|Song by Steely Dan|
|from the album Aja|
|Released||September 23, 1977|
|Studio||The Village Recorder, Los Angeles|
|Genre||Jazz rock, jazz fusion|
|Songwriter(s)||Donald Fagen, Walter Becker|
"Aja" is a jazz rock song by the American rock band Steely Dan from the album of the same name, released in 1977. It was composed by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, the band's two members, who respectively play guitar and synthesizer on the track, with various studio musicians playing the other parts; Fagen sings lead vocals. Production duties were handled by Gary Katz; ABC Records released the album.
Musically, it is a tonally sophisticated and structurally complex work that was praised on its release as the most ambitious song the duo had ever attempted. The song's lyrics are the interior monologue of a man who "run[s] to" the title character to escape the stresses of his life "up on the hill." Fagen claims it was inspired by a relative of someone he knew, who had married a Korean woman named Aja. He has described the song as being about the "tranquility that can come of a quiet relationship with a beautiful woman."
Despite its complexity, and unlike most of the other tracks on the album, it took a very short time to record, which Becker and Fagen credit to the musicians' superior sight-reading skills. Denny Dias's guitar work, including a solo, marked the last appearance on a Steely Dan record by any other founding member of the group. Making their first appearance, on the other hand, were tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter and drummer Steve Gadd. Both play solos during the song's instrumental break that have contributed greatly to its reputation and been considered among their finest work; Gadd's, the first drum solo in a Steely Dan song, in the song's tag, was recorded in just two takes. Jazz critic Ben Sidran later called the "Aja" session "a moment when ... pop music suddenly took a turn left."
It is the longest song the band ever recorded,[a] running approximately eight minutes. Fagen and Becker performed it in concert after they reunited late in the 20th century and began touring again. They released one live version. Many artists, including Woody Herman, have covered it on Steely Dan tribute albums.
Songwriters Walter Becker and Donald Fagen had formed Steely Dan in 1972 as a rock sextet, with Becker playing bass (occasionally guitar) and Fagen on keyboards. Even on the group's first album, Can't Buy a Thrill, however, they had been willing to have outside studio musicians such as Elliott Randall play parts on songs if the two felt it was better, and after their third album, 1974's Pretzel Logic, they decided to stop touring to focus on songwriting, The remaining other members left, although guitarists Denny Dias and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter continued working with Becker and Fagen on occasional tracks. The following album, Katy Lied, relied largely on various assortments of studio musicians, and showed more of the influence of the jazz the two had listened to during their formative years.
By the time they began writing and recording their sixth album, Aja, in 1977, the two felt comfortable enough to focus on expanding their songwriting. "We were feeling really lucky that year," Becker said in the 1999 Classic Albums documentary on the album, "and wanted to try something longer." He describes "Aja" as a suite, created by combining several other songs they were working on, including an early song called "Stand by the Seawall" they had recorded a demo version of.
During the same interview, Fagen called the song "a journey in time and space." He has long claimed it was named after a Korean woman a high school friend's brother married after serving in the Army in that country. He is not sure about the spelling, however. "We thought that was a good name, a very romantic sort of image, the sort of tranquility that can come of a quiet relationship with a beautiful woman."
The song was recorded during the early 1977 Aja sessions at The Village Recorder in Los Angeles. Gary Katz produced the song, as he had for every Steely Dan album. Roger Nichols and three other recording engineers did that task, work for which they would later share that year's Grammy Award for Best Engineered Non-Classical Recording.
Aja was the group's first album to give credit to the musicians on each individual track. Becker was one of three guitarists on the track, along with studio veteran Larry Carlton, and Denny Dias. Both had worked with him and Fagen before. Carlton had played some guitar solos on the band's previous album, The Royal Scam, and done arrangements for Aja; Dias had played in bands with them before becoming one of the founding members of Steely Dan. Parts of performances by all three were edited together into the final mix. In the 1999 Classic Albums segment on Aja, Dias recalled the song as being particularly challenging for the guitarists. "Its very existence is a contradiction. I mean, when have you ever heard a song on a rock'n'roll record that absolutely cannot be played on a guitar?" Specifically, he cited "clusters where the notes are so close together that you can't stretch your fingers far enough to get all the notes out at the same time ... [and] open voicings that are so wide apart that you can't reach the notes" The final recording used much of his work, including the long solo during the song's instrumental break; it would be his last appearance with Steely Dan, and thus the last appearance of any of the group's original members besides Becker and Fagen on any of their records.[b] Becker's blues phrases are used over the next statement of the main theme.
Fagen sang the lead vocal, with Timothy B. Schmit, who had just left Poco to join The Eagles, backing him up. Fagen also played the minimal synthesizer parts the song required, as well as some toots of a police whistle during the instrumental break. He left the bulk of the keyboard parts to others. Joe Sample played the electric piano while Michael Omartian, who was amazed that Becker and Fagen had abandoned the idea of recording the "totally cool" (in his words) "Stand by the Seawall", handled the standard acoustic piano. Chuck Rainey played bass. Becker and Fagen had reportedly hoped to get Tony Williams, a member of Miles Davis's Second Great Quintet, to play drums, but settled instead for Steve Gadd. Percussionist-pianist Victor Feldman, who would join Becker and Fagen in contributing to every song on the album, provided the vibraphone parts.
Despite its complexity (three music stands were required to hold the charts for each player in the rhythm section) the song took very little time to record, in contrast to other, simpler songs on the record.[c] Originally they planned to rehearse for a day before beginning to record, but "we just decided to run it down once and Steve Gadd, being a fantastic drummer, is a fantastic sight reader and didn't really need to rehearse; neither did the rest of the band," Becker told Steely Dan historian Brian Sweet in 2007. During a 2000 BBC online chat Fagen recalled that some other sections set aside for solos were instead discarded, "because nobody was comfortable with [them]."
Gadd, whose part had designated sections where he was to improvise, took two takes to record his part, including the solos (the first drum solos ever on a Steely Dan record), not one as is sometimes claimed; they were edited together in the final mix. "[His] part was not written. We discussed the tune a little bit and by virtue of his musicianship he just knew what to do," said Becker. "I remember, through the part that became the saxophone solo, telling him just to play like hell through there. He said okay."
"The session went real smooth," Gadd told jazz critic Ben Sidran in 1995. "Everyone had their head into it like probably it was going to take a long time to get it, if we ever would get it. And, that day, it just seemed to fall into place." Ten years later he elaborated further that he had heard of Becker and Fagen's difficulties and "[a] lot of the musicians weren't very optimistic that they were ever going to get these things done." 
According to Sweet, Gadd's playing was so visually appealing that some of the other players became distracted and had to rerecord portions of their parts later. Becker and Fagen were so satisfied with the drummer's work that they asked him back to play on some tracks from Gaucho, their next album.
With everything else laid down, only the tenor saxophone solo remained. As part of their conscious effort to expand the range of musicians they worked with, Becker and Fagen hoped to have it played by Wayne Shorter, who had also backed Miles Davis on his pioneering late-1960s fusion albums In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew. At the time, Shorter had worked only on jazz records, not pop such as Steely Dan.
Katz asked Shorter on Becker and Fagen's behalf if he would play the solo, and he declined. They then asked Dick LaPalm, then manager of the Village Recorder, who knew Shorter from when Weather Report, the prominent fusion band he had cofounded with Joe Zawinul, recorded there. He agreed, and according to Fagen "vouched for us" to Shorter. They sent the saxophonist a chart. When he came to the studio, he prepared by playing scales on the piano for a half hour, then doing three or four takes. "We were very glad that he came in," Fagen said in 1999. "I think he felt the chances were that we would be asking him to do something that was not particularly appropriate [for him], which was, well, a reasonable fear under those circumstances," Becker added.
Shorter recalls his decision to play the solo as "quite matter-of-fact". When he came in, he just asked to hear the sections before and after the portion he would be soloing over so he would have a reference point. "He was a little worried, getting into how he would play with Miles," Fagen said. "Of course that didn't bother us at all." Shorter explained that the lesson he had taken from Davis was to focus on his performance and "don't give too much away."
Shorter "play[ed] to the homonymic meaning of the tune's title ... with a certain chant-like quality resonant of the Orient," wrote his biographer Michelle Mercer. "But mostly he related to the music itself." She quotes Becker:
He was very thoughtful and probing about the musical possibilities ... Wayne said that as a jazz musician there could be a stage where you'd see a certain harmonic thing going on and react to that in a programmed way. There could be a certain boilerplate aspect of the bebop language, a way of looking at chromatic passages. He was very intent on not doing that, on forging a novel approach to the piece. He was influenced by the contour of sections other than the part he played over.
Mercer notes that there wasn't much of that "bebop language" in the music underneath, despite the richness of the underlying chord. "Even so," she concluded, "Wayne managed to tell a blockbuster story in just one minute". She credits Gadd for inspiring him much as Tony Williams had when he and Shorter played in Davis's band. "It was majestic and stately, tracing a mountainous arc with cleverly displaced references back to the vocal melody."
Missing master tape
In the late 1990s, when Becker and Fagen were putting together a remastered version of the album as part of a series of reissues on compact disc, they found that the original two-inch multitrack master tapes of "Aja", along with "Black Cow," were missing, precluding a version of the song in 5.1 surround sound for home theaters. In the confusion after the completion of the album, those masters were not stored with the others, they wrote in the liner notes that accompanied the reissue. They offered a $600 reward to anyone who found them and contacted their management. "This is not a joke. Happy hunting."
Canadian studio musician Don Breithaupt, who wrote the 2007 volume on Aja for Bloomsbury Publishing's 33⅓ series, breaks the song down into 24 separate parts. "It conforms more to sonata form than Sinatra form," he writes. This complex musical structure is in contrast to the lyrics—three short verses, all beginning with the same line, and with the same chorus.
Like many Steely Dan songs, the lyrics of "Aja" are sung from the point of view of a character in a narrative, rather than a universal first person as is common in most other modern popular music. "Aja" is the sparsely worded interior monologue of a man who contrasts the shortcomings of his regimented, passionless regular life with the space occupied, at some remove, by Aja, whom he visits, perhaps secretly, as a relief from his primary existence. While many interpretations of the song follow Fagen's account of its origins and assume Aja is a woman, "the word seems to be shorthand for peace, exotica, the alluring other, perhaps even death," writes Breithaupt. "The lyrics paint Aja as a nonspecific, though certainly eastern, place far from the worlds of celebrity, commerce, even linear time—a place in which a troubled spirit might find solace."
Each verse starts with the same four-syllable line, "Up on the hill ..." which is not rhymed with any other line in the song. The narrator makes a complaint about the emptiness of life there in the next two similarly short but rhyming lines—"people never stare / They just don't care", in the first verse, for example. His mood picks up in the second half-verse as the lines more than double in length, continuing to rhyme, describing some soothing aspect of the space—particularly the "Chinese music" playing there, in both the first and third verses—inhabited by Aja. These flow right into the three-line chorus, whose lyrics are always the same:
- When all my dime dancin' is through,
- I run to you.
Despite the lyrics' minimal presence in the song, Breithaupt finds Becker and Fagen using many of the same poetic devices as they do in other, more complex lyrics such as "Deacon Blues", from Aja and other albums before and after. Most significant is the repetition of sounds. Alliteration, the use of the same initial sound in consecutive words, is present both in the chorus's "dime dancin'" and the third verse ("they think I'm okay). This is complemented by assonance, vowel sounds that recur in close proximity, in addition to those used in the song's rhyme scheme. Three long vowel sounds cluster in the verses:
- Long "a" (/eɪ/)—"they think I'm okay/Or so they say";
- Long "e" (/ɪ/)—"Chinese music under banyan trees ... always sets me free",
- Long "i" (/aɪ/)—"in the sky tonight".
The first sound is also the initial sound of the chorus, and the last sound recurs in the chorus: "my dime ... I run ...", joined by a repeated long "u" (oʊ): "through ... to you") Assonance is combined with consonance, a repeated consonant sound, as well: the combination of the short "a" (/æ/) and "n" (/n/) recurs throughout the verses ("banyan", "ranch", and "angular banjoes") and then in the chorus's "dancin'".
The Asian references in the lyrics, the "Chinese music" and "banyan trees", are part of an ongoing motif in the band's music, Breihaupt also points out. It begins with "Bodhisattva", the first single from their second album, Countdown to Ecstasy, which not only took its name from a position of respect in Buddhism but punningly referenced "The shine of your Japan / The sparkle of your china" in its lyrics; elsewhere on the album "Your Gold Teeth" refers to "Tobacco they grow in Peking ..." Katy Lied, in 1975, had a song about a "Doctor Wu." Two years after Aja, Gaucho had three in two songs. "Time out of Mind", the album's second single, referenced a "mystical sphere ... direct from Lhasa/Where people are rolling in the snow/Far from the world we know". In another song, "Glamour Profession", the narrator refers to another character's "Eurasian bride" and later describes having "Szechuan dumplings" at the Mr. Chow Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles.
According to Breithaupt, one repetitive device in "Aja" is unique to it among the album's songs. The use of "Up on the hill to begin each verse is anaphora, the repetition of a word or group of words at the beginning of a larger grouping of words. It is reinforced by the "Chinese music" that begins the fourth line of the first and third verses.
Also atypical for Steely Dan is the extensive imagery of natural features in the lyrics—hill, trees, sea, and sky. Most Steely Dan songs, and indeed all of the other songs on the album except "Home at Last", eschew natural imagery in favor of name-checking brands, products, businesses and other human-made artifice. Indeed, Breithaupt notes, "Aja" has none of the brand names or particular locations that often appear in the band's other lyrics, adding to the sense of timelessness in the lyrics, although Breithaupt implies that the "dude ranch above the sea" might be a sardonic reference to Los Angeles.
Due to the vagueness of the lyrics, many listeners have struggled to interpret the song. "It's possible that ... 'Aja' is a romantic fantasy in the mind of a patient in some Magic-Mountain-like mental hospital." Spin suggested on the album's 40th anniversary. "The abstract verses leave lots of room for speculation." The double helix in the sky could be a constellation or hallucination, and, the magazine posited, the "hardware" either drug paraphernalia or a gun. After reviewing some of the theories as to what the song might be about on a website devoted to interpreting the band's lyrics, Breithaupt concluded that the only good answer to "what is 'Aja' about?" is "about eight minutes" (the song's running time).
Despite its structural complexity, "Aja" keeps some things simple. Following what Breithaupt calls a "discernible musical logic" to the order of the album's songs, Breithaupt, most of the piece is in the key of B major, one step up from A major, on which the previous track, "Black Cow", the album's opener, had ended. With the exception of occasional measures, the song is in 4/4, or common time.
"Aja" begins slowly, with Omartian opening with a Bmaj9.[d] Omartian plays variations for the first eight bars (actually a repeated four-bar figure) as Gadd quietly works the cymbals behind him, and some bent guitar licks, and Sample's Rhodes electric piano, with delay and slight tremolo, sound above the chords. Breithaupt calls this intro an unusual "area of harmonic tranquility" in the album. However, between the pianos and guitar, "there are sharp elevenths floating around, hinting at the wilder (and less stable) Lydian mode."
After eight measures, the vocals enter, joined by Rainey's bass. Gadd starts laying down the still-slow beat with his hi-hat, bass and snare, still low in the mix. This continues for 10 measures; during a short break after the vocals stop, Feldman's vibraphone joins.
The beat picks up, guitars join the rhythm section, and the tempo gets slightly faster, just before the second half-verse begins, with Gadd and Feldman combining for a groove with a Latin feel. This eight-bar section concludes with a short flourish of piano chords; the beat continues into the chorus. That chorus, Breithaupt notes, ends on a descent from D♭maj7♭5 to Cmaj7♭5, one of many half-step chord changes on the album. The last word, "you" sounds on a single measure in 3/4. In a 2004 Music Theory Spectrum article, Walter Everett notes that the resolution at the end of the chorus is one of many bebop-inspired unexpected chord changes in Becker and Fagen's work:
Here, at the end of the chorus, a French-like V4/3 with a typically lowered fifth and an unusual major seventh is applied to the Neapolitan instead of to the dominant. This abstruse event creates an appropriately exotic quality, and the offhand giving way of the tonicized C to the true tonic, B, has an ironic quality owing to the nested double use of lowered second scale degree (D♭3 to C3, then C3 to B2)
"Moments like [this]", Spin wrote, "leave one totally adrift for clues as to where the song will move". After a single reiteration of the intro's four bars, the song goes into the second verse and chorus, which do not change significantly.
The Neapolitan sixth chord Everett highlighted at the end of the chorus is held for two measures, creating a short break before the beginning of the instrumental section. The pace picks up, Gadd and Feldman combine for an even more Latin beat, and Fagen enters as a player, leading an eight-bar vamp with a brassy riff on his synthesizer. A few bars in, Feldman begins playing the section's main melody on his vibraphone, beginning an 8-bar instrumental bridge that includes one bar in 2/4. It is followed by a 10-bar variation on that bridge. Both these sections, rather than repeating the chords of the verse and chorus, introduce new material for the rhythm part, the reason for the three music stands required for each player during the session. "Becker and Fagen were not content to have their soloists simply noodling on verse changes or one-chord vamps. This made for very few repeat signs," writes Breithaupt.
This leads to a short interlude in which the vamp gives way to chord flourishes punctuated by beats from Gadd in between soft cymbal taps. Through it all Dias plays a jazzy solo of long runs on clean-toned guitar, while the rhythm guitar plays cluster triads, including mu chords. Near the end is another segment of chromatically descending chords (Fm11, Em11, E♭m11 and Em11). "Aja was Becker and Fagen's half-step album," Breithaupt writes. While that went against the prevailing trends in popular music at that time, in which diatonic progressions or vamps were preferred, he quotes Fagen as saying that even though he had always thought that was "corny ... I think I decided I was going to do it anyway. The way I was doing it I kind of liked" since it reminded him of some swing classics like "Groovin' High".
The 12-bar interlude ends as the vamp returns for four bars, over which Becker plays a bluesier solo on an overdriven guitar. Fagen adds accents at one point with two toots of a police whistle. The bridge is replayed, while the solo continues. When the interlude returns, it too is slightly varied, going on for 16 bars, with the clean-tone guitar returning conspicuously in the final measures as the chords build to a crescendo, announcing the combined Gadd/Shorter drum and tenor saxophone solo. The first part goes on for 17 bars, one in 2/4, as the other musicians vamp on staccato chords beneath. The interlude chords briefly return, and Gadd resumes keep the beat, with a few more flourishes, while Shorter's solo continues. Then the vamp and drum solo resume for another 17-bar section, this one including one bar in 3/4, that ends with a descending chord progression that takes us back into the intro.
After the 26 bars of the verse and chorus repeat, the band resumes the Bm11 vamp that backed the solos in the instrumental break. This continues for 34 bars while the song fades out. Fagen plays synthesizer fills while Gadd continues his solo, more in the tradition of jazz drum solos than rock. "Gadd peppered the rhythmic grid with short, complex bursts of activity, including several signature sixteenth-note triplet figures incorporating the kick drum and toms. He helped signal to the pop world that Becker and Fagen, the kings of wry understatement, were not averse to a little untethered improvisation." In a 2013 video for the Hudson Music Master Series, he demonstrated his variations on the ratamacue during the tag.
"Aja" was released as part of the eponymous album in September 1977; it would soon reach #3 in the Billboard album charts and become Steely Dan's first platinum album. Its liner notes, from two different writers, both took the time to praise the title track. The longer set, purportedly written by music journalist "Michael Phalen" (actually Becker and Fagen themselves), called "Aja" 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."
Real critics, such as Rolling Stone's Michael Duffy, saw it much the same way. "Aja", he wrote, was "the one song ... that shows real growth in Becker's and Fagen's songwriting capabilities and departs from their previous work." Musically he characterized it as having "vaguely Oriental instrumental flourishes" and "an opiated jazz flux" in the lyrics. "'Aja' may prove to be the farthest Becker and Fagen can take certain elements of their musical ambition."
Billboard, too, noted the Latin tinge to the music. It called Shorter's solo "nothing less than dreamy". Gadd's drumming came in for praise, and "Fagen's mellow vocals are at their best."
While "Aja" is not played as frequently on the radio as the album's three singles ("Deacon Blues", "Peg" and "Josie"), it has become a staple of Steely Dan's live shows since the band resumed touring in the 1990s. AllMusic calls it "an absolute masterpiece, not only one of Steely Dan's finest songs, but also a pinnacle of '70s studio rock." Critic and John Lennon biographer Tim Riley recommends "Aja" as one of ten Steely Dan songs with which to introduce "non-believers" to the band. Likewise, AXS TV's Sam McPherson lists it as the best Steely Dan song. "You can listen to it on 'repeat' all day long ... or all night long, depending on your preferences, of course," he wrote in 2014. "It fits the 'cocktail lounge' vibe of the band's sound, while also being positively upbeat and charming at the same time."
In 2016, Ruban Nielson of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, a longtime Steely Dan fan, put "Aja" on a list of the band's five most essential songs he compiled for Fordham University radio station WFUV. He called it "a really strange and beautiful arrangement." The outro's layered use of synthesizers evoked, to him, David Bowie and Brian Eno.
Shorter's solo, "suitable for bronzing", in biographer Michell Mercer's words, and "the purest jazz Steely Dan ever recorded," to AllMusic, is frequently mentioned as part of the song's lasting appeal. "It's so full of drama and mystery it makes you wonder what's going on in his mind", said Nielson. "Many people will have heard his great solo on Steely Dan's classic song 'Aja'," British critic Ivan Hewett wrote in a 2013 profile, "without knowing it comes from one of the great tenor and soprano saxophonists in jazz history." Mercer says that "for years afterwards, people approached him and said they'd first heard him on this record."
The Library of Congress cited Shorter's "masterful tenor solo" on the title track among many highlights of the album when it added Aja to the United States National Recording Registry in 2010. Jazz.com critic Matt Miller includes "Aja" on his list of the 12 essential Shorter tracks. In 2013, Chicago radio station WXRT-FM included it among its ten most memorable sax solos in rock."
Gadd's work on the track has also been influential. "Even the best part of three decades after it was recorded, drummers are still listening to 'Aja' in awe," Rhythm magazine said in 2010. AllMusic calls his solo over the tag "one of the least boring drum solos ever to appear on a '70s rock album." Jazz Times put "Aja" among Gadd's five best tracks in 2013, calling it "a pop music legend". On the album's 40th anniversary, Spin called the solo "the beating heart of the album" and NIelson describes it as "both spectacular and 'spectacular'".
Jazz writer Ben Sidran considers "Aja" a seminal recording. "It was a moment when pop music got extended by virtue of the drums you played," he told Gadd in his oral history, Talking Jazz. "That session, at the time, was kind of legendary ... [I]t was important because pop music suddenly took a turn left."
- Lead vocals, Synthesizer, Police Whistle: Donald Fagen
- Drums: Steve Gadd
- Percussion, Vibraphone: Victor Feldman
- Bass: Chuck Rainey
- Guitars: Walter Becker, Denny Dias and Larry Carlton
- Piano: Michael Omartian
- Electric piano: Joe Sample
- Tenor sax: Wayne Shorter
- Backup vocals: Tim Schmit
Since Aja's release, the song has appeared on two compilations, both from the compact disc era: the 1993 Citizen Steely Dan four-CD box set and the 2000 two-disc collection Showbiz Kids: The Steely Dan Story, 1972–1980. Both of those versions differ from the original release only in having their running time extended by a few seconds as more of the fadeout was included. While the first compilation included many remastered versions of other Steely Dan songs, and remastered entire earlier albums were released later in the 1990s, no remastered version of "Aja" that would take advantage of modern audio technology has been possible due to the disappearance of the multitrack master tapes.
A live version was recorded when Becker and Fagen began touring again as Steely Dan in 1994. It is on the Alive in America album as the last track. It extends for slightly over nine minutes, making it the longest Steely Dan recorded track.
In 2009 the band's "Rent Party" tour included shows where they played one of their albums in its entirety. One run of shows, performed that August at the Beacon Theatre in New York, was devoted to Aja. In its review, The New York Times praised saxophonist Walt Weiskopf's work on the title track as "suggest[ing] the roaming, gestural feel of Wayne Shorter's original solo."
Cover versions of "Aja" have largely been recorded as part of early 21st-century multi-song tributes to Steely Dan.
- Woody Herman on Plays Chick, Donald, Walter and Woodrow, 1978
- Christian McBride, on SciFi, 2000.
- Various artists, including Peter Wolf and Al Di Meola, on The Royal Dan: A Tribute, 2006
- The Jim Mullen Organ Trio featuring Stan Sulzmann, Smokescreen, 2007
- The Darcys, on AJA, their rerecording of the entire album, 2012.
- The Mark Masters Ensemble, on Everything You Did: The Music of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, 2013.
"Aja" was sampled in an unusual way within a year of the album's release. Shortly after the conclusion of the Aja sessions, Becker and Fagen agreed to write and record "FM (No Static At All)", the theme song for the movie FM. It failed at the box office, but the single was a modest hit, reaching #22 on the Billboard chart. In order to avoid promoting their FM competitors, many Top 40 AM stations played a version with the "A" from the chorus of "Aja", harmonically compatible, spliced in over the "F" in "FM".
- Prior to "Aja", "Your Gold Teeth" from Countdown to Ecstasy had been the band's longest track, at just under seven minutes. "Deacon Blues", which follows "Aja" on the album, and Gaucho's "Glamour Profession", are the next longest songs, both around 71⁄2 minutes in length.
- Dias was not among the many studio musicians who performed on 1980's Gaucho;
- Most famously, six other guitarists besides Becker attempted the solo on "Peg" before Jay Graydon was finally able to satisfy him and Fagen.
- Musicologist Walter Everett identified this as the band's signature Mu chord. However, as described by the band themselves, the Mu chord consists only of the 1st, 2nd, major 3rd and 5th and never contains a major 7th)
- Duffy, Michael (December 1, 1977). "Aja (Steely Dan)". Rolling Stone. Retrieved January 13, 2015.
- Breithaupt, Don (2007). Aja. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 33. ISBN 9780826427830. Retrieved January 13, 2015.
- Alan Lewens (director) (1999). Steely Dan – Aja (Home video - DVD). Eagle Rock Entertainment. Event occurs at 43:37.
- Frazier, Preston (September 28, 2014). "Steely Dan Sunday: The Five Best Steely Dan Guitar Solos". Something Else Reviews. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
- Breithaupt, 52
- Sidran, Ben (1995). Talking Jazz: An Oral History. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press. pp. 449–50. ISBN 9780306806131. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
- Countdown to Ecstasy at AllMusic. Retrieved April 16, 2016.
- Aja at AllMusic. Retrieved July 30, 2018.
- Gaucho at AllMusic
- "Steely Dan Timeline". Steely Dan. Retrieved January 13, 2015.
- Lewens, at 42:30
- Sweet, Brian (2007). "VIII". Steely Dan:Reelin' in the Years. Music Sales Group. ISBN 9781846098819. Retrieved January 15, 2015.
- "1977 – 20th Annual Grammy Awards". National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Retrieved January 15, 2015.
- Aja (Album inner sleeve). ABC Records. 1977. Archived from the original on January 14, 2015. Retrieved January 14, 2015.
- Breithaupt, 102
- Myers, Marc (September 10, 2015). "How Steely Dan Created 'Deacon Blues'". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 16, 2016.
- Aaron, S. Victor (March 4, 2012). "Steely Dan Sunday, 'Aja' (1977)". Something Else Reviews. Retrieved April 16, 2016.
- Levens, at 43:53
- "Citizen Tracks and Credits". Steely Dan. Retrieved January 23, 2015.
- Sweet, Brian (2010). "Aja" (PDF). Library of Congress. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
- Breithaupt, 96
- Schonfeld, Zach (September 24, 2017). "Steely Dan's 'Aja' at 40: The Inside Story of the Band's Most Legendary Guitar Solo". Newsweek. Retrieved July 30, 2018.
- Mattingly, Rick (August 2005). "Steve Gadd" (PDF). Percussive Notes: 16–20. Retrieved January 14, 2015.
- "Complete transcript of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker in a BBC-Online Chat, March 4, 2000". Steely Dan. March 4, 2000. Retrieved January 14, 2015.
- Breithaupt, 50
- Lewens, at 45:30.
- Lewens, at 45:39.
- Lewens, at 45:55.
- Lewens, at 46:28.
- Mercer, Michelle (2007). Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter. Penguin Books. p. 197. ISBN 9781585424689. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
- Breithaupt, 91–92
- Breithaupt, 95
- "Lyrics–Aja". Steely Dan. 1977. Retrieved January 14, 2015.
- Breithaupt, 34–37
- "Lyrics–Countdown to Ecstasy". Steely Dan. 1977. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
- "Lyrics–Countdown to Ecstasy". Steely Dan. 1977. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
- "Lyrics–Katy Lied". Steely Dan. 1977. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
- "Lyrics–Gaucho". Steely Dan. 1977. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
- "Lyrics–Gaucho". Steely Dan. 1977. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
- Breithaupt, 24
- Cook-Wilson, Winston (September 27, 2017). "Steely Dan's Aja: Remembering the Band's Trailblazing Moment 40 Years Later". Spin. Retrieved July 30, 2018.
- Breithaupt, 99
- Breithaupt, 67
- Everett, Walter (Fall 2004). "A Royal Scam: The Abstruse and Ironic Bop-Rock Harmony of Steely Dan" (PDF). Music Theory Spectrum. 26 (2): 206. ISSN 0195-6167. OCLC 225222134. Retrieved January 16, 2015.
- Becker and Fagen. "Intro to the Steely Dan Song Book ", sdarchive.com. Posted 05/96.
- Breithaupt, 45
- Breithaupt, 47
- Everett, 223
- Breithaupt, 46
- Steve Gadd (2006). Aja Drum Fills Explanation (Online video). Hudson Music. Event occurs at 1:00. ISBN 9781423437956. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
- "Steely Dan FAQ". Steely Dan. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
- "Closeup". Billboard. 89 (42): 52. October 22, 1977. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
- Mason, Stewart (2015). "Steely Dan-Aja, Song Review by Stewart Mason". Allmusic.com. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
- Riley, Tim (April 2014). "Why Steely Dan Doesn't Suck". Radio Silence. III. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
- McPherson, Sam (November 29, 2014). "The 10 best Steely Dan songs". AXS TV. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
- Manning, Kara (October 12, 2016). "Unknown Mortal Orchestra's Ruban Nielson: five Essential Steely Dan Songs". WFUV. Retrieved July 30, 2018.
- Hewett, Ivan (November 17, 2013). "Wayne Shorter: one of the greatest saxophonists in history". The Telegraph. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
- Miller, Matt. "The Dozens: 12 Essential Wayne Shorter Tracks". Jazz.com. Archived from the original on June 13, 2015. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
- "10 Of The Most Memorable Sax Solos In Rock". WXRT-FM. August 13, 2013. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
- Chamberlain, Richard (April 30, 2010). "Career In Beats: Steve Gadd". Rhythm. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
- Chinen, Nate (December 21, 2013). "5 Classic Steve Gadd Drum Tracks". Jazz Times. Retrieved January 20, 2013.
- Ephron, Amy (September 9, 2015). "You Can Call Her Mayor Brown: How Aja Brown Is Transforming the City of Compton". Vogue. Condé Nast. Retrieved May 30, 2018.
- Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (2015). "Citizen Steely Dan; AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved January 21, 2015.
- Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (2015). "Showbiz Kids: The Steely Dan Story, 1972–1980; AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved January 21, 2015.
- Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (2011). "Alive in America - Steely Dan | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved January 21, 2015.
- Ratliff, Ben (July 29, 2009). "Cool Blast of the '70s, With LPs Spinning". The New York Times. Retrieved January 21, 2015.
- Breithaupt, 76
- Edelstein, Paula. SciFi overview at AllMusic. Retrieved January 22, 2015.
- Anderson, Rick. The Royal Dan overview at AllMusic. Retrieved January 22, 2015.
- "Smokescreen". Retrieved January 22, 2015.
- Lester, Paul (January 12, 2012). "The Darcys (No 1,184)". Retrieved January 22, 2015.
- Everything You Did overview at AllMusic. Retrieved January 22, 2015.
- Breithaupt, 69–73