In Which The Author Receives Charity From Friends And Destroys A Rare Vinyl Record

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Regular readers of this blog know of my love for so-called Yacht Rock in general and the work of Messrs. Fagen and Becker in particular, which began with my purchase of Mobile Fidelity’s 24k Aja CD (pictured) in 1988 and extends as far as two-man garage-band butcherings of “Josie”. My friends, as well, are aware of this love that dare not speak its name. As a consequence, I acquired no fewer than four different versions of Aja over the course of the past two weeks, only one of which I managed to completely ruin before I heard a note of it.

My Aja-fest started when Chuck found the MoFi vinyl for me. When said vinyl arrived, I lost no time in getting it on the turntable. Sure enough, it really is mixed “bass-y and boom-y” compared to the MoFi CD. But that’s okay with me; as an itinerant bass player I enjoy the extra punch given to Chuck Rainey’s lines. Shortly after, a friend who wishes to remain anonymous sent me a lossless “rip” of the Japanese VDP-27 first CD release. Even I, with my gunfire-and-club-racing-battered ears, could hear how different this was from the MoFi CD and the MoFi vinyl.

This would be enough Aja for anyone, right? Anyone but me. It didn’t help that immediately after getting my new MoFi vinyl I was forced to abandon it at home while I went on a seven-day trip from Huntington Beach to Woodinville, WA. But the spirits of Donald and Walter were with me. On the way from LA to San Jose I saw a swap meet with hundreds of stalls and thousands of Mexicans milling between them. Between the broken vacuum cleaners and the obviously stolen Ferrari 348ts with the flat tires I found this:

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What did I buy for a dollar? How about the rarest of the rare — the original “AB-1006” pressing of Aja on ABC Records. The AB pressing is the hottest of the “hot stampers”, limited to the first two weeks of production. There wasn’t a scratch on it. The guy who ran the stall couldn’t have cared less. He was an old white guy trying to sell country music to Mexicans who didn’t want it. My appearance at his storefront, accompanied by a handsome but diminutive photographer in a LA-trendy vinyl jacket and “Captain Heavy”, the lumberjack-esque publisher of van-porn magazine Rolling Heavy, he treated as being only slightly more real than a mescaline-induced desert hallucination. Accepting my dollar bill without comment, he thought for a moment then asked for California sales tax just in case we were pigs on a mission of some type.

For the next week, Aja traveled with me through a variety of Kimpton hotels, late-night restaurant meals, and luggage. I tried to keep an eye on it, like Gollum with a precious bit of Yacht Rock in his jealous possession. At one point, Captain Heavy saw it sitting on the engine cover of the rather expensive mid-engined Euro-car I was driving and snatched it off, saying, “Dude, the vinyl could warp.”

“I’m sure it’s fine,” I responded. However, I didn’t trust it to my regular luggage, choosing instead to place it underneath my Rainsong jumbo in its case for the flight home. Eight hours later, I landed in Columbus eager to “back-to-back” it with the MoFi vinyl. I opened the gatefold, and…

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Captain Heavy had been too late. This album had survived thirty-eight years without scratches or damage only to be cooked into a waffle pattern by the heat of a turbocharged three-cylinder. Destroyed. Worthless. Well, maybe. It’s possible to fix a warped record, as long as the warping isn’t too bad. Since this warping is far more terrible than even the photo indicates, I don’t hold out much hope.

I was in such a foul mood I stormed out the front door to walk it off. There, on the front porch, was a cardboard box from the same friend who had sent me the Japanese CD rip. “I’ve fucking had it up to here with records,” I grumbled, and I put the box aside with a snarl.

The next day, I felt emotionally up to the task of opening it up. Inside, with a note stating that my friend had purchased it new in 1977, was an ABC pressing of Aja. In the runout grooves, “AB 1006” had been scratched out and replaced with “AA 1006”, denoting that this was a record from immediately after the two-week period, sold with a slightly higher price to take advantage of the immense popularity immediately accorded Steely Dan’s magnum opus. Same stamp, same mastering.

I pulled on the white gloves that had come with my turntable. I carefully removed the vinyl from the gatefold sleeve, placed it on the platter, lifted the tonearm, turned on the motor, let the needle fall gently into the groove.

In the corner
Of my eye
I saw you at Rudy’s
You were very high

And, for a moment, I truly was.

22 Replies to “In Which The Author Receives Charity From Friends And Destroys A Rare Vinyl Record”

  1. AvatarCharlie

    Congrats. After work today, I’m going to head directly home and give my AB-1006 a spin on my own Music Hall 5.1

    Can we assume from your implied bliss that, of all the Ajas in your possession, AB-1006 lives up to the hype?

    Reply
  2. Avatar-Nate

    Obviously you know more about Vinyl than I ever did and I’m old but I still like my old albums , they’re prolly all worthless from being played so many times .

    I know I warped a few over the years by carelessness .

    I need to find a decent turn table .

    -Nate

    Reply
  3. AvatarMichael

    All I can offer is this.

    Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here

    Made In Japan

    CSR

    35DP 4 matrix

    Two track edition

    Reply
  4. AvatarTomko

    Aja is one of my few reference discs. It plays silky and smooth on my Cadillac’s Bose system. Relaxing my muscles and overrought brain. I have the MoFi gold CD and it epitomizes the height of yacht rock.

    But I have another reference disc: Joe Jackson’s difficult to find Body and Soul. It is a triumph by any measure. The care with the recording location and microphone selection make for a much less produced sound than Aja. Body and Soul is musical where Aja is intellectual – and for that reason it is my favourite of favourites.

    We all know that Joe Jackson is a tortured asshole genius. Had he not been a gay man working for Playboy he may have become Barry Manilow. Whereas Becker and Fagan were non-conformist nerds who became cool dudes after they went to Cali.

    I’m not sure that I’d like to sit next to any of them on the plane. I’ll leave that honour for Nile Rodgers or Paul Shaffer.

    Reply
    • JackJack Post author

      I’ll check it out pronto — like most Americans, the only one I have is “Night and Day”.

      Reply
      • AvatarReese B

        “Body and Soul” and “Night and Day” are both good, (“Can’t get what you want…” and “Stepping Out” obviously being classics,) but “I’m the Man” arguably has the strongest concentration of bangers.

        The audio won’t reveal the subtle nuances of anyone’s thousand-dollar interconnects, but “high-end” consumer audio is a topic that leaves a bad taste in my mouth for various reasons, so I very much don’t care.

        Reply
        • Avatartomko

          I have Night and Day on MoFi gold CD. Sadly the automated drum track just kills it for me. It was big at the time, and rightly so, but it’s just not as timeless as Body and Soul.

          Said in other terms, and with the benefit of more than three decades of hindsight, Night and Day was commercial in places where Body and Soul was a tribute to another era.

          Reply
  5. AvatarWiredChuck

    Sell that MFSL pressing on eBay. Shit will get top dollar.

    Now that you’ve been down the Aja rabbit hole, let me suggest you experience the sonic nirvana of the Beatles in mono… The recent reissue box set. Oh. My. God. Amazing. (Make sure you sum the signal between the turntable and the phono stage with Y adapters. Super cheap, super easy.) While you’re at it, get the Sony Legacy mono reissue of Hendrix / Axis Bold As Love. That’ll blow your mind.

    Reply
  6. AvatarDoak

    This post moved me to pull my own “Aja” from the record shelf and …. sure enough, it bears the exact same stamper # as Jack’s – the AA 1006 with the B scratched out. This disk has been one of my references for many years due to its superb sound. Now I know why. Thanks!

    Reply
    • AvatarDoak

      Addendum:
      Just found and pulled my extra copy (there are just a handful of LPs of which I keep “reserve” copies – “Aja” is one of them). This one is the AB 1006 stamper – Holy Grail?
      Will have to line up a shootout soonish.

      Reply
  7. AvatarAnarseo

    my friend, do yourself a a favour and pick up the old MCAD-37214 DIDX 55 on eBay or in some used bin; it’s the best digital edition, much better than that hissy MoFi gold disc

    Reply
      • AvatarAnarseo

        (This is what producer Roger Nichols said in the early Nineties about the MFSL editions of “Aja” and “Gaucho”. I personally think he was exagerating things a little bit, but this was his opinion.)

        In 1982, Donald Fagen, Gary Katz and myself gathered up all of the original Steely Dan tapes (15 ips analog) and transferred them to digital format so that they would not deteriorate any further. This was in anticipation of catalog re-release in the new Compact Disc format. The first two albums to be released on CD were Aja and Gaucho. I listened to the CDs and they were fine.

        Mobile Fidelity is licensed to produce gold plated CDs of Aja and Gaucho. They called me up to ask me if I liked the sound of their pressings. I listened to them and compared them to the CDs from MCA. I figured that the only difference I would hear would be the difference between the gold plating and the aluminum plating on the stock CD. I was shocked! They sounded completely different. The gold ones sounded worse. The gold Gaucho CD was even a different speed, about a quarter tone sharper than the original CD from MCA.

        A writer I know called me to ask if I heard any difference between the stock CDs and the gold CDs. I told him what I found. He said that he didn’t hear any difference. The lightbulb went on in my thought balloon! The stock CDs that I had were produced seven years ago, and the ones that my friend used were just purchased at Tower Records. I jumped in my car and zipped over to the nearest record store and purchased new copies of the CDs in question. He was right, the new stock CDs sounded exactly like the gold CDs, including the pitch shift on the Gaucho CD.

        The time we spent transferring all of the original masters was wasted. The record company in their infinite wisdom decided that when they needed new 1630 CD masters to send to the CD plant, that it would be better to use the EQ’d analog copy that had been sitting around for fifteen years instead of the digital tapes that we supplied to them nine years ago for just this purpose. And on top of everything else, they couldn’t even make sure that the analog machine that played back the Gaucho tape was going the right speed.

        I guess this is all just a part of a grander scheme – make all of the CDs sound worse and worse until we can’t tell the difference between Compact Discs and the new Digital Compact Cassette that the record companies are pushing. I went to my storage locker and found all of my old vinyl LPs. I haven’t thrown my turntable away yet either. Maybe the clicks and pops aren’t quite so bad after all.

        Reply
  8. AvatarPey-droh

    Aja was my default favorite album when I was a junior in high school and it continues to this day. Competitors for my affection included Eagles – Hotel California and Fleetwood Mac – Rumors. But there was something about Aja that just did it for me.

    As I recall the liner notes referenced a song that was accidentally recorded over. Producer Gary Katz indicated it was the best track on the album, but since Fagen/Becker used different backup musicians for different tracks, the song was forever lost. Given the songs on the album, can you imagine what that lost song must have been like?

    Reply
  9. AvatarJosé

    Me too…”This post moved me to pull my own “Aja” from the record shelf and …. sure enough, it bears the exact same stamper # as Jack’s – the AA 1006 with the B scratched out.”. Mine was bought years ago at ebay. I knew that it wasn´t the “real thing”, because of the AA-AB thing. But now i know it is, in terms of sound, thanks to you.

    It´s really nice to discover this kind of things in a place like this, thanks to internet. It connects people who are thousands of miles apart.

    I got the golden cd – MFSL-UltradiscII – but my preference goes to the vinyl version.

    Reply

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