This debut album delivers full bore boogie/blues rock that makes you wanna move. While most people are familiar with a heavy Rolling Stones influence (for years the band was dogged by a “poor man’s Stones” label), The Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, and the blues are also in evidence. Steven Tyler sings in a deeper pitched voice than he would later employ (reminiscent of how Ozzy Osbourne sounded so different on the first Black Sabbath album) while largely keeping in check the vocal acrobatics that would later become his calling card. A lack of originality threatens to keep Aerosmith grounded, but this Boston band’s catchy songs, unpretentious swagger, slinky guitar licks, and vigorous backbeats generally manage to seize the day. After all, a solid, straight-ahead hard rock band need not apologize to anyone. This is a consistent LP (Aerosmith’s greatest asset) that contains some strong songs, in particular the Stonesy “Mama Kin” (later covered by Guns n’ Roses) and the epic power ballad (one of the first) “Dream On,” whose brilliantly coiled intensity the band would never quite match again. In short, this is a cool band with all the right moves: a dynamic singer (who would soon progress by leaps and bounds), a punchy rhythm section (the guts of any great groove band), and some real nice guitar interplay. Still, on this game debut a certain excitement is missing that I can never quite put my finger on, that often-indefinable quality that makes good rise to great.
Get Your Wings (Columbia ‘74) Rating: A-
Despite lacking a masterpiece song on the level of “Dream On,” Get Your Wings is a decided improvement on the debut overall. This improvement is because Aerosmith admirably varies, expands, and solidifies their sound, perhaps spurred on by their new alliance with producer Jack Douglas, who would help guide the band’s next several studio efforts. Starting with one of the catchiest riff-fests in the entire Aerosmith catalog, “Same Old Song And Dance” also effectively adds horns into the mix, while “Lord Of The Thighs” is a chugging blues rocker that showcases Steven Tyler’s attitude soaked delivery and clever raunchery. Elsewhere, the aptly titled “Spaced” is an enjoyable experimental groover, “Woman Of The World” cooks and is an often-overlooked highlight, the edgy “S.O.S. (Too Bad)” rocks both hard and well, “Seasons Of Wither” is a moody, haunting semi-ballad gem, and their cover of The Yardbirds “Train Kept A Rollin’” is flat-out definitive. Boasting a live ambience, the guitars flat-out smoke on this track, as Aerosmith forever claims the song as their own (though rumor has it that supposedly session aces Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter, not Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, actually played on this track and others on the album as well). Granted, the songwriting here isn’t always up to snuff, but Get Your Wings contains some great greasy hard rock.
Toys In The Attic (Columbia ‘75) Rating: A
This classic hard rock album contains “Walk This Way” and “Sweet Emotion,” two immortal “classic rock” radio station staples, and several other stellar songs. “Walk This Way” features a deathless Joe Perry riff along with a great Tyler rap, while “Sweet Emotion” has a great sing along chorus, more tasty riffs, and plenty of attitude. Starting things off is “Toys In The Attic,” which sports a breakneck chug that immediately announces the band’s big step up in class, and when Tyler announces “it’s a sunny day outside my window” at the end of “Uncle Salty” damn it if it doesn’t brighten my day. “Adam’s Apple” features catchy riffs and horns alongside some typically clever Tyler lyrics, while “Big Ten Inch Record” is a jokey little blues ditty that spices things up with a levity lacking in most hard rock. Most of the album showcases Joe Perry’s grungy guitar riffs and Steven Tyler’s salacious lyrics, while the rest of the band cooks up unsinkable grooves throughout. Another highlight on an album full of highlights is the catchy r&b of “No More No More,” whose serious lyrics about the downside of the rock n’ roll lifestyle shows the flip side to the band's usual good time obsessions with sex, drugs, and double entendres. Finally, “Round And Round” is a lumbering stomper that showcases Aerosmith at their heaviest and nastiest (not unusual for a Steven Tyler/Brad Whitford penned song), while the sweeping, orchestrated power ballad “You See Me Crying” closes things out in fine style. Throw in the two infectious singles and you have a consistently rewarding and varied package, pulled off with considerable panache.
Rocks (Columbia ‘76) Rating: A
Aerosmith had steadily improved with each release, developing their craft while seizing a major share of the American hard rock market. Although it contains no major hits, Rocks showcases a really good hard rock band at the peak of their powers. Consistently catchy, the album is chock full of Aerosmith’s prime assets: memorable riffs, grooves, and arrangements, plenty of swagger and attitude, and charismatic singing (including underrated harmonies). Beginning with the sinister guitar and squealing vocals of “Back In The Saddle” and then tearing into the funky “Last Child,” Rocks rarely lets up and is a cohesive, compulsive listen throughout. Although the aforementioned songs are the best known, there’s not a dog in the bunch, including the relentless “Rats In The Cellar” and the propulsive double-tracked vocals of “Sick As A Dog,” which showcases the band’s keen pop sense. Other highlights include the chugging metallic thumper “Nobody’s Fault,” the catchy “na na na’s” of the terrific “Lick And A Promise,” and “Home Tonight,” another convincing power ballad that (like “You See My Crying” before it) closes out the band's best album in fine style.
Draw The Line (Columbia ‘77) Rating: B+
This is the album on which Aerosmith allegedly began their drug-induced decline during which partying became more important than tunes, and it definitely is a notch below their previous two releases. Still, at this point in time rumors of the band’s demise were greatly exaggerated, because this is another good groove record whose funky backbeats and inventive guitar licks are matched to Steven Tyler’s ear piercing vocal acrobatics. Lyrically, Aerosmith focus on getting wasted and of course sex (lots of sex!), but they also manage to throw in an epic fantasy story on the dramatic “Kings And Queens,” arguably the album’s best song. The band also has a knack for throwing in some rolling piano or harmonica when things threaten to grow stale, and though sometimes the songwriting isn’t up to par they’re usually smart enough to just let the guitars (and Joey Kramer’s insistent drumming) show the way. The grungy title track, the catchy harmonica-enhanced groover “Critical Mass,” and the catchy if paranoid “I Wanna Know Why” are among the standouts, but it must be said that there are fewer memorable melodies here than on the band’s best albums, and that Tyler’s lyrics are at times labored and cliché ridden. However, the album’s impressive overall momentum is more important than any individual songs, and for all its faults Draw The Line still manages to deliver a dirty good time.
Live! Bootleg (Columbia '78) Rating: B+
If you were a big rock band in the seventies, chances are good that you released a double live album, and Live! Bootleg was Aerosmith’s entry into those sweepstakes. This album is aptly titled and the bare cover art (a la The Who’s Live At Leeds) is fitting because this is a raw, warts and all performance without any of the “touching up” that often accompanies such endeavors. Actually, this is a series of 1977/1978 performances edited together, so it’s not quite a 100% pure concert performance if you care about those sort of things, but I don’t so I really like this live album, because even though I prefer the studio versions of most of these songs, it’s still a fun, barnstorming, kickass live album. Given what was going on in the band at the time, this album unsurprisingly has a drugged out, ramshackle quality, and the sound quality isn’t always great as the vocals in particular lack that spit shine studio polish and are sometimes mixed too far back. Still, who cares if the sound quality isn’t always great when Aerosmith were always better the dirtier they got anyway? This is probably my favorite Aerosmith live album (among several later attempts), and it works pretty well as a greatest hits set from their best period, though there are quite a few personal favorites missing, such as “Same Old Song and Dance,” “Round and Round,” “Lick and a Promise,” “Rats In The Cellar,” and “Nobody’s Fault.” I could add the likes of “Seasons Of Wither,” “You See My Crying,” “Home Tonight,” and “Kings and Queens” as well, but given the hard rocking nature of the album I can see how these mellower songs wouldn’t have fit in as well here, though of course their prototypical power ballad “Dream On” does make an appearance along with most of the other must-have tracks from their first five studio albums. Among the highlights are “Back In the Saddle,” “Sweet Emotion,” “Toys In The Attic,” “Last Child,” “Sick As A Dog” (all tailor made for a live setting), “Chip Away The Stone” (likewise, plus this popular fan favorite wasn’t previously available on any Aerosmith album, though a studio version is now available on their 1988 compilation Gems which focuses on heavy deep cuts), “I Ain’t Got You” (mostly because I like how Tyler calls out the solo sections, first Whitford and then Perry) and “Train Kept A’ Rollin’” (where Perry proves he can hack it live even if he wasn’t up to the task in the studio several years prior). Among my complaints, most of which are fairly minor, are that “Lord of the Thighs” is way longer than it needs to be, “Walk This Way” works better without a talking fuzzbox (but of course there’s a talking fuzzbox, this was the mid-‘70s!), they skimp on some of the best guitar parts on “Dream On,” and their attempt at covering James Brown’s “Mother Popcorn” is a nice attempt at something different but they should leave James Brown to James Brown and stick to their own hard rock take on the Stones instead. Still, like I said before, despite its imperfections I really enjoy the majority of this album, which (aside from “I Ain’t Got You” and “Mother Popcorn” which come from a 1973 radio broadcast) was captured right before their drug dependencies would break up the band and temporarily ruin their careers.
Permanent Vacation (Geffen ‘87) Rating: B
Drugs brought this band down hard in the late seventies and early eighties. Although 1979’s Night In The Ruts is rather underrated, the low point came when guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford both briefly left the fold; they recorded 1982's Rock and A Hard Place without them (Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay were the replacements) before they returned for 1985’s Done With Mirrors, the bands first album for Geffen (it’s best known song was a rerecording of the title track from the strong 1980 Joe Perry Project album Let The Music Do The Talking). The album sold poorly, but two things then happened that allowed the band to generate one of the most remarkable comebacks in rock n’ roll history. First the band entered rehab and got clean, and then Run DMC recorded a cover version of “Walk This Way,” even inviting Perry and Tyler to perform on it. When the song became a crossover smash hit the band was suddenly in the limelight again, and Permanent Vacation made them superstars all over again by spawning three smash singles. Indeed, the catchy ragtime swagger of “Rag Doll,” the undeniable, horn heavy pop rock of “Dude (Looks Like A Lady),” and the sappy power ballad “Angel” were all inescapable radio (and MTV) tracks, making Aerosmith’s amazing comeback from near oblivion complete. However, it should be noted that this sleek new version of the band differed from the old one considerably. In particular, Bruce Fairbairn’s slick production (replete with at times cluttery horn arrangements) provided a hard-hitting but obviously commercial touch, while song doctors such as Desmond Child, Holly Knight, and Jim Vallance were brought aboard to tailor the band’s sound to fit into the current hard rock market. The strategy worked smashingly, but it also meant that now the band was competing with Bon Jovi instead of Led Zeppelin. Still, there are some good songs (“Hearts Done Time,” “Girl Keeps Coming Apart”) here, and for a band that had recently returned from the ranks of the has-beens this was a harbinger of better things to come.
Pump (Geffen ‘89) Rating: A-
With Pump Aerosmith was officially back at the top of their game. Filled with catchy, speedy rockers such as “Young Lust,” “The Other Side” (minor hits both), and the explosive “Voodoo Medicine Man,” Pump's big production (again courtesy of Fairburn) and Joey Kramer’s muscular drumming makes these rockers move. The overtly commercial “Love In An Elevator” (the album’s biggest hit) is irresistibly catchy and charmingly raunchy, and it was good to see Aerosmith’s mindset back on sex instead of concentrating on drugs. In fact, “Monkey On My Back” is about the band’s fight to stay clean (it’s a daily struggle). Elsewhere, “My Girl” swings with a propulsive forward drive and “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even” is a fine, singable swamp blues, but better still is the very fine “F.I.N.E.,” which actually stands for “F**ked up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional,” while several strange interludes further give Pump its own uniquely interesting flavor. As for the other hit singles, “What It Takes” is an outstanding power ballad featuring a great fadeout ending, while the Grammy winning “Janie’s Got A Gun” is a strong story song about child abuse that achieves a depth that Aerosmith rarely aspires to - plus it rocks. Steven Tyler is in excellent voice throughout, while the dual guitars of Joe Perry and Brad Whitford supply plenty of hooks, making Pump easily their heaviest and best comeback album.
Get A Grip (Geffen ‘92) Rating: B+
Another fine late period Aerosmith album, Get A Grip is notable for its stellar sound quality, several smash hit singles, and Tyler’s memorably theatrical vocal performance. Still, the album lacks some of the raw urgency and consistency of Pump, with some obvious filler (“Get A Grip,” “Flesh”) padding out its overly labored 62-minutes. It just seems like the album didn’t come to the band as naturally this time out; one can’t help but notice all the co-songwriting credits. Even some of its better songs, such as “Eat The Rich,” sound a little like retreads, in this case a rehash of “Young Lust” but with better lyrics. In addition, Fairbairn goes overboard with the production effects, and several of the songs are extended longer than necessary. As for the overplayed hits, “Living On The Edge” delivered epic social commentary, “Cryin’” was an explosive if overly repetitive power ballad, “Crazy” was a country tinged ballad, and “Amazing” was a dramatically orchestrated piano ballad about finally seeing the light (i.e. getting straight). These songs, none of which are classics but all of which I'd classify as "guilty pleasures" if they weren't so overplayed, were notable for their popular videos, which helped launch the acting careers of Alicia Silverstone and Liv Tyler (Steven's daughter) and kept the band red hot on the charts even though grunge was supposed to have killed off all such “dinosaur” hard rockers. But Aerosmith always seem to persevere, and by and large Get A Grip deserved its popularity, especially since some of its best songs, such as the bruising Joe Perry-sung groove rocker “Walk On Down” and the strangely atmospheric “Gotta Love It,” were among its least commercial. Note: Subsequent albums (1997’s Nine Lives, 2001’s Just Push Play, 2004’s blues covers album Honkin’ On Bobo) had their moments (“Falling In Love (Is Hard On The Knees,” “Pink,” and “Jaded” for example) but were mostly a case of diminishing returns; the band’s best late period work is still Pump and their best work period is still their mid-‘70s albums. Pandora’s Box is an excellent 3-cd box set for the truly dedicated, and again 1978’s Live! Bootleg is probably the best of their several live albums, though based on the evidence I’ve heard Aerosmith were never really a great live band. It’s December 2010 as I write this and the band’s future is very much in doubt as Steven Tyler seems more preoccupied with American Idol than Aerosmith at the moment.
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