Aja is the sixth album by the jazz rock band Steely Dan. Originally released in 1977 on ABC Records, it became the group’s best-selling album. Peaking at No. 3 on the U.S. charts and No. 5 in the United Kingdom, it was the band’s first platinum album, eventually selling over 5 million copies. In July 1978, the album won the Grammy Award for Best Engineered Non-Classical Recording. In 2003, the album was ranked number 145 on Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list.
Donald Fagen has said the title of the album comes from the name of a Korean woman who married the brother of a high-school friend of his. The cover photo by Hideki Fujii features Japanese model/actress Sayoko Yamaguchi.
The album features several leading session musicians. The eight-minute-long title track features jazz-based changes and a solo by saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Aja is the subject of one of the Classic Albums, a series of documentaries about the making of famous albums. The documentary includes a song-by-song study of the album (the only omission being “I Got the News,” which is played during the closing credits), interviews with Steely Dan co-founders Walter Becker and Donald Fagen (among others) plus new, live-in-studio versions of songs from the album. Becker and Fagen also play back several of the rejected guitar solos for “Peg,” which were recorded before Jay Graydon produced the satisfactory take.
When DTS attempted to make a 5.1 version, it was discovered that the multitrack masters for both “Black Cow” and the title track were missing. For this same reason, a multichannel SACD version was cancelled by Universal Music. Donald Fagen has offered a $600 reward for the missing masters or any information that leads to their recovery.
On April 6, 2011, the album was deemed by the Library of Congress to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” and added to the United States National Recording Registry for the year 2010.
Summarising the style of the band at the time the album was released, music critic Andy Gill said: “Jazz-rock was a fundamental part of the 70s musical landscape.. but Steely Dan weren’t a band of rock or pop music with ideas above its station, and it wasn’t jazzers slumming… it was a very well-forged alloy of the two – you couldn’t separate the jazz music from the pop in their music.”
Describing the album in 1999, British musician Ian Dury said: “Well, Aja’s got a sound that lifts your heart up.. and it’s the most consistent up-full, heart-warming.. even though, it is a classic LA kinda sound. You wouldn’t think it was recorded anywhere else in the world. It’s got California through its blood, even though they are boys from New York.. It’s a record that sends my spirits up, and really when I listen to music, really that’s what I want.”
Analyzing the band’s song-writing style, Dury said: “They’ve got a skill that can make images that aren’t puerile and don’t make you think you’ve heard it before… very “Hollywood Flimic” in a way, the imagery is very imaginable, in a visual sense” and of their musical style: “Parker, Mingus, Blakey, I can hear in there.. Jazz Messengers I can hear in there, Bobby Timmons… the subject matter doesn’t matter, it’s the sound they’re making.”
All songs written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.
- Side one
- “Black Cow” – 5:10
- “Aja” – 7:57
- “Deacon Blues” – 7:37
- Side two
- “Peg” – 3:57
- “Home at Last” – 5:34
- “I Got the News” – 5:06
- “Josie” – 4:33