When checking out their bio on All Music.com, I had no idea that Walter Becker and Donald Fagen only wanted to be songwriters a la the Brill Building types of the early 1960's. While their early material certainly had an edgy, detached, ironic quality, by the late 1970's, they had evolved from a borderline rock outfit to a much more refined fusion unit. The players on their best release, Aja, included not just a who's who of LA session people like Jeff Porcaro and Michael McDonald, but also jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour and the great Wayne Shorter on saxophone. Of all their material, Aja still stands the test of time, and the following three are all from that album.
Incidentally, I was surprised to learn that Fagen and Becker were among the first to protest the way their record company released their older material on CD. I heard an interview with them when they got back together in 2000, and Becker said the early CD re-releases of their vinyl material sounded like someone took an album, recorded it on a MAC, then did nothing more than re-record it on to CD. It's true. Their unremastered early CD releases are pretty flat. I don't know if they've managed to remaster those early releases, but it would be nice.
First up, "Deacon Blues", live no less:
I was torn about which order to do the next two. So a coin toss managed to decide. While the "Home At Last" rivals the title track for my single favorite Steely Dan song, the latter is better known. Listening to "Home at Last" again for the first time in years, I was reminded that it is head and shoulders above so much music released, even today. For all its faults - the "overproduced" label fits nicely with them - these two songs have a transcendent quality. So, first, a rumination using The Odyssey as a template:
Finally, "Aja" - I love everything about this song - the piano entry, the guitar work, the drumming. If "immaculate" could be fairly used to describe an arrangement, this is it: