The Aja Album

Format Label Number
LP Mobile Fidelity MFSL-1-033
LP Geffen Records B0035028-01
LP Analogue Productions AUHQR 0014-45
CD Mobile Fidelity UDCD-515
CD* MCA 088 112 056-2
SACD Analogue Productions CAPP 139 SA


Supervised by The Artists
With All Original Graphics & Lyrics,

088 112 056-2


It was about two A.M. on an unseasonably chilly evening in June when the phone rang. Having just put the finishing touches on a rather lukewarm review of the Leo Sayer concert out in Queens, I was anything but ready for the rapid-fire monologue delivered long distance from L.A. by a man who introduced himself as Steve Diener. After a half hour or so, I came to understand that this garrulous gentleman worked for ABC Records and was inviting me out to Hollywood to observe a Steely Dan recording session, the object being to compose an eyewitness account of the proceedings for a posh European publication. Of course, I was delighted at the prospect and perhaps even a wee bit flattered when I was told that the group had specifically requested my presence. I later found out that this was not entirely true.
In retrospect, I should have realized the assignment would not be all sweetness and light; in no way has Steely Dan made its reputation by catering to the rock press. In fact, their contempt for pop music critics was well known to myself and my colleagues. As it turned out, a little caution on my part would not have been out of order. By the end of the first session at Producer's Workshop in Hollywood, it had become abundantly clear to me that nobody in the "group" new or cared who I was or what I was doing there. Several sessions later, after Donald and Walter had been apprised of my identity, there was trouble.
To make a long story short, I managed to attend perhaps a dozen sessions at three different studios and, on two occasions, attempted to inter- view the composers. Unfortunately, both cassettes were seized under grievous circumstances by a fellow whom I believe to be in the employ of the reluctant interviewees. The loss was inconsequential considering that fact that, at that point, my relationship with the belligerent song writing duo had become so strained as to produce a dialog that consisted mainly of threats, insults, and rude remarks. This, then was the raw material I had to work with. I had squeezed out about three thousand words when I heard from a friend in London that the afore- mentioned European magazine had folded.
It was not until a year later that I received a second phone call from Mr. Diener, now president of ABC Records, who informed me that the "guys" had specifically requested yours truly to write the liner notes for the new album and that a cassette copy of same would be forthcoming. Putting aside personal rancor, I gave "Aja" a listen. I have listened many times since.
When they made their recording debut in 1972, Steely Dan was more or less a conventional rock group comprised of six active members. Almost immediately, the roster began to shrink until, by the time "Pretzel Logic" was released, the two composers appeared to be dependent on the performances of a baffling array of crack session regulars. Thanks to their deliberately vague manner of listing album credits, it became virtually impossible to determine who was playing what on any given track (a practice that has persisted until now). This latest album, following on the hot heels of that depraved and cynical masterpiece, "The Royal Scam", represents a departure from the puerile brooding that has distinguished Donald and Walter's work up to now. In this writers opinion, "Aja" signals the onset of a new maturity and a kind of solid professionalism that is the hallmark of an artist who has "arrived".
Side One opens with "Black Cow", a catchy disco-funk number that defies categorization. Bitterly sarcastic lyrics are underpinned by cloying jazz-crossover harmonies, the whole thing propelled by an infectious, trendy beat. Featured here is Victor Feldman's thoughtful electric piano solo followed shortly by Tom Scott's earthy tenor sax.
The tile cut, "Aja", is a rather ambitious work in which a latin-tinged pop song is inexplicably expanded into some sort of sonata or suite. The result is a rambling eight-minute epic highlighted by Wayne Shorter's stately, rhapsodic solo which descends gracefully into a recapitulation of the vocal theme. The sensitive, sometimes explosive performance by drummer Steve Gadd may be his finest recorded work to date. The side closes with "Deacon Blues", an Edge City ballad enlivened only by Pete Christlieb's haunting tenor work and a tasty chart by Scott.
Side Two finds vocalist Donald Fagen admonishing yet another lover in a danceable ditty entitled "Peg". Jay Graydon's electric guitar threatens after the initial refrain. The composer's describe this piece as a "pantonal 13 bar blues with chorus". That's the kind of double- talk they were giving me towards he end.
We are now confronted by a stunning feet of pop legerdemain. "Home At Last", on first listening an unpretentious roadhouse shuffle, turns out upon close inspection to be a minor marvel of poetic grace and structural economy. At this late date, it would hardly seem possible for an artist to take Homer's immortal tale, so thoroughly exploited by Joyce in 1922, and educe from it new insights - especially within the narrow scope provided by the medium of popular song. Beneath the attractive, effortless flow of words and music, one discovers a lyric presence and fineness of perception that is a rare thing on disc nowadays. I can't say enough about this lovely rhythm-and-blues poem.
"I Got The News", a Manhattan-jukebox thump-along, serves as a vehicle for the coy pianistics of Victor Feldman, whose labors are capriciously undermined by Walter Becker's odd, Djangoesque guitar and pointlessly obscene lyric. 

The final cut, "Josie", exemplifies Steely Dan's remarkable versatility. Rich with images of random violence, copulation, drug abuse, loitering with intent and other misdemeanors, this sociopathic jump tune is sure to become a classic zebra in the annals of Punkadelia.

-Michael Phalen

"It's going to be called "AJA." "The new one is coming soon, I heard the title will be AJA; all original material."
In recent months answers like these have been filtering out to musical corners everywhere. They are in reply to constant questions regarding the latest recordings by Steely Dan. The inquiries are directed toward the group, its producer, the progress in the studio, etc. In fact, any kind of information which serves to bring them and their music just a little closer is welcome. It is an "almost necessity" to those who follow and appreciate excellence in today's music.
Questions and the desire from fans, the music community in general, regarding major artists and their recordings are neither new or unusual. Various media, acting as a faucet that rarely shuts off, allow us to see the flow of artists' activity and help us to try to know their many sides on a career and personal basis. Yet with Steely Dan, the concern and curiosity has a certain difference. Call it a special flavor, as another level of respect comes into focus. This is simply because Steely Dan is at another level; a very special place both personally and professionally that is again demonstrated by the recorded music that is not far from these words which they have asked me to write.
My first exposure to the group began some years ago many miles from Los Angeles. Living outside the States I became fascinated by their music, but not only by what I heard musically. I believed by creating such music, the group represented an unusual depth of understanding concerning their work and themselves. By a set of circumstances and coincidences, I now live in the same city as Steely Dan. The situation has further closed in where, since the first listen, I have come to know and respect certain members of the group and among them have found a very special friend. I only mention this because it may explain that specialness that surrounds Steely Dan I know from personal contact. It is a special- ness - or a buzz - or an atmosphere that I have personally heard people speak of all over the United States and in many other parts of the world. This quality I call the heart of Steely Dan. It directs and feeds the steady pulse of their creative energy; always exploring - never the sameness. It is always traceable to its origin, this heart. What makes up this heart? Simply, the tight common philosophy towards music and many aspects of life closely shared by the guys who make up the group.
You probably know that centuries ago, the Troubadour was a very special breed of man. In a world where people were mostly locked to their land, where art was not well understood by the masses; where commercialism, though limited, was important for bare survival, the Troubadour stood apart. He moved on and about in his own space. His world was measured on his musical output and flow on a daily basis. He continually sang, composed, practiced, made or repaired his instruments. He was a complete music entity drawing from things about him and converting them into song and music. He did this not only for the pleasure and satisfaction but importantly, for his own self as well. This atmosphere of total dedication, without sidelines, this completeness, is much of what I see as the heart of Steely Dan. I am sure countless others must sense this.
Moving up full steam to today's jet powered scene, to that tough to-get-to forefront of artist recognition and respect, there exists a reserved place for Steely Dan. In their own style and approach a place is theirs - because they have it down, totally covered or whatever you want to call it. These musicians, like the Troubadour, practically at the expense of anything else listen, think, play, practice, improvise, rehearse, compose, analyze, philosophize as to the music around. They are into and on top of the scene. Perhaps without their knowing, they break through the levels which are routinely called "standard" music professionalism.
As to AJA, Steely's latest offering, what are we to hear? More of that same musical excellence, of course. That heart has not been dormant since their last album, "The Royal Scam", but has been developing and probing towards its own goal. As I write this, I am listening to a tape of the latest album. Myself? - I hear those melodies which are true melodies - that cling to you. I hear those lyrics, which often say or describe their personal experiences but clearly have a message we can relate to in our own way. That voicing, although totally flexible and creative, is kept ultra-clean to enable us to understand their message. You'll recognize the musicianship - all of it - the tempo, punctuation, the marvelous blend of horns, voices, rhythm, and guitar moving in tight coordination. The result is a controlled, vibrant energy which Steely Dan emits without ever getting too, too heavy. As before, and perhaps more so now, you'll feel each song is a unique musical venture, not like the one before nor the one to follow. Yet, it all fits in very, very well. It's all tied together, to what I call the heart of Steely Dan - Walter Becker, Donald Fagen and their producer, Gary Katz.

Steve Diener
President, ABC Records


Saxes/Flutes: Jim Horn, Bill Perkins, 
Wayne Shorter, Pete Christlieb, Plas Johnson, 
Tom Scott, Jackie Kelso.
Brass: Chuck Findlay, Lou McCreary, Slyde Hyde.


Dean Parks and Michael Omartian in
collaboration with the composers

BAGMAN: Leonard Freedman
GARLANDIA, ETC.: Andrew Frank
PROTECTION: Irving Azoff

DESIGNED BY: Patricia Mitsui and Geoff Westen
COVER PHOTO: Hideki Fujii
BECKER: Walter Becker, Dorothy A. White

Steve Gadd and Michael McDonald appear
through courtesy of Warner Bros. Records, Inc.
Chuck Rainey appear through courtesy of
A&M Records, Inc.
Victor Feldman appears through courtesy of
Caribou Records.
Lee Ritenour appears through courtesy of
Zembu Productions.
Wayne Shorter appears through courtesy of
Columbia Records, Inc.
Tom Scott appears through courtesy of
Ode Records.

All selections ©1977 ABC/Dunhill Music, Inc.
(BMI). All Rights Reserved.

All selections: Words and Music by Walter Becker
and Donald Fagen.

RECORDED AT: Village Recorders, West L.A.; 
Producer's Workshop, Hollywood; Warner 
Bros. North Hollywood Recording Studios; 
ABC Recording Studios; Sound Labs, 
Hollywood; AAAA&R Studios, N.Y.C.

ENGINEERS: Roger Nichols; Elliot Scheiner;
 Bill Schnee; Al Schmitt.

Ken Klinger; Linda Tyler; Ed Rack; 
Joe Bellamy; Ron Pangaliman.


MASTERED BY: Bernie Grundman at 
A&M Studios, Hollywood.


*Digitally remastered by Roger Nichols at
Digital Atomics, Miami

Reissue coordination: Beth Stempel

Reissue Art Direction: Vartan
Reissue Design: Mike Diehl

...the expanding man, silly!* And praise be that we at long last have this golden opportunity to reply to the puerile drivellings of the arch-traitor Michael Phalen (see original notes for the Aja album, reproduced herein). You may well believe that, were it not for the fact that by astonishing coincidence both of your humble narrators have freshly arisen from lengthy sessions at their respective dental surgeons and are now some-what the worse for wear - old docs Lorcet and Vicodin notwithstanding - were this not the case, we would even now be giving this worthless phony the severe verbal cuffing he so richly deserves. Under the circumstances, we have decided to see if we can get the ridiculous Phalen (now an exec at VH-1) and his record biz "mentor" and co-conspirator/ enabler Steve D__ (whom we have just located in Oswego, New York, via the "clownfinder.com" website) on the blower and have it out with them, once and for all. What follows is more or less a transcript of our hastily arranged conference call.

Operator: Your parties are all present now. You may go ahead.
Becker: I'll drink to that.
Phalen: Hello?
Steve: uh....
Fagen: Bastard!
Becker: Liar!
Fagen: You shitheel!
Phalen: Is that you, Donald?
Becker: Guess again, dicknose.
Phalen: Walter?
Fagen: Dream on, coward!
Steve: uh, excuse me, fellows, but I...
Becker: Shut the hell up, Steve. All right Phalen, where is she?
Phalen: Is this still about Stephanie and Diane? Because if it is, all I can tell you guys is what I told you last week and the week before and so on...
Fagen: You must take us for fools. Is that it, Michael? A couple of chumps? Suckers?
Phalen: Listen, you assholes - I've told you this a thousand times - I took them out to Roy's, we had the fried chicken, then I drove them to their car, which was parked in the lot at Ben Frank's, and that was it! I never saw them again, Never! Okay?
Steve: Listen, gentlemen, if you are interested in a location for a restaurant, I'm afraid...
Becker: Shut up, Steve. Tell me Mike, how's your car these days?
Phalen: You bastard, you stay the fuck away from my car! Those tires cost 400 bucks apiece to replace, and when I find out where you are...
Becker: Uh-huh - you and what army?
Phalen: You guys are out of your minds. These girls are old spinsters by now, and when your new album comes out, there is NO WAY IN HELL that it is gonna be played on VH-1! You understand that? No way in hell. I'm not kidding.
Fagen: Pay attention, Michael - we're only gonna say this once. Bring the girls to the lobby of the Lowell Hotel on Madison and 68th tomorrow at midnight, or else.
Phalen: MTV won't play it either.

Steve: Gentlemen,
Becker: (hangs up)

Damn if that didn't feel good! You can now appreciate fully the kind of obstacles that were being flung into our paths on a daily basis back in the late seventies, when we were so desperatly intent on "doing our thing" for the ages. Incidentally, we subsequently learned that the Steve D__ who sat in our conference call was a hapless realtor from upstate New York and not the debonair Steve D__ who was for one brief shining moment a '70s record mogul. That Steve D__ is, we suppose, still living in Europe, and for all we know is basking poolside with the lovely Stephanie and/or Diane, as the case may be. Or maybe not.
As for Michael Phalen, when we called back the next day we were told that he had "moved on" from VH-1 and could no longer be reached there. Additionally, we have reason to believe that the deductible on his auto insurance may have gone up again due to excessive claims for vandalism, and that his AAA membership may have been cancelled as well. No matter. Of course we wish him all the best, and it's good to know that there is no better time to buy residential property in Oswego than right now, should Michael decide to go that way.
Incidentally, for those lucky fans who may have purchased a reissue of the Pretzel Logic album on which the intro to Rikki was missing (shades of Citizen Steely Dan!), or else a reissue Katy Lied with the incorrect sequence of tunes, you may rest assured that you have come into possession of a valuable collector's item. These particular rarities are even now fetching a handsome price on eBay, although we suspect they will be worth more and more as time goes by. The circumstances surrounding the accidental release of these flawed reissues make for an interesting story which we have been prevailed upon to save for another time and another venue.
As for the Aja album proper, so much has already been written about this '70s blockbuster as to put it in imminent danger of becoming somewhat overrated. Not wishing to add greatly to the bulk of verbiage expended so far, we would like to make the following announcement:
When we recently sent for the multitrack masters of Aja so as to make new surround-sound mixes of same, we discovered that the two-inch multitracks of the songs Aja and Black Cow were nowhere to be found. They had somehow become separated from the other boxes, which the producer had abandoned here and there (studios, storage lockers, etc.) almost twenty years before. Anyone having information about the whereabouts of these missing two inch tapes should contact HK Management at (415) 485-1444. There will be a $600.00 reward for anyone who successfully leads us to the tapes. This is not a joke. Happy hunting.

(to be continued)

-Donald Fagen & Walter Becker, 1999

*If the opening sentence seems the least bit cryptic, you probably have not yet purchased "The Royal Scam" reissue. We strongly urge that you return to the record store immediately and purchase vols. 1-5 of the Steely Dan reissue CDs before reading further.

Track List

Black Cow
Deacon Blues
Home At Last
I Got The News

sheettop.gif (2324 bytes)

Black Cow

In the corner
Of my eye
I saw you in Rudys'
You were very high
You were high
It was a cryin' disgrace
They saw your face

On the counter
By your keys
Was a book of numbers
And your remedies
One one of these
Surely will screen out the sorrow
But where are you tomorrow

I can't cry anymore
While you run around
Break away
Just when it
Seems so clear
That it's
Over now
Drink your big black cow
And get out of here

Down to Greene Street
There you go
Lookin' so outrageous
And they tell you so
You should know
How all the pros play the game
You change your name

Like a gangster
On the run
You will stagger homeward
To your precious one
I'm the one
Who must make everything right
Talk it out till daylight

I don't care anymore
Why you run around
Break away
Just when it seems so clear
That it's
Over now
Drink your big black cow
And get out of here.


So outrageous, So outrageous

Drums: Paul Humphrey
Bass: Chuck Rainey
Electric Piano: Victor Feldman
Clavinet: Joe Sample
Guitar: Larry Carlton
Synthesizer: Donald Fagen
Tenor Sax: Tom Scott
Backup Vocals: Clydie King, Venetta Fileds,
Sherlie Matthews, Rebecca Louis

sheetbotm.gif (2340 bytes)


sheettop.gif (2324 bytes)


Up on the hill
People never stare
They just don't care
Chinese music under banyan trees
Here at the dude ranch above the sea

When all my dime dancin' is through
I run to you

Up on the hill
They've got time to burn
There's no return
Double helix in the sky tonight
Throw out the hardware
Let's do it right


[big instrumental solo]

Up on the hill
They think I'm okay
Or so they say
Chinese music always sets me free
Angular banjoes
Sound good to me


[Big solo instrumental]

Drums: Steve Gadd
Bass: Chuck Rainey

Guitars: Larry Carlton, Walter Becker,
Denny Dias
Electric Piano: Joe Sample
Piano: Michael Omartian
Percussion: Victor Feldman
Synthesizers & Police Whistle: Donald Fagen
Tenor Sax: Wayne Shorter
Backup Vocals: Donald Fagen, Tim Schmit

sheetbotm.gif (2340 bytes)


sheettop.gif (2324 bytes)

Deacon Blues

This is the day
Of the expanding man
That shape is my shade
There where I used to stand
It seems like only yesterday
I gazed through the glass
At Ramblers
Wild gamblers
That's all in the past

You call me a fool
You say it's a crazy scheme
This one's for real
I already bought the dream
So useless to ask me why
Throw a kiss and say goodbye
I'll make it this time
I'm ready to cross that fine line

I'll learn to work the saxophone
I'll play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whiskey all night long
And die behind the wheel
They got a name for the winners in the world
I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
Call me Deacon Blues
Deacon Blues

My back to the wall
A victim of laughing chance
This is for me
The essence of true romance
Sharing the things we know and love
With those of my kind
That stagger the mind

I crawl like a viper
Through the suburban streets
Make love to these women
Languid and bitter sweet
I rise when the sun goes down
Cover every game in town
A world of my own
I'll make it my home sweet home


This is the night
Of the expanding the man
I take one last drag
As I approach the stand
I cried when I wrote this song
Sue me if I play too long
This brother is free
I'll be what I want to be


Drums: Bernard Purdie
Bass: Walter Becker

Guitars: Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour
Electric Piano: Victor Feldman
Synthesizer: Donald Fagen
Tenor Sax: Pete Christlieb
Backup Vocals: Clydie King, Sherlie

Matthews, Venetta Fields

sheetbotm.gif (2340 bytes)


sheettop.gif (2324 bytes)


I've seen your picture
Your name in lights above it
This is your big debut
It's like a dream come true
So won't you smile for the camera
I know they're gonna love it

I like your pin shot
I keep it with your letter
Done up in blueprint blue
It sure looks good on you
And when you smile for the camera
I know I'll love you better.

It will come back to you
It will come back to you
Then the shutter falls
You see it all in 3-D
It's your favorite foreign movie


I like your pin shot
I keep it with your letter
Done up in blueprint blue
It sure looks good on you
And when you smile for the camera
I know I'll love you better.

[repeat chorus five times to fade]

Drums: Rick Marotta
Bass: Chuck Rainey
Electric Piano: Paul Griffin
Clavinet: Don Grolnick
Guitar: Steve Kahn

Solo Guitar: Jay Graydon
Percussion: Victor Feldman, Gary Coleman
Lyricon: Tom Scott
Backup Vocals: Michael McDonald, Paul


sheetbotm.gif (2340 bytes)


sheettop.gif (2324 bytes)

Home At Last

I know this super highway
This bright familiar sun
I guess that I'm the lucky one
Who wrote that tired sea song
Set on this peaceful shore
You think you've heard this one before

Well the danger on the rocks is surely past
Still I remain tied to the mast
Could it be that I have found my home at last
Home at last

She serves the smooth retsina
She keeps me safe and warm
It's just the calm before the storm
Call in my reservation
So long hey thanks my friend
I guess I'll try my luck again




Drums: Bernard Purdie
Bass: Chuck Rainey
Guitar: Larry Carlton
Solo Guitar: Walter Becker
Piano and Vibes: Victor Feldman
Synthesizer: Donald Fagen
Backup Vocals: Donald Fagen, Tim Schmit

sheetbotm.gif (2340 bytes)


sheettop.gif (2324 bytes)

I Got The News

In your Lark
You're a mark
You're a screamer
You know
How to hustle
Is a rare
I don't care
Yeah you
Got the muscle
I got the news

Yes dear
How did you know
Can't you see our love will grow

Take it
In your hand
All the sirens
And the band
Get to bendin' my ear
Was I to know
About the warm
Soulful secret
You been keepin' for years
I got the news

Slow down
I'll tell you when
I may never walk again

Broadway Duchess
Darling if you only knew
Half as much as
Everybody thinks you do
What I hear
May be true
I would still be proud
To know you


Spanish kissin'
See it glisten
You came ragin'
Love rampagin'

I got the news

Yes dear
How did you know
Can't you see our love will grow

Drums: Ed Greene
Bass: Chuck Rainey
Piano, Vibes and Percussion: Victor Feldman
Guitar: Dean Parks
Solo Guitars: Walter Becker, Larry Carlton
Synthesizers: Donald Fagen
Backup Vocals: Michael McDonald, Clydie

King, Venetta Fileds, Sherlie Matthews,
Rebecca Louis

sheetbotm.gif (2340 bytes)


sheettop.gif (2324 bytes)


We're gonna break out the hats and hooters
When Josie comes home
We're gonna rev up the motor scooters
When Josie comes home to stay
We're gonna park in the street
Sleep on the beach and make it
Throw down the jam till the girls say when
Lay down the law and break it
When Josie comes home

When Josie comes home
So good
Shes the pride of the neighborhood
She's the raw flame
The live wire
She prays like a Roman
With her eyes on fire

Jo would you love to scrapple
She'll never say no
Shine up the battle apple
We'll shake 'em all down the tonight
We're gonna mix in the street
Strike at the stroke of midnight
Dance on the bones till the girls say when
Pick up what's left by daylight
When Josie comes home

When Josie comes home
So bad
She's the best friend we never had
She's the raw flame,
The live wire
She prays like a Roman
With her eyes on fire


When Josie comes home
So good
Shes the pride of the neighborhood
She's the raw flame
The live wire
She prays like a Roman
With her eyes on fire

Drums: Jim Keltner
Bass: Chuck Rainey
Electric Piano: Victor Feldman
Guitars: Larry Carlton, Dean Parks
Solo Guitar: Walter Becker
Synthesizers: Donald Fagen
Percussion: Jim Keltner
Backup Vocals: Donald Fagen, Tim Schmit

sheetbotm.gif (2340 bytes)

The Midi-sequense , on this page is Aja.

Navigation Bar

Navigation Bar
This page was produced without commercial intentions of any kind. If you, kind reader, feels that you find something that is offending or violating any persons or applicable laws please E-mail me. All mentioned products and company names are™ or ® trademarks of their respective owners. Please read the disclaimer.
Revision of October 26, 2023 - A Lost Wages Production..