A few weeks ago my good friend Moo emailed me out of the blue and asked me to list my top ten Aerosmith songs. I nearly spat out my tea. You see, Moo doesn’t like Aerosmith. In fact, that’s the understatement of the twenty first century. Out of all the bands in the world that Moo likes to pour scorn on, it’s Aerosmith. He doesn’t like to just pour scorn on them though, opting instead to apply the scorn with a high-pressure hose.
There are plenty of reasons for his disapproval of course. Aerosmith are now a terrible band (Moo would say they always have been), they’ve pissed all over their legacy (he’d ask ‘what legacy?’) and in Steven Tyler the band are fronted by one of the most annoying men in the history of music (no argument there). The main reason he targets them though is that they’re my favourite band. A healthy friendship is all about holding your friend’s loves up to the light. Checks and balances and all that. It provides good banter too.
Of course, when it comes to criticism of Aerosmith, I have a hide as tough as a rhinoceros. I’ve written about my love for them before, and there’s no stopping that now. I’m too old to change my ways – and anyway, for me the good easily outweighs the bad, even if the ‘bad’ gets progressively more challenging every year. Only the other day I heard that Tyler and co hinted at a farewell tour in 2017. Was I sad to hear the news? No, just like finding out your abusive parent was hit by a bus, it’ll be nice for them to go away to a place where they can’t do any more harm. And anyway, the news of Steven Tyler’s forthcoming country album was the thing that really filled me with dread.
So Moo was curious I guess, maybe wanting to know what makes me tick, and a woeful list in the Guardian prompted him to ask me for mine. He promised to make a Spotify playlist of the offending tracks, give it a fair listen and report back accordingly.
So the challenge: boil down my love of Aerosmith into just ten songs, and put together a list of tracks that Moo won’t turn up his nose to; an impossible feat. Aerosmith’s songs are in my DNA, my favourites change on a weekly basis, and they’d change drastically depending on who was asking.
I decided from the start to avoid the ‘big three’ – Dream On, Walk This Way and Sweet Emotion. I didn’t want to waste my precious ten choices on songs that everybody knows (even though Moo claimed to have never heard Dream On before). The other important thing for me was to draw heavily from the pre-Geffen years. I can find things I like about the Geffen years and beyond, but I think most true Aerosmith fans know that those years pale in comparison to the magic that was put down to tape in the 1970s.
First of all, my ten and my reasons behind my choices:
1. Rattlesnake Shake (Live) (Pandora’s Box, 1991 – recording from 1971)
I chose this as it’s a great example of where the band came from. Early Fleetwood Mac extended into a Yardbirds-style jam. The guitar work-out that takes up the second portion of the song is awesome.
2. Lord Of The Thighs (Get Your Wings, 1974)
After the under-produced and somewhat workaday feel of their first album, this is possibly the first real example of the band showing their cards. Of course it helps to have a decent producer on board in the form of ‘sixth-Aero’ Jack Douglas.
3. Seasons Of Wither (Get Your Wings, 1974)
Just bloody lovely. I refuse to classify this as a power ballad – there’s more to it than that – and I would offer that this is the band’s first successful attempt at creating an otherness that is usually absent from their straight-ahead rockers and slower ballads.
4. Adam’s Apple (Toys In The Attic, 1975)
A sick guitar riff. By this time, it feels like Joe Perry could come up with a riff – no matter how backwards it sounds – and the band would just effortlessly bring it to life. The dictionary definition of a deep cut, the song did eventually enjoy a brief moment in the spotlight on 1988’s Gems compilation and an even sicker live version on 1991’s Pandora’s Box.
5. No More No More(Toys In The Attic, 1975)
A sunny tale of life on the road in a rock and roll band, you can almost smell the dusty tour-bus and imagine the crumbling walls of the cheap motels. The band would have been travelling more comfortably and staying at a better class of accommodation after their stratospheric rise in the wake of this album. No matter where I am, no matter what time of day it is, the sun always shines in my mind when I play this song.
6. Last Child (Rocks, 1976)
A great example of the band’s funk-inspired beginnings (drummer Joey Kramer’s gig prior to joining the band was in a Meters-style funk outfit). It definitely sounds like white man’s funk though. You could dance to it, but it might give you a headache if you over-think it.
7. Sick As A Dog (Rocks, 1976)
From the same album, Sick As A Dog is the jewel in the crown on Rocks. This rocker features an instrumental break half way through, giving the band the chance to switch instruments. The song starts off with Joe Perry on bass and Tom Hamilton on rhythm guitar. Then in the break, Steven Tyler takes over on bass while Perry resumes guitar duties for the end solo. Awesome.
8. Krawhitham(Pandora’s Box, 1991 – recording from 1977)
This one’s an unreleased instrumental track written and played by the ‘other three’ – Joey Kramer, Brad Whitfordand Tom Hamilton – while they were waiting, bored, for Tyler and Perry to turn up to the studio. It’s my jam, to use the common parlance of the time.
9. Chiquita (Night In The Ruts, 1979)
This was being recorded just as Joe Perry walked out of the band in 1979. In his absence, Tyler took what Perry had intended to be a guitar line and turned it into a great horn part, reminiscent of the Who’s 5.15, or the Beatles’ Savoy Truffle.
10. Monkey On My Back (Pump, 1989)
This is the only post-sobriety one I’ve bothered to include. There are good songs from this period, but they’re definitely fewer and farther between. And it doesn’t make sense to include more at the expense of a song from their golden period. The Geffen years weirdly correlate with the advent of compact discs and as a result everything sounds a little too cold and clinical from here on in.
I flicked off the email to Moo and waited for the criticism to come back. It didn’t take long. Over to Moo…
“OK, I suppose. Like a million other early ‘70s bands. Nice Eddie Vedder-ish vocals though. I dispute the awesomeness of the jam at the end. It went on for far too long. At one point I thought it was never going to end.”
Lord Of The Thighs
“This is pretty good, the guitar riff and piano line sound quite sinister. Like something from a gritty ‘70s cop film. Although I’m impressed that they can sing the lyrics without laughing.”
Seasons Of Wither
“This isn’t too bad. Almost as good as early Boston.”
“This is much better. Although I’d stop short of saying it’s good.”
No More No More
“At this point, I start to think that I just won’t like them. There’s nothing wrong with this exactly, it’s just dull.”
“Is it me or does this sound like Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick? But this is the best so far; really good song.”
Sick As A Dog
“This is not very good.”
“Not bad, but it feels like a song with the singing missing, which I guess is what it is.”
“This is pretty good. Nice horns as you say. It shows that they had listened to punk and (almost) understood it.”
Monkey On My Back
*listens to the first half then presses skip*
With the benefit of hindsight, maybe I should have chosen different songs? I did think about including Aerosmith’s live cover of James Brown’s Mother Popcorn from 1978’s Live! Bootleg. It’s a funky gem, but the eleven-minute track includes a ‘hidden’ version of Draw The Line which might have tested his patience even further.
I also toyed with the idea of including the Live! Bootleg version of Walk This Way. Yes, everybody and their grandmother might have heard the song, but this version has Joe Perry playing the main riff through the talk-box effect (famous for its appearance on the intro to Sweet Emotion). It could have been very different if they had applied this guitar effect to all of their songs from this point onwards – Peter Frampton eat your heart out – but hearing it on this track just sounds weirdly out of place; a curio for sure.
Well, you can’t please all the people all the time, can you? I once gave Moo a spare copy of AC/DC’s Powerage, which turned him onto the mighty ‘DC in a way I could never have imagined. It’s a shame that a similar thing isn’t going to happen here. Perhaps Moo is hardwired to like bad Aerosmith only? I could have easily put together a Top 10 Worst Aerosmith song list, but I wouldn’t want to put him through this. Maybe I should have bought him a copy of Just Push Play and be done with it.
Ah, fuck it. For Moo it really is just a case of No More, No More.
For another ‘alternative best of Aerosmith playlist’ check out this post on the Every Record Tells A Story blog , a great site put together by fellow Aero-head Steve Carr.