Tag Archives: Night In The Ruts

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 #573: Aerosmith – ‘Brand New Song And Dance’ (1986)

RITA#573I love a good Aerosmith bootleg, and this one’s a peach. Recorded on March 12th 1986 whilst touring the Done With Mirrors album, this captures the band in an energetic form. The show was recorded in Worcester, Massachusetts which makes it a homecoming gig for the band, and this probably explains why the show was professionally recorded and transmitted on radio.

I really love Done With Mirrors – it’s a lovely little album with a lot of charm, just mightily underproduced – and so it’s a real treat to hear them playing the songs from the record while they’re still fresh. Alongside five songs from that record, we also get treated to a rendition of No Surprize, a song that has long since slipped from Aerosmith setlists in the intervening years. As at the time of writing (March 2017) they haven’t played it live since 2002. Sweet Emotion is noticeably absent, but the full set-list for the performance lists them playing it that night. Also not captured on record was a rendition of Bone To Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy); another gem they don’t play live too often.

Looking at my Aerosmith collection, alongside all of the official studio records, live albums and many, many compilations, I now seem to have a burgeoning pile of Aero-bootlegs. I have recordings from the tours to promote 1973’s self-titled debut, 1975’s Toys In The Attic, 1979’s Night In The Ruts, 1987’s Permanent Vacation and now 1985’s Done With Mirrors. I might try to fill in some of those blanks, especially as I know that bootleg recordings exist on vinyl for most of their tours up until the 1990s. A new goal is born!

Hit: Walk This Way

Hidden Gem: Let The Music Do The Talking

Write Moo A Letter (My Top-10 Aerosmith Songs)

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.

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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.

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Moo looks for Aerosmith news in the French newspapers

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.

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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.

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How Joe Perry could see anything at all in the mid-’70s is a complete mystery

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.

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Breaking down walls with Run DMC

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.

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Vini and Moo singing along to some Aerosmith classics


I flicked off the email to Moo and waited for the criticism to come back. It didn’t take long. Over to Moo…

Rattlesnake Shake

“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.”

Aero3Seasons Of Wither

“This isn’t too bad. Almost as good as early Boston.”

Adam’s Apple

“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.”

Last Child

“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.”

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Krawitham

“Not bad, but it feels like a song with the singing missing, which I guess is what it is.”

Chiquita

“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*

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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.

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The band should be applauded for sticking with their blind clothes designer

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.

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The band take a break in the breakfast nook of the Campbell household

Rocks In The Attic #465: REO Speedwagon – ‘You Can Tune A Piano But You Can’t Tuna Fish’ (1978)

RITA#465Thanks Moo. Thanks so much. You really shouldn’t have.

I always appreciate it when people give me records as gifts. There’s nothing more I’d like in the world. There’s nothing worse than receiving a gift that you’re just going to put at the back of a shelf to attract dust until you find it years later and end up throwing away.

At least with records, you always have them there to listen to if the feeling takes you. And when I feel the need to listen to some spectacularly titled AOR, it’s this album I always reach for.

That title though? Is there anything worse? I’m not sure there is. All of the dusty American rock bands of the mid ‘70s must have been shitting themselves when punk came along, and for some bands – Aerosmith’s Night In The Ruts is a good example – the new genre gave them a good kick up the backside. REO Speedwagon did something different though. They still continued to churn out the made moderate-speed moderate rock, but they just gave it a “funny” title that might appeal to the record-buying youth. I don’t think it worked.

Around this time – just before Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry met up and cursed themselves by naming their band so that their records would sit next to REO Speedwagon for the rest of eternity – there were so many bands of this ilk. REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Journey, Toto; I can’t really tell when one ends and another one starts. They’re all just very much the same in my mind. Toto get a pass because of Africa, and for their contribution to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, but all of the others can go and write some heart-wrenching pop together on a big desert island.

I remember being really amused when I was flicking through the racks at Beatin’ Rhythm in Manchester, and they’d put a load of (Journey vocalist) Steve Perry solo 7” singles in the Aerosmith section. Man, I bet they felt really stupid when they realised…

Hit: Roll With The Changes

Hidden Gem: The Unidentified Flying Tuna Trot

Rocks In The Attic #112: Aerosmith – ‘Live! Bootleg’ (1978)

Rocks In The Attic #112: Aerosmith - ‘Live! Bootleg’ (1978)This album is overlong. The performances are sloppy. The mix is pretty murky. But I love it.

Of all of the Aerosmith albums that I initially bought when I got turned onto them, this one represented the ‘way in’ to their back catalogue. Other than 1980’s Greatest Hits and 1991’s Pandora’s Box, there wasn’t really any other comprehensive Aerosmith compilations available in the early 90s when I started to listen to them. Now it’s gone the other way and I believe that when I last counted, their (officially released) compilations and live albums were just about to overtake their count of studio albums. That’s a pretty bad statistic, but proof that record companies will plunder and plunder an artist’s back catalogue, endlessly re-releasing the same songs over and over again, as long as there’s a willing public to buy them.

In terms of chronology, this 1978 release comes between 1977’s Draw The Line and 1979’s Night In The Ruts – in their only fallow year (up to this point they had released a studio album every year since their 1973 debut). If Draw The Line didn’t signal the end of the band due to their over-reliance on drugs, this surely did.

Aside from the hits (Walk This Way, Sweet Emotion, Dream On, Back In The Saddle), the set covers a heap of decent album tracks which wouldn’t see the light on Greatest Hits and in most cases would have to wait until Pandora’s Box to get the attention they deserved.

But the real treasures of the album are those live tracks not recorded in stadiums and arenas like the majority of the material. There’s Last Child, recorded in a Boston Club; a stunning cover of Come Together, recorded at the band’s rehearsal space; and in I Ain’t Got You and Mother Popcorn, two covers showcasing the band’s R&B influences, recorded for a radio performance in 1973 when promoting their first album. I have that 1973 Paul’s Mall performance in its entirety on CD – a fantastic set – and a true live bootleg album, unlike this one which is CBS Records’ attempt to capitalise on the trend of professional-sounding bootleg albums in the late 70s.

There’s just one more reason I love this album: the photos on the gatefold showing Joe Perry playing his red BC Rich Bich –  truly awesome, and in terms of body-shape, the best looking guitar I’ve ever seen.

Hit: Walk This Way

Hidden Gem: Mother Popcorn