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