Tag Archives: Get A Grip

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 #600: Aerosmith – ‘Get A Grip’ (1993)

RITA#600During their formation in the early 1970s, Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry initially rejected Steven Tyler’s proto-power ballad Dream On, believing that the only type of slow song the band should play was a slow blues. Perry was somehow won over (overruled? blackmailed?) by Tyler and they recorded the song in late 1972. It was a high point on the band’s self-titled 1973 debut, eventually becoming one of the band’s biggest hits, peaking at #6 on the U.S. Billboard Top 200 upon its re-release as a single in 1976.

Twenty years on, and Perry’s principles have been left behind in rehab with his various drug addictions. Either that or his accountant has managed to point out how many Ferraris and swimming pools Tyler’s ballads have paid for in the intervening decades. Their eleventh studio album, Get A Grip shows that Perry has all but given up in the struggle against Tyler’s proclivity towards slower, commercial songs.

Things don’t start well, with Tyler rapping – yes, rapping – over a drum loop. A snippet of their well-known Walk This Way riff completes the heavy-handed reference to the band’s crossover hit with Run-D.M.C., before making way for some Polynesian drums and the first song proper, Eat The Rich. It sets the scene well, with a heavy riff and a ballsy production by Bruce Fairbairn aimed at a grunge / alternative rock audience.

Something isn’t quite right though. Over their two previous records, Permanent Vacation (1987) and Pump (1989), Aerosmith showed that they could succeed by employing external songwriters. But Pump, the more successful of those albums, still had a decent proportion – 60% – of self-penned songs. With Get A Grip however, Aerosmith put almost all of the album – thirteen out of fifteen songs – into the hands of ‘song doctors’. As a result, the band sound less and less like the 1970s classic rock versions of themselves, and more and more like something created in a school for performing arts.

The album has no less than seven singles (released over a fourteen-month span), and this is where the album loses focus. It’s almost as if they were trying to create an album of singles, a ready-made Greatest Hits compilation. Released smack-bang in that early-‘90s period when nearly all rock albums tended to be sixty-plus minute affairs, the only limits were the band’s imagination (and the running length of a compact disc). As a result, it lacks the cohesion of Pump, and has far too much filler material.

Joe Perry should be happy though. The album contains a more than adequate dose of straightforward rockers, and he even gets to sing a self-penned number (the refreshing Walk On Down). However, it isn’t power ballads that Perry should be looking out for; Steven Tyler has a new weapon in his arsenal – country-rock. Be afraid, be very afraid.

One of the most joyous moments on Pump was its final song What It Takes – a slow-burning country-tinged ballad, co-written by Tyler and Perry with Desmond Child. Something about it didn’t seem serious though. Tyler hams it up by singing the lyrics in a southern drawl, and it sounds more like the band is having fun playing in a different style than a serious attempt at a change in genre.

Fast forward four years and either Tyler has been bitten by the country bug or somebody has pointed out how lucrative the country market is. Two of Get A Grip’s singles – Cryin’ and Crazy – are unashamedly country rock, and this time the band aren’t playing around. They’re deadly serious. By 1993, two of Garth Brooks’ four albums had debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 – a feat Aerosmith could only dream of at that point – so it’s difficult to view their change of direction without a degree of cynicism. Get A Grip would be their first record to peak at #1, so maybe the left turn into country music paid off.

The album does have some high-points– the cosmic jam of Gotta Love It finds them channelling the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Line Up is a welcome collaboration with Lenny Kravitz and Boogie Man might just be the weirdest, most soothing guitar instrumental you’ve ever heard after Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross.

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The Get A Grip tour programme

But it’s the big singles that are the showcase of the album. Released a month in advance, Living On The Edge is a weighty rocker, with the band in important-message-to-the-youth-of-today mode. It’s so earnest; a million miles away from the band who had recently been singing about transvestites and sex in elevators. The other notable hits – the Alicia Silverstone music video trilogy of Cryin’, Amazing and Crazy – are as commercial sounding as possible. Chart fodder, indistinguishable from a Bon Jovi record.

I saw Aerosmith on the Get A Grip tour, in Sheffield on Thursday October 21st 1993, the very first concert I went to, and so the record means a lot to me. I just wish that such an important record in my musical upbringing was a better record.

If Pump represented a high water-mark for the second age of Aerosmith, Get A Grip signals the beginning of a long, slippery slope downhill.

Hit: Livin’ On The Edge

Hidden Gem: Gotta Love It

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Rocks In The Attic #574: Steven Tyler – ‘We’re All Somebody From Somewhere’ (2016)

RITA#574.jpgAmerica needs our help. A series of unfortunate circumstances in the second half of 2016 led to one man being given more power than he can handle. It’s something we should all be collectively terrified of; a landmark event which could potentially have far-reaching consequences over the next few years, and beyond. Yes, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler has released a solo album…

I have to admit, Aerosmith’s ’70s output is the very root of my musical DNA and I’ve always remained somewhat of a fan of the band despite their long, slippery artistic slope from the ’90s to the present day.

I’m also an avid collector of the band’s output and so my shelves “need” this – Steven Tyler’s debut solo record. I dropped the needle on the first side with a mixture of trepidation and morbid curiosity. Could this record be as bad as it sounds on paper?

Recorded in Nashville, it’s an album of country rock songs – a genre that Tyler has focused on more and more ever since a joke song in the late ’80s surprised everybody and turned out to be way more popular than anybody could have expected.

If you recall the second commercial peak of the band – 1989’s Pump – the album ended with a ballad, What It Takes, that was nothing more than a straightforward parody. Tyler even sings it in a mock-country, southern drawl, and in the accompanying music video the band play the song in a bar, behind chicken-wire – their only experience of country music being the bar scene in The Blues Brothers.

The song was taken far too seriously and is still played in concert to this day. As a result, they overloaded their next studio album, 1993’s Get A Grip, with country rock ballads in an attempt to recapture this glory.

So it’s not a surprise that Tyler’s activities outside of the band have led him to Nashville, the home of country music, in an attempt to validate his efforts. Half of the record is produced by T Bone Burnett, so there’s another marker of authenticity for you.

As a whole, the record doesn’t sound too offensive. It’s the equivalent of combining all the more mediocre songs from the most recent Aerosmith studio albums, which themselves were a lesson in mediocrity.

Do you remember the Grammy Award winning Janie’s Got A Gun, from the Pump record? It was a song about sex-abuse, tastelessly sequenced in the middle of an album that was otherwise lyrically obsessed about the joys of sex. Even a country rock rendition of Janie’s Got A Gun on Tyler’s record isn’t as bad as it could have been, but having three quarters of Stone Temple Pilots as your backing band doesn’t hurt. Lindsey Buckingham turns up on one of the tracks too but his contributions don’t really stand out from the hired hands that make up the rest of the studio band.

The final song on the record – a cover of Big Brother & The Holding Company’s Piece Of My Heart – is probably the strongest song on the album. It’s a nice tribute to Janis Joplin, whose vocal style Tyler has aped from the very beginning, regardless of the lazy Jagger comparisons.

Don’t all thank me at once but I’ve been listening to Steven Tyler’s We’re All Somebody From Somewhere so you don’t have to!

Hit: Janie’s Got A Gun

Hidden Gem: Piece Of My Heart

Rocks In The Attic #536: Styx – ‘Paradise Theatre’ (1981)

rita536A year ago, I knew nothing by Styx. But now, thanks to a spot-on homage by Jimmy Fallon and Paul Rudd, the fantastic Too Much Time On My Hands has become my song of the year.

The timing of that when I saw that video on The Tonight Show also helped. I caught it just before I spent a long weekend in Sydney, and it’s always good to have a new song to soundtrack a trip away. It might not be a new song, per se, but it was new to me.

Styx don’t sound a million miles away from Aerosmith, so I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to get around to listening to them. Tommy Shaw, the guitarist / vocalist from Styx, was even a song doctor for Aerosmith during the Geffen years (he co-wrote Shut Up And Dance from 1993’s Get A Grip), but even that fact didn’t turn me onto them. There are a number of dusty rock bands from the ‘70s and ‘80s that didn’t travel well, both figuratively and literally, to English audiences and I would regard Styx as one of these for sure.

Paradise Theatre is album number ten for the band, their only #1 album in the U.S., so I have a lot of catching up to do.

Hit: Too Much Time On My Hands

Hidden Gem: Rockin’ The Paradise

Rocks In The Attic #404: Aerosmith – ‘Big Ones’ (1994)

RITA#404If not the worst record cover in my collection, this is definitely a candidate for worst compilation cover. It’s absolutely gross and looks like they paid an intern to design it in a really early copy of Microsoft Paint. It’s unforgiveable too – this is a band that had brought in millions and millions of album sales for Geffen Records over the prior seven years. The very least Geffen could do was to commission a proper artist. In fact, simple black font on a white background would have looked better. That font they used in the end is just a little too close to comic sans for my liking.

But what of the music? This was the first compilation of the Geffen-era Aerosmith. As such, it’s essentially hit single after hit single from their time in the glossy MTV era; all power-ballads and country-tinged rock. There are a couple of unreleased tracks – Walk On Water and Blind Man – along with Deuces Are Wild, a song from the soundtrack to The Beavis And Butt-Head Experience. Other than that though, the compilation is just a collection of their singles from Permanent Vacation right up to Get A Grip, their last studio album for Geffen. The singles from Done With Mirrors, the band’s first studio album for Geffen in 1985, are noticeably absent – probably due to space limitations and the fact that they hardly set the world on fire at the time.

Of the albums it does cover, the only singles it ignores are Hangman Jury ­– the first single from Permanent Vacation – and Shut Up And Dance, the sixth (sixth out of seven!) single from Get A Grip. Neither of these releases were supported by promotional videos, so therein lies the rub – this is just a collection of the songs from their hit MTV videos, a cynical way to sequence a compilation, if I’ve ever heard one. And unless I’m wrong, the video to Eat The Rich – included on this album – didn’t appear commercially until they released the video compilation of Big Ones.

On a side note, I recently saw the set list from the first time I saw Aerosmith, in 1993. Now either I’ve remembered things completely wrong, but the set list up on that website is incorrect. There’s no way on earth that they played so much ‘70s material at that show. Toys In The Attic, Back In The Saddle, Draw The Line, Last Child and Rats In The Cellar were NOT played that night.

One of my biggest gripes with the band – and believe me, there are many – was their seemingly steadfast refusal to play anything from the ‘70s (other than the ‘big three’ of Walk This Way, Dream On and Sweet Emotion) on the Get A Grip and Nine Lives tours, at least in Europe. It wasn’t until I saw them in the mid-2000s that I saw them play a decent amount of ‘70s material.

I was lucky enough to see the band play Mama Kin in Birmingham in 1997, but even that seemed like an afterthought because they had some time to spare at the end of their set (as they were preparing to leave the stage, I remember Joe Perry launching into the main riff, causing the rest of the band to run back to their instruments).

Hit: Love In An Elevator

Hidden Gem: Walk On Water

Rocks In The Attic #286: Aerosmith – ‘Just Push Play’ (2001)

RITA#286Nothing says how truly bad this album is more than the cover. There are no redeeming qualities I can find about it. If they handed out awards for the band that chose the worst image to put on the cover of an album, Aerosmith would have swept the boards in 2001.

I can stand up for Aerosmith all day, but I have trouble sticking up for this album. Even Joe Perry agrees:

I don’t think we’ve made a decent album in years. ‘Just Push Play’ is my least favourite. When we recorded it there was never a point where all five members were in the room at the same time and Aerosmith’s major strength is playing together. It was a learning experience for me: it showed me how not to make an Aerosmith record.

The one moment where the band sound anything like the Aerosmith of old, is dealt with quickly on opener Beyond Beautiful. That’s almost a kick-ass song, but even then it really only ranks along with the more mediocre moments of Nine Lives. Sadly Just Push Play then descends into sheer awfulness.

The embarrassing rap-rock of title track Just Push Play is followed by big single Jaded – which they still play live (as I witnessed in Dunedin earlier in the year). Big ballad Fly Away From Here shows again what sort of song the band regards as their bread and butter, and then all of a sudden they’ve lost me. This is really the first Aerosmith album they should have titled ‘Crushing Disappointment’. In fact, that title probably works better with their choice of cover image.

It’s also probably the first album since Get A Grip that I didn’t actively look forward to when it came out. I wasn’t listening to a lot of Aerosmith when it came out, so it sort of passed me by. I did buy the picture disc of Jaded when I saw that on vinyl, but probably after hearing that, I ignored the rest of the album.

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In fact, that release of Jaded has a fantastic art direction – with both the front and back cover images proving once again that sex sells. It’s amazing how they managed to have such a shocker with the art direction on Just Push Play and then they go and pull this pair of images out of the bag.

Due to its very limited print on vinyl, this was the last Aersomith I got my hands on. I’m glad I have it, as it completes my collection, but it’s never going to be a regular feature on the turntable.

Hit: Jaded

Hidden Gem: Beyond Beautiful

Rocks In The Attic #250: Aerosmith – ‘Pump’ (1989)

RITA#250Welcome to the 250th post of my Rocks In The Attic blog.

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)…

RITA#250aTrack 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.

RITA#250bTrack 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.

Track 10: What It Takes / Untitled Instrumental (“The Jam”)

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.

RITA#250c

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.

RITA#250d

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