Aerosmith, for me, are one of THE great American rock bands. A band sometimes disparagingly described as a poor man’s Rolling Stones. Always seemed like lazy music journalism to me as apart from both singers having big mouths, in more ways than one, and occasional divergence into the blues there isn’t really a comparison to be made regarding the music. Aerosmith have always been a hard rock band. I guess their vibe comes from the same roots but the manifestations are somewhat different.
A brief potted history of the band. Five guys from Boston made some classic rock music in the 70s including songs such as Sweet Emotion, Walk This Way, Mama Kin, Dream On and released timeless albums such as Toys In The Attic and Rocks. The 70s Aerosmith crashed and burned in an acrimonious drug fuelled fireball and it looked like they were another band who had succumbed to the temptation of rock n roll excess and had just burned out when they were one of the biggest bands in the world.
All through the 70s the line up remained remarkably stable with singer Steve Tyler, guitarists, Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, Bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer. Tyler and Perry were commonly referred to as the Toxic Twins and did their best to live the rock n roll lifestyle but it was the drug addiction and internal conflict that saw both Perry and Whitford leave the band at the height of its powers in the late 70s and early 80s. They attempted to carry on without them and released one album before Perry and Whitford returned in 84. It wasn’t the big success they hoped for and drug issues continued to plague the band particularly Tyler who had a few shows where he was so out of it he fell over on stage and just couldn’t get up. They released an album called Done With Mirrors which failed to cause much of a stir and it looked like the band was done as a big league player. Eventually Tyler entered drug rehab in 86 after an ‘intervention’ from band members and family, it was also the year that Aerosmith appeared on Run DMC’s cover of Walk This Way and Aerosmith were suddenly introduced to a whole new audience. It was also the time of MTV dominating the music scene. Other members of the band also cleaned their act up and got together to record Permanent Vacation in 87 which really was a make or break album for them.
I should slightly digress here and tell you where I came into the Aerosmith story. In 1980 record company CBS had an extraordinary amount of rock acts on their roster and they released what amounted to a sampler double album called Killer Watts with a really dodgy cover of a pylon and some speaker stacks. Amongst the acts on the album were Ted Nugent, Judas Priest, Blue Oyster Cult, Journey and Molly Hatchet. Aerosmith were also represented twice, with the band having No Surprize from their Night In The Ruts album and the brilliant Let The Music Do The Talking from the Joe Perry Project the band the guitarist formed after leaving Aerosmith. He wasn’t on the Night In the Ruts album. Of the two the Joe Perry Project was the outstanding track and was the reason I started to check out Aerosmith’s back catalogue. Helpfully CBS released a Greatest Hits album that year which kind of sealed the deal. Who couldn’t fail to fall in love with the bass intro to Sweet Emotion and Tyler’s vocal brilliance in Dream On.
Fast forward back to 1987 and the band drafted in professional songwriters for the first time in an attempt to get the band back to its previous heights. With Desmond Child, who had penned hits for Kiss, Bon Jovi, Poison along with Jim Vallance who worked with Bryan Adams on his first 5 albums they collaborated across most of the tracks on the album. Their efforts helped Aerosmith re-invent themselves for a new generation and produced one of my favourite Aerosmith albums. Sadly I think it was probably the last great Aerosmith album but what an album. The band are absolutely on the money throughout this release. As mentioned earlier MTV started to dominate music on TV and Aerosmith just caught the wave at the perfect time with videos for Dude Looks Like A Lady and Angel on regular rotation. This is how bands broke into the big time in the States during this time by getting regular air time on MTV.
The album is chock full of rock classics. Tyler’s voice sounds fantastic, Perry delivers some of his best ever guitar work. In fact the whole band deliver on this one. Being clean clearly worked on this album although rumours of the band being totally drug free my have been premature going by recent biographies. There is also a fair smattering of brass across this record and it really enhances some of the songs like Rag Doll. Hangman’s Jury starts with the sound of crickets, and what you can imagine is a creaking rocking chair sitting on an old porch before Tyler’s perfect harmonica cuts in. It’s a great song and probably my favourite on an album full of great songs. There is a real rock n roll swagger about this album. They’ve even got time to throw in a Beatles cover and an instrumental.
Most will remember this album for Dude Looks Like A Lady and the power ballad Angel. I like the odd power ballad (What It Takes on follow up album Pump is great) but sadly the success of Angel seemed to set a template for future releases and Aerosmith become known for the gushy, sugar sweet crap like, Cryin’, Crazy, Amazing, Pink and the absolutely awful I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing. They’ve had the odd rock moment, as well but not enough of them for me considering how great a rock band they can be. They’ve gone a bit rock by numbers and can easily churn out the kind of stuff they have been for the last 15/20 years. You always hope they might still have that another great hard rock album in them but I think that time has sadly passed. I guess given their predilection for copious amounts of drugs it’s a medical miracle they are all still here and still touring. I’ve caught them twice on their travels and would like to see them one more time before the call it a day or one of them just keels over.
Play loud and proud.
See you on week 6.