Tag Archives: Aerosmith

Rocks In The Attic’s buyer’s guide to….Aerosmith (The Columbia Years)

  – 3 essential albums, an overlooked gem, a wildcard, one to avoid, and the best of the rest –

It used to be easy to categorise the different phases of Aerosmith’s career. By the 1990s, there were two distinct phases – old Aerosmith and new Aerosmith, or – if you knew your stuff – good Aerosmith and bad Aerosmith. But looking back now in 2019, those iffy albums recorded for Geffen between 1985 and 1993 can now been seen as some kind of weird, golden mid-period for the band. Because no matter what you thought of Dude (Looks Like A Lady) or Love In An Elevator, things got far, far worse when the band entered the 21st century.

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As horrific as the band’s newer material is, one thing is for sure: that classic first run of studio albums recorded on the Columbia label between 1973 and 1982 is brilliant. Blistering rock and roll, with each album building on the last until it all started to fall apart in a drug-fuelled blaze of glory. Just like the editions on AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones this Buyer’s Guide will take you through the highlights and lowlights of Aerosmith’s first decade.

Start off with: Toys In The Attic (1975, Columbia Records)

Aero2It might include two of the band’s biggest showpieces – Walk This Way and Sweet Emotion – but the brilliance of the their third album is in the space it has to breathe. From the non-stop rock of the title track through to the piano-ballad of You See Me Crying, Aerosmith show that they’re more than just long-haired heavy rockers. The plaintive Uncle Salty shows a band tackling a serious topic, Adam’s Apple proves that Joe Perry can write a sick guitar riff equal to Steven Tyler’s raspy vocals, and Big Ten Inch Record is sure to put a dirty smirk on your face. On the flipside, No More No More might just be the greatest song about touring in a rock and roll band, and Round And Round shows a heavier side of the group. Jack Douglas, given full production duties after co-producing their previous record, manages to capture the essence of a band just as they changed from New England wannabes to national rock stars.

Follow that with: Get Your Wings (1974, Columbia Records)

Aero3There’s a charm to the band’s sophomore release that they only ever got close to recapturing on 1985’s Done With Mirrors, another album which pre-empted bigger things. If their tentative, toe-in-the-water debut proved they can play, the follow-up showed a maturity in their songwriting skills. The band sounds like America’s best-kept secret, and co-producers Jack Douglas and Ray Colcord are struggling to keep a lid on everything. With the same sense of space as its breakthrough follow-up, Get Your Wings finds Aerosmith starting to hit their stride, with Lord Of The Thighs – strangely not picked as a single – serving as the blueprint for the band’s sleazy rock for the rest of the decade.

Then get: Rocks (1976, Columbia Records)

Aero4Public opinion usually places this record as the band’s greatest achievement, but for me it’s a little overcooked. Gone are the nuances of Get Your Wings and Toys In The Attic, and I instead we get 34 minutes of balls-to-the-wall rock and roll, that doesn’t let up for a second. By this time, Aerosmith and Jack Douglas were masters at their game, and the album sounds effortless as a result. But if anything, it’s just too much. Even the now-traditional piano ballad closer Home Tonight is far from subtle; it feels like enjoying a meal too quickly, and burning your mouth as a result.

Criminally overlooked: Night In The Ruts (1979, Columbia Records)

Aero5Joe Perry claimed that by 1978 they had gone from musicians dabbling with drugs, to drug addicts dabbling with music. A year later, things were really starting to come off the rails. Mid-way through recording sessions, Perry literally quit the band over spilt milk (Perry’s wife Elyssa threw a glass of milk over Tom Hamilton’s wife Terri, in a heated argument backstage). With Perry only contributing guitar parts for five songs, the remaining parts were completed by  Brad Whitford, Richie Supa, Neil Thompson, and Jimmy Crespo. Perry-clone Crespo stayed on as the band’s lead guitarist as the album, originally titled Off Your Rocker, was released as Night In The Ruts. It’s an uneven affair but definitely has its moments. Chiquita is perhaps the greatest deep cut the band ever recorded and Cheese Cake, Three Mile Smile and Bone To Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy) all show the band at their best.

The long-shot: Rock In A Hard Place (1982, Columbia Records)

Aero6The band limped on into the new decade as rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford followed Joe Perry out the door. Replaced by another Perry-clone, Rick Dufay, the new blood revitalised the band into a record that is far stronger than it deserves to be. Costing an estimate $1.5 million to record (a fortune at the time) due to Tyler’s constant drug-fuelled procrastinations, the album reunited them with Jack Douglas. The opening salvo of Jailbait, Lightning Strikes, Bitch’s Brew and Bolivian Ragamuffin feels like the last death-rattle of a band that could really have imploded there and then, had fate not intervened a couple of years later.

Avoid like the plague: Classics Live! (1986, Columbia Records)

Aero7After the band reunited and decamped to greener pastures with Geffen Records, their old record label was left with the rights to the material from their first decade. Both Classic Live! and Classics Live II feel like cynical cash-ins, to benefit from the band’s resurgence, but the first volume is particularly bad. Featuring overdubs by stand-in guitarist Jimmy Crespo, and re-touched drum sounds akin to ZZ Top’s re-worked CD remasters of their ‘70s albums, it doesn’t sound like a genuine live album. The album’s only saving grace is the inclusion of a studio outtake, Major Barbra, originally recorded for Get Your Wings.

Best compilation: Gems (1988, Columbia Records)

Aero8After 1980’s Greatest Hits included a couple of singles edited for radio (effectively removing key elements of songs, e.g. Sweet Emotion without the talk-box intro section!), Columbia issued a more representative compilation in 1988. Cashing-in on the band’s Permanent Vacation comeback, with cover-art reminiscent of the Rocks cover, Gems is a heavier album of deep cuts drawing from their first seven studio albums. The cherry on top is the studio version of Richie Supa’s Chip Away The Stone, previously only available as a live version.

Best live album: Live! Bootleg (1978, Columbia Records)

Aero9A sloppy mess of a double-LP live album, Live! Bootleg was released while the band were in no state to record a follow-up to Draw The Line. It was originally intended to be a warts-and-all recording, akin to the bootleg live recordings the cover art suggests. It actually sounds great; the band are just a mess, full of flubbed-guitar lines and incoherent vocals, and I love every minute of it. It’s not all stadium-rock bonanza though – we get a club recording of Last Child, a rehearsal space run-through of Come Together and a 1973 radio broadcast of I Ain’t Got You and Mother Popcorn.

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Yes, Aerosmith might not sail the same seas as the Led Zeppelins and Rolling Stones of the stadium-rock world, but to me they’re essential. I’m so glad this was the first band that really stung me; I’ve always found it easy to look beyond the questionable Geffen years and everything that came after it. Their first decade was brilliant and includes everything I look for in a rock band. For me, there’s simply nothing better than Toys In The Attic blasting out of the stereo on a hot summer’s day.

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Rocks In The Attic #800: Black Sabbath – ‘Paranoid’ (1970)

RITA#800Post number 800 of this humble blog finds us with one of the greatest albums in rock and metal, Black Sabbath’s Paranoid.

It’s one of those cornerstone records, like AC/DC’s Highway To Hell or Led Zeppelin IV, which just feels bigger than the sum of its parts. If the Beatles’ 1969 swansong Abbey Road served as the blueprint for rock albums for the 1970s, then Black Sabbath’s celebrated second album surely served as the heavy metal equivalent. The musical leap from Come Together to War Pigs feels like light years, but the two album openers were released only 12 months apart.

Released in the same year as their doom-laden debut album, Paranoid arrived in September 1970 on the Vertigo label in the UK (and Warner Bros. in the US market). The record company, satisfied with the band’s debut, asked for more of the same. Black Sabbath was recorded in one day, a marathon sprint of twelve hours, but for Paranoid the band were afforded the luxury of a whole six days to record.

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Much has been written about hit-single Paranoid being written in five minutes, tossed off to make up one last song for the album. Bassist Geezer Butler claims it was done and dusted in two hours, from the moment Tony Iommi came up with the monster guitar riff, to the band laying down the track to finish off the album. But as good as the song is, its oversaturation on rock radio makes it one of the least interesting things about the record.

Things start off with War Pigs, the quintessential long-form metal song. A languorous opening and ominous sirens announce something big is on the horizon, before the song stops dead. Bill Ward’s hi-hat counts in Iommi’s stabbing power chords, as Ozzy Osbourne sings the opening verse. This leads to the main riff, before it breaks down again. Clocking in at almost eight minutes, the song doesn’t ever get boring.

Black Sabbath File Photos

After the comparatively throwaway title track, the band slips into neutral on the stoner favourite Planet Caravan, before picking up speed again on the album’s other big guitar centrepiece, Iron Man. Across those first four songs, Iommi provides some of the genre’s greatest guitar riffs – War Pigs alone has half a dozen different sections – and it makes for the best ‘side’ of metal until perhaps the second-side of AC/DC’s Back In Black or the first side of Def Leppard’s Hysteria (both of which would have been categorised as metal before history downgraded them to heavy rock).

RITA#800cSilverchair’s debut Frogstomp from 1995 is a good example of a Sabbath-influenced metal album that matches the riffs-per-song ratio of Paranoid. But for the rest of the band’s career, Iommi would be a little less generous with his riffs. Paranoid’s less celebrated second side is therefore more representative of the albums that followed: moderate-tempo doom-based rockers with screaming banshee vocals, usually based around one or two killer riffs per song.

Paranoid was the first Sabbath album I heard, and so it was my gateway into the band. After digesting everything I could from Aerosmith and AC/DC, I skipped the Allman Brothers and shifted to the ‘B’ section of the record shop. But like AC/DC’s albums, I was always a little let down by Sabbath’s mid-90s CD remasters. Aerosmith’s CD remasters had great little fold-out booklets with photos and artwork from the albums’ promotional campaigns. In comparison, AC/DC, Sabbath and Motörhead had nothing in their reissues – usually just a tracklisting. I’d have loved an essay, or some retrospective liner notes, but maybe record companies don’t think heavy metal fans can read?

Hit: Paranoid

Hidden Gem: Planet Caravan

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Rocks In The Attic #717: Desmond Child & Rouge – ‘Desmond Child & Rouge’ (1979)

RITA#717My quest to purchase every Aerosmith-related record continues with this, the 1979 debut album by Desmond Child and his vocal group, Rouge.

In 1987, Desmond Child was one of the first ‘song doctors’ employed by Aerosmith to co-write radio-friendly hits to re-energise their career. He co-wrote the Permanent Vacation singles Dude (Looks Like A Lady) and Angel – which hit #14 and #3 on the Billboard chart respectively – and the album opener Heart’s Done Time.

His success with Bon Jovi dwarfs his first run with Aerosmith – a year before Permanent Vacation he co-wrote You Give Love A Bad Name and Living On A Prayer, both hitting #1 for the New Jersey band. Aerosmith manager Tim Collins and Geffen A&R man John Kalodner knew what they were doing in seeking Child’s services.

Child Services?!?!?

Desmond Child would continue to work with Aerosmith throughout their tenure at Geffen. He contributed to What It Takes and F.I.N.E. from 1989’s Pump, Crazy and Flesh from 1993’s Get A Grip and finally Hole In My Soul from 1997’s Nine Lives.

He’s an integral figure in that late-‘80s hard rock scene, writing and producing the entirety of Alice Cooper’s 1989 album Trash, and working with the likes of Kiss, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Ratt, Steve Vai.

So what does this 1979 ‘solo’ record sound like? Well, you can definitely hear the genesis of a hit-making song-writer in there. It’s perhaps closest to Bon Jovi than any of his other associates. ‘Hit single’ (according to the hype sticker, but only if reaching #51 is your definition of a hit) Our Love Is Insane definitely has a killer bass line, and the playing (by studio musicians) is without fault throughout the record.

Child shares vocal duties with the three singers in Rouge – Myriam Valle, Maria Vidal, and Diana Grasselli – and they give the album a soulful, Chic / Sister Sledge feeling. This turns out to be the record’s downfall. It tries to be everything – soul, rock, pop, funk – and doesn’t pull strongly enough in either direction. Jack of all trades, master of none.

Hit: Our Love Is Insane

Hidden Gem: City In Heat

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Rocks In The Attic #662: Brian Gascoigne – ‘Phase IV (O.S.T.)’ (1974)

RITA#662.jpgIf I walk into my local branch of the Warehouse (a general merchandise superstore chain in New Zealand), I can find practically anything. High-end TVs, underwear, plants, shoes, deodorant, children’s toys – there’s practically no limit to what they range.

In the last decade, they’ve started to stock LPs. I’ve had a few good deals from there over the years, but mostly they deal with common denominator titles. As soon as I approach the racks – usually very poorly displayed – I know what I’m going to see. Brothers In Arms sits next to every AC/DC studio album under the sun, three corner-dinged copies of Dark Side Of The Moon will be there, sat behind the latest overpriced Ed Sheeran record, but if I’m lucky there will be something that takes me completely by surprise (Aerosmith’s awesome 1973 Paul’s Mall bootleg being my greatest find so far).

In fact, I’ve seen so many copies of AC/DC records there, I actually think it might explain why Back In Black is one of the best-selling records of all time – the Warehouse made a stocktake error, and there are still eight million copies sat on their shelves.

It just goes to show that while the big chain stores try to get on the vinyl revival bandwagon, they’ll nearly always miss the needs of the niche record collector.

At the other end of the spectrum exists a boutique record label – Waxwork Records – founded by Kevin Bergeron in New Orleans in 2013. Their primary focus is the preservation and release of horror soundtracks – particularly cult films from the ‘70s and ‘80s – but their output so far has ranged from soundtracks as diverse as Bernard Herrmann’s Taxi Driver, Éric Serra’s Leon: The Professional, and Barry Devorzon’s The Warriors, to original music like PILOTPRIEST’s Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (currently glued to my turntable).

RITA#662aTheir specialty however is sourcing out-of-print soundtracks or, in some cases, music from films that never had a soundtrack release in any format upon release. There’s a detective element to their work then (more information on which can be found here); a level of research that you would usually only see from archivists and historians on the behalf of major-label acts (the nth Beatle Mark Lewisohn, for example).

1974’s Phase IV is one such film that never had a soundtrack commercially released in any format. The score was therefore considered lost until Bergeron and team tracked it down and issued it as catalogue number WW008.

The film is probably best known for being the sole directorial work of legendary graphic designer Saul Bass – the man behind the artwork and title sequences of films by Otto Preminger, Alfred Hitchock, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese. It’s a little-known science-fiction horror, concerning the work of two scientists as they attempt to prevent the spread of killer ants.

What sets the film apart from other sci-fi and horror films are the sections showing the behaviour of the ants. Filmed in extreme close-up, the shots of these real ants are more natural history documentary than what you’d expect to see from a film in either genre, but the impact is more effective than any special effect could muster. In such close detail, the ants are as terrifying and horrific as any alien or movie monster could be.

The music, from composer Brian Gascoigne, is a synth-laden slice of 1970’s futurism fused with more traditional instruments which give the film a whistful, rustic feel. Split into four tracks, named after each section of the film – Phase I, Phase II, Phase III and Phase IV – the soundtrack feels more like a prog record in its attempt to evoke an eerie tone, rather than the traditional soundtrack approach of individual music cues.

One interesting sidenote is that Phase IV features the first cinematic depiction of a geometric crop circle (built, in this case, by the killer ants). The initial release of the film came a full two years before any news reports of crop circles in the UK, and is therefore seen as a potential influencer on those who started the practice in the late ‘70s.

Hit: Phase I

Hidden Gem: Phase III

Rocks In The Attic #656: Rick Dufay – ‘Tender Loving Abuse’ (1980)

RITA#656Rick Dufay was, for one brief period, instantly famous as rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford’s temporary replacement in Aerosmith.

‘Steven [Tyler]’s motorcycle thing happened and everything just stopped,’ Whitford recounts in Walk This Way, the band’s semi-autobiography with Stephen Davis. ‘Nothing was going on and I was bored and very frustrated. We all were. Aerosmith was in chaos, with Steven in and out of drugs and rehab.’

During the Rock In A Hard Place sessions, which began in September 1981, Whitford didn’t gel with Jimmy Crespo, the lead guitarist drafted in to replace Joe Perry. ‘Jimmy was a trained musician, a stickler for getting things precise. I found it hard to work with that attitude. Joe and I, we didn’t have to say two words to each other about the guitar parts. It was a big part of the guitar magic that had sustained Aerosmith for ten years.’ He called the band’s manager and quit the band. ‘Tell the guys, okay? Sorry, man. Goodbye.’

RITA#656aAlthough Whitford had contributed to the sessions, they erased his parts and the resulting album was performed by Crespo with drummer Joey Kramer and bassist Tom Hamilton. Only a guitar part on Lightning Strikes remains as Whitford’s solitary contribution.

The band needed a new rhythm guitarist, and producer Jack Douglas had just the right guy in mind. He had just produced the first solo album of an emerging rock guitarist. ‘So I brought in Rick Dufay, a true character, a kindred spirit. I thought he would mesh well with the band, so we flew him to Florida and he joined Aerosmith. I think he played on one track on the album, Lightning Strikes.’

Dufay couldn’t have been more of a contrast to the quiet, reserved Brad Whitford. ‘Rick Dufay was a friend of Jack’s, a guitar player, a total asshole, and we loved him,’ Tyler remembers. ‘Rick just so defined what a fuckin’ asshole is. He would come up and spit in my face. He would do something brain-dead and just beg Jack to beat the shit out of him.’

RITA#656bIt wasn’t a great combination. By this time, Tyler was strung out on heroin on a daily basis, and Dufay more than anything enabled this kind of behaviour. The lead singer had found a new partner in crime. ‘Rick would try anything. He’d been in a mental institution, broke out of his cell, jumped out of a third-floor window and survived. I used to make him explain this to me over and over. “How high were you? Weren’t you afraid you were gonna kill yourself?” “Yeah,” Dufay replied, “but the birds were calling me.”’

Onstage, things were even worse. ‘Dufay didn’t give a shit,’ Kramer recounts, ‘because for him it was all an image thing. Rick would fix his hair onstage, his guitar just hanging there loose and ringing, while Jimmy’s playing his fuckin’ heart out. It drove Jimmy to drugs.’

When Perry’s manager Tim Collins orchestrated Perry and Whitford’s return to Aerosmith in 1984, the writing was on the wall for Crespo and Dufay. ‘It was obvious what had to happen,’ Hamilton remembers. ‘Rick Dufay was even telling us we had to get back together with Joe. But I still feel kind of bad about Jimmy Crespo. I feel weird that we never sat down with Jimmy and said, “Man, you did so fuckin’ great, but we gotta put the band back together and someday we hope we can make it right for you.” Always meant to call him. Never did.’ [Hamilton’s thoughts on playing with Crespo and Dufay can be found here in this great 1982 interview).

RITA#656cOther than his guitar part on Lightning Strikes – and who knows who played what on that song, between Crespo, Whitford and Dufay – his only other appearance on an official Aerosmith release is in the music video for Lightning Strikes. Here he’s every bit as cocksure and arrogant as his reputation suggests, swaggering through the song looking like his idol Ron Wood. In contrast, Crespo just looks like a reanimated scarecrow. As well as showing the band playing the song in a recording studio, the video is interspersed with cut-scenes in which they stand in a dark alley, hamming it up for the cameras, as a gang of greased-up street punks. It has the charm of early MTV, and bizarrely the guitar solo is accompanied by a montage of exploding cantaloupe melons.

Dufay’s solo album Tender Loving Abuse isn’t the greatest rock record you’ve never heard. It exists purely as a curio for Aerosmith fans. It’s well produced – thanks to Douglas – and is perhaps the most sleaziest, most ­Aerosmith-sounding solo record by any of the band members. Whitford / St.Holmes is too AOR-sounding, and Perry’s run of ever-decreasing-circles solo albums suffer from a number of mediocre lead vocalists. In fact, if anything it’s the vocals which let Dufay’s record down also. He tackles lead vocals himself but it’s clear that he doesn’t have the range to pull off such a feat and as a result, the blistering guitar work is sidelined by his overstretched vocal delivery.

One can only wonder what an Aerosmith album would have sounded like with Dufay contributing to the sessions. Alongside Perry or Crespo, or even in a combination somehow with Whitford, I imagine it would have sounded awesome.

Hit: Love Is The Only Way

Hidden Gem: Straight Jacket

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Rocks In The Attic #650: Pantera – ‘Far Beyond Bootleg – Live From Donington ’94’ (2014)

RITA#650If there was ever a music festival that I wish I had attended, it’s this one – Monsters Of Rock, Donington on Saturday 4th June 1994. It’s the first festival I remember really wanting to go to, but it was out of the question – I was only 15, I couldn’t afford it and even if I could, my parents wouldn’t have let me go just in case I consequently became addicted to heroin. Or, even worse, became a fan of the band Extreme.

What a line-up though. Two stages. The main stage headlined by Aerosmith, with the rest of the bill including Extreme, Sepultura, Pantera, Therapy? and Pride & Glory. The second stage appealed to me even more – headlined by the Wildhearts, this also featured Terrorvision, Skin, Biohazard, Cry Of Love and Headswim.

I think up to this weekend, my head was firmly planted in classic rock. I just listened to Aerosmith and pretty much nothing else. But then MTV aired an hour-long special on the Monsters Of Rock festival, presented by Vanessa Warwick and featuring past performances and music videos of the acts playing that year. As I did with everything else at the time, I recorded it on VHS.

RITA#650aThat tape ended up being one of my favourite recordings, and I’d watch it repeatedly. Most importantly, it introduced me to AC/DC via the AC/DC Live cut of For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) from Donington ’91. It also introduced me to the Wildhearts, by way of the Suckerpunch video. Those two bands became my next obsession after Aerosmith.

The MTV special also introduced me to Iron Maiden with their Fear Of The Dark performance at Donington’92, and Zakk Wylde’s Pride & Glory via their Losin’ Your Mind´ video. I might still have the video somewhere.  The ’94 line-up also justified a couple of bands that I was already interested in, and would go on to see live many times over the next couple of years – Headswim, Terrorvision, Skin and Therapy?.

I’ve picked up a couple of bootlegs from the festival over the years – Aerosmith and the Wildheart’s headlining sets, but sadly only on CD. So it was a welcome sight to see Pantera’s set see an official release. Listening to it now, I so wish I was there, drinking warm beer in the sun.

Hit: Walk

Hidden Gem: Fucking Hostile

Rocks In The Attic #640: Otis Rush – ‘The Classic Recordings’ (1985)

RITA#640The great Chicago bluesman Otis Rush will forever be remembered as the man who wrote All Your Love, his eighth A-side, featured here as the first song on this compilation. The song later found a wider audience by introducing the world to Eric Clapton by way of John Mayall’s Blues Breakers record in 1966 – however it was Aerosmith’s cover, from 1991’s Pandora’s Box collection of outtakes and demos, which first turned me onto the song.

Otis Rush is also synonymous with Led Zeppelin. He was the first artist to record I Can’t Quit You Baby, written by Willie Dixon and later covered by Zeppelin on their eponymous 1969 debut record and featured twice on their BBC Sessions collection.

Rush was discovered by Dixon in 1956, and it is Dixon who is credited for getting Rush signed to a record contract (with Abco Records). Dixon plays bass across each of the eight singles (A- and B-sides) which make up this record, backing Rush on vocals and guitar (a young Ike Turner even pops up on guitar on the last two singles).

The quirk of Otis Rush is that he is left-handed, but plays right-handed strung guitars flipped upside down (with the low E string at the bottom). Now that’s the kind of left-handed guitar player us right-handers need to be friends with!

Hit: All Your Love

Hidden Gem: Sit Down Baby