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‘I don’t buy into the idea that you’re not supposed to rock and roll after a certain date. Sure, when you pick it apart, maybe I should be in Bellevue. But I’m just having a good time,’ stated Steven Tyler in an interview with Rolling Stone. By the time that he spoke those words in 1994, Tyler was a veteran of some twenty-plus years in the music industry, during which time they had enjoyed numerous Platinum albums and hit singles, suffered through addiction and bruised egos and had become one of the most iconic and influential rock groups in the world. As the frontman of Aerosmith, he was considered the ultimate in sex, drugs and rock and roll. But that fame came with a price, as he would discover during the late 1970s when the band began to self-destruct and many feared that Tyler was heading towards down the same path that Keith Moon and Brian Jones had taken.
But Aerosmith were more to fans than just an exercise in rock and roll excess. They were the creators of some of the most iconic rock tracks of the 1970s, from the sublime Dream On to the addictive Sweet Emotion and from their self-titled debut in 1973 they began to dominate the scene with their classic hooks and take-no-shit attitude. While Tyler is often considered the face of the band, Aerosmith is a collection of five talented individuals, each bringing their own influences and artistic flair to the fold. Despite a brief hiatus during the early 1980s, Joe Perry and Brad Whitford have worked together as co-guitarists since the formation of the group, while Tom Hamilton and Joey Kramer occupied the bass and drums, respectively. While many consider 1975’s Walk This Way to be one of Aerosmith‘s signature tunes, it would not be until the re-issue of Dream On the following year that they would finally make it onto the Billboard’s top ten.
Around the same time they also released their fourth album, Rocks, a record that many consider to be their finest moment and one that musicians such as Guns N’ Roses legend Slash consider to be a major influence. ‘When I go back and listen to that album I go, ‘Wow, those little shits were pretty good, weren’t they?’ It’s like listening to other people, it’s been so long ago,’ admitted Hamilton to Billboard in 1998, when the magazine celebrated the band’s twenty-fifth anniversary. With Perry parting ways with his bandmates during the recording of 1979’s Night in the Ruts, it seemed that all the fame and fortune had finally caused Aerosmith to slowly unravel. Whitford soon followed, but against all odds both finally returned as the band signed to Geffen Records to prepare for their long-awaited comeback. MTV had begun to dominate the scene but it would not be until Tyler and Perry’s collaboration with Run–D.M.C. on a hip-hop reinterpretation of Walk This Way in 1986 that fans started to take notice once again.
Permanent Vacation followed the next year, as did the hit singles Dude (Looks Like a Lady) and the power ballad Angel and Aerosmith finally found their way back into the mainstream. Since their return to form, they have continued to enjoy regular chart success, returning to the top ten with Love in An Elevator and I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing, while the videos for Crazy and Pink received heavy rotation. Despite continued tensions within the ranks, as well as Tyler’s tenure as a judge on American Idol, Aerosmith still continue to tour with their original line-up over forty years after forming. In 2001 they were inducted into the prestigious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside Queen and Michael Jackson, while in 2012 they released their fourteen studio album of original material, Music from Another Dimension!.
While Dude (Looks Like a Lady) and the power ballad Angel had ushered in Aerosmith‘s long awaited comeback, one track featured on the 1987 album Permanent Vacation was Hangman Jury. Produced by Bruce Fairbairn at his Vancouver-based Little Mountain studio, where he had previously recorded Bon Jovi‘s breakthrough Slippery When Wet, the song had featured contributions from Bryan Adams’ writing partner Jim Vallance, who was brought in after the basic track had been composed to help develop the ideas further. ‘Unfortunately, about a year after the song was released we were sued for the opening section – ‘oh boy dontcha line the track-a-lack-a’ – which Steven had borrowed from the song Line ‘Em (also called Linin’ Track),’ explained Vallance on his website. ‘Steven incorrectly believed the song was ‘in the public domain.” Once again revelling in their blues influences, Hangman Jury featured Tyler on harmonica and remained the highpoint of the album that finally launched Aerosmith back into the mainstream.
SEASONS OF WITHER
Sandwiched in between their influential debut and breakthrough Toys in the Attic, 1974’s Get Your Wings is often overlooked due to its lack of hit singles, yet the album was something of a milestone for Aerosmith as it marked their first collaboration with Jack Douglas, the producer who would help guide them to their subsequent success. While Tyler had written most of the band’s first record, he would only receive sole credit for three of the eight tracks featured on their sophomore effort, including the underrated Seasons of Wither. ‘Seasons of Wither was written in the winter. It was cold outside. I was pissed off about the tour,’ Tyler told author and critic Bruce Pollock. ‘Joey Kramer pulled a guitar out of a garbage can, put a couple of strings on it. It could only take four strings because the neck was bowed. You could shoot arrows with it.’ A relatively slow beat with a simple melody, Seasons of Wither was a hypnotic ballad that showcased a more harmonious side to Tyler’s vocals.
Most critics would agree that after the heights of Rocks in 1976, Aerosmith had something of a comedown with their follow-up, Draw the Line. From the opening title track to the conclusion of Milk Cow Blues thirty-five minutes later, their fifth offering was certainly inconsistent and somewhat unfocused but in some ways that was its greatest charm, capturing a group moments before imploding. Their blues influences are once again pouring over the brim and there are still glimpses of genius among the collection of tracks, with Critical Mass and Kings and Queens being notable mentions. Perhaps the album’s true unsung moment, however, is Sight for Sore Eyes, a funk-fused rock riff that featured input from David Johansen, who had become something of an icon earlier in the decade as the frontman of glam-punk pioneers the New York Dolls.
RATS IN THE CELLAR
Often found at the top of most lists of favourite Aerosmith albums, 1976’s Rocks captured the band at the peak of their creative power at a time when they were relatively fresh-faced and still discovering their genius as both songwriters and musicians. Hailed as a major influence by the likes of Slash and former Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx, Rocks is perhaps most known for producing two hit singles, Last Child and Back in the Saddle, but another standout moment was the track that came after them, Rats in the Cellar. Later included as the opening track to the 1988 compilation Gems, the song was a fast rock and roll tune in which Tyler snarled ‘Throw me in the slam, catch me if you can.’
VOODOO MEDICINE MAN
If Hangman Jury was Permanent Vacation’s most ambitious and experimental moment then Voodoo Medicine Man was Pump’s equivalent. While the album was full of radio friendly tunes like Love in An Elevator and The Other Side (which would later find its way onto the soundtrack to the Quentin Tarantino-penned True Romance), Voodoo Medicine Man was Aerosmith doing what they do best: blending blues, funk and rock with little concern for commercial appeal. Despite this, the song does remain one of the highlights of the album, with author Matters Furniss stating in Aerosmith – Uncensored on the Record, ‘Featuring some of the best guitar work on the album, Hoodoo/Voodoo Medicine Man would have been a sure-fire hit if released as a single.’ Instead, it would be included as the B-side to Pump’s second single Janie’s Got a Gun which, despite its dark lyrical themes, won a Grammy over a year after its release.
TASTE OF INDIA
For their return to Columbia Records after a decade at Geffen and following on from the commercial success of their 1992 offering Get a Grip, Aerosmith joined forces with producer Kevin Shirley, whose past credits included The Black Crowes and Silverchair, to work on their highly anticipated follow-up Nine Lives. Earning the band their fourth Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in a decade with the hit single Pink, the album was their second consecutive number one and was later re-released with the bonus track I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing, itself from the soundtrack to the blockbuster Armageddon. Hidden away on the B-side and also located on Nine Lives was Taste of India which featured the Asian stringed instrument sarangi, performed by the acclaimed Ramesh Mishra.
Like most debut albums, Aerosmith’s eponymous first effort consisted of material that had been composed and developed during the band’s early years, honed on the road and in small venues across America. Both Dream On and Mama Kin (the latter covered by Guns N’ Roses on their faux live record Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide) have since become fan favourites but the album, released through Columbia in January 1973, included a selection of classic rock tracks mostly penned by Tyler. Movin’ Out, which he had created with Perry, the guitarist’s sole writing credit on the album, was a simple-yet-catchy tune that was later included in an alternative cut on the compilation box-set Pandora’s Box.
With Jack Douglas having been replaced during the recording session for 1979’s somewhat disappointing Night in the Ruts, most fans were relieved to see the producer return for their 1982 effort Rock in a Hard Place. But nothing could distract from the fact that both Perry and Whitford were absent (Whitford would perform on one track, the lead single Lightning Strikes), with guitar duties instead handed over to Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay. Despite this, Rock in a Hard Place remains an intriguing experience, with Bolivian Ragamuffin and Joanie’s Butterfly worth the price alone. Jailbait, another song to later feature on the compilation Gems, served as the opening track and set the hard tone for the rest of the album.
SHAME ON YOU
The return of the original line-up of Aerosmith should have been a cause for celebration. The band had survived drug adduction, a creative and commercial decline and a well-publicised break-up with both Perry and Whitford. Having signed with a new label, their reunion was expected to be the event of the year. But when Done with Mirrors, their first album of new material in three years, was released it failed to make the impact Geffen had predicted. Often overshadowed by the popularity of its successor, Permanent Vacation, the nine-track album was the swan song of the vintage Aerosmith, in which they still favoured the gritty, no-holds-barred blues rock of Draw the Line. Full of overlooked gems like My Fist Your Face and She’s on Fire, the band were at their most tongue-in-cheek and riff-heavy with Shame on You, in which, demonstrating how they had finally buried the hatchet, Tyler declared, ‘Joe Perry, ooh Mr Style.’
Allegedly first conceived as a guitar riff by Whitford during the late 1990s, Street Jesus would be the closest that Aerosmith would come on their 2012 offering Music From Another Dimension! to their classic 1970s sound. This could be in part to how the fast guitar riff sounding somewhat similar to Rats in the Cellar, immediately drawing comparisons to the group’s most acclaimed work Rocks. Their first album of original material with producer Jack Douglas in twenty years (not counting the covers album Honkin’ on Bobo, released in 2004), the record promised to be a return to their early glory for the legendary band and while it failed to live up to that somewhat impossible claim, tracks such as Street Jesus proved that Aerosmith were still ahead of most of their contemporaries. ‘I just thought it was this great, driving rock lick, that it was so Aerosmith, but nobody ever heard it,’ Whitford told Rolling Stone.