All songs from Steely Dan’s album ‘Aja’ sorted in order

In the constant ebb and flow that have followed the appreciation of “Yacht Rock” over the past four decades, Aja by Steely Dan has managed to avoid any sarcastic comments or critical derision. The absolute zenith of the genre, the album representing all of its most remarkable qualities rose above the likes of Cristopher Cross and Dan collaborator Michael McDonald to become a completely unironic masterpiece of not only rock, but music as a whole.

How did two nerds singing about the hapless losers in dense sprawling compositions manage to connect with so much people? How can snobs who hate jazz, soft rock and white R&B put aside their specific tastes and come to an agreement on Aja rocks? How can such an iconic ‘Yacht Rock’ record be so completely immune to the mockery that other artists of the genre may follow?

Well that’s probably because Steely Dan was always working at the top of their game. Aja was the band’s sixth studio album, but “the band” needs to be put in quotes as it was really only Walter Becker and Donald Fagan who were making the decision at that time. After dropping most of their original line-up (guitarist Denny Dias is the only one left, contributing a guitar solo to the album’s title track), Becker and Fagan focused on the most important elements. more powerful in their sound: session musicians, jazz chords, and stories about discolored hipsters too fucked up to get out of their own way.

After half a decade of refinement, Aja was the culmination of everything the band had been tweaking for years. With just seven songs, the album had no fat, idle downtime, making every blow of the horn, every drum groove, and every pinched note count. Becker and Fagan were so exacting that entire groups of America’s best session musicians would tour for all the other group of America’s best session musicians. “Peg” single-handedly went through eight abandoned guitar solos before the duo were satisfied.

But the attention to detail has come in handy. Aja brought Steely Dan to the realm of superstar, with success in the charts, Grammys and huge cash wins in the aftermath. It was a band that wasn’t even on tour, and yet it was one of the biggest bands in the world.

Here we dive deep into the seven songs that make up Aja and classify them according to their size.

Aja classified in order of magnitude:

7. “I have the news”

Steely Dan had no time for the filling, and the almost perfect nature of Aja is best emphasized by the fact that the wonderfully light and upbeat song “I Got the News” is the least special song on the album. But, alas, something had to be at the bottom of the list, so here we are grooving with “I Got the News”. Almost as if to broadcast its place here, ‘I Got the News’ is conspicuously the only song that hasn’t been talked about on the Classic Albums episode on Aja, playing on the end credits instead.

The truth is, everything about ‘I Got the News’ was done a bit better on the other songs on the album. Michael McDonald’s backing vocals are more powerful on ‘Peg’, Chuck Rainey’s bass is funkier and more in the pocket on ‘Black Cow’, and the weirdly exciting lyrics are best served on a song like ‘Josie’. Still, “I Got the News” features impressive piano work from longtime Dan contributor Victor Feldman, who doubles the vibraphone for a truly sonic tour de force.

6. “Home at last”

“Yacht Rock” is a retrospective genre label: no one in the late 1970s called Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers or Rupert Holmes “Yacht Rock”. But if there was one song that undoubtedly solidified Dan’s now permanent association with the descriptor, it would be “Home at Last”.

Complete with nautical imagery and an easy rework by Bernard Purdie, “Home at Last” is perhaps the easiest Steely Dan has had. Aja: conventional verse-chorus structures, a noticeable lack of really crazy jazz chords (although there is, of course, Dan’s signature “mu major” chord), and even a fairly straightforward narrative with no loser as the protagonist. main. It represents a refreshing deviation from the other songs on the album and is best enjoyed with the sweet retsina flowing constantly.

5. “Josie”

The lesser of the album’s two female-focused pop songs, ‘Josie’ always packs a huge punch, from its chromatic guitar intro to its stunning reverse chords. “Josie” is probably the closest to Steely Dan at disco, and that easily could have been read as a piss sting if it weren’t for the amount of skill with which the vamped chords are strummed.

Even though they rarely sought to conquer the pop charts, Steely Dan was still able to release classic pop songs when it suited them. But just like their awesome hummable tracks like “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” and “FM”, “Josie” brings just the right amount of musical literacy and quirky rhythm to keep the band’s jazz roots firmly in place.

4. “Black cow”

A killer album opening, ‘Black Cow’ immediately sets the stage for what kind of experiment Aja is: an extremely funky and surprisingly complex pop-jazz album, filled with stories of ramshackle characters and wacky hipsters. In an appropriate goofy twist, the main focus of the song isn’t to drown its heartbreak with booze or a shot, but rather a root beer float of all things.

With soulful backing vocals singing one of the most deviously poisonous songs in Dan’s catalog, “Black Cow” is sadly not one of the biggest hits in the world. Aja. But he’s still the album’s most powerful hidden gem, despite being right at the top of the tracklist. There is no better point of entry into the seedy and dirty world of Aja, and Steely Dan as a whole, as ‘Black Cow’.

3. ‘Peg’

What is Steely Dan’s secret weapon? Is it Chuck Rainey’s unsurpassed bass skills? The carousel of guitarists and drummers who kept giving new interpretations of the band’s material? The injection of pop melodies that keep their songs from degenerating into jazz-obsessed mush? All noble contenders, but no, the undisputed minor but essential element of the Steely Dan sound is the one and only Michael McDonald.

Multi-tracking himself in a chorus of absurdly close harmonies, McDonald’s makes ‘Peg’ sound strange. With its sharp lyrics that contrast with the bouncy arrangement, “Peg” is what Becker and Fagan loved to do: lead their listeners to enter a world of sordid characters by baiting them with music and catchy melodies. . They’ve done it over and over again, but few songs were as airy and immediately enjoyable as ‘Peg’.

2. “Deacon Blues”

Steely Dan was at his best when he let himself go to stretch and combine his most complex arrangements with his most catchy tunes. Starring one of Dan’s most existential and catastrophic tales, Becker even went so far as to call the central vanity of “Deacon Blues” a “shattered dream of a broken man living a shattered life.”

So it’s fitting that such a stark theme is populated with some of the most exhilarating harmonies, indelible saxophone work, and fantastically jazz-friendly arrangements that have never populated a Steely Dan song. Oddly enough, “Deacon Blues” depicts Steely Dan stepping away from the mainstream, with Fagan observing that “One thing we’ve done well on” Deacon Blues “and all of our records: we’ve never tried to adapt to the music market. mass. We have worked for ourselves and still do. Obviously, people still loved what they did, and it’s not hard to hear why on the mellow tones of ‘Deacon Blues’.

1. ‘Aja’

AjaThe title track is all that made Steely Dan great, buried in a not-so-compact eight-minute track. With top performances from Denny Dias on guitar, Wayne Shorter on saxophone and especially Steve Gadd on drums, ‘Aja’ is the epitome of Steely Dan all in one piece.

With lyrics that follow a figure far beyond his dream of escape as the titular woman, Donald Fagan unleashes one of his sweetest and most passionate vocal performances ever recorded. Walter Becker adds guitar accompaniment, making it one of the rarest songs from this era to feature both members on the final take.

But more importantly, for just a few minutes, Steely Dan stumbles upon a strange sort of happiness, completely free from the irony or cynicism that is usually trapped in Becker and Fagan’s sardonic style. Instead, they lay down with pure joy, lost in the magic that comes from having some of the greatest musicians of all time at their disposal. Aja is a superb listening experience, but it is on the title track that the album really stands out as one of the best of all time.


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Grace D. Erickson