The LP’s inner gatefold included two sets of liner notes, one of which was written with such a negative attitude towards Becker and Fagen that hindsight has suggested they wrote it themselves (borne by the equally snide response in the remastered CD booklet). Each track is also annotated with the laundry list of the 35 session pros old and new who contributed their performances at scale.
There was also a TV commercial for this album, in which a mysterious female voice (since revealed to be the one and only Eartha Kitt) explained that it was available “on ABC Records”. (Can you remember any other bands who were on ABC Records? And if this album was such a hit, how did they get swallowed up by MCA soon after?) It also helpfully demonstrates the correct pronunciation via the title track, which expertly conjures up images of the Orient for those who’ve never been there. Between Steve Gadd’s drums and Wayne Shorter’s sax, it’s an incredible track. A second favorite on the album would be “Josie”, but only when it’s Joe Jackson’s version, which he called “Look Sharp!” (Though this one does have Jim Keltner on drums.)
In between are five other songs, all on the lengthier-than-Top 40 side. This entire album was in constant rotation on the FM stations the year it came out (in between Billy Joel and Springsteen cuts), which could be why to this day we always mix up the lyrics from “Deacon Blues”, “Peg”, “Black Cow” and even “Josie”, and have to pay attention to the choruses to recall which song we’re hearing. Or maybe it’s just that too much of Aja sounds alike. “Home At Last” sounds fresh today, if only because it hasn’t been overplayed. However, “I Got The News” is something of a jazz-disco tune with little substance.
We said it was their pinnacle, and it is. Just as much as Can’t Buy A Thrill, Aja is quintessential Dan, epitomizing everything people either like or don’t like about them—slick arrangements and obtuse lyrics. Those descriptions have been used for each of their albums reviewed thus far, but the scales don’t lie; besides, when have you ever heard somebody praise Donald Fagen for his velvet throat?
Steely Dan Aja (1977)—3