Up on the hill
People never stare
They just don't care

Chinese music under banyan trees
Here at the dude ranch above the sea
When all my dime dancin' is through
I run to you

Up on the hill
They've got time to burn
There's no return

Double helix in the sky tonight
Throw out the hardware
Let's do it right
When all my dime dancin' is through
I run to you

Up on the hill
They think I'm okay
Or so they say

Chinese music always sets me free
Angular banjoes sound good to me
When all my dime dancin' is through
I run to you

Lyrics submitted by AbFab

Aja Lyrics as written by Walter Carl Becker Donald Jay Fagen

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Lyrics powered by LyricFind

Aja song meanings
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  • +11
    General Comment

    Jeez, folks, so many wild-ass guesses! Just to clarify one point, Fagen and my younger brother were best friends all through high school and Aja was my ex-wife, a beautiful Korean lady that I think Donald had a wee crush on. FWIW, he also had his first toke in my living room in Franklin Park, NJ, circa 1964.

    Herukaon May 06, 2012   Link
  • +8
    General Comment

    "Aja is the name of a woman. I had a friend in high school, and he had an older brother who went to Korea and married a Korean girl, and brought her back. And her name was Aja. We thought that was a good name, just a very romantic sort of image, the sort of tranquility that can come of a quiet relationship with a very beautiful woman." -Donald Fagan

    From Classic Albums: Aja by Steely Dan 1977 youtube.com/watch

    Despite that, I tended to see a sort of dystopic scene hidden in romanticism, sort of like a maximum security prison or a POW camp, with images like "double helix in the sky tonight" that could be spotlights, "bring out the hardware let's do this right," which could be anything from an escape to an execution, "here at the dude ranch above the sea" an allusion to being a men's detention center "up on the hill," "when all my dime dancing is through" could be the end of a sentence or when said escape took place, etc.

    Just goes to show how communication can be, even in song lyrics - where one person says one thing full of heartfelt meaning, but completely different from what another hears. (Or it's just that I've grown up with too many action thrillers.)

    Journeyiston February 07, 2013   Link
  • +6
    General Comment

    "Aja" is an intentional misspelling of "Asia". This song, I believe, is a parody of the trend at the time (and to an extent still now) of interest in Eastern philosophy. "Angular banjoes" is a borderline-offensive reference to Chinese pentatonic musical styles ... the sort of comment an ignorant person would make (hence being parodied here). Similarly "People don't stare, they just don't care ... They think I'm OK, or so they say" is a reference to the popular belief the Eastern philosophy is especially tolerant. Which explains its popularity among shallow, self-indulgent Americans! Steely Dan always thought they were cleverer and better than everyone else, and they were mostly right. Great music though.

    what123everon May 26, 2006   Link
  • +5
    General Comment

    I've heard this song in the past as a song about LSD. Before you roll your eyes and scroll down to the next comment, I hope you'll hear me out. Steely Dan's lyrics, always so tantalizingly hard to interpret, are sometimes their strangest when they're about drugs. Kid Charlemagne, Doctor Wu... I'm sure you can think of others.

    I've heard Aja like this:

    "The hill" is a reference to San Francisco's Hippy Hill, a notorious drug sales hotspot. Hippy Hill was referenced as "the hill" previously in Kid Charlemagne, in the line "On the hill the stuff was laced with kerosene." In Kid Charlemagne "the stuff" clearly refers to LSD, as the whole song is about Owsley Stanley, the famous LSD-chemist. Therefore, Steely Dan thinks of "the hill" as, possibly among other things, a place to buy LSD. Hippy Hill's denizens, due to their countercultural lifestyles and drug use would "never stare," they "just [wouldn't] care," "they [would] have time to burn," and they would "think [the presumably degenerate narrator ] was okay."

    Now, for a few other lines:

    "Dime-dancing" refers to use of drugs that can be bought in "dimebags," i.e. cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. Many of those are used with equipment such as pipes, syringes, etc, but LSD is simply swallowed. Hence; "throw out the hardware, let's do it right."

    Even "double helix in the sky tonight" could refer to the visions of an acid trip.

    Obviously there's a lot more to the song even if it is about LSD on one level, but I feel like I've made some possibly valuable connections here...

    Please let me know what you think!

    Yours, An obsessive college student

    Dantexon November 11, 2007   Link
  • +5
    General Comment

    Dantex - I think you're closest, but I think others have some points.

    Overall, the song could have many references, pointing to many different things, but still be about one, overall concept. The song doesn't necessarily have to be about just one idea, but still, overall, I think is about one overal MAIN idea, with other references sprinkled in.

    Nightvoice - people read a lot into the lyrics cause there usually is much to Steely Dan lyrics than the obvious. The group rarely was straightforward in its lyrics. To the naive, I'm not trying to be critical. Steely Dan had TONS of disguised drug lyrics and references in their songs.

    Definitely about pot and LSD - the hill definitely San Francisco's Hippy Hill just like Dantex says, and I think AJA is an acronym for LSD, just don't know what the letters, in their minds, stand for. (Notice the clever reference to actual ASIAN culture, which makes sense in San Francisco, to hide the true meaning)

    Damn right, up on the hill, they're gonna do some LSD. dime-dancin - a reference to a dime bag of pot and possibly to other drugs, as Dantex says. No more messing around with the little stuff or other stuff, no more messing around with the hardware needed for heroin - no more messing around with pot - still need hardware - bong, pipe, papers, etc.

    Tonight we do it right - LSD.

    Double Helix = Northern Lights, a very high strain of marijuana. also, like Dantex said, could be a double refernce to the trip their gonna take with LSD, but I definitely think a reference to marijuana, too. In fact, they could be saying, "right now we're doing some high quality marijuana - Northern Lights - okay, throw this out, let's do some LSD now.."

    Love how Steely Dan rights a nice, slow, haunting piece that sounds like a song written for a woman, when it's actually about LSD.

    Finally, again, I'm not saying this is the end-all, be-all. I'm sure lots of references that others have made may be in the song, but to me, anyway, LSD is the ultimate meaning. And, reading others' posts helped me to form this opinion, so thanks to all who added some insight for me. Anyway, just my take...

    shanefon February 10, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    I don't know whether or not Walter Becker or Donald Fagen had started their association with Upcountry Maui before writing Aja, but I see the song as describing the area where they were to build their recording studio. This was adjacent to the Ulupalakua Ranch--which can be described as a "dude ranch above the sea".

    On the way to Ulupalakua you pass Keo Kea which is where many Chinese workers settled in the late 19th Century and where decendents still live. Sun Yat Sen lived here and developed his thinking about overcoming monarchs while observing the Hawaiian monarchy overthrown. There is today a tranquil Sun Yat Sen Park on the way to Ulupalakua.

    Maui has lots of celebrity residents, and by and large, people never stare and in general think they are OK. We do spend a lot of time gazing at the incredible stars in the sky--we also have a lot of hardware for doing so up on the summit of Haleakela (see maui.afmc.af.mil/) although "throwing out the hardware" and just using your eyes is certainly more romantic.

    Angular banjos sound good to me--especially the Okinawan style which is square shaped. Some are trianglular. These instruments and music styles originate from China. I would imagine that Walter and Donald would appreciate this music and certainly would have heard it on Maui.

    I think that the Asian ideal of putting the ego aside is healthy and indeed is a refuge from all our "dime dancing".

    Perhaps Walter and Donald are not being so sardonic here.

    igluauon October 04, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    I've spent about ten minutes reading all the interpretations, so many varieties.... you know you have good music when people give their opinion and can come up with so many variations...it could mean what they are saying literally or have a few different meanings... they're "simply genius"!

    KUUMBAon April 11, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    No one mentioned that "no return" probably refers to the end of the endless cycle of reincarnation and worldly suffering?

    jerseycapeon May 30, 2010   Link
  • +1
    Song Meaning

    'Up on the hill' is intentionally vague, could be any hill where one can be above it all. This song is a celebration of music, each verse refers to music. 'Throw out the hardware' refers to playing acoustic music, like the Chinese banjo, which is doing it the right way, the natural way.

    The song refers also to getting away from the material world, dime dancing (work) and returning to the mytho-poetic land of Aja. It's not Asia in particular, it's an impression of that feeling. Then they stop singing, play, and Wayne Shorter and Steve Gaddis do their legendary work.

    Boodabillon February 17, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    "Chinese music" refers to China white. These guys were heavy dope users. The "hardware" being needles and drug paraphernalia. "They've got time to burn" is reference to not only the drugs themselves, but also the whole lifestyle. "When all my dime dancing is through, I run to you" (when I'm done wasting my time with alcohol/pot/pills, I go for the drug that really fries my circuits)

    Nobody uses double meanings in their lyrics like Steely Dan. I wouldn't be surprised if they wrote some things just to throw people off. One things certain is that getting a straight answer from Becker or Fagen would be like getting a clear explanation from Bob Dylan. It just ain't going to happen.

    mgizmo2005on March 06, 2011   Link

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