Thursday, July 22, 2021

Steely Dan: Aja

The first time I heard Steely Dan's Aja I was 10 years old. It spoke to me very deeply not merely about the current state of the world in 1977 but about what my future might look like. It was a universe filled with cool vibes, cocktails, gorgeous women, and somewhat sinister men. All of this is perfectly captured in the third track, "Deacon Blues," the story of a complete loser who thinks he is the bomb. 

I really wanted to be this guy when I was younger. As I aged, I got what Fagan was doing with the lyrics (men's warped perception of reality) and while I didn't want to be him anymore, I did want to just be that vibe that I hoped was the song. "Deacon Blues" is really the heart and soul of the album and it's this track that is its core. 

The tone setter, though, is the opening number, "Black Cow." It warp speed sucks you into a red, velvet lounge with a Felliniesque cast of characters. The level of detail in the lyrics is astoundingly descriptive. You don't imagine you are there. You ARE there. 

Steve Gadd's drum solo on the title track is proof positive that there is a god. "Aja" is a mystical tune that sends you into that universe of cool silk and then becomes iconoclastic with his drumming, a tour de force in every sense of the word.


"Peg" is the big hit, not that Steely Dan needed another one at that point in time. This track is a perfect capsule of AM Gold in the 1970s. It gets overlooked quite a bit because of how much radio time its seen Truly, an amazing piece of music. 

"Home at Last" and "I Got The News" get lost in the shuffle sometimes The former is vintage Dan with its lilt and sway. The latter is the clear OG for Joe Jackson's Night and Day record. The bridge featuring Michael McDonald on b vox struts and moves like a Broadway show. 

"Josie" closes out the record in a hopeful and honest way. I imagine what this character is like and every listen for the last forty-four years has added a new layer to her. I can smell the colors of the five borough neighborhood in which she lives. 

Aja is seven tracks of sheer joy. When my dad was a radio producer in the late 70s, he would let me pretend to be a DJ in one of the practice studios. I would play every track on this record in my imaginary show and as I did, that little wide eyed kid in Kenosha, Wisconsin dreamt of the world of the Big City...

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