This isn’t my favourite Steely Dan album. That has to be the awesome Pretzel Logic. I guess any of them could be my favourite though – they’re all so consistent. But just like your favourite James Bond actor, or your favourite Doctor (Who), it always comes back to the first one you were exposed to, and for me that was Pretzel Logic.
Aja has to be the best sounding Steely Dan record though. The production on it sounds just perfect, like it was recorded on a computer, but without losing all the soul that pro-tools recordings always seem to do. Obviously it couldn’t have been recorded on a computer back in 1977 – it’s just recorded really well; seven tracks of perfection.
When I saw Steely Dan a couple of years ago on the 2011 Shuffle Diplomacy Tour, they opened with the title track from Aja. I don’t know what the drummer did wrong to deserve that – the drum parts on that song are amazing, with an awesome drum solo mid-song over the saxophone parts. I think I’d like a bit of a warm-up before I tackled that in a setlist. Perhaps it was punishment for his habits on the tour bus or something. Anyway, he nailed it – and he was only a young dude as well. He didn’t even flinch; he just took it all in his stride. Give the drummer some, indeed.
The title-track from Aja is probably the best example of the band being classified as jazz-rock. There are huge portions of the song based around a simple two-note motif, reminiscent of Miles Davis’ So What opener from Kind Of Blue. Like most of Steely Dan’s music though, I have no idea what any of the lyrics mean – but it doesn’t really matter. The music is just so rich, that they could be singing in ancient Hebrew and I’d still dig it.
Thanks to De La Soul heavily sampling Peg (for their song Eye Know), I felt I already knew that song before I heard anything else by Steely Dan at all. It’s a great pop song – probably their most commercial and mainstream-sounding single, but the prominent Michael McDonald backing vocals on the song are the only sour point on the whole album for me.
The master tapes for two of the albums songs – Black Cow and Aja – have gone missing over the years, preventing the record company from being able to bring out a SACD or 5.1 version of the album:
“When we recently sent for the multi-track masters of Aja so as to make new surround-sound mixes of same, we discovered that the two-inch multi-tracks of the songs Aja and Black Cow were nowhere to be found. They had somehow become separated from the other boxes, which the producer had abandoned here and there (studios, storage lockers, etc.) almost twenty years before. Anyone having information about the whereabouts of these missing two inch tapes should contact HK Management at (415) 485-1444. There will be a $600.00 reward for anyone who successfully leads us to the tapes. This is not a joke. Happy hunting.” – Donald Fagen & Walter Becker, 1999.
Really? “$600.00”? That misplaced decimal point sure sounds like a joke to me.
Hidden Gem: Aja