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Feature Fridays Aja by Steely Dan

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Cover art from Steely Dan album titled Aja. Human face mostly obscured by shadow.

Welcome to Feature Fridays! Each week, AU music library staff highlights a CD or artist from our collection. This week, Student Assistant Cal Salant reviews Aja by Steely Dan.

Since its 1977 release, critics and fans alike have tried, often in vain, to label Steely Dan’s sixth album Aja with one genre or another. Despite this disagreement, Aja has been met with nearly unbelievable critical acclaim, and it’s not difficult to understand why. From experimental tunes performed by some of the industry’s leading session musicians to jazzy hits featuring the likes of saxophone great Wayne Shorter, Aja is an album that defined its era and set a high standard for every hit album after its release.

Some of Steely Dan’s most iconic songs, including “Peg,” “Deacon Blues,” and “Black Cow” come from Aja and feature groovy rhythm section features, somewhat abstract lyrics, and the emerging jazz influence that would bring band members Walter Becker and Donald Fagen further into the mainstream. The tight, compressed production is so well-executed and celebrated that Aja is often used to test high-end headphones.

Many artists and bands have listed Steely Dan as an influence, such as Prefab Sprout, Tina Turner, Snarky Puppy, and even Pharrell. Aja’s blend of styles paved the way for albums of ambiguous genres to succeed on the charts in a way previously considered impossible. It is an album that has held up exceptionally over time, as well; Aja has made several “best albums of all time” lists, including one from Rolling Stone in 2012.

If you enjoy jazz, 70’s music, or groovy bops in general, I couldn’t recommend Aja enough. The album has a steady drive and pulse that make it a great companion for driving, walking, or a trip to the gym.

Aja (1977) is available to loan from the AU Music Library, as is A Decade of Steely Dan (1985).