Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Best Album Covers: Aja

LP

This is the next entry in Best Album Covers, a series begun right here. The first successful long-playing microgroove record for the phonograph was introduced by Columbia Records back in June of 1948. Yet, album covers (the paper board packaging that held them) didn’t come into their own graphically till decades later. Eventually becoming the cultural stamp on the music of the time. Catching the eyes of potential record-buyers and later their ears and minds. Melding the musical experience with the artist into a unique visual form.

Why Compact Disc versions of album art don’t exactly raise the same reaction these days was looked at in this post. Although, music label artistry continues to be noticed and discussed among the material published today. The bits and bytes are looking over their shoulder, though, because vinyl hasn’t entirely gone the way of the dinosaur. Online or at the record shops still out there. Cover art hasn’t lost purpose, either for old and new. Mostly, it’s my contention while digital reigns supreme, its vigor among fans lacks the tactile passion of the past LPs.

Hence the reason for this series. Some register more with me musically than others, though. Yet, the artwork will always take center stage, at least here. Let’s continue shall we?

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Within the same turbulent decade that brought about the influential Pink Floyd LP spotlighted last week, its effect on rock, Jazz Fusion, and especially album design, were felt on the eyes and ears of music fans thereafter. The use of the color black, principally, being keen. You’d only have to look at a recent song post and this authoritative 1977 record by Steely Dan for confirmation.

Allmusic described the work of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen with Aja thusly:

“In fact, Steely Dan ignores rock on Aja, preferring to fuse cool jazz, blues, and pop together in a seamless, seductive fashion. It’s complex music delivered with ease, and although the duo’s preoccupation with clean sound and self-consciously sophisticated arrangements would eventually lead to a dead end, Aja is a shining example of jazz-rock at its finest.”

When I started dating my future wife in ’88, and was first invited over for dinner one night, this disc was what she had playing on her CD deck. It confirmed my feeling toward her in an instant, her recognized taste in music being yet another draw.

With Tom Scott arranging horns, and conducting the effort, including a solo by renowned saxophonist Wayne Shorter, as well as dextrous drumming by Steve Gadd, this was Jazz Rock “at its finest”, whether you were aware of it or not. Steely Dan’s sixth album offered alluring, multiplex rhythms and improv wrapped around compelling lyrics. A famed style for the group coming into its own.

The title, Fagen said, came from the name of a Korean woman who married the brother of a high-school friend. Certainly, Hideki Fujii‘s striking photo of the late-model/actress Sayoko Yamaguchi for Oz Studios was eye-catching. Patricia Mitsui and Geoff Westen designed for the mysteriously sashed woman as an intriguing figure emerging from the stark black milieu.

With a beautiful shade of red and an exotic font augmenting its distinct, lowercase ája of the album’s title in the upper right corner, the motif not only was a tribute but rendered a stunning contrast with the vanguard The Dark Side of the Moon. Just so, I think, to set it all off. Like a firecracker in the night. Years later, it’s still elegant cover art.

steely-dan-aja-album-cover

Artist: Steely Dan
Title: Aja
Date: 1977
Label: ABC Records
Track Listing (and yes, turn that record over):

Side one

  1. “Black Cow”
  2. “Aja”
  3. “Deacon Blues”

Side two

  1. “Peg”
  2. “Home at Last”
  3. “I Got the News”
  4. “Josie”

The entire series can be found here.

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15 Responses to “Best Album Covers: Aja”

  1. cindybruchman

    Another great one! I love albums and Steely Dan and this album, of course. This is a great series you have here. If I were asked which are some of my favorite album covers, I would say Janis Joplin’s ‘Cheap Thrills’ or ‘Classic Yes’ or Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass, ‘Whipped Cream and Other Delights’

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    • le0pard13

      Thank you very much, Cindy! And that certainly was fine one for Big Brother and the Holding Company (w/ Janis, of course). Wonderful comic book-styled frames. I couldn’t recall that Classic Yes cover, but it is beautiful. Well, we both have ‘Whipped Cream and Other Delights’ in common, as I started this series with it, in fact.

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  2. trevorgerzen

    There was just an article that got picked up at Fast Co about Phil Hartman designing album covers and they mention this one in particular. Seems odd that they would mess that one up so badly. Do you have any other sources that mention who the designers were? Its such great album art! The names you mention look legit, I just didn’t find much info about them.

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    Reply
  3. Best Album Covers: The Low End Theory | It Rains... You Get Wet

    […] Cited as influential musically2, much can be inferred to what The Low End Theory‘s graphic lineage when it came to the artwork that graced its skin. The black that dominates the cover art, like The Dark of the Moon, another visual statement. Even the nude model, who looked like she stepped off a Ohio Players cover, dabbed in Paddy Crofton’s vibrant fluorescent makeup splashes off the sleeve much like Steely Dan’s Aja did. […]

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