Tag Archives: Rock In A Hard Place

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 #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 #512: Aerosmith – ‘Anthology’ (1988)

RITA#512Last night I finally watched Penelope Spheeris’ documentary The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. It’s something I’ve been looking for ever since I saw the first instalment on the 1979 L.A. punk rock scene. I’d heard about Part II ever since I’ve been an Aerosmith fan, and it didn’t disappoint.

Spheeris’ second film in the trilogy charts the comings and goings of L.A.’s glam metal bands from 1986 to 1988, all vying for stardom and attempting to out-do each other in the process. At first glance it’s not immediately clear who’s male and who’s female; the make-up and hairspray is so thick. And speaking of thick, there doesn’t seem to be a smart person among them. They’re the embodiment of Spinal Tap, without a trace of irony or self-awareness.

Intercut with these interviews and live performances are context-providing talking heads with the elder statesmen of the genre: Kiss’ Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy from Motörhead, Dave Mustaine from Megadeth, and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.

Aside from the absurdity of  the sections featuring Paul Stanley (lying in a bed with four lace-wearing groupies) and Gene Simmons (standing in a ladies’ clothes store, ogling at women), these interviews are reasonably candid and they come across much better than the young upstarts who are trying to make a name for themselves in the dingy Sunset Strip bars.

Alice Cooper particularly is as lucid as ever, and it’s refreshing to see Ozzy talk openly about the metal scene without the mumble he’s now commonly associated with. Tyler and Perry come across well, with the pair being able to talk with an air of stateliness, having recently hit the big time for a second time with 1987’s Permanent Vacation album.

Their sections are not too different from the content of the interviews in 1989’s The Making Of Pump documentary, with Tyler reeling off soundbites about his drug addictions, and Perry sounding as lugubrious as usual. It must be hard to summon the effort to talk about anything with enthusiasm when your adrenaline reserves have been destroyed through years of drug abuse.

One short shot in the film doesn’t ring quite true. After we’ve seen a domesticated Ozzy cook a fried breakfast with no issues, he goes to pour a bottle of orange juice into some glasses on the kitchen table, and Spheeris cynically inserts a shot of him spilling the orange juice as though he has the shakes. It’s obvious that it’s fake, and exists solely to make Ozzy look like he can’t handle sobriety. The end result is that you lose respect for Spheeris as a filmmaker. She might point her cameras at subjects she believes to be ridiculous, but at least they’re being honest.

Anthology is a rare West German compilation of Aerosmith’s early Columbia output, released on the UK label Castle Communications in 1988. It includes a heap of tracks that don’t feature on any other compilation, so you get, for example, the likes of Push Comes To Shove and the title track from 1982’s Rock In A Hard Place, the mis-titled Bite The Hand That Feeds and Sight For Sore Eyes from 1977’s Draw The Line, and several tracks from 1978’s Live! Bootleg – stadium performances of Walk This Way and Back In The Saddle, and the awesome 1973 Paul’s Mall performance of James Brown’s Mother Popcorn.

Hit: Sweet Emotion

Hidden Gem: Mother Popcorn (Live)

Rocks In The Attic #317: The Joe Perry Project – ‘I’ve Got The Rock ‘N Rolls Again’ (1981)

RITA#317Like an STD he’s picked up from some filthy groupie, Joe Perry has got the rock ‘n rolls again. It’s unclear whether there’s a cure for this particular disease, but this is the ‘80s after all.

Perry’s second solo album during his brief split from Aerosmith at the end of the ‘70s is probably the best of the three. It really feels like a band effort in comparison to Let The Music Do The Talking, probably as a second guitar has been added into the mix, with vocalist Charlie Farren also providing rhythm guitar. The album also features South Station Blues – the one song from the project that was considered strong enough to feature on Aerosmith’s 1991 career retrospective Pandora’s Box.

Bass duties, like the first album, are taken up by David Hull – Aerosmith’s go-to guy over the past couple of years for filling in when Tom Hamilton has been sick. In a lovely display of word punnery, Hull changed his surname in the mid-‘80s to David Heit, so that he and Charlie Farren could get away with naming their band Farrenheit. At one time their music videos were in heavy rotation on MTV, but alas they didn’t enter the public’s consciousness like the Totos and Foreigners of the world.

I always wonder what those missing Aerosmith would have sounded like in the early ‘80s. I love 1982’s Rock In A Hard Place – it doesn’t get the respect it deserves, just because Perry and Brad Whitford aren’t on it (except for one song that Whitford plays on) – but it says something that Perry can produce three albums of material in the time that it took Tyler to get one out with his band of replacement guitarists. The toxic twins are always spoke of as being as bad as each other in terms of their drug and alcohol dependency back in the day, but it seems that Perry was able to get his shit together much better that Tyler ever did.

Hit: East Coast, West Coast

Hidden Gem: Dirty Little Things

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