(UMe) Steely Dan's 1977 multi-platinum jazz-rock masterwork, Aja, has been remastered from analog and will be reissued on vinyl for the first time in more than four decades on September 29th via Geffen/UMe. Aja marks the latest release in Geffen/UMe's extensive reissue program of Steely Dan's classic ABC and MCA Records catalog, which returns the band's first seven records to vinyl - most of which haven't been available since their original release. Overseen by founding member Donald Fagen, the series launched in November 2022 with the group's legendary 1972 debut, Can't Buy A Thrill, followed by 1973's Countdown To Ecstasy in May 2023. The band's beloved third album, 1974's Pretzel Logic, was just released last month.
Aja has been meticulously remastered by Bernie Grundman from an analog, non-EQ'd, tape copy and will be pressed on 180-gram black vinyl at 33 1/3 RPM. Additionally, Aja, like all the titles, is being released as a limited edition premium 45 RPM version on Ultra High-Quality Vinyl (UHQR) from Analogue Productions, the audiophile in-house reissue label of Acoustic Sounds. Analogue Productions is also releasing this series of titles on Super Audio CD (SACD).
Additional titles rolling out over the next year include 1975's swing-pop perfection Katy Lied (featuring "Black Friday," "Bad Sneakers" and "Doctor Wu," as well as the addition of Michael McDonald on vocals); 1976's guitar-driven The Royal Scam ("Kid Charlemagne," "The Fez"); and Steely Dan's final album for MCA, and last for 20 years, 1980's brilliant Gaucho (featuring "Hey Nineteen" and "Time Out Of Mind," with Mark Knopfler on guitar).
All albums in the series are being mastered by Bernie Grundman from the original analog tapes except for Aja and Gaucho, with the later being sourced from a 1980 analog tape copy originally EQ'd by Bob Ludwig (There's no evidence the original tapes containing the flat mixes of Aja and Gaucho were delivered to the record label and it's presumed the tapes no longer exist). Lacquers for UMe's standard 33 1/3 RPM 180-gram version will be cut by Alex Abrash at his renowned AA Mastering studio from high-resolution digital files of Grundman's new masters and pressed at Precision. They will be housed in reproductions of the original artwork.
The 45 RPM UHQR versions will be pressed at Analogue Productions' Quality Record Pressings on 200-gram Clarity Vinyl, packaged in a deluxe box, and will include a booklet detailing the entire process of making a UHQR along with a certificate of inspection. Each UHQR is pressed, using hand-selected vinyl, with attention paid to every single detail of every single record. All of the innovations introduced by QRP that have been generating such incredible critical acclaim are applied to each UHQR. The 200-gram records feature the same flat profile that helped to make the original UHQR so desirable.
Released in 1977, Aja (pronounced Asia) marked Steely Dan's sixth album in just five years and cemented Donald Fagen and Walter Becker to be the musical visionaries their previous albums hinted at. Alongside longtime producer Gary Katz, Fagen and Becker recorded Aja, a heady and sophisticated seven-song statement that blended jazz with progressive pop and rock, over a year and a half in six different studios in Los Angeles and New York. The duo, retired from touring and now true songwriting partners, recruited dozens upon dozens of ace session players to help realize their singular vision. As creatures of the studio, they became sonic perfectionists, in search of the perfect sound and perfect take, scrutinizing every single note played by some of the best in the business, bringing in new musicians and sometimes even entirely new bands to try a different approach, only accepting exactly what they were looking for. In all, nearly forty musicians and vocalists played on the seven-track, forty-minute album including such greats as bassist Chuck Rainey, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, guitarists Dean Parks, Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Jay Graydon and Steve Khan, drummers Bernard Purdie, Ed Greene, Jim Keltner, Rick Marotta and Steve Gadd and Victor Feldman and Joe Sample on keys. Timothy B. Schmit and Michael McDonald both contributed backing vocals to several songs.
The hard work and obsessive attention to detail paid off and Aja became Steely Dan's commercial and critical high point. The album became their fast seller to date and gave the band their first platinum record, eventually going on to double platinum. Bolstered by two Top 20 hits, "Peg," which hit No. 11 and stayed on the charts for more than a year, and "Deacon Blues," which climbed to No. 19, plus the Top 40 single, "Josie," (No. 26), the album peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200. UK's New Music Express hailed it as "simply the finest and most sophisticated and intelligent rock album to be released this year" while Billboard called it the year's "most polished album." Aja won the GRAMMY for Best Engineered Recording - Non Classical for its meticulous production and was also nominated for Album of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group.
Since its release 46 years ago, Steely Dan's Aja has only continued to grow in stature. It remains their best selling album and is routinely referred to by audiophiles as one of the best sounding albums ever, as close to perfect as a record can be. Aja frequently appears on "greatest albums" lists, including Rolling Stone where it was voted #63 on their list of the "500 Greatest Albums Of All Time." Retrospective reviews continue to extoll its importance as a landmark record. Pitchfork awarded it a perfect 10 in their 2019 review, declaring "Aja is as bold as records get," adding, "Steely Dan spent the 1970s getting progressively more esoteric: jazzier, groovier, weirder. Even now, mapping the album's melodic and harmonic shifts is impossible to do with confidence. Its songs are sprawling and fussy, populated by oddball characters with inscrutable backstories, like 'Josie,' from the song of the same name ('She's the raw flame, the live wire/She prays like a Roman with her eyes on fire') or 'Peg,' an aspiring actress headed who-knows-where, who's 'done up in blueprint blue.'" Ultimate Classic Rock called it "the artistic pinnacle of the '70s jazz-rock movement," GQ a "masterpiece," Variety praised it as "still among the most voluptuous-sounding recordings ever committed to tape" and "a thing of musical beauty with a hard-edged heart, and a consummate act of creative sleight-of-hand." Spin exclaimed, "Today, Aja still stands as the crucial microcosm of Becker and Fagen's artistry, and as one of the most inventive blockbuster rock albums of its decade."
In 2003, Aja was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame and in 2010 it was added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.
Led by the songwriting and virtuoso musical duo of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, Steely Dan released an extraordinary run of seven albums on ABC Records and MCA Records from 1972 through 1980. Filled with topline musicianship, clever and subversive wordplay, ironic humor, genius arrangements, and pop hits that outshone the Top 40 of their day, Steely Dan's records - which were as sophisticated and cerebral as they were inscrutable - were stylistically diverse, melding the band's love of jazz with rock, blues, and impeccable pop songcraft.
Aja Track List (33 RPM Vinyl)
1. Black Cow
3. Deacon Blues
2. Home At Last
3. I Got The News