STEELY DAN – AJA
Released September, 1977- 38 years ago
Steely Dan’s 6th album, characterized by smartly textured, refined arrangements and immaculate production, blends subtle melodies, nimble jazz solos, and abstract lyrics into a lush soundscape. It is generally considered one of the best releases in the band’s absolutely stellar catalog and a masterpiece of sophisticated jazz-rock.
The Classic Pick is a weekly feature at 4pm M-F on The Home Stretch, sponsored by the Good Oak Bar. Each Monday at 4pm Kris Kerry stops by KXCI to give us insight on this classic album.
Steely Dan didn’t develop like most bands. Forming in 1972 primarily as a songwriting vehicle for Walter Becker and Donald Fagen backed with various studio musicians, the band retired from touring in 1974 (after their third release, Pretzel Logic) and became solely a studio project. After they disbanded in the early 1980s, their records maintained a cult-like following up until they returned to touring in the 90s – to huge success. Shows regularly draw 4,000-5,000 attendees.
Becker and Fagen initially met in 1968 at Bard College in Upstate New York, where they both studied music, and they played in various bands in college and when they moved to Brooklyn, where they met a lot of industry types and became known as excellent musicians and songwriters. These connections paid off and soon they were asked to become staff songwriters at ABC studios in Los Angeles, California, by Gary Katz. After realizing that most of their songs were too complex for most artists, Gary Katz suggested they start their own band.
Fagen was lead vocalist and played synthesizer on all tracks, and Becker played both bass and guitar on various tracks. They were joined by a host of other studio musicians playing a myriad of instruments on different tracks.
Reception of the album was positive from the on-set. Peaking at number 3 on the US charts and number 5 in the UK, Aja was the group’s first Platinum album. Aja won a Grammy for best engineered non-classical recording.
AJa’s legacy is quite impressive too, named as no. 145 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” their jazz-rock sound became a fundamental part of the 70s musical landscape.
In 2011, the Library of Congress selected Aja for inclusion in the United States National Recording Registry based on its cultural, artistic and historical significance. Only 25 recordings per year are selected for inclusion in the registry, totaling only 425 recordings since its creation in 2000.
Production credit goes to Gary Katz, who is almost as much a part of Steely Dan as are Becker and Fagen. After bringing them to California, he ended up producing their entire early catalog, including: Can’t Buy a Thrill (1972), Countdown to Ecstasy (1973), Pretzel Logic (1974), Katy Lied (1975), The Royal Scam (1976), Aja (1977) and Goucho (1980). He also worked on some other Steely Dan compilations and live releases. Katz also did some production work with Diana Ross, Joe Cocker, Donald Fagen solo works, and 10cc, among others.
Aja was recorded at various studios in Los Angeles and New York.
Aja was the name of a Korean woman that married a high-school friend of Fagen.
The cover, which at first glance looks abstract, is actually a photograph of a famous Japanese model and actress, Sayoko Yamaguchi.
Donald Fagen is 67. Walter Becker is 65.
Steely Dan was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.