Aja – Steely Dan

The MARK’S VINTAGE VINYL page features something from Mark’s collection of recordings from over the years. Most of it is on vinyl – hence the name – though there will be a few entries from his CDs (remember those?).

Aja, by Steely Dan

  • Sixth studio album by Steely Dan, released in 1977.
  • I’ll admit it – Steely Dan is one of my favorite artists of all time. Really – in the top 5 for sure. For more info on Steely Dan, see my post from July 12, 2017.
  • Steely Dan really isn’t a band. Rather, it is Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, writing and performing with some of the best session musicians in the music business. On the Aja album, they employed 35 additional artists for various contributions, including 6 different guitarists (plus Becker on guitar) and 7 different drummer/percussionists. Fagen and Becker were notorious perfectionists, obsessing on every single sound from an instrument and every vocalization.
  • The Aja album was their biggest selling record, certified double platinum. The 3 singles from the album – Peg, Deacon Blues and Josie – all made it into the top 40, peaking at #11, #19 and #26 respectively.
  • It won a Grammy award for Best Engineered Non-Classical Recording. In 2003, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and in 2010, it was selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in the US National Recording Registry.
  • The album was a real breakthrough in the fusion of jazz and rock music reaching the mainstream. As such, it sounded so different than anything else that was charting in 1977. Maybe a crazy comparison, but what the Beatles did with Rubber Soul and Revolver in changing the sound of contemporary music of its time, Steely Dan did the same with Aja (strictly my opinion).
  • The liner notes on the inside of the record jacket are supposedly written by a music critic named “Michael Phalen,” who relates his difficulties in interviewing Fagen and Becker, and then ultimately is asked to write the liner notes, where he gushes over each of the songs. This was in the style of old time jazz albums which frequently would include liner notes with a favorable review of the album by a critic. Turns out that “Mr. Phalen” never existed – rather, Fagen and Becker wrote the notes themselves, tongue-in-cheek, but attributing them to the so-called Phalen.
  • The documentary series Classic Albums featured the making of Aja in a show that aired in 1999 – I own a DVD copy of it, and it’s a fascinating look of the process they went through in creating the album. You can watch the whole show on YouTube if you want.
  • Here’s my fave on the album – Peg. RIP Walter Becker, died in 2017 (see my “Gone Too Soon” post from September 10, 2017).

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