Tonight – Wednesday 24th April 2013 – I will see Aerosmith play in Dunedin, New Zealand. It will be the fifth time I have seen the band, almost exactly twenty years to the day that I was first became a fan, and almost twenty years since I first saw them play live. To celebrate the milestone of reaching 250 posts, and to explain why I’m trekking to the opposite end of the country – on my own! – to see them play, I’m going to write about the album that served as my introduction to the band.
On Sunday April 18th 1993 (I know the exact date because I remember the League Cup Final was on television), I was at a crossroads. I was 14 years old and didn’t really have a direction outside of school. I didn’t care for sports, and I’d only really dabbled with music up to that point. I was doing alright at school – I certainly wasn’t a disillusioned youth without any friends – but I had run out of hobbies and interests. I had tried to follow football, mainly because most of my friends did, but it never felt natural. In fact, if you were a boy growing up in deepest, darkest northern England in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, there was something considered wrong with you if you didn’t like football. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t want to conform.
I remember my parents were away that weekend – on holiday somewhere – and so I turned on the television to watch the cup final between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday. I gave it 15 or 20 minutes before boredom set in and I flicked through the channels. Ending up on MTV, I landed on a music video showing a rock band playing a song on an elaborate stage set. The singer was sliding on his back, down a ramp on the stage, while the guitarist – dressed in cow-print leather trousers – was playing an screaming guitar solo.
A light turned on in my head – this was Aerosmith – and the light’s been on ever since.
I had seen the band before – I remember Top Of The Pops once showing the camcorder-shot video for What It Takes, which would have been early 1990, but I didn’t really take any notice at the time. I can just remember a load of American guys, with fluffy poodle hair and dressed in lots – lots! – of denim, playing along to a song in a recording studio. Boring, no?
This was different though. The song – Love In An Elevator – hit me like a truck. I didn’t feel like I was waiting for something to happen to me, but something did. I’m not saying I had a religious experience, but from that point on, music was definitely my thing.
As soon as Love In An Elevator finished, another Aerosmith video started. I looked in the corner of the screen and a logo declared it was AEROSMITH WEEKEND (I later found out this was to promote their new album, Get A Grip, which was released the following day, Monday the 20th). I threw a VHS tape into the machine (man, I feel old), and recorded the rest of the day’s content. I would watch that video over and over, familiarising myself with the band’s hits over the last twenty years.
The following Saturday, I took the bus into Manchester and bought Pump on CD from the Our Price record store next to Boots on Market Street. I only had enough money to buy one album, and I didn’t want to take the risk of buying Get At Grip. I only had the video for Livin’ On The Edge to go on, and by this time I was very familiar with Pump’s four music videos.
We then went on a family road trip down to Cornwall, and I listened to Pump endlessly on my walkman. On our first day in Newquay, I bought a second-hand copy of Toys In The Attic on cassette, and the albums – two of Aerosmith’s best – became the soundtrack to my holiday. At that point, I didn’t really have a preference for which version of the band I preferred – the older Aerosmith from the 1970s, or this newer incarnation of the band (that seemed to sound just as young as they did when they were in their early twenties). I would very quickly turn into an advocate of the band’s initial run of albums on the Columbia label, but at this point in time, I was all about Pump.
Looking back, Pump hasn’t aged terribly well. It really is a product, and one of the best examples, of the glam-inflected late ‘80s rock scene, an outdated relic for the punk ethos of grunge to be angry about. Production-wise, the album has a clarity that feels like a mutated progression from Steely Dan’s Aja, almost as if every studio engineer had been following that album’s ground-breaking template up to this point. The clarity of the recording dates the album, and the absence of any rough edges makes it come across in today’s musical climate as a cartoonish example of ‘rock done wrong’.
I still love the album, and I think I always will. Here’s a track-by-track explanation of the reasons why (and you’d better put a lifejacket on, as I’m about to gush)…
Track 1: Young Lust
You’d better keep your daughter inside, or she’s gonna get a dose of my pride…
A great album needs a great opening track, and Pump has two of them. Young Lust and F.I.N.E. are virtually inseparable to my ears, and thanks to the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it segue between the two tracks, I sometimes forget which of the two songs I’m listening to. They complement each other so well, I just hear them as one song.
Young Lust is Steven Tyler’s frenetic explanation of his sex addiction, and proof that the collective libido of this band is very much alive. He credits the sexual overtones to “making up for the lost time” he spent using drugs instead of having sex in the 1970s. The energy in Young Lust doesn’t let up, and given some of the more middle-of-the-road AOR aspect of the previous album, Permanent Vacation, this track acts as a declaration of the heavier direction the band were taking.
Track 2: F.I.N.E.
I shove my tongue right between your cheeks, I haven’t made love now for 24 weeks, I hear that you’re so tight now your lovin’ squeaks, and I’m ready, so ready…
Fucked up, neurotic and emotional!
There’s a conversation in the Making Of Pump film where Brad Whitford clearly states to Tyler and Perry that he doesn’t want to call the album F.I.N.E. – one of the proposed suggestions. Although the chosen title of the album fits nicely with the ethos of the band – that they are pumped and ready (to take the American meaning of the word) – the word ‘pump’ has other connotations outside of the USA. In Britain, it’s a childish term for flatulence, so you can imagine the sniggers that this title provokes amongst early adolescents. The other meaning of Pump – as slang for sexual intercourse – also doesn’t travel particularly well, but you can understand the allure of the title. There’s a scene in The Making Of Pump where Joe Perry explains to Tyler that his own Mother couldn’t even pronounce the title because it embarrassed her so much. I guess if you’re in the rock n’ roll business, and you’re not shocking your parents, you’re not doing it right.
If Young Lust was dirty and full of sexual innuendo, the lyrics of F.I.N.E. manage to go one step further. That lyric where he rasps about sticking his tongue between his lover’s cheeks sounds so Spinal Tap, you can almost imagine David St. Hubbins singing it in one of the verses of Big Bottom or Sex Farm.
As if to further provoke the PMRC, Tyler namechecks Tipper Gore in the song – alongside Joe Perry of course – and it’s amazing that the album was released without a ‘Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics’ sticker. That tends to happen with conservative America – it never reads between the lines. Tyler once read a newspaper article in 1976 which talked about “how disgusting rock lyrics are, and they used ‘Walk This Way’ as an example of how lyrics should be nice and wholesome. I couldn’t believe it. Obviously, they didn’t get the meaning of ‘you aint’ seen nothin’ till you’re down on a muffin’.
Track 3: Going Down / Love In An Elevator
I’m bettin’ on the dice I’m tossin’, I’m gonna have a fantasy…
Probably the one song most guilty of turning Aerosmith into a camp novelty rock act, Love In An Elevator is an unfairly maligned rock masterpiece. If you say ‘Aerosmith’ to somebody, they’ll immediately return the name of this song as the one thing they associate the band with. It’s stuck in there, like a mental Rorschach test that everybody in the world has agreed on, or as though ‘Aerosmith’ is a foreign word which translated back into English, means ‘love in an elevator’.
If you took the lyric out, and replaced it with something a little more banal and pedestrian, people would view the song differently. Yes, it has a cheesy chorus – “Whoa!…Whoa-Yeah!” – but if you ignore this too (I understand I’m digging very deep here), it’s an awesome guitar work-out between Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, with screaming, duelling guitar solos. It is a fantastic song – and probably the song that first got me hooked on the band.
Tyler credits the song as a natural progression from Dude (Looks Like A Lady), and you can sort of see why. The band had returned from the brink of disaster, and registered their comeback with a 1987 single that hit #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 – their highest placing since 1976. Left to their own devices to try and repeat that success, Tyler wrote a lyric about naughty things going on in an office.
The unfortunate side effect was that the band became known for novelty rock singles, and this undermined the more serious body of work they put together throughout the 1970s. As a measure of how Love In An Elevator has penetrated popular culture throughout the world, you only have to think about how non-Americans have no problem saying the name of the song. Nobody outside of North America refers to that method of transportation as an elevator, and so it becomes an Americanism that the rest of the globe seems to be happy to accept.
Anyway, Love In A Lift just doesn’t have that same ring to it, and Love On An Escalator has the added danger of getting things trapped in machinery..
Track 4: Monkey On My Back
You best believe I had it all and then I blew it, feedin’ that fuckin’ monkey on my back…
The Making Of Pump film shows the band jamming on an early version of this song, and it sounds pretty terrible. It doesn’t lend itself well to acoustic guitars – probably one of the reasons it was recorded for Aerosmith’s Unplugged set, but edited out of the transmission. Tyler is then shown declaring his love for the song, defending it against producer Bruce Fairbairn who wants to put it on the backburner and concentrate on other tracks.
I’m glad they persevered as Monkey On My Back is my favourite song on the album. I’m not a huge fan of slide guitar, mainly because of its association with Country & Western music and inbreeding, but Joe Perry’s distorted slide guitar is always a highlight of his playing. From Draw The Line to Rag Doll, his slide playing always manages to sound cool, and a million miles away from lap-steel country slide.
Track 5: Water Song / Janie’s Got A Gun
What did her Daddy do? It’s Janie’s last I.O.U…
For me Janie’s Got A Gun is the first album on Pump where I’ll switch off mentally. Guitar-wise there isn’t much going on, except a very nice acoustic guitar solo by Joe Perry, so apart from that the song does nothing for me. Yes, it deals with a shocking subject – that of incest and sexual abuse – but I don’t really want to listen to that sort of thing out of choice. It seems very strange to feature a song about sexual abuse, in the middle of an album about sex, written by a self-confessed sex addict.
Aerosmith aren’t strangers to writing a song about social issues. They’ve even wrote about child abuse before, on Uncle Salty from Toys In The Attic, so in that respect Janie’s Got A Gun doesn’t shock as much as it should do.
The song is notable for having a music video directed by a young David Fincher, three years before his first film as director (the doomed Alien³). That atmospheric video works well with the tone of the song – a piano-driven oddity that comes across as a distant relative of 1973’s Dream On.
Track 6: Dulcimer Stomp / The Other Side
You love me, you hate me, I tried to take the loss, you’re cryin’ me a river but I got to get across…
When you’re 14 years old, and you haven’t got much money to buy music, the number of tracks on an album is always something you pay much more attention to than you really should. “Hmm, I could pay £15 for this album with 12 songs on it, or I could buy that album for £12 with 15 songs on it. Decisions, decisions…”.
Unfortunately I bought some of my earliest record purchases using that very same logic – which is probably why I avoided Pink Floyd for so long. Pump is a perfect example of an album’s tracklisting making it sound like there’s more content on there than there actually is. Love In An Elevator and Janie’s Got A Gun both have intro tracks which precede them, but we’re talking mere seconds of dialogue or random instrumentation. The intro track that leads into The Other Side however is a real song, albeit a very short instrumental that runs at only 50 seconds. It’s a folkish blast of country, performed in collaboration with Randy Raine-Reusch, a musician whose speciality is odd and unique instruments from around the world.
The Other Side is probably the most straightforward pop song on the album – it’s my favourite of the four singles, and is great for anybody who loves a bit of brass in a rock song (see The Who’s 5:15, The Beatles’ Savoy Truffle and Aerosmith’s earlier Chiquita). It’s straightforward in the sense that it doesn’t have a novelty lyric, it doesn’t deal with a shocking social issue, and it isn’t a pastiche of country & western (more on that later). It isn’t exactly formulaic however. The guitar riff that plays of the start of every verse, which Tyler is shown directing Perry to play in the Making Of Pump film, is so odd and out of time, that away from the confines of the song you’d have trouble understanding where it might fit into a four and a half minute radio hit. It’s also odd that the intro to the song marks the second time on the album that Tyler hums the melody or guitar line (the first example being the intro riff to Love In An Elevator). The art of humming must have been enjoying a renaissance in the late ‘80s – either that or Tyler felt the need to use up as many tracks and overdubs as he possibly could.
The strangest thing about The Other Side is that somebody – and I’m not sure who – decided that the song sounded a little too much like Standing In The Shadows Of Love by The Four Tops. The writers of the song, Holland, Dozier & Holland, threatened to sue Aerosmith for plagiarism, and so later copies of the album credit the song to Steven Tyler, Jim Vallance, Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. When you hear the two songs back to back, you can hear the similarity in the two melodies, but only just. Essentially it’s a similar run of four musical notes played in ascending order, and comes across to me as coincidence and nothing more. You could say the same about the ‘What did her Daddy do?’ lyric in Janie’s Got A Gun, but once you start looking for things like this, where do you stop.
I often wonder if The Other Side came onto the radar of the folk at Motown Records because of the name of the song that would follow it, the unrelated My Girl.
Track 7: My Girl
Day after day, the same old grind, and grind and grind and grind….
My Girl is the first song on Pump that I’d consider as a filler track, or an album track. On a lesser album, you could imagine it being considered as a single, but alongside the rest of Pump it struggles to lift its head above more commercial-sounding tracks. It does match the energy of those first two tracks on the album though, and I wonder if it would fit better as the third song on the album, rather than tucked away on the second side, where it serves as the first song in the album’s only lull in quality.
Track 8: Don’t Get Mad, Get Even
Then you catch your girlfriend, with her skirt hiked up to here, honey, don’t get mad, get even…
The worst song on the album, Don’t Get Mad, Get Even has a nice little didgeridoo and harmonica intro (again with Steven Tyler humming the melody line), but then descends into nothing. It almost sounds as though they had a chorus, and tried to write a song around it. The verses are almost non-existent, and any intentional laid-back groove is destroyed by a real headbanger’s approach to the chorus.
Track 9: Hoodoo / Voodoo Medicine Man
Livin’ lovin’ gettin’ loose, masturbatin’ with a noose, now someone’s kickin’ out the chair…
This song is very Brad Whitford. It fits well with No More No More from 1975’s Toys In The Attic, and Round And Round from 1976’s Rocks. Aerosmith songs co-written by Whitford are usually either incredibly funky (eg. Last Child), or really heavy, like this.
The spoken-word introduction, Hoodoo, sounds really nice and echoes Prelude To Joanie, the similar dreamlike introduction to Joanie’s Butterfly from 1982’s Rock In A Hard Place. When the song gets going, it really does get going – the heaviest song on Aerosmith’s heaviest album.
Girl, before I met you I was F.I.N.E. fine, but your love made me a prisoner, yeah my heart’s been doing time…
I love What It Takes. It’s a great song, and the only real ballad on the album. Joe Perry originally held a view that the band should never play ballads, and that unless they played a slow blues, they should always remain up-tempo. That viewpoint seems to have been overlooked in recent years. As much as it pains me to say it, Aerosmith are now as regarded as much for their ballads as they are for their rock songs. And What It Takes is the reason why.
Yes, the band had crossed over into syrupy ballads before, but they were always rock-driven (aside from the occasional woeful power-ballad like Permanent Vacation’s Angel. What It Takes is something else entirely – it’s a pastiche of a country & western bar-room sing-along. Steven Tyler even sings some of the lyrics in a faux-country styling, a la Mick Jagger on the likes of Country Honk and Dead Flowers.
Even though What It Takes took Aerosmith down a path where they can realistically be accused of selling out, I still love the song. There’s even an alternate video, put together with offcuts from The Making Of Pump that plays a little better than the original MTV video.
B-Side: Ain’t Enough
One’s just too many, but a thousand’s not enough, and you can’t make up your mind, playing blind man’s bluff…
There’s also one additional track from the Pump sessions that saw the light of day around the same time that the album was released. Ain’t Enough was the B-side on the Love In An Elevator single (I still have the 3” CD single – yes a CD that’s half the size of a normal CD, why didn’t that take off, specifically for singles?). Other tracks from the Pump sessions have seen the light of day since – usually in re-recorded form, but Ain’t Enough is the only track that was released in promotion of the album.
If it were up to me, and it’s not, I’d switch out this song for Don’t Get Mad Get Even. Ain’t Enough doesn’t break any new musical ground – it’s a B-side remember – but I do think it has more going for it than Don’t Get Mad Get Even.
There’s a couple of other things that compliment Pump that are well worth mentioning. I’ve referred to The Making Of Pump throughout this post, and it really is essential viewing if you like the album, the band, or even just rock music in general.
Looking back now, it does seem slightly dated. The sections showing the band writing and recording in the studio are still fantastic – recorded on a standard, grainy camcorder of the day – but the talking head segments are a little off, recorded against a stark white infinity screen, with each individual band member talking to the camera amongst random props (including, bizarrely, a stepladder). Tyler uses the occasion to reel off some of his best pearls of wisdom, while the rest of the band look on, in varying degrees of discomfort.
Making-of documentaries are usually retrospectives, but here we see the band in the studio, and it’s really eye-opening to see the album take shape amongst petty arguements, hissy fits (Joe Perry: “Don’t tell me what to do!”) and appeasement of record company exec (John Kalodner really does come across as a very had man to please).
The other notable appearances when promoting the album are the band’s guest appearance on The Simpsons (including a nice version of Young Lust on the closing credits), and the band’s guest appearance on Saturday Night Live, including a live rendition of Janie’s Got A Gun, and one of the funniest Wayne’s World sketches, alongside guest presenter Tom Hanks.
All in all, I might only listen to Pump once a year or so, but whenever I do it always magically transports me to the age of 14, before I turned into such a cynic and when the possibilities of rock music – and music in general – first seemed endless.
Hit: Love In An Elevator
Hidden Gem: Monkey On My Back