Aerosmith: From Dream On To Music From Another Dimension
Getting their rocks off, stuck in a rut, living on the edge, throwing toys out of the pram… Aerosmith recall some of the best, worst and decidedly average albums of their turbulent 40 years
This article originally appeared in Classic Rock #188.
Aerosmith have made a mockery of author F Scott Fitzgerald’s famous maxim: “There are no second acts in American lives.” America’s greatest hard rock band throughout the 1970s, the Boston five-piece imploded at the end of that decade as egos and drug habits spiralled out of control. The band reemerged in the mid-80s with a spectacular comeback which saw their raunchy, blues-driven rock’n’roll strike a chord with a new generation of fans.
The wheels on the Aerosmith bandwagon have wobbled precariously in recent years, with vocalist Steven Tyler auditioning to take Robert Plant’s place in Led Zeppelin in 2008 (he was either rejected or turned it down, depending on whether you believe Tyler or guitarist Joe Perry) and his band-mates threatening to bring in a new vocalist of their own.
The future of Aerosmith, always a combustible outfit, remains uncertain, but, whatever lies ahead, there’s no arguing with their back catalogue.
The point where it all started. Even if they did borrow ‘it’ from the Stones and The Yardbirds.
Steven Tyler: Man, talk about raw! That album was the shit. We were living together in an apartment in Boston, and we had to scrape together the songs that we were playing in clubs and write some of our own. It was a crazy period. Joe would sit in his room and get stoned and play guitar with his amp on and, I swear, more great shit would come out of his fingers in one night than we ever collected in 30 years. Joe and I wrote Movin’ Out, and the next thing I knew everyone was moving out, to live with their girlfriends. In my fear and anger I wrote a couple of songs on piano – Dream On and One Way Street. And I grabbed a guitar and wrote a couple of songs on that, which I’d never done prior to that. It just shows you what you can do under pressure.
Joe Perry: I had no idea in what was involved in getting the band to sound good. We basically set up in a room with our stage gear and just played the set. It was that basic. Steven was a real perfectionist. He’d make us play stuff over and over and over again until it was right to his ears.
Steven Tyler: Did it cross the line into bullying? Well, how the fuck else do you get a bunch of teenagers to stop what they’re doing and just focus? It’s hard being in a band. But the difference here was that nobody left, nobody went to go to college, everyone dug in. We fucking did it, man. And then we were off.
Toys In The Attic
The first true Aerosmith classic. Sweet Emotion, Walk This Way and the title track have never been off their live set-list since.
Tom Hamilton: Since we’d had so little support from radio on the first album, our management realised that we’d need to go out and tour our asses off. It was great for the band in terms of progressing our style and ability as musicians, but unfortunately it progressed our abilities in some other directions too.
Joe Perry: This was the watershed for us in becoming recording artists. It was the first record we had to start from scratch as far as writing goes, but I was really starting to get into the momentum of it, in terms of writing, and really starting to pull riffs from the air.
Steven Tyler: One night we were playing the HIC in Honolulu. In soundcheck Joe was playing the lick to Walk This Way, and I came out on stage and sat down at the drums and came up with a beat, and the rest is history.
But on the way to The Record Plant to record it I lost all the lyrics to the album in a yellow cab, so that night I had to rewrite the lyrics from memory. The reason it came across as kinda rap more than singing is that I really didn’t have time to get into bed with the lyrics, they were hot off the press, so I just threw it down, speaking more than singing. But I think it worked out just fine, didn’t it?
The album that inspired Slash, James Hetfield and Kurt Cobain to play guitar. A stone-cold classic.
Tom Hamilton: We recorded it in our rehearsal space, just outside Boston. We had the Record Plant recording truck pull into the garage, and we had a big room which we dressed with heavy curtains and divided up into a really neat recording room. There was a lot of laughter and a lot of camaraderie. Everyone was at their best on that album.
Joe Perry: There were a lot of drugs around, but if anything it helped loosen us up a little. The music always came first, everything else was just entertainment. The party only started taking over a few years later.
Steven Tyler: Everyone talks about the drugs, but if you want to talk about stuff that has any relevance here let’s talk about something else. The drugs were part of our lifestyle then, but sleep deprivation was just as important here. We’d sit down with Jack [Douglas, producer], and get an arrangement in seven or eight hours and go and record it the next day. So, to me, that record is not about ‘How much cocaine did you do?’ It’s got everything to do with me sitting in a dingy hotel in Hell’s Kitchen writing the lyrics after a long day at the studio, back when 42nd Street was full of hookers and pimps and shady bars. Rocks sounds raunchy and dirty? Hell, our lives were raunchy and dirty. What else would you expect?
Draw The Line
Recorded in an abandoned convent near New York at huge expense. But any remaining holy vibes did nothing to stop the wheels seriously wobbling.
Brad Whitford: We had caterers, we had our cars, and we were getting into all kinds of mischief. We had a great set-up to make the record, but we also had a lot of distractions.
Joe Perry: We were running wild. The whole thing about being in a band was having a good time. But sometimes you can have too much of a good time. We probably should have left some of our toys at home. We were all recording in separate rooms, and that’s an appropriate analogy for where the band was at.
Steven Tyler: That album was fucking weird. This was the tail end of the band getting together all the time to write. Everyone was married, we’d toured ourselves into oblivion. I cringe when I look back on it. Apart from Draw The Line and Kings And Queens, we should have thrown everything else out and started from scratch.
Tom Hamilton: In terms of drug use, Draw The Line was the lowest point. There was just too much decadence and destruction going on. We went from being this great up-and-coming band to being this dilapidated shambles. I never liked the album. All I think of is all the pain we went through as a band.
Done With Mirrors
Perry quit halfway through 1979’s Night In The Ruts, and their other guitarist, Brad Whitford, followed soon after. Both returned for this much-touted ‘comeback’ album. Except it didn’t quite turn out that way.
Joe Perry: Aerosmith hadn’t really done much for the name in our absence, with Steven passing out at gigs, and that record they made with the other guitar players [1982’s Rock In A Hard Place, with Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay]… Let’s just say we don’t play any songs off that one. It wasn’t a bed of roses when we got back together.
Brad Whitford: It wasn’t one of our better albums. We knew we had some work to do to get back to being professional musicians, because at that point we were half musician/half partiers. The party was over at that point, but we were the last people to know. The album title had a certain irony to it, because our drug use was still pretty prevalent.
Steven Tyler: It was a crazy get-together. We looked at [producer] Ted Templeman’s credits and thought it might make for a great departure, but the band wasn’t quite there. It was an odd time. We were trying to get sober and didn’t know why. Done With Mirrors was rough and raw and corporate, but it had to come out to get us going again.
If 1987’s Permanent Vacation put the newly-sober ’Smiths back on top, then this crowned their comeback. Their last true classic.
Joey Kramer: We were fortunate to be able to do the remake of Walk This Way with Run-DMC which reignited our career. To follow that up with Permanent Vacation and Pump was a real second coming. Somebody up there was looking out for us.
Steven Tyler: There’s some crazily good shit on that record. Young Lust? What It Takes? F.I.N.E? Love In An Elevator? Fuck me, we had collected some fine-ass marbles on that record. We actually finished 18 songs for that album, and some of them you’ll never hear. We had to bury a lot of good shit.
Working with [producer] Bruce Fairbairn was incredible. He could squeeze blood out of a stone in terms of getting every last idea from a band. But every day he’d work with us for six hours and then leave. And I fucking hated it, because I might just be getting to the point where the magic is happening for me. I remember everybody leaving one day, and me working on Elevator on my own, ad-libbing the front part to it.
Bruce Fairbairn introduced me to this crazy fucking guy who collected all these instruments from all over the world. When I went up to his house I lost my shit. He had everything from nose-flutes to Ethiopian instruments – and he could play them all. And I started jamming with him. And we took those jams and put them between the tracks, and that was the magic that took that album over the top.
Music From Another Dimension
Their first original studio album in a decade had a troubled birth. It still divides opinion among fans – and band members.
Tom Hamilton: It was rough at times. Not all of us were as anxious to get back into the studio as others.
Steven Tyler: After falling off the stage [in South Dakota in 2009], I wasn’t getting any sympathy from the guys. When we talked about going on tour, Joe said: “Why don’t you sit on a stool?” And I said: “I will, if you play electric ukele.” But when I went to rehab, I realised that the fucking band is the greatest asset I’ve got short of my children, and I was tired of the fighting. We wound up going to Boston and getting back together with Jack Douglas. It brought everybody to the table with their songs.
Joe Perry: Steven was determined to do those ballads with Marti Frederiksen, because apparently we “needed singles”. Some of those songs he wrote with Marti didn’t do anything for me. I’d say about 70-80 per cent of the record stands up, but the rest is a compromise. And it did nothing commercially.
We’re at a place where not many people are interested in new music from us. It’d be nice to make another record but, practically, I don’t know if it’ll happen. Steven wants to do a solo record, I have another solo record I want to do, and I’m working on an autobiography. I don’t see us taking the time out to do it.
Steven Tyler: Is it the last Aerosmith album? I’m doing a record, but there’s definitely another Aerosmith album in us. As long as we’re walking the earth there will be one.
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