Least to Most: Aerosmith, Part 3

Here we go then – down the last five, the cream of the crop, the Harrisons of the group, the Toxic Twins’ most… toxic? Aerosmith’s top five albums in my Least to Most favourite order:

Permanent Vacation

I’m trying to avoid repeating what’s either well-documented or common knowledge at this point but it’s impossible to mention Permanent Vacation without mentioning that this Aerosmith’s big, balls-out, no holds barred attempt at a comeback after both the disappointing reaction and sales garnered by their first album for Geffen, Done With Mirrors.

Between the two albums lay both an unexpectedly massive cross-over hit courtesy of their Run-DMC and getting clean – a process well documented with Tyler and Perry’s books along with the band’s ‘Walk This Way’ detailing the process in surprisingly open detail for those interested.

That means Permanent Vacation was the first time the band recorded free of any drugs – they were already baby-stepping their way in on their first – and clearly working hard to get back to the top.

There are negatives to this album – the over-wrought production courtesy of Bruce Fairbairn, the plethora of outside songwriters (apparently Holly Knight’s sole contribution was changing ‘Rag Time’ to ‘Rag Doll’ – bing, bang, boom ‘hit’ and songwriting-credit)… but, but BUT. I slipped this cd into the car for the first time in a while recently and it’s still a fucking fun record. It positively stinks of fun. Maybe we don’t need to hear ‘Dude (Looks Like A Lady)’ again (especially in 2022) and the cover of ‘I’m Down’ is as pointless as a chocolate fireguard, but the album works, especially the non-singles like ‘Hearts Done Time’ (written by Perry and Desmond Child while Tyler was finishing rehab), ‘Hangman Jury’ and ‘Girl Keeps Coming Apart’ are a blast to listen to. It’s a perfectly-wrapped time capsule to 1987 when a newly invigorated Aerosmith were back on form and rediscovering the joy of making music.

Get Your Wings

Unhappy with the way album number one turned out in terms of sound and sales (no promotion, no airplay, no interviews etc), Aerosmith went at it hard for their second. Get Your Wings‘ recording was preceded by intense rehearsals and pre-production refining of songs that had begun taking shape on the road. And while Get Your Wings may initially have met a similar fate in the sales department (though it would go on to sell a few million) it was not only reviewed more widely but met positive reviews. With due reason: it’s on Get Your Wings that Aerosmith not only hit its stride but, with Jack Douglas manning the boards, managed to get the capturing of that sound right too.

Get Your Wings, then, contains some of their best songs – ‘Same Old Song and Dance’ (I’ve still not found an explanation why Joe Perry didn’t play the lead on the record’s version or ‘Train Kept A Rollin’ – in fact he plays very little lead on this one) and ‘Seasons of Wither’ should sit high on anyone’s lists – and is one of their finest moments. Still relatively fresh out of the gates as a band, the song-writing is coming together brilliantly and the band – tighter now from a lot of touring to push their first album and build their fan-base outside of Boston – bring the goods. This is where they shed the uncertainty of their first album and find the sound and formula that would propel them to the top over the next few years.

Toys In The Attic

If Get Your Wings benefited from the band’s maturation as songwriters and tightness from touring, the jump from touring behind that powered their next, Toys In The Attic even more notably from both the riffs that Brad Whitford and Joe Perry bought back from the road to the confidence they bought with them to performing in the studio.

Without the benefit of having years to work on the songs, Toys In The Attic was Aerosmith starting from scratch and working to a deadline. It worked: along with Perry and Whitford, Tom Hamilton bought two songs to the table and while I can take or leave ‘Uncle Salty’ I defy anyone to crank up ‘Sweet Emotion’ and not get a kick from it. Meanwhile ‘Toys In The Attic’, ‘Walk This Way’, ‘No More No More’ and even ‘You See Me Crying’ (in all its 70’s rock extravagance) rank among their finest songs and, with Jack Douglas now adapt at capturing the band’s sound and energy, Toys In The Attic was Aerosmith’s breakthrough and it still holds up as a cracker today.

Interesting (probably not very) side-note: Run-DMC thought the name of the band was Toys In The Attic and the album that was home to ‘Walk This Way’ was called Aerosmith.

Pump

Why is Pump number 2 on this list? Because it’s so fucking good, that’s why. It’s the highlight of their second charge – it may not have hit the same sales figures as Get A Grip did but where that album felt bloated, Pump is taught at ten tracks. You can tell this is before the era of cd-bloat as ‘The Other Side’ meant ‘Deuces Are Wild’ was canned rather than expanded to eleven tracks.

There’s a massive leap between Permanent Vacation and Pump – the band don’t sound lost in the production sheen that coated their comeback album, instead they’re positively flexing in it and sounding, well, pumped up.

There are less outside co-writes, the songs revel in their amped-up sound and on Pump the gritty, raunch-n-blues of Aerosmith’s peak is incorporated into the mix and the band are clearly powerfully focused as though to prove the point that their comeback was no fluke and they could still bring the good without song doctors – Tyler and Perry had a hand on 7 of the 10 tracks, there’s a Tyler/Whitford and Tyler / Hamilton song here and only 4 of the tracks feature non-band writers. In comparison twelve of Get A Grip‘s fourteen songs featured outside writers and the band alone were responsible for only three of Permanent Vacation‘s songs.

Everything on this album sounds right – even with all the extra horns and synths of the era ‘The Other Side’ rocks hard, ‘Young Lust’ is as good an opener as they’ve done and ‘What It Takes’ is the only of their ballads worth tuning in – it’s also the only one on the album really.

Despite the cringe-worthy Spinal Tap-isms that abounded on ‘The Making of Pump’ – this is the sound of a band firing on every cylinder. They were clean and they were tighter than a duck’s arse again after a massive tour in support of Permanent Vacation – this is only real instance where they managed to combine the ‘hit making’ formula that pervaded their later career with the best of their ‘vintage’ and it worked – great songs, great performances and not an ounce of fat.

Rocks

It couldn’t really be anything else that sits at the top of the pile here but Rocks. This is the quintessential Aerosmith album – it’s the sound of them at their utter peak, managing to capture their rawest, hardest album full of great songs even in the face of massive quantities of drugs being ingested like they were training for the snortolympics.

‘Back In The Saddle’, ‘Last Child’, ‘Rats in the Cellar’, ‘Nobody’s Fault’, ‘Lick and a Promise’… not only is Rocks stuffed with more great songs than anything else they’ve done but it works as a start-to-finish album too. I mean, you’d have to be off your tits on something to come up with all the details of ‘Back In The Saddle’ – the ‘heeya’ calls and fucking hoof beats, the actual whip cracks (which were abandoned after multiple bloody attempts yielded a shit sound so replaced by whipping a microphone cord and using cap gun – as if this were the more sensible route), Tyler taping tambourines to his boots and stomping around the studio, Perry playing a six-string bass like a guitar and the yodels on the fade-out… and yet it’s fucking glorious because of all that and because it’s all underpinned by the sound of the band at their peak – screaming leads, absolute power from the rhythm and Tyler giving it all in the name of the song. Which, as it turns out, is as good a summary of the whole album as you could get from me.

Least to Most: Aerosmith, Part 2

Aaaand we’re back in the saddle having sorted the wheat from the chaff and lobbed out the sloppier entries of Aerosmith’s fifteen-strong studio album run. So, without further ado…

Done With Mirrors

In an ideal world, this would have been Aerosmith’s comeback album. Hell, it’s what it was meant to be. Freshly reunited and tight after some solid touring, the songs here deliver enough of the riff-and-raunch blues rock vibe to cut through the murk of Rock in a Hard Place and without the added songwriters and synthesisers that would permeate their comeback album proper in a couple of years.

The only missing ingredient was a group of killer songs. The album kicks off by repurposing the Joe Perry Project ‘Let The Music Do The Talking’ with Tyler’s licks and proceeds to rollick through a series of lukewarm tunes. While tracks like ‘My First Your Face’ and ‘The Reason A Dog’ stand out and Ted Templeman does a good job capturing the band, there’s still a lack of focus here but at least it gave them enough of a jolt of life to get them to their next album as sobriety and rebirth beckoned.

Get A Grip

By 1993 Aerosmith had conquered their addictions and the charts and become monstrously successful. Now in their forties, Get A Grip would push them to even dizzier heights as it went on to become their biggest seller and give birth to seven singles with the likes of ‘Crazy’, ‘Cryin” and ‘Living On The Edge’ becoming mainstays on MTV. There’s a lot to enjoy on Get A Grip but that’s just it: there’s a lot. Released as grunge and alt-rock were in their ascendency, Get A Grip suffers from CD bloat and being too obvious a stab at commercial success (yes, it did pay off).

You could point a finger at John Kalodner who heard a slimmer version of the album and decided it didn’t contain enough hits and sent them back to Desmond Child for another ballad or two, but it’s not like anybody really said ‘nah, you’re alright mate.’ This, then, is the album where the band were all too apparent in mining the formula that had delivered them to their new heights. While the album sounds great at times, it’s a pretty shallow affair compared to their best.

Nine Lives

I slip Nine Lives here ahead of Get A Grip because I go back to it most. Perhaps because it’s the first of their albums I bought on release but mainly because, while it’s certainly every bit as calculated, the rawer sound captured by Kevin Shirley suits their raunchier take on blues rock more than the sheen that Bruce Fairbairn swathed its predecessor in.

Nine Lives nearly broke the band, again. Troubles were abounding with an over-controlling manager that was spreading distrust amongst his charges and drummer Joey Kramer suffered a nervous breakdown. Tyler was enthused by Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill and wanted to record with Glen Ballard – who shares writing credits on three of the eventual album’s songs -but Colombia didn’t dig the directions. With Kramer recovered the band re-recorded from scratch with Kevin Shirley (record labels seem to have had a lot of patience back then) and Nine Lives was delivered in 1997.

There may not be a single song without an outside co-write and a few that are clearly A&R men’s tick boxes but there’s more diversity to the sound, more of a willingness to try different sounds and Shirley’s sanding off of the sheen gives the album a nicer, more appropriate town that was both appropriate to the era and the band’s sound. Other songs cut during this period like ‘What Kind of Love Are You On?’ suggested more this edge would follow…

Unfortunately shortly after the album’s release Dianne Warren gave the band a song called ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ (which would be stapled to later, re-released versions of the album) and give them their first number one, something that Tyler would be trying to chase forevermore.

Aerosmith

I can understand why some may rank this higher but for me, Aerosmith’s debut isn’t as good as it could be and I don’t revisit it anywhere near as much as anything below this point. The songs are good and the all the calling points that would fuel their later success are already in place from the get-go but it’s still very much the sound of a first album: there are some stumbles, the songs aren’t as tight as they would become, the recording is flat, the sound is muddled and Tyler’s affected vocals don’t sit right.

But, for all that, it’s still an enjoyable blast of Aerosmith at the starter’s gun. ‘Dream On’ and ‘Mama Kin’ are early masterpieces that are still in sets today for a reason, Perry and Whitford’s guitar interplay already established and the power in their sound that would push them to be one of America’s biggest rock acts of the decade are laid on the line for all to see and they’d never sound this young and fresh again. It’s just a big shame they couldn’t get recording that sound right just yet.

Draw The Line

1977: Aerosmith are riding high and few are higher than its members at this point. So let’s get the fuck outta Dodge and put them up in an old convent – away from distractions – to record their new album. What could go wrong? It’s not like they’re gonna bring their toys or their drug dealers will follow, right? Right?

Joe Perry and Steven Tyler wrote just three songs together. They no-longer “gave a fuck” to quote Perry directly. The band – minus Perry – and producer Jack Douglas put together songs like ‘The Hand That Feeds’ and ‘Kings And Queen’ with Perry adding rhythm guitar to the latter and not playing at all on the former. There were songs that came in complete – like Perry’s ‘Bright Light Fright’ and songs that Tyler would take months to write lyrics to long after the band had left the confines of their convent.

And yet, Draw The Line still has more killer than filler and works more often than it doesn’t. Jack Douglas was by now a dab hand at recording the band as they needed to sound and songs as great as the title track, ‘Kings and Queens’ and ‘I Wanna Know Why’ are beyond strong enough to make up for ‘The Hand That Feeds’ and if closing with a cover of ‘Milk Cow Blues’ could be seen as odd choice by a band lacking original material, Perry’s playing on it and his own ‘Bright Light Flash’ (a tribute to the rising punk scene) more than hit the mark.

While they were starting to run out of gas, for Draw The Line – in contrast to Night In The Ruts just two years later – they were only just off their peak and the album still proved they had enough in them to let it rip when it mattered.

Least to Most: Aerosmith, Part 1

The Bad Boys of Boston, the Toxic Twins: Aerosmith. They’ve been around so long that JC was probably humming ‘Dream On’ from his lofty perch and yet are still packing in the crowds. Having kicked off from 1325 Commonwealth Avenue in 1970 their career has had a couple of dizzying peaks and some very seedy* lows. You can neatly slice their output into three decades and almost dismiss the rest, given that since 2000 we’ve had just two proper studio albums and there’s not that many acts out there that have had such success in each.

I’d been mulling over how I’d rank Aerosmith’s albums in my notebook of lists for sometime but John over at 2Loud2Old Music got straight in with both an album by album review series and his own ranking. So I thought it time to sit down and spit out my own Least to Most ranking of Aerosmith’s fifteen studio albums – a number that neatly divides into three – based on nothing scientific other than personal preference.

So let’s get started with the least favourite – and there’s no prizes for guessing that we start with….

Just Push Play

I mean it’s a fucking dog of an album from its cover to its contents. It came after yet another successful decade with plenty of great tunes and the band reaching the dizzying heights of chart-topping with that tosh from Armageddon but Just Push Play was a massive misfire from which they never really recovered. Forget hitting self-destruct with drugs, this time it was self-destruct with an album that relied on computer production, co-writes galore and a huge lack of genuine band interaction.

There were no demos left at the end of this record to be able to say ‘well there are the bones of a good album here’ because everything was plugged into ProTools and layered up like a wedding cake. There’s a song called ‘Trip-Hoppin’ for fuck sake. There’s not a single Tyler / Perry joint on here that isn’t also shared with other song-writers as Tyler, by all accounts, was so desperate for another monster hit that he wouldn’t work alone with Perry. Instead of the rawer power of Nine Lives we got over-glossed balladry and over-produced, gimmicky attempts at rockers that sounded like what it was: a group of blokes in their fifties trying to appeal to a dynamic that wasn’t interested in a group of blokes in their fifties. Instead of playing to their strengths they indulged in the wrong stuff. Thankfully ‘Jaded’ did the business in the charts enough to keep them going and playing the hits to large audiences but this really killed their momentum.

Music From Another Dimension

And, in two hits at the bottom of the list we’ve covered the only albums of original material the band have put out in this millennium. I was really rooting fro Music From Another Dimension when it came out – all the right ingredients were in place: the band were recording in the same room again, Jack Douglas was back on board. Hell, when it came out I really dug it…. for a while. Yet time and comparison to the rest of their catalogue doesn’t do it any favours.

There a lot more better songs on here than on Just Push Play yet there are also some utter howlers. I / you / we couldn’t expect the band to out an album this late into their career that sounded ‘like the old days’ and yet it seems they tried to do that. Only instead of going back to the 70s, say, they went for the kitchen-sink approach of Get A Grip only without the tunes or the edge. For every great riff attack like ‘Out Go The Lights’ there are two turds like ‘What Could Have Been Love’ or ‘Can’t Stop Lovin’ You’ – featuring Carrie Underwood for fuck sake! Why? Probably because Tyler was still thinking that this is how you make a hit.

Here Aerosmith managed to both play to their strengths and their weaknesses in an effort to cover every possible base. Unfortunately there are too many of the weaknesses and a little too much filler to make this the album it could have been – at least the sound is more organic and suited to Aerosmith than it had been in a while.

Rock In A Hard Place

Come back, Joe: all is forgiven. There’s no Joe Perry on Rock In A Hard Place, he’d left to return some video tapes. Brad Whitford also left during the recording of the album. Jimmy Crespo filled in on guitar. ‘Bolivian Ragamuffin’ and ‘Lightning Strike’ bring home the goods and ‘Jailbait’ has got to be one of those songs Perry heard and thought ‘why the fuck am I not on this?’ – it’s a real strong Aerosmith song. There’s not a lot more though.

Crespo and, later, Rick Duffay may have tried to inject some new momentum into the band but with addiction sucking the life and creativity out of Tyler, Rock In A Hard Place feels like a plaster over a gaping wound rather than an attempt at real damage control – management pushing for another album and to keep the thing rolling as long as they could rather than taking a much-needed pause. If Night In The Ruts was sounding like the beginning of the end, Rock In A Hard Place sounds like the batteries have run dry.

There are a few pleasant surprises and what remained of the band could sting bring the power but the overall feeling is of a rudderless ship. They even put bloody Stone Henge on the cover to give Spinal Tap plenty of ammo.

Night In The Ruts

And here we go – a band running out of steam. More appropriate this is a band falling apart. Night In The Ruts was started early in 1979 with Jack Douglas and a full band. It was finished late in 1979 with Gary Lyons. In between was a lot of conflict, a lot of stalling and a whole fucking lot of drugs.

With basic tracks laid down Tyler couldn’t come up with lyrics. For months. During which time Perry discovered he owed $80,000 in room service bills (that’s a lot peanuts and cable porn, Joe) and was encouraged to cut a solo album to pay it off. The band’s management, desperate to get another hit as Draw The Line hadn’t cut the sales figures they wanted – and to get the band back on the road – and their pockets lined fuller, decided Jack Douglas couldn’t control the band and fired him. It was true; he couldn’t. But then nobody could. Substance abuse had control. This was the blow-up point for Aerosmith and by the time the album came out Perry wasn’t in the band anymore and Brad Whitford was sauntering slowly toward the exit.

But for all that – Night In The Ruts has it’s fair share of good cuts. ‘Cheese Cake’, ‘Bone to Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy)’ have all the right moves and ‘No Surprize’ is an outright Aerosmith classic. Unfortunately – and telling of Tyler’s issue with lyrics – three of the album’s nine tracks are covers, though both ‘Reefer Head Woman’ and ‘Remember (Walking in the Sand)’ are both worth tuning in for. Night In The Ruts may be Aerosmith’s worst of their first decade but the good stuff here is still really good, giving it the riffs even as it all falls down around them.

Honkin’ On Bobo

The start of ‘the naughties’** were a weird time for Aerosmith. After serendipity lead them to the sweet spot in each of the previous three, it was eluding them in this decade. With the taste of disappointment from Just Push Play lingering even after judicious application of topical cream attempts to get back into the studio for a new Aerosmith album were failing.

Instead we got another compilation with ‘new’ songs – one of which was so bad and obviously cloying attempt at a hit the rest of the band refused to be in the video for it – and soundtrack contributions. There was talk of an album made up of previously discarded tracks (I’ve got a feeling some of them ended up on Music From Another Dimension), Tyler wouldn’t write alone with Perry. Perry didn’t want to be tied to writing with Steven’s ever-present co-writer Marti Frederikson who, like Tyler, wanted to make more attempts at pop hits. Somehow the idea of a ‘blues’ covers album was floated and jumped on. Tyler wouldn’t have to worry about writing lyrics and a sense of letting off steam can be heard in the finished result.

Jack Douglas was back on board and the sound here is a welcome step away from the polish of Just Push Play. It was never going to be a blues album proper – Aerosmith always leaned to blues rock vs pure blues so no Blue and Lonesome revelations here, just Aerosmith giving it some juice to eleven covers and one pretty tepid original. The band are tighter than a duck’s arse and while there are no big surprises on the track listing, they’ve come up trumps here.

Why doesn’t it sit higher? It’s a covers album, essentially. The sole original track doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot and sounds a little contrived in the company of those that it’s clearly aping and the album feels a little overdone still in the way that they seem to have become stuck in. A blues album should’ve been the opportunity to loosen up a little, feel free to roughen up the sound and production a little and get raw, but they didn’t subscribe to that notion.

*I’m not going to go into it but convincing your under-age girlfriend’s parents to give you legal guardianship so you can take her on tour, get her addicted to drugs, pregnant and into an abortion clinic is pretty fucking seedy, Steven.

**I fucking hate that phrase too

Let the music do the talking… Five from Joe ‘fucking’ Perry

Aerosmith’s ‘Walk This Way’ was the first band ‘auto-biography’ book I’d read back when it dropped in back 1997 and the well-thumbed hardback on my shelves is testament to how many times I’ve either re-read or consulted it since. I also picked up Steven Tyler’s ‘Does The Nose in My Head Bother You’ at, I think, an airport or similar some years back so I was keen to read to read Joe Perry’s ‘Rocks’ when it was published yet, somehow, hadn’t.

Until, that is, while hitting up the local library with my son to stock up on books for him to read (it gives me a massive sense of pride that he takes joy in sitting down and reading to himself already) I saw Joe Perry’s ‘Rocks: My Life in and out of Aerosmith’ waiting for me to pluck from the shelves – it’s probably worth pointing out that the music and biog sections sit close by the children’s section, this tale of excess wasn’t nestling alongside the Hilda or Roald Dahl books.

An expectedly calmer read than that of Mr Tyler’s prose – though Perry too was assisted in his auto-bio – while ‘Rocks’ offers a counterpoint to some of his singer’s arguments as well as picking up on the tumult within the band since 1997 (numerous fallings out, injuries, Led Zeppelin auditions and finding out about X-Factor gigs via the internet) as well as just how excessively manipulated by the toxic approach of their manager Tim Collins. Perry gives an insight into his personal life, how event recent addictions to pain pills nearly derailed his marriage and, of course, his relationship with Tyler.

One of the biggest take-homes though is the Perry’s dissatisfaction with his working relationship with Steven Tyler and his singer’s seeming reluctance to write with him alone anymore despite supposedly seeing them as a Jagger / Richards songwriting team. While Tyler – even as recently as Aerosmith’s last studio album Music From Another Dimension – seems inclined to keep trying to write a ‘hit’ single, Perry would rather stick to what the band is good at. If ‘Rocks’ is truth then he and the rest of the band were so appalled at ‘Girls of Summer’ as a song so non-Aerosmith they refused to be in the video.

While Tyler may think that a band into its fourth decade has another chance at a massive hit (likely the reason the last album was so dampened by the cheesiest of ballads), one thing’s clear – Joe Perry has a love for and a real knack for the dirty blues (as opposed to ‘pure blues) rock riffs that make up the band’s finest work.

In fact whenever he hasn’t had an outlet for them in Aerosmith, or when he’s not been in the band, he’s put out a good body of solo work that’s stuffed with great tunes. While there’s something missing in the lyrics or vocals that only Mr Tyler can provide, so many of these could well have been more of a massive Aerosmith song than the schmaltz the group-writing sessions stuffed their later album with.

Here are five of which:

Let The Music Do The Talking

Perry walked away from Aerosmith in 1979. There’s plenty of reasons as to why but it was a glass of thrown milk that proved the final straw. While Perry would later discover that his / Aerosmith’s management team were working to hinder his solo career, the Joe Perry Project’s first album Let The Music Do The Talking shifted well enough, went down nicely with the critics and made it clear that Perry had the riffs that could’ve kept Aerosmith going for a lot longer (by 1980, Aerosmith were playing increasingly smaller venues and Tyler was collapsing on stage more frequently). So clearly an Aerosmith song that when the group reformed it was their first single, albeit with altered lyrics.

South Station Blues

Perry may have had the riffs but he still had an active addiction, a wife that was spending his money as though he were still drawing down Aerosmith payola and as the years went by the Project’s output decreased in quality though, with a new album a year after his first, Perry was already outpacing his former-band’s output. This, from the group’s second, is a pure belter.

Shakin’ My Cage

Years…. decades in fact after his last solo output, Joe Perry decided to ditch the Project element for his first proper ‘solo’ album in 2005. With Aerosmith on another rest period, Perry seemed determined to keep on the bluesier side that had leant itself to their last album Honkin’ On Bobo and put out an album on which he played everything but the drums. It’s not a very varied album but Perry showed he’d still got a fuckload of those classic heavy riffs in his bag even if Tyler didn’t want ’em and if you happen to dig those crunchy guitar workouts then it’s a pretty strong album.

Mercy

Also from Joe Perry and one that was up for a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance – fittingly Perry lost out here to Les Paul.

We’ve Got A Long Way To Go

With Aerosmith’s plans in the toilet after illness, injuries and strife called their tour with ZZ Top to be cancelled, Perry pulled together Have Guitar Will Travel – billed as a solo but much more of a band album and a lot less ‘produced’ than his previous album, feeling more like a warm, home-studio rave-up than polished, it feels like a relief in that respect but doesn’t hold together too well. Still, he also had songs like this which were clearly written with his usual singer’s pipes in mind and would’ve gone down well as an Aerosmith tune.

Albums of my Years – 1981

Argh, I’m already slipping on my fairly loose schedule.

I don’t remember anything of 1981. Given that I’d only been about a couple of months when it started that’s no real surprise.

Apparently though a fair old bit happened in 1981:

Steven Tyler – no doubt off his tits on several things at once – took a spill on his motorbike in January and had to spend a couple of months in hospital. Aerosmith itself was in pretty rough shape in 1981 anyway – Brad Whitford left the group a few months later after recording ‘Lightning Strikes’.

All-round butt of jokes and general butthead Phil Collins released his first solo album in February and proceeded  to somehow combine peddling beige musical tosh and raking in cash for years to come – glad I don’t remember that.

On March 27th, a dove was happily minding its own business and wondering why it hadn’t yet been released when some drunk bloke with his own name tattooed on his knuckles bit its head off.

Turns out those four blokes from Ireland did make a trip abroad – who knew?: U2 made their first (probably last too)US TV appearance on the ‘Tomorrow’ show in June, 1981. I wonder what happened to them?

The Buzzcocks, The Knack, Rockpile, Sam & Dave, Steely Dan and Paul McCartney and Wings all called it day in 1981 but the year also saw the ‘birth’ of 10,000 Maniacs, The U-Men, Talk Talk, Sonic Youth,  Metallica, and Hunters & Collectors.

There were also a lot of albums dropped during that year… Van Halen’s Fair Warning arrived in April but it’s a Roth album so doesn’t feature in my wheelhouse. The Cure’s third album Faith also dropped in April and there’s some cracking tunes on there. The Replacements’ first album Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash is a 1981 album that’s far from shabby….

As if to prove a point, The Joe Perry Project released its second album which featured the awesome ‘South Station Blues’:

The Rolling Stones heated up some left-overs and ended up with Tattoo You being received as one of their strongest in some time and the ubiquitous ‘Start Me Up.’ The Police were at it again and dropped the first-class Ghost in the Machine which features ‘Invisible Sun’, ‘Spirits In The Material World’ and the unimpeachable ‘Every Little Thing She Does is Magic’:

Oh, and that little group from Ireland actually made another album! I guess a few people must have watched them on TV in America as they released what must have been their final album, October in, well, October. I guess it’s that lack of imagination that stopped them catching on.

Thing is none of these necessarily jump up at me as being the obvious choice for my selection for 1981.

It would be  a tricky one to call, except an absolute classic was released in 1981:

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Hard Promises

There’s a precious handful of albums to which the phrase ‘all killer, no filler’ can be applied. Hard Promises is easily one of them. I mean ‘A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me), ‘Something Big’, ‘Insider’, ‘Nightwatchman’, ‘You Can Still Change Your Mind’?! Oh, and then there’s the first song on the album:

Tom Petty and the Hearbreakers’ fourth album, Hard Promises is easily one of their finest and when you factor in that it was written under the pressure of the stardom that had been ‘gifted’ them after Damn The Torpedoes… it’s faultless really.

Petty didn’t mess much with the formula that had yielded gold on that album – he retained Jimmy Iovine (I’ve just realised this is the second album on this list he’s produced and we’re only two in) and he still had a shit load of great tunes in the tank too. Oh, and he went to war with his record label before he’d let them release it too – they wanted to  sell it for $9.98, a full dollar more than the usual price, and Petty was having none of it.

I came to this album far later than ’81 of course. A good couple of decades on, in fact, after I started blowing open Petty’s discography on the back of loving every track on Anthology: Through The Years – especially ‘The Waiting’ and, having picked up the six-disc Playback boxset, ‘Something Big’:

But when I did get to it, I spent a lot of time with Hard Promises.

It’s been a while since I was really able to sit and listen to Tom Petty after his untimely death in 2017. Listening to an album as varied and rich as Hard Promises – from the grooves of ‘The Nightwatchman’ to the fantastically jangly ‘Thing About You’ and the Stevie Nicks collab ‘The Insider’, it’s all the clearer just what the music world last when Mr Petty departed. Every song on this album is enthused with his unique craft and plainly obvious love of it all.

Self-compiled; Aerosmith Pt 2

Oddly enough I like the idea of doing a split, two-parter post as it gives me something resembling a structure to post on rather than ramble – especially when current events are something I need to stay away from if only for the sake of my blood pressure and keeping that black dog at bay.

Earlier this week I got the Pre-Milk Spillage Aerosmith compilation up having been inspired by Jim over at Music Enthusiast’s post-trilogy on the Toxic Twins. Turns out that one was the easiest of my original comps to recreate on Spotify and share. For some reason Falling Off isn’t included on the streaming version of Nine Lives (I guess it was cut from international versions of the album) which meant I head to substitute it for the lesser Walk On Down and Can’t Stop Messin’ has been culled from Get A Grip but once you start substituting….Well, I wanted to get something from the latest Music From Another Dimension on there and Out Go The Lights seemed the only one to fit (I guess because the tune has its origins from the Pump era) which meant I was able to slice out some of those awful ballads that I’d no longer want to hear (and clog up most of Big Ones).

But then with an extra minute or three do any of the tracks from the period between Nine Lives and Music… warrant selection? Well, no. I, like Mr Perry (2010: “I don’t think we’ve made a decent album in years. Just Push Play is my least favorite. When we recorded it there was never a point where all five members were in the room at the same time and Aerosmith’s major strength is playing together. It was a learning experience for me: it showed me how not to make an Aerosmith record”) don’t care for Just Push Play. And, yes, I open with three from Pump and even include two more including the only one of their ballads that I can still enjoy (if you’ve seen them live and been part of the crowd that sings along to the start so loudly it shuts Steven Tyler up you’ll have a soft spot for it too) but Pump is to their latter-day period what Rocks is to their initial run; unimpeachable.

So, it was possibly the trickiest to compile and is by no means perfect but if I were to compile for CD length, tunes from the Post-Rehab (I can’t really call this one Post-Milk Spillage as I’ve selected nothing from Done With Mirrors) now it would probably look like this:

Honourable mentions go to:

Monkey On My Back

The Movie

Line Up

Heart’s Done Time

 

Out Go The Lights

So – for all the grunge, alterna-indie, post-rocking selectivity of music collection there’s a fair few not-so-guilty pleasures. Amongst those is a large selection (yep, every album and a lot of singles) from a band that are oft described as America’s biggest rock ‘n’ roll band – that’s right; Aerosmith.

I’d like to be able to say something like “I only started listening to them because of Buffalo Tom’s referencing them in the linear notes on ‘Asides From'” or “it was the cover of Toys in the Attic that was on ‘Lifes Rich Pageant”  but I can’t. The truth of the matter is, in a similar way to Peter Buck’s statement that “if you grew up in the 70s you like Aerosmith” , if you were watching MTV and taking it all in like a hungry sponge in the 90s there was no way to not know Aerosmith. If you happened to be a 15 year old boy watching Joe Perry blast out a guitar solo on a railroad track then step out the way of a speeding freight-train with that “too cool to give a fuck” attitude in the vid for Livin’ On The Edge, then there was no escape. My first concert was an Aerosmith show – The Toxic Twins Towers Ball. The band were riding their late-90s high, post “Don’t Wanna Miss…” and with an album harder and rawer than they’d done for a while – the superb Nine Lives – it was, really, the ideal time to see them. They were still strong and tight and it was just before the dip that would take over a decade to pull out from, really.

It’s strange, then, that for the way in which my music collection and taste has grown and varied since I first got hold of an Aerosmith album – Big Ones – I’ve still paid attention to the boys from Boston. For all the lack of interest in the band and potential mocking I’d endure from those friends with whom I would share tastes in more ‘acceptable’ music I still plunk on Pump or Rocks when the feeling takes me. I still remember the ‘really?’ look I got when one such friend caught me coming out of a store having bought their last studio album Just Push Play. That was eleven years ago.

11 years…. in that time the band put out numerous compilations, a couple of live albums and a collection of blues covers. There were suggestions of new albums in the works and so much band bickering that it looked like game over. But still, I held out some hope. Call it nostalgia, perhaps, but I wanted to think that they’d come back and it would be good. Joe Perry released an awesome solo album then another not-quite-so-hot album that hinted that he was still firing out the licks… then Steven Tyler sat behind a desk and passed judgement on tweenie-bopper acts… and then it was confirmed: a new album WAS in the works and it was being helmed by Jack Douglas – Aerosmith’s own George Martin. To say I was hopeful was an understatement. Then I heard the first song, Legendary Child, and kinda thought… ‘oh’. I had images of the band desperately trying too hard to capture a sound long gone. I then heard ‘What Could Have Been Love’ and thought ‘oh, well, I’ll wait until it hits the bargain bins’. The buzz around the album involved talk of revisiting old riffs and song ideas and going for that old sound – it sounded like we were to expect some reheated left-overs.

And yet…

And yet last week on a rare day-off in the week with my wife I found myself in HMV buying the album – Music From Another Dimension – (in Special Edition format for that matter) on the day of release. I then found myself putting it up onto my iPod to play it through my new sound-system (which will make anything sound amazing). Strangely enough, I then found myself fucking loving it.

music from another dimensionFor a band to go back and play as if they were in their twenties (especially when most of Aerosmith are three times that age) would sound awful – those times are gone and to try and reproduce it would sound sad. But it was never about eras with Aerosmith, it was about the sound, the passion, the fun and the attitude. Something that was desperately missing from Just Push Play. Which is where this works so well: far from going back to the seventies sound Music From Another Dimension takes over from where Nine Lives left off.

Between their last decent album – Nine Lives – and the abysmal follow up, Aerosmith lent a couple of tracks to the Armageddon soundtrack. The big one, the one everybody knows and gave the band some new legs – literally for Mr Tyler – wasn’t the one that should’ve gained attention. There was a track on there that sounded like the next step for the band, what should’ve been the direction and sound to expect on their next album; What Kind of Love Are You On? was hard, gritty, riff-heavy and full of balls. Instead the next we heard was Jaded.

Until now. Music From Another Dimension is everything an Aerosmith album should be; it’s loud, it’s got passion and drive, it’s got guitars ALL over it and it’s got a pounding rhythm that will stay lodged in your head. All topped off with Steven Tyler’s trademark scatting, howling, soul-baring wail and howl. Most of all – and this is probably why I love the band – it’s FUN. There’s no pretension. This is Aerosmith; they came to play. They came to turn it up loud and fuck everything else.

There’s tunes on here that will stay lodged in your head for days – check out Tell Me and Street Jesus. Even Legendary Child is redeemed by it’s placement amongst Out Go The Lights et al. And although you can’t have an Aerosmith album these days without the odd ballad I still don’t think that much of What Could’ve Been Love.

It even got my wife’s attention and she was soon asking to have it dropped onto her iPhone – something she certainly wouldn’t have done with the last couple of Aerosmith ‘albums’. Strangely enough listening to it does spark a nostalgia for the 90s – which is odd as their stock from that period of their career was mostly the work of the late Bruce Fairbairn rather than Jack Douglas (who has done an outstanding job producing this album) – which gave us a weekend of delving into the ‘banks’ for one great tune after another. Finding a time when music was made for the sake of music and what the band had to say – not what a team of songwriters and producers wanted them to use to flog a perfumer.

The overwhelming impression I get from Music From Another Dimension is that this time the band sat down and played together for possibly the first time in a long time and came up with the tunes that they thought sounded great – not the tunes that half a dozen other writers (the most common collaborator this time around is Marti Frederiksen, hence the similarity to Nine Lives methinks), producers and industry folks wanted them to put out. Yes there is a Dianne Warren song on here but there’s also tunes by Tom Hamilton (Tell Me should be ranking up there with Janie… ), Brad Kramer and Joey Kramer along with a decent chunk of Perry / Tyler collaborations. More than that Joe Perry gets to drape his bluesy growl over two songs on this disc.

It’s an Aerosmith as a band, not a product, is back album. In a world of jury-selected music artists and auto-tuned hits, to hear an album by such a large, mainstream act that is unapologetic-ally non-pop, is refreshing. It also makes me think that there’s still hope while music is produced this way. That while the specific sounds that first got me into music back in the 90s may not be there, the soul and reasons for making music are. That there’s reason to believe guys who have seen a fair old dose of life and make music that doesn’t involve programmed loops and 15 year old boys singing ‘baby’  can still produce something vital and tough. It’s good to hope…

music from another dimension