Favourite Album Reviews: ‘Aja’ by Steely Dan (Part 2, Side 2)

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The continuing story of what I consider to be one of the greatest albums ever, Steely Dan’s ‘Aja’ (MCA) from 1977. If you haven’t seen part 1, check in my blog first.

If side 1 was a tour de force, then side 2 continues slightly differently, with four songs which are in their own way, equally impressive.

‘Peg’ gets going with a much lighter disco feel, compared to side one. It’s fairly typical of the time but done in Steely Dan’s own inimitable way, with attention to detail. It turns out the guitar solo which made it onto the album took some time to finalise, with numerous guitarists auditioning for the ‘role’. Listening to it, I think they made the right choice. This is probably the most ‘commercial’ track on the album.

Classical References

With Track 2, ‘Home At Last’, we’re suddenly, though not surprisingly, in the realms of Homer (the ancient Greek writer, not the cartoon character) and Ulysses (Odysseus), with references to danger on the rocks and being tied to a mast over a bluesy jive that gets your foot a-tapping nicely. Once again the instrumentation, particularly the use of brass, I feel, is second to none. Very much of its time, almost ‘Starsky and Hutch’ in feel.

‘I Got The News’, the second to last track is an ‘angular’ sounding disco number, with those enigmatic, yet fitting lyrics full of innuendo and direct references which are so much a feature of the Dan’s music. There’s a great guitar break too, which belies the track’s disco setting, a feature first perfected I think on their previous album, ‘The Royal Scam’. It’s like they’re letting you know how sophisticated they are – and why not?

Hell Raiser

And so to the last, and certainly not least track on this classic album. ‘Josie’ is one of Steely Dan’s most celebrated songs, a fine R&B number, about a girl the guys simply can’t do without, it would seem, a bit of a hell raiser by the sound of it, who evidently could’ve been present when Nero set fire to Rome in AD 64. This has all the feel of LA and sophistication, the place Becker and Fagen made their home for some time.

Once again though, it’s the jazz inspired elements, like the rather haunting, minimalistic guitar riff/section sandwiching the main part of the track, which sets it apart from what anyone else was doing before or since.

‘Aja’ will always be a classic. Was it the peak of their success? Most definitely, which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to ‘Gaucho’, or ‘Two Against Nature’, nor indeed the older back catalogue. It’s just that if I was to recommend one album of this band, it would have to be ‘Aja’. It gets an A+++.

copyright Leofwine Tanner 2019

 

 

Poem ‘Red Dress’

Red Dress

The tutor twice your age sat on your knee;
you were always lucky that way.
First night pub opening, top of the hill.
It was the normal pretentious affair,
the legal name with church overtones,
the perfect occasion for too much to drink.

That night I crashed at your mum’s place
and she wasn’t happy, I could tell –
the slamming pots, glances that could kill.
She’d got me down as a junkie
because I travelled light
but the spare room was handy,

set aside for special occasions. Never used.
We listened to some Steely Dan
and then began to jam.
That’s where Red Dress was born.
In between gigs we hired the room
with egg boxes on the walls,

to fashion our fledgling art; firing bass players,
hiring Marilyn sound-a-likes
(who frankly were better at screwing)
and making a right hash of everything,
course included. But band badges were made,
along with silly visits to photo booths.

‘These dirty streets…’ the first line of the lyric
fell into place with that progression in E.
Dreams of Idaho and California. Some sun.
You made it happen and it’s dedicated to you.
And when I heard the news, I knew it was true:
the happy-go-lucky guy on the end of the rope

was you.

© copyright df barker 2012

First published in 2011 in poetry collection ‘Anonymous Lines’, available for purchase here:  http://liten.be//gHmf9

* image created digitally © copyright dfbarker 2012