This Steely Dan Documentary Is Worth Your Time Even If You Don’t Like Steely Dan

Even if you don’t like Steely Dan, this 1999 documentary about the making of their 1977 album Aja is fantastic. First off, it’s fucking hilarious—Walter Becker and Donald Fagen come across as the smartest, most venomous guys in the room—a wicked mixture of witty and cruel—-and watching them discuss each track, and each part of each track is fascinating (especially when they pick apart failed guitar solos). The film also features a marvelous supporting cast, including braggart percussionist Bernard Purdie (of “The Purdie Shuffle” fame), and poor old Michael McDonald, who struggled to nail his background parts on “Peg.” What might be most fascinating though is seeing how Fagen and Becker pieced the instrumental tracks of Aja together, bringing in different session musicians—entirely different bands—from day to day. And if you’re still not convinced, here’s a sample (of a sample):


15 thoughts on “This Steely Dan Documentary Is Worth Your Time Even If You Don’t Like Steely Dan”

  1. Awesome video thank you. Really enlightens the way I will play & listen to music.
    “so it was like a two step process, one was to get to perfection and the other was to get beyond it and to loosen it up a little bit so it didn’t have to be the perfect squeaky clean goal.”
    25:08- Dean parks


  2. Fantastic! Loved Purdie’s signs: “You’ve just hired the hitmaker!” On another note, could’ve sworn I once saw some out-takes from this episode in which Fagen and Becker demonstrate alternate guitar solos that were recorded for “Reelin’ In the Years”. Anyone else ever see this or know how to find?


  3. How TRUE! This was actually available on Netflix for a while and what a great background documentary on an album that (for me, at least) NEVER gets old. Transport back to late 70s Southern California, where my late mother who was studying music in community college with dreams of being a recording engineer played this album while a preschool aged me listened and started a llife-ong love affair-with ‘Aja’.
    I mean it when I said it’s NEVER gets old. It really IS an album that captures that quintessential LA feel in the late 70s (as stated in the documentary, even!)
    I think it says something that a preschool-aged child found some kind of connection to the entire composition and had it remain and feel relevant even after all these years.
    My only disappointment in the documentary was that they didn’t talk more about the background vocalist arrangements. It always captivated me the way they held their line out in an almost syncopated way. But being a somewhat connoisseur of the album I couldn’t help hope for more from the documentary in terms of the nuances. However, you’re right about it being a must-watch music doc even if you don’t love or know ‘Aja’. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are fun to watch!


  4. I’m so bummed I never saw it, and like the last post, it was a pivital album for me. At the time of its release i must have listened to the record hundreds of times as I took a family vacation with my folks through Europe. Just two weeks ago i had the pleasure of a listening party in a friends basement. He recently became interested in vinyl and had stumbled upon an unused copy of Aja that we had the pleasure of enjoying. Took me back to the back of a car with headphones on while driving through the black forest.


  5. I have watched this doc several times. Steve Gadd is not interviewed; in fact HIS MAME IS NEVER MENTIONED. Why is that?


  6. […] This compilation album had 14 songs all previously released and it became a big hit going Gold. STEELY Dan is in essence two people. Donald Fagan and Walter Becker. If you want to learn about these two personalities you should watch the documentary on how the 1977 album “Aja” was made. That 1999 film is called “Steely Dan: Aja“ […]


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