Steely Dan- Aja (1977): 7 January 2019

Because this is the first blog post for this series, I wanted to take a few lines of code and explain what the effort is all about. Classic Rock. Most people can listen to it, enjoy it, and really have no gripes if someone puts it on. With many modern genres that’s simply not the case. Have you ever been in a car with someone and asked what to put on? One person will say, “I like country,” and the next will say, “I only listen to rap and hip/hop,” before the driver (who should really be focused on the road and not the conversation in the back seat anyway) says they like Top 40. Nothing is wrong with any of these genres! Every single one has their merits, but it puts the person riding shotgun in the awkward position of putting something on that will please one person but not the rest. Fortunately, classic rock is here to save the day and most people can shrug and say, “yeah, this is alright.” Little do they know, that not all classic rock is made equally. For every Led Zeppelin, there’s a Warren Zevon that excludes Werewolves of London. For every Creedence Clearwater Revival, there’s a Mudcrutch. Your Dad knew this, and he knew the best albums to listen to. This blog will highlight his favorite albums and break them down track-by-track so you know which ones are hot to trot and which ones should stay on the B-side.

Steely Dan – Aja (1977)

For the first installment of Your Dad’s Car Stereo, why not start with an album that Dad hasn’t taken out of the car since he was a teenager. This album is arguably one of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s biggest hits and one that has captured easy listening radio since it was released with the singles Deacon Blues and Peg. This album is so smooth that it will make you pine to be in your mid-50s, spending your savings on a family boat to take out on the river on the weekends, and flipping on the easy listening station that will inevitably play one of those two songs. Steely Dan expertly interwove a brass section into almost every song that they produced and you can hear it on every track on this album. The saxophone and trumpet solo halfway through Home at Last is one of the best on the album and the whole song has an up-tempo jazzy feel that could give Kenny G a run for his money for re-playability.

I actually split this album into 2 distinct portions when thinking about the theme, “Mid-life Melancholy” and “We’re actually in our 20s so let’s party.” The album isn’t even when it comes to separating these themes either. They don’t alternate, they don’t front-load the album with one while back-loading with the other. The songs are just there. They exist, not to tell a story, or criticize, or to make a theme important, just for someone to listen to and notice that the albums weaves between the two, therefore interweaving the themes. It shows that age is just a number and whether you fall into the first camp or second camp by birth order, what really matters is how you take what you’ve been handed right now and what you do with it.  

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Black Cow: The song builds throughout, starting with a steady drive, leading to a decidedly gospel feeling to emphasize the ends of sentences and throughout the chorus. The saxophone solo at the end is worth waiting for. Keep waiting for it! I think the album really gets warmed up at this point. Black Cow isn’t a bad song by any means, it just doesn’t stand out from the others. Dad’s Rating: 6/10

Aja: Cryptic lyrics with music that reminds me of something that would play in a cocktail lounge. You don’t find vibraphone solos in many songs, but this one does it right! The drum solo at the 5-minute marker sounds like that Tarzan guy playing there sport! Dad’s Rating: 7/10

Deacon Blues: I don’t want to be called the Crimson Tide after hearing this! I’m sure Nick Saban listens to this song when he gets ready to beat Auburn for the n-th time since he was hired (We don’t strongly support either team here on YDCS, just stating a fact). Man, that guy can coach some football, and man does this song play! Check out the saxophone solo halfway through the song. It makes me want to slowly slide on some sunglasses real cool-like. Dad’s Rating: 8/10

Peg: This is the most radio friendly song on this album and was one of the singles for a reason, it’s got classic Steely Dan drive, a great guitar solo, a unique horn riff to break up the verses, and vocal harmony to give the chorus depth. I think I’ve heard this song in every waiting room I’ve ever been in it’s featured so heavily on the radio. Dad’s Rating: 8/10 (I almost took a point off for making me remember that one waiting room where the doctor was going to…you know what, never mind.)

Home At Last: JAZZ. AT LAST. FUNKY JAZZ. ‘nuff said, but I’ll say more anyway. The solos on this track go all over the place for a classic rock album and, musically, there’s nothing to fault. Listen to this on my hi-fi system kiddo and take in the mastery of the Becker and the Fagen. Dad’s Rating: 9/10, only because I was too busy listening to the sweet, sweet jazz to rate the lyrics.

I Got the News: Solid song. It’s really bluesy and funky. The vocal harmony about halfway through the song sounds similar to the Doobie Brothers in the 70s. The first part that I don’t like is that the story is difficult to follow. There are also too many solos to effectively bop your head to in the car to go pick up more mulch at the outdoor homestore on a Saturday afternoon. Dad’s Rating: 7/10, 8/10 for the vocals and funk, 6/10 for the story and solos that wander away more than you instead of helping me carry these bags of mulch.

Josie: I’m not a fan of breaking the law like Steely Dan wants to do “when Josie comes home”, but the level of funk in this song should be illegal. This is the closing track on the album and closes it out with the same jazz-rock fusion that carries the rest of the album without skipping a beat. The opening guitar riff sounds like the start of one of those action movies you like to watch. You should do something more productive than watch those movies all day, like carry these bags of mulch to the garden for me. Dad’s Rating: 7/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.

Author: James M

My name is James and I'm just a music enthusiast! I listen to all genres and my favorites are classic rock, indie, and jazz.

One thought on “Steely Dan- Aja (1977): 7 January 2019”

  1. For me, Deacon Blues was always on the Yacht Rock side. I enjoyed the funk fusion of Josie the best. Thanks for this. I listened to the album again . I didnt find any hidden gems. The 3 released singles of Deacon Blues, Peg and Josie were commercially appealing.

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