My die-hard Aerosmithness didn’t come to me over night. Like almost everyone else in Europe, their 70s success passed us by and it wasn’t until their 1986 cross-over hit with Run DMC, “Walk This Way”, did the band receive substantial coverage at all. I was immediately in to the whole thing: the big lips, the screeching, the hip-hop beat (hey, I was 12), the shit-cool guitarist. As for the two black lads in trainers, well I could do without them.
This was the catalyst that led to a string of hit singles and albums, success that outstripped their previous achievements which included six consecutive albums from 1973 – 1979 that all went platinum.
After seeing them twice this summer in London and Dublin (my fourth and fifth Aero concerts) I was rather annoyed at comments from attendees who were bored at the performances. The problem in essence was that they went assuming a collection of 80s and 90s hit singles. But there was no “Pink”, no “Dude Looks Like a Lady”, no “Crazy”, “Amazing”, “Janie’s Got a Gun”, “Falling in Love”, “Angel” or “Rag Doll”. What we got was a master-class in 70s hits and classic covers from their recent blues cover album. The minions didn’t like it.
But is it really their fault? Their ignorance of Aerosmith’s best period is hardly uncommon in Europe. You can only blame them if they are offered the chance to be educated, reject it and then still moan. So, my friends, here is the beginning of a biography and series of reviews that covers Aerosmith’s 35 years from 1973 to 2008.
Let us start with their early years in Sunapee, New Hampshire…
Where it all began
The legend goes that Steven Tyler (real name: Tallarico) met Joe Perry while the latter was working in a Sunapee ice cream parlour in 1969. Tyler was already on the local music scene, drumming and singing in a number of bands including Chain Reaction, The Chain and William Proud. Perry was a guitarist who had played in a band called The Jam Band with bassist Tom Hamilton. The following year they formed the first incarnation of Aerosmith with Tyler’s friend Ray Tabano on guitars, Tom Hamilton on bass and Joey Kramer on drums. Tabano was fired in 1971 due to his unreliable behaviour and was replaced by Brad Whitford.
The five musicians began playing the Boston area building a strong following and in 1972 Columbia records signed them up to a lucrative contract. Their first record was released in 1973.
Album title: Aerosmith
Track Listing: 1. Make It; 2. Somebody; 3. Dream On; 4. One Way Street; 5. Mama Kin; 6. Write Me; 7. Movin’ Out; 8. Walkin’ the Dog
Running Time: 35m 54s
Units sold/certifications: 3 million worldwide / 2x platinum (US)
Chart performance: #21 (US)
Track by Track
Looking back over thirty years later at the opening lines to “Make It”, it makes perfect sense now. “Good evening people, welcome to the show/Got somethin’ here I want you all to know”. It might have seemed a slightly pretentious way for a young, jumped-up blues rock band playing to a few hundred every night to make their entrance but they were in fact making a statement of intent. Their first album was short on sophistication but high on groove. “Make It” is an infectious blues-rocker.
“Somebody” doesn’t raise the sophistication levels at all, but it’s a good number. Tyler wants someone to share his life with and he’s not fussy: I won’t be choosy/You could send me a floozy/Send me anybody you please. The band performance is strong here, Tyler mimicking Perry’s mid-song solo and Joey Kramer firing out a tight, bluesy rhythm.
Released as a single twice (#59 in 1973, #6 in 1976 – a re-release that pushed this album back in to the charts three years after its initial release), “Dream On” is arguably Aerosmith’s most recognised and popular song. Written in his late teens, Tyler conveys feeling old before his time: “Every time I look in the mirror/All these lines on my face getting clearer”. The track, part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 tracks that shaped Rock and Roll” and #172 on the Rolling Stone Greatest Songs of All Time list, was sampled by Eminem for his 2003 hit “Sing for the Moment”.
One Way Street
If Aerosmith’s blues credentials were in question half way through their debut album then “One Way Street” would have set any doubters right. A harmonica-drenched shuffle with Tyler in outstanding gravely form (“you got a thousand boys/you say you need ’em/you take what’s good for you/and I’ll take my freedom“) and keys that are as powerful as they were melodic.
It may have taken a decade and a half for most people to hear this song when Guns N Roses recorded it for their “Live Like a Suicide!” EP but this was where “Mama Kin” made its bow. Tight and funky it’s distinguished by the simple riff and its story of a young man on his way out in to the big wild world (“bald as an egg at eighteen/working for you dad is just a drag/still stuff your mind with them dreams/you better check them out cos sometime soon/you’ll have to climb back on the wagon”).
Write Me (A Letter)
Probably the most irrepressible melody/beat combination on the album, “Write Me” is a cute love song about the singer’s desire to keep in touch with his girl. Following the theme of being away from home and chasing fame (“Make It”, “Dream On”, “Mama Kin”) the song is a real foot-tapper, Joey Kramer’s cymbal work being particular palatable. Brilliant stuff.
It takes a while to appreciate but “Movin’ Out” – the first song that the band wrote – is a mid-tempo, jammin’ rocker that’s as close to Led Zeppelin as the band got on their first album. The middle eight (“level with God and you’re in tune with the universe/talk with yourself and you’ll hear what you wanna know/gotta rise above ‘cos below it’s only gettin’ worse/life in time will take you where you wanna go“) is astonishing.
Made famous by Rufus Thomas in 1963, “Walkin’ The Dog” became a signature Aerosmith song and remains on their play-list today. Walking the dog is a famous yo-yo trick but Aerosmith laid the blueprint for their career by turning this innocent childhood game in to a nudge-nudge, wink-wink innuendo fest (“If you don’t know how to do it/I’ll show you how the walk the dog“).
Their debut album is often criminally overlooked in favour of later records that broke them in the US mainstream. But with two classic tracks, several more bubbling under the surface and a youthful energy that paradoxically at times oozes maturity, “Aerosmith” is a must-have album. The only thing that lets it down is the rather thin-sounding production.