Open main menu

Aja (/ˈʒə/, pronounced Asia) is the sixth studio album by the jazz rock band Steely Dan. Originally released in 1977 on ABC Records, the album peaked at number three on the US charts and number five in the UK. It was the band's first platinum album and ultimately became their best-selling studio release, eventually selling over 5 million copies.[2] It spawned a number of hit singles, including "Peg", "Deacon Blues", and "Josie". In July 1978, the album won the Grammy Award for Best Engineered Non-Classical Recording. The credits for Aja list nearly 40 musicians, as band leaders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker pushed Steely Dan further into experimenting with different combinations of session players.

Aja album cover.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedSeptember 23, 1977 (1977-09-23)[1]
RecordedJanuary–July 1977
Studio ABC & A&R, New York City
GenreJazz rock
ProducerGary Katz
Steely Dan chronology
The Royal Scam
Singles from Aja
  1. "Peg"
    Released: November 1977
  2. "Deacon Blues"
    Released: March 1978
  3. "Josie"
    Released: August 1978

In 2003, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and ranked number 145 on Rolling Stone's "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time" list,[3] maintaining the rating in a 2012 revised list.[4] The album is often cited as one of the best test recordings for audiophiles, due to its high production standards.[5][6][7]


Donald Fagen has said the album was named for a Korean woman who married the brother of one of his high-school friends.[8] The cover photo by Hideki Fujii features Japanese model and actress Sayoko Yamaguchi[9][10] and was designed by Patricia Mitsui and Geoff Westen; inside photos were taken by Walter Becker and Dorothy A. White.[11]

The album features several leading session musicians. The eight-minute-long title track features jazz-based changes and a solo by saxophonist Wayne Shorter.[12][13]

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.[14]

Critical receptionEdit

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic     [15]
Chicago Tribune    [16]
Christgau's Record GuideB+[17]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music     [18]
Q     [19]
Rolling Stone     [20]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide     [21]
The Village VoiceB+[22]

Summarizing the style of the band at the time Aja was released, music critic Andy Gill said in retrospect: "Jazz-rock was a fundamental part of the 70s musical landscape.. [Steely Dan] wasn't 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 pop music from the jazz in their music."[8] In a contemporary review of the album, Rolling Stone critic Michael Duffy felt that "the conceptual framework of their music has shifted from the pretext of rock & roll toward a smoother, awesomely clean and calculated mutation of various rock, pop and jazz idioms", while their lyrics "remain as pleasantly obtuse and cynical as ever".[23] Duffy added that while the duo's "extreme intellectual self-consciousness" was beginning to show its limitations, the latter "may be precisely the quality that makes Walter Becker and Donald Fagen the perfect musical antiheroes for the Seventies."[23] Robert Christgau of The Village Voice initially "hated" the record before he "realized that, unlike The Royal Scam, it was stretching me some", while noting that he was "grateful to find Fagen and Becker's collegiate cynicism in decline".[22]

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."[8]

Analyzing the band's songwriting 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 filmic' in a way, the imagery is very imaginable, in a visual sense." Dury said 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."[8]

In 2014, internet music site Something Else, reviewing the track "Home at Last", said: "The song and performance that best exemplifies the half-time, funky, laid (way) back in the beat shuffle within the jazz-pop environment of the mid- to late- 70s can be found on "Home at Last." Bernard “Pretty” Purdie feeds off Chuck Rainey’s bass with righteous grooves and masterful off-beat fills with alacrity in this tight band favorite."[24]


In 2010 the Library of Congress selected Aja for inclusion in the United States National Recording Registry based on its cultural, artistic or historical significance.[25][26] The album was included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[27]

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.

Track listingEdit

All songs written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.

Side one
1."Black Cow"5:10
3."Deacon Blues"7:33
Side two
2."Home at Last"5:34
3."I Got the News"5:06
Total length:39:51


Steely Dan

  • Donald Fagen – lead vocals (all tracks), synthesizer (all tracks but 4), police whistle (2), backing vocals (2, 5, 7)
  • Walter Becker – bass guitar (3), guitar (2), guitar solo (5, 7)

Additional musicians



  • Executive producer: Stephen Diener [ABC Records]
  • Producer: Gary Katz
  • Engineers: Roger Nichols, Elliot Scheiner, Al Schmitt, Bill Schnee
  • Assistant engineers: Joe Bellamy, Lenise Bent, Ken Klinger, Ron Pangaliman, Ed Rack, Linda Tyler
  • Mastering: Bernie Grundman
  • Production coordination: Barbara Miller
  • Sound consultant: Dinky Dawson
  • Consultant: Daniel Levitin
  • Horn arrangements: Tom Scott
  • Art direction: Oz Studios, [11], Vartan Reissue
  • Design: Patricia Mitsui, Geoff Westen
  • Photography: Hideki Fujii (cover photo), Walter Becker, Dorothy A. White
  • Liner notes: Walter Becker, Donald Fagen
  • Reissue coordination: Beth Stempel


The sessions for Aja produced several outtakes, including "The Bear". The song was never officially released, but would later be played live on their 2011 Shuffle Diplomacy tour.[30]


Grammy Awards

Year Winner Category
1977 Aja Best Engineered Recording, Non Classical


  1. ^ Crowe, Cameron (December 29, 1977). "Steely Dan Springs Back: The Second Coming". Rolling Stone. New York City: Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. (#255): 11. Retrieved October 27, 2011.
  2. ^ "Steely Dan Biography". Retrieved July 18, 2016.
  3. ^ "GRAMMY Hall Of Fame". Retrieved May 24, 2017.
  4. ^ "500 Greatest Albums of All Time Rolling Stone's definitive list of the 500 greatest albums of all time". Rolling Stone. 2012. Retrieved September 18, 2019.
  5. ^ "The 30 best hi-fi audiophile albums ever | Tech Features | Stuff". Retrieved November 8, 2015.
  6. ^ "What Are the Top 10 Digital Tracks for Testing Speakers? – A Journal of Musical Things". A Journal of Musical Things. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
  7. ^ "Vinyl Me, Please | 52 Essential Albums to Own on Vinyl (Add Your Own) «". Retrieved November 8, 2015.
  8. ^ a b c d Classic Albums: Steely Dan – Aja (Video 1999), Directed by Alan Lewins, Eagle Rock Entertainment, ASIN: 6305772649 [1]
  9. ^ Holmes, Chris. "Album cover of the week: Aja". The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. Retrieved September 9, 2008.
  10. ^ Sweet, Brian (2016). Steely Dan: Reelin in the Years. Omnibus Press. p. 130. ISBN 9781468313147.
  11. ^ a b "Steely Dan – Aja (red vinyl): Scan of the inner sleeve". Vinyl Album
  12. ^ Cook-Wilson, Winston (September 27, 2017). "Steely Dan's Aja: Remembering the Band's Trailblazing Moment 40 Years Later". SPIN. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
  13. ^ Myers, Marc (July 15, 2011). "How Steely Dan Got Wayne Shorter". Jazz Wax.
  14. ^ a b Broberg, Tomas. "Aja notes". Tribute To Steely Dan - Steely Dan Interzone. Archived from the original on May 5, 2009. Retrieved May 13, 2009.
  15. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Aja – Steely Dan". AllMusic. Retrieved August 14, 2015.
  16. ^ Kot, Greg (August 16, 1992). "Thrills, Scams and Nightflys". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved February 15, 2017.
  17. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: S". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved March 9, 2019 – via
  18. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). "Steely Dan". The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th concise ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-85712-595-8.
  19. ^ "Steely Dan: Aja". Q. London (165): 131. June 2000.
  20. ^ Walters, Barry (August 30, 2001). "Steely Dan: Aja". Rolling Stone. New York. Archived from the original on May 9, 2006. Retrieved August 11, 2017.
  21. ^ Sheffield, Rob (2004). "Steely Dan". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 778–79. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  22. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (October 31, 1977). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved April 29, 2013.
  23. ^ a b Duffy, Michael (December 1, 1977). "Steely Dan: Aja". Rolling Stone. New York. Retrieved April 29, 2013.
  24. ^ "Best Steely Dan drumming performances: Steely Dan Sunday". November 20, 2014. Retrieved October 4, 2017.
  25. ^ "Complete National Recording Registry Listing – National Recording Preservation Board | Programs | Library of Congress". Retrieved November 8, 2015.
  26. ^ "About This Program – National Recording Preservation Board". Retrieved October 4, 2017.
  27. ^ Robert Dimery; Michael Lydon (February 7, 2006). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: Revised and Updated Edition. Universe. ISBN 0-7893-1371-5.
  28. ^ "Steely Dan – Aja (Vinyl, LP, Album) at Discogs". Retrieved November 8, 2015.
  29. ^ Liner notes to the digitally remastered edition
  30. ^ Baltin, Steve (July 9, 2011). "Steely Dan at the Greek Theater: Concert Review". The Hollywood Reporter.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit