If any album reminds me of delivering newspapers on cold, foggy Sunday mornings, it’s this one. I know it’s clichéd to think of your formative years fondly (nostalgia ain’t what it used to be), but I really do look back on those times with a smile on my face.
I used to look forward to Sunday mornings – yes it was hard work, and the back-breaking weight of Sunday newspapers has left an indelible mark on me, in the form of my bad posture – but it gave me the opportunity to listen to Aerosmith on my walkman for a good four or five hours.
This album soundtracked a lot of moments – like the time I walked back past a house I had just delivered to, only to see the lady of the house – a hot blonde in her late 20s / early 30s – open the front door in her birthday suit to collect the newspaper off the floor of the porch.
Or the times when I’d be walking along Alpine Drive, immersed in my headphones only to be bearhugged by a massive Old English Sheepdog that lived on that street. If ever a dog looked like a medium-sized man wearing a fancy dress costume, it was that one. It made it all the more ominous that you couldn’t see his eyes because of his big, floppy fringe. After the shock of my heart stopping, it was nice to see his big, dopey smile and hug him back.
One time I delivered to a house on Holme Crescent – a cul de sac on a newer housing estate. I drove my bike up the garden path and pulled up, side-on to the front door. Still sat on my bike, I forced their immense Sunday newspaper – probably one of the broadsheets, with about three dozen sections and magazines – into their tiny letter-box. I struggled with the first couple of sections, and heard a ringing noise, far off in distance. I tried again, breaking the newspaper further and further down until it felt like I was posting a page at a time. Again, I could hear ringing and it seemed to coincide with each time I pushed something through the letter-box. Just as I neared the end of my ordeal, I realised where the ringing was coming from – the side-end of my bike’s handlebars was pressing against the doorbell of the house I was delivering to. I took off quickly, looking back to see somebody peer angrily under the net curtains of their bedroom window.
Gems is a great Aerosmith record. It might be a compilation, but it’s probably their best one – and there’s been many. It was the second compilation to be released, after 1980’s woeful Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits – and clearly released by their former label CBS to cash-in on their late-‘80s resurgence on Geffen after 1987’s Permanent Vacation. The album title – and cover – also seems to borrow more than a little inspiration from 1976’s Rocks – but hey, who cares? Whatever sells records, right?
It might be missing their big three singles: Walk This Way, Sweet Emotion and Dream On – all of which feature strongly on Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits, but their absence is turned to the album’s advantage. Rather than focusing on the band’s biggest singles, like most compilations would do, Gems collects together twelve album tracks – deep cuts from the heavier end of their back-catalogue.
Each of the band’s Columbia studio albums are represented, with Get Your Wings (2 tracks), Toys In The Attic (2) and Rocks (3) all featuring more than one song. The real gem on the album though, and the reason the album is an essential addition to the band’s canon, is the studio version of Chip Away The Stone – the b-side to their 1978 cover of the Beatles’ Come Together.
Hit: Train Kept A-Rollin’
Hidden Gem: Chip Away The Stone