to it. Or, to be more accurate, you could call it smooth jazz-funk-pop. Elegant. Predictable. Reliable soul sound. Uno ... (read more)

Report this review (#830818) | Posted by Argonaught | Sunday, September 30, 2012 | Review Permanlink

4 stars I find Aja to be the most laid-back and romantic Steely Dan album. The most mellow, smoothed out tracks go down extremely well, the opener "Black Cow" and "Deacon Blues" are real gems, with snappy lyrics too ("I cried when I wrote this song, sue me if I play too long"). Two other favoutites are ... (read more)

Report this review (#591116) | Posted by Frankie Flowers | Monday, December 19, 2011 | Review Permanlink

4 stars It's hard to give this any kind of a bad review. Maybe the pinnacle of Steely Dan's work and a favorite along with their first. While this is a little too slick and smooth to rate as perfect it certainly deserves an easy 4 star rating. "Aja", "Deacon Blues", "Peg", "Home at Last",..all great tun ... (read more)

Report this review (#516989) | Posted by mohaveman | Wednesday, September 7, 2011 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Aja ? 1977 (3.5/5) 11 ? Best Song: Aja They'd always flirted with it, jazz that is. They'd taken the easy listening approach to its ultimate peak without becoming silly, and some would say that the Royal Scam was just that. But where Royal Scam delved so deep into the slickly overproduced s ... (read more)

Report this review (#440491) | Posted by Alitare | Friday, April 29, 2011 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Wow--I'm surprised that Steely Dan is even on Prog Archives! I first started listening to Steely Dan a few months ago starting with my dad's vinyl copy of the Steely Dan sampler GOLD. I enjoyed it (especially the songs FM, Black Cow, and King of the World). Then I started to hunt down some of the ... (read more)

Report this review (#208440) | Posted by volta3 | Monday, March 23, 2009 | Review Permanlink

4 stars 4.5; Steely Dan's crowning achievement! Steely Dan has been a band I've always enjoyed since hearing some of their hits on radio when I was a little kid. Their music is great classic/soft/jazz/pop/? rock with an obvious uniqueness to it, evident from the fact it's hard to describe in precise la ... (read more)

Report this review (#186315) | Posted by Draith | Saturday, October 18, 2008 | Review Permanlink

3 stars I dont really understand why people have such a broad definition of prog. It really comes down sometimes, or so it appears, toif I like it, then its prog. Man, how can this be prog rock, if its barely even rock?!!! I dont know if the term even exists , but I would say this is something like pop-j ... (read more)

Report this review (#185071) | Posted by omarello | Wednesday, October 8, 2008 | Review Permanlink

4 stars I think this album is a little overrated, that is, it's superb but IMO not quite an out-and-out masterpiece, apart from the title track which I rate up there withe Starless, And You and I and Karneval 9 for top-drawer prog. Still, it's nice to see the Steelies here, recognising their originali ... (read more)

Report this review (#180762) | Posted by Greta007 | Monday, August 25, 2008 | Review Permanlink

5 stars The Perfect Album Ever since I picked up Aja, many years ago, it has never failed to impress me, more so than any other Steely Dan release. Start to finish, there is no song that is weak. My favorite is the title track. A moody and changing and somewhat epic at almost eight minutes highlights t ... (read more)

Report this review (#180699) | Posted by StyLaZyn | Sunday, August 24, 2008 | Review Permanlink

Post a review of STEELY DAN "Aja"

You must be a forum member to post a review, please register here if you are not.


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives

Donate monthly and keep PA fast-loading and ad-free forever.