Aja by Steely Dan?

A friend once observed that the three colossuses of rock’n’roll (loosely defined) are the Beatles, Dylan, and Steely Dan, which was just crazy to me (whose candidates are the Beatles, Dylan, and Joni Mitchell) and the other guy I was arguing with (who had the Beatles, Dylan and Van Morrison.) Anyway, I was only vaguely aware of Steely Dan, so I decided to acquaint myself with them, and yesterday I came across a bin of CDs on sale, some of Steely Dan, including “Aja,” which is the only one I’d heard of. Is this the place to start? Or at least a good place to start?

I think so. I love Steely Dan, but don’t own a single album by them. I’m really only familiar with their songs that get a lot of airplay, but looking that track list I can tell you that most people will know Black Cow, Aja, Deacon Blues, Peg and Josie.
In fact even if you don’t realize it, I’m guessing you’ve heard at least some of those songs at some point as they’re pretty popular and get a lot of air play to this day on classic rock and adult contemporary stations.

This makes me wish we were back in the days of cassette tapes because I bought a double cassette - Aja/Gaucho, which I would have recommended back then.

Unfortunately, besides that, the only other album I’ve heard from them is Katy Lied, which, however, is also heavily recommended as the premier SD album. So from my experience I can say that out of those three albums, Aja is both the best and the most accessible. The other two are not as consistent and some of the songs on Gaucho need to have time to grow on you.

Aja is a dandy place to start. I don’t know that I would call SD a “colossus of rock’n’roll”, but they produced some really well-made music that included some excellent guitar work.

I also don’t know why you all consitently rated Dylan as one of the three colossi of Rnr. I mean he is a colossus, and he does do rock n roll, but he isn’t a colossus of rock n roll.

Then again if you just added on adjective, “The three colossi of intellectual Rock n Roll”, I’d agree with your friend except instead of The Beatles, Dylan, and Steely Dan, I’d nominate Pink Floyd, Dylan, and Steely Dan, since all three not only can rock but also make you think (of course lots of bands can do one of the two, but not on such a huge way as my picks). Lots of subtle and not-so-subtle allusions, unreliable narrators, points of view, and occasionally symbolism in The Dan.

Aja is one of the last studio albums they made before dropping out of sight for a while. They got progressively jazzier as they went along. That said, the attitude and style of their lyrics was consistent throughout their career. One thing that makes each album different is that only Fagen and Becker appear on all the albums, and they hired session players for guitar, drums, horns, etc.

Aja is a great choice. And I can’t figure out why The Rolling Stones get no love.

Steely Dan was consistently good throughout their career (before their hiatus), putting out albums that, to paraphrase Howard Hawks, included at least three good songs and no bad ones. Aja is as good as any place to start.

Aja is so well recorded and has such detail that it is Official Speaker Test Music, or it should be.

A good place to start being a colossus of rock and roll is to be named after a dildo.

As their career went on the Dan got jazzier and the songs got longer. Aja isn’t a favorite, although it was a very popular album. There are only 7 songs and --for me-- just two of them deliver the emotional goods: Black Cow, and (the single) Deacon Blues. The other songs are mostly intellectual exercises.

I’d say that Countdown to Ecstasy and Pretzel Logic are the most accessible, consistent albums, and the best ones to start with.

As for the Dan’s ranking, they were brilliant, consistent and unique. Like Joni Mitchell, or Chrissy Hynde or David Byrne they were independent minds who could deliver hit singles without noticeably compromising their integrity. If someone wants to rank them the Beatles or Dylan I won’t sputter. Comparing them to Talking Heads is probably closer, as far as their place in the rock firmament.

The band did jazz-ROCK fusion better than anyone. No rock band had tighter, more imaginative playing. And no lyricist was as “smart” as Donald Fagen.

Aja’s perhaps not the best place to start, but if it’s a dollar 99 - buy it anyway.
You could always try ‘Citizen Steely Dan’. I 'd hope if you didn’t start there, that you end there.


I used to like “Can’t Buy a Thrill” and “Pretzel Logic.” I thought the rest of SD’s output boring. Still do. And now I don’t like the albums I used to.

If you want to start, their Decade of Steely Dan greatest hits album gives the best sampling of their work from *Can’t Buy a Thrill *to Gaucho.

*Aja *has good songs on it, but they were starting to alter the base sound they had in the earlier albums. That peaked with Katy Lied and The Royal Scam.

The first three albums are consistently good, and occasionally brilliant. As Chuck said, they never did a bad song, or even a cheap throwaway piece of album filler. They started at good and went way up from there. Even Gaucho, which has some deliberately weird stuff on it, has two all-time gems, “Hey Nineteen” and “Time Out of Mind.”

Were they a colossus of rock and roll? Yes, if you use the standards of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in which everybody who is associated with the field counts even if the music they make is not purist rock. The Dan did jazz rock, a subset of rock and roll, and they are the colossus of that subgenre. That’s a small field, though, and they didn’t influence many other groups outside of it, the way a Dylan did with songs that were never purist rock.

If you do get into them, buy everything they did before their breakup. The two recent albums they did aren’t worth the bother, though of course they do have some fans. If you find it absolutely necessary for them to rock in a purist sense, find Gold, the greatest hits album that has the live version of “Bodhisattva.” That’s as hot rock as anything ever played.

Steely Dan’s music is often played on jazz stations, which seals the deal for me.

Aja is a great place to start. If you like that one, try Gaucho and* The Royal Scam*. From there work back to Can’t Buy A Thrill.

Here’s a video that might help you get into the album: The Making of Peg. It’s 8 minutes long, but not boring.

As I opined upstream, most of the Aja songs are too bloodless for my tastes, but the video can make you appreciate the depth of thought that went into every part of the music.

Like a Rolling Stone is not one of the best rock n roll songs ever? Tsk, tsk.

As for the subject of the OP, I heard them on the radio when they first came out, but only started picking up their albums a year or so ago, and have about five (not Gaucho.) They seemed far more of a singles band than I had expected - though very good singles indeed. I was expecting more complexity on the non-singles tracks, stuff too good for the radio. Their sound is great, and they are never bad, but a lot of each album leaves me cold. I got Aja last - knew Deacon Blues, of course, and the album name from crossword puzzles, and I was disappointed for many of the same reasons expressed here.
Hall of Famers - sure. Titans? Not really.

I honestly said ‘awww’ and felt sad when i read this.


Well, except for Prog. Other collossi such as Yes and King Crimson will never get in until Jan Wenner buys the farm.

Sorry about the hijack. Aja is a great place to start. I like Royal Scam a lot, if only because it’s Fagan at his most sneering. Every other (pre-breakup) album has at least a few really awesome songs. In most cases the title track is one of them.