Author: Bruce Jenkins  Date Posted:1 March 2024 

  1. Aja is Steely Dan’s sixth album, and their best-seller. After being released on 23 September 1977 it made the Top 10 in the US, UK, and Australia.
  2. The drink after which opening song "Black Cow" is named is non-alcoholic. It is what Americans call an ice cream "floater" or we might call a spider. There is a Kahlua-based alcoholic version called, rather disappointingly, Black Cow #2. Surely Brown Cow would have been preferable?
  3. The cover model for Aja also appears on a rare Japan-only compilation that includes the ultra-rare (but not especially memorable) debut Dan single. The model’s name is Sayoko Yamaguchi.
  4. Jazz saxophone legend Wayne Shorter initially rebuffed Walter Becker and Donald Fagan when approached to add a solo to the track "Aja". Staying with sax solos, the one on "Deacon Blues" was played by Pete Christlieb of the Johnny Carson Tonight Show band. Apparently the Dan had enjoyed his playing "to the (ad) breaks".
  5. "Peg" opens side two of Aja. It was the first single from the LP, released in November 1977. It is also the shortest song on Aja, and almost made the US Top 10.
  6. The Lyricon was the first electronic wind instrument, hitting the market in 1974. The Lyricon solo on "Peg" was played by Tom Scott who purchased the very first Lyricon from the developers. Scott also played the instrument on Michael Jackson’s "Billy Jean".
  7. Recording the guitar solo for "Peg" is a signature Steely Dan story. Musicians who took a crack included Walter Becker, Larry Carlton, Elliott Randall, Rick Derringer, Robben Ford, and several others. Jay Graydon spent six hours working on his effort, eventually getting the nod from Fagen and Becker. A multi-instrumentalist and producer, Graydon later won two Grammy awards.
  8. Highly esteemed jazz-funk drummer Bernard Purdie provided his unique "shuffle" pattern on "Home At Last". Three years later he brought that same infectious rhythm to "Babylon Sisters" from Steely Dan’s 1980, Gaucho. We hear Donald Fagen exploring the harmonica-sounding synth patch he used so much in his solo career. The song is a shining example of a literate Dan lyric, referencing the legend of Odysseus and the Sirens. The danger on the rocks is surely past, still I remain tied to the mast. Could it be that I have found my home at last… Home at last.
  9. Although sketched out during the recording sessions for 1974’s The Royal Scam, "I Got The News" was extensively re-written for Aja. Victor Feldman—an English born jazz musician who had emigrated to the USA in the 1950s—worked with Steely Dan several times. On "Home At Last" he plays vibraphone and a terrific piano part, then repeats the dose on "I Got The News". The foreground backing vocals in the bridge are by Michael McDonald (Doobie Brothers) and the jaunty guitar solo is by Walter Becker. In the original cover notes by Michael Phalen the lyrics were described as "pointlessly obscene".
  10. Guitarists Larry Carlton and Dean Parks provided the distinctive rhythm guitar pulse of closing track "Josie". Drums were contributed by legend Jim Keltner (who worked with John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, all separately), the guitar solo by Becker. Everyone delivers top notch performances; Feldman on electric piano, Chuck Rainey on bass, the whole shebang being topped off by Tom Scott’s vibrant horn arrangement. "Josie" is a great song with a fascinating lyric about exile and return; it is indicative of Steely Dan’s music, lyrics and meticulous work ethic, and a fitting conclusion to a great album.

Donald Fagen and Walter Becker learned from Bob Dylan that you could "write a song about anything"… from Greek legends to oral sex. They were jazz fans with a deep understanding of the blues; taskmasters for whom only the best was acceptable. Fagan has said that, admiring the Beatles, the pair aspired to make every album special, "a gift" for listeners. For many years now Aja has claimed a place near the top of this writer’s Favourite Albums Of All Time list. Recorded with cinematic precision and charged with sophisticated creativity, Aja is a gift that keeps on giving.



Breithaupt, Don (2007) Aja. Continuum/Bloomsbury 33 ⅓, NY, USA.

Robustelli, Anthony (2017) Steely Dan FAQ. Backbeat Books, Milwaukee, WI, USA.


© Bruce Jenkins—March 2024

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