Steely Dan's Aja Is Pure Genius

There are so many great Steely Dan records -- from Royal Scam to Gaucho -- but Aja is widely considered their masterpiece.

It's only 7 songs, but each one is a career-making gem. From the introductory shuffle of "Black Cow" to the sly funk of "Peg" and the cool jazz of the title track, this record covers a lot of stylistic ground while remaining quintessentially Dan. 

If you haven't seen the Steely Dan Aja documentary about the making of Aja, it's time to grab a copy and check it out.  


In this doc, Donald and Walter take us behind the scenes on how they recorded this epic album -- from the rotating cast of bands -- not just musicians but entire bands -- to how each song was constructed in the studio.

The best parts are when they sit at the recording console and pull up the different tracks on these tunes, showcasing the work of guitarist Larry Carlton, drummers Bernard Purdie and Rick Marotta and singer Michael McDonald.

The Dan poke a little fun at Michael McDonald as they listen to his backing vocals on "Peg." McDonald called this track "fiendishly difficult" because he was singing such close harmony on the chorus. 

Also funny is when they talk about the guitar solo -- and how many great guitarists tried and failed to get the right approach to the solo.

But best of all is the banter between Donald and Walter. You can tell these guys love spending time with each other and enjoy nothing more than trying to crack each other up. They trade lines back and forth like a tennis match in a friendly competition to see who will laugh first. 

Bottom line, it's well worth grabbing a copy of this Steely Dan Aja DVD if you want to see the Dan's creative process in action.

Leave A Comment

Now it's your turn. What's your favorite Steely Dan record? Favorite Dan song? Leave a comment and let us know!

And if you like this post, you might also like:

Steely Dan's Long-Lost Song "Second Arrangement"
More Unreleased Steely Dan Outtakes

24 comments

  • Mike Davis
    Mike Davis McKinney, TX (suburb of Dallas)
    I'm just glad Fagen & Becker are still playing together.

    I'm just glad Fagen & Becker are still playing together.

  • Jerry
    Jerry Ohio
    They are all excellent all the way to "Two Against Nature". Gaucho is my go to album. Glamour Profession! Aja was thick with blues rock jazz! "Hey Nineteen" is my anthem!

    They are all excellent all the way to "Two Against Nature". Gaucho is my go to album. Glamour Profession! Aja was thick with blues rock jazz! "Hey Nineteen" is my anthem!

  • Eunice Rodriguez
    Eunice Rodriguez Miami, Florida
    Love Aja, my favorite songs Peg and Jossie. A lifetime of memories. Now my kids as adults love the album too. They had no choice but to listen to the music I raised them with!

    Love Aja, my favorite songs Peg and Jossie. A lifetime of memories. Now my kids as adults love the album too. They had no choice but to listen to the music I raised them with!

  • Eric
    Eric New Port Richey
    I love almost every Dan song, but lately I've been diggin' on "Third World Man"...so sparse, haunting and emotional.

    I love almost every Dan song, but lately I've been diggin' on "Third World Man"...so sparse, haunting and emotional.

  • Debbyaw@me.com
    Debbyaw@me.com Phoenix, Az.
    A brilliant duo of studio musicians. Cannot pick a fave, every song is worthy.

    A brilliant duo of studio musicians. Cannot pick a fave, every song is worthy.

  • Cliff grange
    Cliff grange Bournemouth, uk
    Obsessed with Steely Dan, play in a tribute band just starting out (PEG), Aja my favourite album, but favourite track (impossible to choose one really) Don't take me alive. Fab song, and will work well at my funeral I reckon ?

    Obsessed with Steely Dan, play in a tribute band just starting out (PEG), Aja my favourite album, but favourite track (impossible to choose one really) Don't take me alive. Fab song, and will work well at my funeral I reckon ?

  • Scotty
    Scotty Buffalo,NY
    My favorite SD album is Gaucho.... Every listen I hear something new in the mix.... Kudos to all involved

    My favorite SD album is Gaucho.... Every listen I hear something new in the mix.... Kudos to all involved

  • Stephen Vega
    Stephen Vega Houston
    Love all SD records but I have to say The Royal Scam is my favorite! Love me some Kid Charlemagne and Don't Take Me Alive

    Love all SD records but I have to say The Royal Scam is my favorite! Love me some Kid Charlemagne and Don't Take Me Alive

  • Sherry
    Sherry Philadelphia
    Aja documentary is a must see! Amazing!

    Aja documentary is a must see! Amazing!

  • Dr Bob
    Dr Bob miami
    I love Pretzel Logic, which tells hauntingly realistic stories about man's struggles in the 20th century, but their masterpiece ...perfection from first note to last....is undoubtedly Aja.

    I love Pretzel Logic, which tells hauntingly realistic stories about man's struggles in the 20th century, but their masterpiece ...perfection from first note to last....is undoubtedly Aja.

  • Valda
    Valda Chicago
    Black Cow

    Black Cow

  • Angela Skipworth
    Angela Skipworth Syracuse NY
    Bad Sneakers is my favorite Steely Dan song.

    Bad Sneakers is my favorite Steely Dan song.

  • Mark Semingson
    Mark Semingson Downs,Il
    I'm like some of these other people...can't quite put my finger on Just one particular song or album...although when the Dan first released'can't buy a thrill' I definitely wore the record out!! I thought it was a great album and still enjoy listening to it,today!!??

    I'm like some of these other people...can't quite put my finger on Just one particular song or album...although when the Dan first released'can't buy a thrill' I definitely wore the record out!! I thought it was a great album and still enjoy listening to it,today!!??

  • K Hayden
    K Hayden Cols,Ohio
    Can't find Sunken Condos anywhere.HELP!!!!

    Can't find Sunken Condos anywhere.HELP!!!!

  • Sandy Roller
    Sandy Roller , their super fine we guitarist of many years now, is amazing. Best album and song? That's too difficult to do, but currently I'm back to digging Katy lied and your gold teeth 2.
    You must see them live in concert. This big group that they maintain is the finest, most well rehearsed band you could possibly here. Just for one lead guitarist Jon Harrington is wonderful. Best Dan album and song: too difficult, but I move around over the years, and I'm currently at the Katy lied, featuring your gold teeth number two.

    You must see them live in concert. This big group that they maintain is the finest, most well rehearsed band you could possibly here. Just for one lead guitarist Jon Harrington is wonderful. Best Dan album and song: too difficult, but I move around over the years, and I'm currently at the Katy lied, featuring your gold teeth number two.

  • DikDrazil
    DikDrazil T.H. In.
    Saw "Dan" this summer in Indy...absolute pleasure to witness! Absolutely well played! A highly memorable concert!

    Saw "Dan" this summer in Indy...absolute pleasure to witness! Absolutely well played! A highly memorable concert!

  • Don
    Don Md.
    Steve Gadd on AJA is the standard by which all other signature fills are judged, forever.

    Steve Gadd on AJA is the standard by which all other signature fills are judged, forever.

  • Tom bailey
    Tom bailey Carlton, Oregon
    My Rival, it has a story you could make a movie about. The visual vignettes that flash in my mind listening to the genius of Fagan and Becker could occupy light years of film!

    My Rival, it has a story you could make a movie about.
    The visual vignettes that flash in my mind listening to the genius of Fagan and Becker could occupy light years of film!

  • Rhonda Crenshaw
    Rhonda Crenshaw Hilton Head Island, SC
    Way too hard to pick just one. I have been a Dan fan since high school. I'm 62 now.

    Way too hard to pick just one. I have been a Dan fan since high school. I'm 62 now.

  • SieG
    SieG Manila
    Gaucho still tops my list, while Glamour Profession (also from Gaucho) is my all time favorite song from the DAN.

    Gaucho still tops my list, while Glamour Profession (also from Gaucho) is my all time favorite song from the DAN.

  • Dennis Gallagher
    Dennis Gallagher Mount Laurel, NJ
    I've always been a fan of horn bands, Blood Sweat and Tears, Chicago, and if you throw in funk, especially Tower Of Power, but I have to say my favorite album is still Aja with all those great musicians and how they used certain musicians to get the feel of a particular song like Chuck Rainey for Peg, Steve Gadd etc. I also really like Donald Fagans Nightfly, and I have to mention Walk Between The Raindrops and Two Against Nature's Cousin Dupree

    I've always been a fan of horn bands, Blood Sweat and Tears, Chicago, and if you throw in funk, especially Tower Of Power, but I have to say my favorite album is still Aja with all those great musicians and how they used certain musicians to get the feel of a particular song like Chuck Rainey for Peg, Steve Gadd etc. I also really like Donald Fagans Nightfly, and I have to mention Walk Between The Raindrops and Two Against Nature's Cousin Dupree

  • Pam Tabarango
    Pam Tabarango Sacramento, Ca
    Peg

    Peg

  • Zen
    Zen Salt Lake City
    Gaucho is my fave. I want to say Glamour Profession is my favorite Dan song, but Third World Man might be in that #1 slot. I'm probably in the minority when I say anything after Gaucho is missing something. I listened to Two Against Nature and was not impressed. I'm not your typical Dan fan, I was born the year Gaucho was released. Half of people under 40 have even heard of them, the other half just dismiss them as being old 70's crap. I listen to Gaucho and Royal Scam most, but Aja is a close third.

    Gaucho is my fave. I want to say Glamour Profession is my favorite Dan song, but Third World Man might be in that #1 slot.

    I'm probably in the minority when I say anything after Gaucho is missing something.

    I listened to Two Against Nature and was not impressed.

    I'm not your typical Dan fan, I was born the year Gaucho was released. Half of people under 40 have even heard of them, the other half just dismiss them as being old 70's crap.

    I listen to Gaucho and Royal Scam most, but Aja is a close third.

  • Jerry Marlette
    Jerry Marlette Florida
    Wayne Shorter Larry Carlton Steve Gadd Walter & Donald - damn fine sound!

    Wayne Shorter Larry Carlton Steve Gadd Walter & Donald - damn fine sound!

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