The recordings of Steely Dan are so superbly crafted that it’s no surprise they have won honors for their studio engineering as well as their superior musicianship. The band’s magnificent Aja album, released on September 23, 1977, went on to win a Grammy Award the following February 23. It was for Best Engineered Recording, Non Classical, for Al Schmitt, Bill Schnee, Elliot Scheiner and Roger Nichols.
This masterwork, which was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2003, came as Steely Dan were making their transition from their original hit style of the “Reeling In The Years” period to an ever more sophisticated and quite jazzy sound. At the same time, they not only retained great commercial appeal, but heightened it. Aja, produced by their longtime collaborator Gary Katz, went on to be the band’s most successful album and their first platinum disc.
The sixth Steely Dan LP, Aja made the US charts in October 1977, and within a few weeks, they had a hit on their hands from it. The catchy “Peg,” with distinctive harmony vocals by another friend of long-standing, Michael McDonald, began climbing the Hot 100 on its way to No.11. Early in the new year, a second hit was forthcoming in the shape of “Deacon Blues.”
En route to double platinum
No wonder, then, that the album became their highest-charting record in America, spending no fewer than seven weeks at No.3, en route to double platinum status. Rolling Stone placed at as high as No.145 in the magazine’s 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
As writer Chris Morris opined in Variety, when the album hit its 40th anniversary in September 2017: “To be sure, Fagen and Becker were being true to their studio-obsessive, perfectionist natures as they sculpted their bestselling and most widely admired record. In a 2000 video about the making of the album, the pair can be seen offering tart commentary as they audition the rejected guitar solos cut for ‘Peg,’ finally performed with angular precision by Jay Graydon. They knew what they wanted, and they laboured hard to find the sweet spot.”
The urbane, airy sound of the signature hits, the title track, the spirited “Josie” and others made Aja a must-have for any album-buying record buff of the time. The presence of A-list musicians such as Joe Sample, Wayne Shorter, Larry Carlton, Jim Keltner and Tom Scott only added to the elegant sound of an album that will never go out of date.
Buy or stream Aja.