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Steely Dan’s 1977 album “Aja” was and remains the band’s
biggest seller. It was the first of their albums to go “platinum,”
and a fitting entry in the always excellent “Classic Albums”
DVD series, released in 2006 on the Eagle Rock Entertainment
label.

As with the other DVDs in this series, the songs on the album
are deconstructed by band members Donald Fagan (1948 – )
and Walter Becker (1950 – ). Often, we hear them dissecting
the songs “track by track,” and almost providing x-ray versions
of their sophisticated arrangements. Fagan, Becker and the
other session musicians contribute an abundance of anecdotes
and memories of this process. Other musicians interviewed
here include Wayne Shorter, tenor saxophonist on
the title song, “Aja,” and guitarist Larry Carlton. When
discussing the song “Peg,” from the album, singer
Michael McDonald recalled the exacting standards required
by the tight vocal harmonies in that song.

By way of background, Steely Dan has also been known for their
distinctive lyrics which sometimes take an ironic turn, and are
always easy to understand. This style allows them to tackle
some controversial topics with ease. Their music features a
unique combination of Pop and Rock with sophisticated Jazz,
referred to by Donald Fagan as “fake Jazz.”

Initially, they played “live” gigs, yet later limited their
music-making to the studio, often using a very large
contingent of top-of-the-line musicians as session players.
Personal issues and legal wrangling led to a breakup in 1981,
with very little collaboration during that decade. However, fans
everywhere were overjoyed when Becker and Fagan returned
to the studio during 1993, to produce each other’s projects.
A formal reunion and tour schedule followed. In 2000, the
long-awaited release of the CD, “Two Against Nature,” earned
four Grammy awards for this duo. Other album releases have
followed, and they have continued to tour.

The footage regarding their “Aja” album appears to have
been shot in the late 1990’s, as the DVD credits list a 1999
copyright date. A historical perspective is provided by old band
photos, and extra features include a printed history and
discography that were current at that time. The highlight of
the disc is a live performance by Becker, Fagan and other
musicians involved in the original recording of “Aja.” This
60-minute DVD is another great entry in the “Classic Albums”
series, and I look forward to viewing others.

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