I was at a party a while back and I got into a discussion with this guy about rock n roll, per usual. I was talking with this guy a little younger than me – although not much younger than me – and he wanted to talk about Aerosmith. I’m always down to talk rock n roll and especially Aerosmith – Steve Tyler/vocals, Joe Perry/lead guitar, Brad Whitford/guitar, Tom Hamilton/bass and Joey Kramer/drums – who I consider to be one of the greatest rock bands America ever produced. This guy I was talking to was trying to convince me that Aerosmith’s 1989 album Pump was the greatest rock album ever. The guy was about 10 years younger than me so it makes sense, Pump was big when he was coming of age. I had managed to get on their bandwagon in the late 70s quite a bit before Pump. I had to tell the guy Pump wasn’t even one of Aerosmith’s greatest albums let alone one of the greatest rock albums of all time… “The conversation,” as Bob Dylan once sang, “was short and sweet.”This is why I don’t go to many parties any more.
It makes sense that Aerosmith has different sets of fans or perhaps better said fans of different eras of the band. They had a meteoric, incredible run through the 70s and then fell apart as drugs, ego, exhaustion from touring and infighting all took their toll. By the time I was in high school in ’80 we were already asking, “What happened to Aerosmith?” Both guitarist Joe Perry and Brad Whitford split, Perry for his Joe Perry Project and Whitford formed Whitford St. Holmes with Nugent’s old rhythm guitarist/vocalist Derek St. Holmes (check out the tune “Sharpshooter,” great stuff). Aerosmith finally put out another album Rock In A Hard Place in 1982, a three year gap since 1979’s A Night In The Ruts which was an unheard of amount of time between albums in those days. At that point they had Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay on guitar. Most bands were on the album-tour-album-tour treadmill and put out an album every year. My roommate bought Rock In A Hard Place and other than the song “Lightning Strikes” it was a disappointment. Tyler looked perilously thin in the video for “Lightning Strikes.”
Then something utterly improbable happened. Perry and Whitford returned. The band toured at that point and I saw the mighty reconstituted Aerosmith at Starlight Theater over on the East side of town. They were amazing that night but when we went to rush the stage, one of my buddies passed out. I had to baby sit him from back in the cheap seats while my other two friends stood in front of the stage basking in the power of Aerosmith. The place was only half full that night. They finally got off drugs – Tyler and Perry delighted in using cocaine and heroin such that their nickname was the Toxic Twins – and then they made what may be the greatest comeback in rock history. Personally I really dug Done With Mirrors, it was more of an old school Aerosmith album, but the comeback didn’t really take hold until Permanent Vacation which came out when I was just out of college. That led to a pretty big run from the late 80s to the late 90s. That second era of success for the band tends to dwarf that run in the 70s where Aerosmith established their reputation.
As we sit here now when Aerosmith hasn’t put out an album in 10 years – and really haven’t put out an interesting album in over 20 years – it’s easy to forget about those great Aerosmith days in the 70s. Today the guys in Aerosmith with their highlighted, poufy hair and flowing clothes look more like the Scary Housewives of Rock N Roll than the menacing rock band of the 70s. I don’t think these guys get along very well anymore. I think drummer Joey Kramer even sued the band. Why can’t hard rock bands get along the way Rush did? With all these horrible ballads like “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing,” a song so garish I once hurt myself lunging at the radio to change the station when it came on, it’s easy to overlook their killer hard rock origins. Like this guy I was talking to at the party many people think that late 80s to late 90s run was the entirety of the Aerosmith story. Well, I for one, have not forgotten those glory days. I have not forgotten the true peak of Aerosmith – 1975 to 1976.
I didn’t get into music, as I’ve shared, until I was in junior high so about 1978 or 1979. While we didn’t know it, by ’79 Aerosmith was musically a spent force… at least in terms of their initial run. A Night In The Ruts was widely considered a disappointment to their hardcore fans. The cover song “Remember (Walking In The Sand)” was the only track that got radio play. They had made the mistake of joining the cast of the 1978 musical movie Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with Peter Frampton and gads, disco kings The Bee Gees. At least they did a great cover of “Come Together.” Even though they were fading at the time, when I was in junior high Aerosmith still cast a long shadow. They were huge to us. They were menacing and seemed dirty and druggy. Everything a junior high kid in the late 70s could ask for. Tyler’s lyrics often sounded nonsensical but we read all sorts of innuendo into them. The first record of theirs I ever bought was their 1978 live album Live Bootleg. I listened to that a few weeks ago and it’s still mighty. But then I love live albums.
While Aerosmith’s eponymous debut LP was widely overlooked upon it’s release it’s one of my favorites. Their second album Get Your Wings was even better. The constant touring and playing finally began to jell in terms of their songwriting. It was in the mid 70s that Aerosmith finally burst through the clouds and into the stratosphere. If they’d never recorded again after the two albums they recorded in 1975 and 1976 respectively they would still be considered one of the greatest rock bands in American history. So dude at the party – these are the two greatest albums Aerosmith ever put to tape and thus, are two of the greatest rock albums ever.
Toys In The Attic (1975)
For Aerosmith, it turns out the third time was the charm… Everything came together here. This album contains not one but two of their greatest rock anthems, “Walk This Way” (the original, not the one ruined by Run D.M.C.) and “Sweet Emotion.” When people think of 70s rock and think of Aerosmith, this is the music they think of. Let’s look at the tracks.
- “Toys In The Attic” – The album’s rollicking opening track. A statement about their mental health at the time. This thing is a “meet me at the finish line” kind of racing rocker. It’s such a nasty riff. There’s no Pump type polish here.
- “Uncle Salty” – This may be one of my favorite deep tracks from these guys. It’s midtempo but gritty. The sad tale of a fallen woman. “And when she cried at night, no one came…”
- “Adam’s Apple” – A song where Steven Tyler teaches us about the Garden of Eden. Another great riff rocker. Eve gets a bad rap but when it comes to the apple… “she ate it and Lord it was love at first bite…”
- “Walk This Way” – Joey Kramer’s drums start us rocking but then the guitar comes in like a Howitzer. Aerosmith were always considered a poor man’s Rolling Stones but I sure hear a lot of James Brown in their music… “I was high school loser never made it with the ladies” was a lyric that resonated more than it should have when I was in high school.
- “Big Ten Inch Record” – Resurrecting a tune from 1952, this is one of the rare moments of comedy from Aerosmith. I still love the tune. Great harmonica solo. “Liquor just make her flinch…”
- “Sweet Emotion” – I rank this up there with Joe Walsh’s “Turn To Stone” as one of the greatest guitar riffs of all time. “Talking ’bout things and nobody cares” could describe most of my conversations these days…
- “No More No More” – Another great deep track with heavy riffage and boogie woogie piano.
- “Round And Round” – One of the hardest tracks they’ve ever done. This points the way toward where they would go on Rocks.
- “You See Me Crying” – A lovely piano ballad and I’m told Liv Tyler’s favorite Aerosmith tune. I don’t know why I like this ballad more than most of their late period balladry. With the piano and strings this almost sounds like Queen.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better than Toys In The Attic Aerosmith returned with the amps turned up to 11. This is their hardest rocking statement ever. It makes their 80s stuff look like the Bay City Rollers.
- “Back In The Saddle” – The Rock Chick’s favorite Aerosmith song, to her credit. “A lusty cowboy song.” Joey Kramer is drumming like he’s barely keeping the guitars connected to the earth. Perry and Whitford’s guitars careen off each other. Amazing tune… “Barkeep give me a drink, that’s when she caught my eye…” is almost the story of when I met the Rock Chick.
- “Last Child” – The funkiest hard rock you’ll ever hear. Maybe it’s just me but I feel the influence of James Brown here. A song about getting out in the country. “Hands on the plow and my feets in the ghetto.”
- “Rats In The Cellar” – This track seems like an inherent sequel to “Toys In The Attic.” If I ever have a heart attack, throw me on a speaker and turn this racing rocker on the turntable and crank it up.
- “Combination” – Another heavy rock riff tune. Tyler sounds like he’s being tortured on the vocal.
- “Sick As A Dog” – One of their best, most overlooked tunes. “Sick as a dog, cat got your tongue?” I love the live version on Live Bootleg as well. This song should have been a monster hit.
- “Nobody’s Fault” – Side 2 kicks off with this ominous rocker. I don’t know what happened but it sounds like somebody is in trouble and is very sorry. Another tortured vocal from Tyler over Perry and Whitford’s equally tortured guitar.
- “Get The Lead Out” – I’ve always wondered if this funky rocker was a sly nod to Zeppelin. They were friends with Page and had covered the Yardbirds’ “Train Kept A’Rollin’.” I love the first line, “Got good boogie…” Yes they did. You can move to Aerosmith, I defy you to try and sit still during this record.
- “Lick And A Promise” – They rock this one so hard and fast the band sounds like they’re on the verge of collapse.
- “Home Tonight” – Like Toys In The Attic we end with a ballad. Perhaps my favorite mellow tune from Aerosmith. A tune so longing in getting home it was on our Songs of Home playlist… gorgeous track.
If you’re ever at a party and someone starts talking about the hard rock artistry of Get A Grip or Nine Lives, sneak over to the stereo and crank one of these albums and simply behold the majesty and the power of the true peak of Aerosmith. And know, that in that moment I am somewhere out there on the dark road flashing the Devil Horns for you… “and I’ll be home tonight…”