Album: Aja (1977)
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  • The song is pronounced "Asia," and was inspired by the continent. Steely Dan have several songs with a Far East influence, since Donald Fagen believes it is a symbol of sensuality. He told Rolling Stone magazine that the title came from a high school friend whose brother was in the army and came back with a Korean wife named Aja, although he wasn't sure how she spelled it.
  • Walter Becker and Donald Fagen used a variety of musicians on the Aja album, choosing them to suit the individual tracks. On this one, Fagen sang lead and played synthesizer, while Becker, Denny Dias and Larry Carlton handled guitars. On backing vocals is Timothy B. Schmit, who joined the Eagles that same year. Other musicians on the track are:

    Bass: Chuck Rainey
    Drums: Steve Gadd
    Electric Piano: Joe Sample
    Percussion: Victor Feldman
    Piano: Michael Omartian
    Tenor Saxophone: Wayne Shorter
  • Along with "Black Cow," the multitrack masters of this song are nowhere to be found, which Steely Dan discovered when they remastered the Aja album in 1999. They were able to do a stereo remaster of the album, but unless the multitracks show up, no surround sound mix is possible.
  • This is the very last song that original band member Denny Dias played on, before fading into the background of session musicians. He eventually left the music business altogether for a career in... computer programming.
  • In America, Aja is a very uncommon name, but in the late '70s, about 1000 baby girls were given that name, roughly matching the number of Rhiannons. In the '80s and '90s, there were about 200 new Ajas every year in America.

    One prominent Aja is Aja Pecknold, manager of the band Fleet Foxes, which is fronted by her brother Robin. Her musician father and teacher mother named her after this song.
  • Kenny Aronoff, a top session drummer who appears on tracks by Stevie Nicks, Joe Jackson, Bob Dylan and many others, puts Steve Gadd's work on "Aja" in his list of the Top 5 drum performances of all time. Aronoff told Songfacts: "Everybody knows that this was absolute genius. Steve Gadd, his musicality, his iconic drum fills, his feel, his delicacy, the balance on the drum kit. He did it in one take – every take they did was a full take with the whole band playing together. That was a performance.

    Now in this day and age of Pro Tools, people are getting comfortable with fixing everything. This was not those days. You had to be a great drummer, you had to have great equipment, you had to be able to play with great time, you had to be able to read, you had to be able to play with feel, you had to have musical ears, you had to be able to be perfect, basically. It was one of the greatest drum performances that made it on the radio, ever."

Comments: 33

  • Danny81 from OhioThe way the name is spelled correctly is Aeja. That is my lady's name. She was born in Incheon. It's pronounced with more of a short "a" than a long one. It is an old-school Korean girl's name, not popular these days... kinda like Martha, Constance or Elaine would be in the U.S.
  • Bryan from New York, Ny“Up on the Hill” refers to the Tibetan terrain of the Himalayas - and “They’ve got time to burn. There’s no return” refers to the philosophical concepts of samsara in Buddhism
  • Mike Ruane from North Apollo, Pa. I got this album as one of the 12 you'd get from Columbia House record club, 12 for a penny! Lol. I was 14-15 years of age. Almost immediately I fell in love with it. It just sounded so much clearer than the others. The only other one i remember getting was Boz's Silk Degrees, another great album btw. Well, at the ripe old age of 47, i had a my first child, a daughter that was born on my birthday. Yes, i named her Aja.
  • Ed from Keenem New HampshireAround the 4:57 mark of the song, drummer Steve Gadd accidentally hits the drum rim .... and to-this-day, drummers who play this song attempt to re-create it.
  • Paul Hartford from UkI saw Steve Gadd playing with James Taylor a few years ago in Manchester (England, not 'by the sea'), I was only a few rows back from the stage, but for the first 3 songs his face was obscured by the guitarist, but I knew it was him by the way he played. I can belive he played the drum solo on Aja in one take, he is that good! It's my favourite Album, every song is beautifully crafted and the musician ship so good it sounds 'natural', they are the best band I have ever seen or heard in my 58 years.
  • Rob from British ColumbiaYes Donald knew my sister in law Aeja well. Used to hang with my brother Peter and visited Aeja and Chris on occasion. Sweet gal...moved back to Korea.
  • Steven F. Kendell, Md from CelinaI have no idea what "Frank" below is talking about . . . AJA is a JAZZ album, not pop music. FYI "Frank" pop music is the sheit that taylor swift, brittany spears and the rest regurgitate. To refer to ANY music made by the great, the one and only, the amazing Wayne Shorter as pop music is like referring to the USofA as a democracy . . . nothing but a big sad sack of lies!
  • Aaron from Austin, TnI thought it very obvious that the song is about a fictional Bordello on the California coast, perhaps San Francisco area. That's why you hear the police whistle. The part with Wayne Shorter's is where the police raid the place. The track Aja uses a number previous Steely Dan songs, but primarily the unreleased "Here At the Western World". "Deacon Blues" also seems to be derived from it.
  • Mike from Houston, TxYet another subtle drug referrence in their music: "Break out the hardware, let's do it right." Hardware is another name for the needle, spoon, flame used for shooting up, mainly heroin.
  • Sigpaw from Wichita, KsFolks!? Your overthinking this entirely too much. And in one way its HILARIOUS, in another, kinda sad. When the refer to the folks up on the hill how they don't give a damn. It's CAPITOL HILL..... duh?
  • Sigpaw from Wichita, KsThe term "Dime Dancing" originally referred to "Taxi Dancing" or posing as a dance partner for pay. For people who wanted to dance but who didn't have a date. The term is circa 1920-30s. One purchased tickets for ten cents each which were then exchanged (to a Taxi Dancer) for ONE dance. ie "Dime Dances".
  • Danny from Berkeley, CaLouis Armstrong called jazz "Chinese music", you can guess along with me why (my guess - that jazz is not rational and western, it's intuitive yet has its own definite yet different kind of logic). So this song is about playing jazz for people who often don't get it or don't care. Since I live near San Francisco, I interpret "up on the hill" to be wealthy bored people on Nob Hill. Coincidentally, someone wrote that Kid Charlemagn" also had a reference to "up on the hill", and that song was about Owsley Stanley, the guy who (among other things) synthesized acid for the acid tests in SF.
  • Jeff B from Boston, MaThis is definitely my favorite Steely Dan and a great running song, since it last almost as long as I can run a mile. I always thought the song was about the dreams or hallucinations of people in a mental institution: "Up on the hill/people never stare/they just don't care." The middle section may be the best jazz instrumental in all of pop music. Wayne Shorter's sax solo perfectly expresses the ethereal mood of the melody and Gadd's drumming is amazing.
  • Robert from Chicago , IlTo demonstrate their greatness this album had only 7 songs (3 on side one 4 on side 2) when most albums at the time had 7 on one side alone. I have this album in every media form (album ,cassette, an cd) except 8 track.
  • Africaine from Johannesburg, South AfricaThe story goes that Steve Gadd walked into the studio in NYC - put on the cans - and 8 minutes later - he was finished - one take ! Had the priviledge of seeming him in Johannesburg with Joe Sample and Randy Crawford.
    AJA is the perfect number !
  • Rick from Graysville, MoLast album I ever bought,what's left after perfection?.The Dan were very much influenced by Jazz artists,they have stated that everyone in NY was carrying around a copy of Kind of Blue when it came out (including them)
  • Paige from Crestline, CaWhat can one say about a song that reaches near perfection. Fagan and Becker's obsession with perfection is seen throughout this song. The entire album is a stroke of genius.
  • Aja from Detroit, MiAlso named after the song/album and glad. I was born in 1978 and am always trying to find an Aja older than me as my own random social experiment. It seems like the name truly didn't surface (for baby names) until that time. Also, I rarely meet an Aja whose parents weren't Steely Dan fans. :)
  • Mark from St. Louis, MoThe lyrics of Aja paint a picture of a man, perhaps a heroin addict or drug dealer whose only salavation day after a day is running home to the arms of Aja...which lends credence to the lyric of "when all my dime dancing is through, I run to you"
    While Donald Fagan wrote the song about a friend's South Korean wife, named Aja, you cannot help but think that the courtship began as a man knowing where to get his ultimate fix.
  • Jesse from Toronto, CanadaIn response to the thing about fagen's friends korean wife, it was probably romanized as Asha, in case anyones interested. i know someone with that name
  • Craig from Middletown, Ct7 minutes and 56 seconds after I first heard AJA;I knew their sixth album would be the epitome of their prolific musical career. Unfortunately, I was awakening from my first night's sleep;readmitted to a fancy cracker factory, in which I just spent 27 months. To receive the full flavor of this tour de force "suite";I had patience to listen often!
  • John Settle from Wakefield, EnglandWhat genre would this come under? Jazz fusion? Jazz pop? It may have no category which means its terrific. Wonder if Steve Gadd ever gets asked to demonstrate the drum solos at clinics. Video please! This was the first Dan song I ever heard and it blew my mind. They have done ever since.
  • Chuck from Houston, TxI was told not too long ago that Steve Gadd was the most recorded drummer during the 20th century, with groups/artist like Paul Simon, Steely Day and the Buddy Rich Memorial Scholarships (1989) just to name a few... Now that statement may be false considering it was hear-say, but I would have no problem believing it if it's true.
  • Tats from Tokyo, JapanThe model on the cover of the album "Aja" is
    not Korean but Japanese. Her name is Sayoko Yamaguchi, whom Newsweek chose her one of the top
    six models in the world in 1977. She passed away on August 14,2007.
  • David from Glasgow, United StatesSteve Gadd did play drums on this song. Apparently he arrived, read the drum chart and nailed the entire song in one take. All the other players were so amazed by his performance that they all had to re-record their own parts!
  • Frank from Cambridge, MaThis has to be one of the finest 'pop' songs I've ever heard. Superb and original chord changes and solos. To non jazz afficianatos, Wayne Shorter (who does the tenor solo) has been at the top of the Jazz world for over 50 years and is in his 70's still playing. That should tell you something about what musicians think of Steely Dan. Shorter played mostly with Miles Davis and was co leader of Weather Report. The only other 'pop' sessions he did was on some Joni Mitchell Recordings. It doesn't get much better than this, IMHO.
  • James from Lexington, KyIt's not exactly pronounced the same way as the continent Asia -- it's more phonetic, "aa-JUH." I've always taken the song as sort of both celebrating Asian culture, and, at the same time, criticizing the sort of uncritical, simplistic embrace of it too many people do. To me, the key lines are these two: "Chinese music always sets me free/Angular banjos sound good to me..." Well, if Chinese music is so important to you, why don't you know what the instruments that play it are called?
  • Tim from Dallas, TxFor Mike in Chicago: Jim Hodder left the band in August of 1974-the same time Skunk Baxter left to join the Doobie Bros. Hodder was replaced by Jeff Porcaro,who, in turn, left in 79 to form the band Toto with his brother Steve.
  • Asia from Bay Area, CaI was named after this song as well, but my dad wasn't reall thrilled so the spelling was changed as a compromise. My boyfriend tells everyone it's my stripper name, how funny!
  • Aja from Gloucester, Mai was named after this song, and i have great appreciation for its perfection and character, but my middle name is Victoria, and 8 out of ten people ask if that is a porno name...
  • Mike from Chicago, IlOutstanding drumming throughout this song, particularly on the outro. I believe it was Steve Gadd.
  • Joe from Wilmington, DeThis is the second song where they use the phrase "up on the hill". The other being "Kid Charlemagne". Wonder if it is just coincidence?
  • John from Wilmington, NcThis song is absolute perfection.
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