Aerosmith personally dissect their classic albums

 Aerosmith in 1984 (studio portrait).
Aerosmith in 1984 (studio portrait).
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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 quintet imploded at the end of the decade as egos and drug habits spiralled out of control, only to re-emerge in the mid-‘80s to stage a spectacular comeback which saw their raunchy, blues-driven rock’n’roll strike a chord with a new generation of fans.

In more recent times the Aerosmith bandwagon has wobbled precariously as vocalist Steven Tyler’s preoccupation with parallel careers in country music and reality TV sparked rumours that the band might even take to the road without him. They didn't.

To bring the story up-to-date, last year's much-trumpeted Peace Out tour was delayed after Tyler fractured his larynx, but he's since returned to the stage, and the dates are scheduled to begin in September. Always a combustible unit, the band’s future may be uncertain, but whatever lies ahead, there’s no arguing with their back catalogue.


Aerosmith (1973)

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, at 1325 Commercial Avenue, 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.

Get Your Wings (1974)

The sound of a young band finding their voice. Aerosmith’s first album with long-time producer Jack Douglas.

Brad Whitford: Our first record laid the groundwork for our career, but Get Your Wings was where we started our lifetime romance with Jack Douglas. He had such great ideas for our songs. We’d hear songs like Same Old Song And Dance coming out of the speakers and we thought we were sitting on a mountain of gold.

Tom Hamilton: We were under a lot of pressure on that album. When our first record came out it didn’t do very well and the record company was very disappointed. They gave us an ultimatum: they pretty much said ‘If your next record doesn’t do really well then you’re not recording artists any more.’ So we all moved back in together, and every single day we just lived the album. We had the first album under our belts so we felt that we knew what we were doing in the studio, and Jack Douglas really lit our creative fires.

Steven Tyler: On the first album I didn’t really like my voice, so I kinda put on a blues voice, but on the second album the songs found my voice. I realised that it’s not about having a beautiful voice and hitting all the notes, it’s about attitude.

Tom Hamilton: Since we’d had so little support from radio on the previous album our management realised that we’d need to go out and tour our asses off. It was really 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…

Toys In The Attic (1975)

The first true ’Smiths classic. Sweet Emotion, Walk This Way and the title track have never left their live setlist.

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 and 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, and so that night I had to rewrite the lyrics from memory.

The reason it came across as kinda a 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?

Rocks (1976)

The album that inspired Slash, James Hetfield and Kurt Cobain to play guitar. A stone cold classic.

Tom Hamilton: We recorded it in our own rehearsal space, just outside Boston. We had the Record Plant recording truck pull into the garage, and we had a really 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 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 (1977)

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 the run of this old convent, 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.

Night In The Ruts (1979)

The one where the wheels came off. Joe Perry walked out halfway through the studio sessions: Brad Whitford and Tom Hamilton weren’t too far behind…

Tom Hamilton: Night In The Ruts was our chance to get things back on track. But it was just frustrating. We took too long to make it and our management booked a tour, leaving us just enough time to make the record, based on how long it’d taken us in the past, but we actually needed much more time. So we had to go on tour before the vocals were finished and it was just dragging on and on. Everyone was super frustrated by it.

It’s ironic, because we were out on the road, playing stadiums to huge amounts of people, and yet the band was getting ready to die. Sure enough, after a show in Cleveland we went backstage after the show and had a big band meeting in one of the dressing trailers and the result was that Joe left the band. And, to be honest, it was a relief, because it was so uncomfortable on the road.

There was so much anger and stress and fatigue that the band couldn’t have survived it. And so we thought, ‘Okay, we’ll just get somebody else and get right back out there.’ But it was not to be.

Steven Tyler: The songwriting credits alone tell the story of that album. It’s not Toys In the Attic where it was all songs written by us, it’s got a load of covers, it was a patchwork quilt. It was tumultuous at best. We’d been wounded by going at such a speed, both on tour and in the studio. And I was definitely getting attitude from some of the members then.

Joe decided to not be there, and Tom and Brad also both left during that time, and went back to Boston, because I wasn’t working on the album fast enough for them. And I’d say ‘Well, then why don’t you write the lyrics?’ Then I was trying to get Jimmy Crespo to be the next Joe Perry, but he didn’t have Joe’s swagger. I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen after this so I wrote No Surprize as the life story of the band up to that point. The lyrics reference [infamous NYC club] Max’s Kansas City, where we got discovered by Clive Davis.

There were so many bands in there, either working on their career, like the Dolls and Bowie, etc., or just working on their drug habits. I remember we’d have Lou Reed sitting next to us while we’d be throwing chickpeas at each other. We managed to pull the album together, but just about.

Done With Mirrors (1985)

Perry quit halfway through 1979’s Night In The Ruts, and 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. There were times I was thinking, ‘I gotta get a real job, this is a young man’s game.’

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: we’d be hanging out in health food stores smoking banana skins, just doing weird shit man. Done With Mirrors was rough and raw and corporate, but it had to come out to get us going again.

Permanent Vacation (1987)

The ‘proper’ comeback. Aerosmith’s biggest album in a decade, aided and abetted by input from professional songwriters such as Desmond Child and Jim Vallance.

Steven Tyler: As soon as we sat down with David Geffen and [A&R man] John Kalodner, they talked about bringing in some new people to write with us. For me personally that was great, because sometimes Joe and I needed structure. It made it a little easier for us. Man, there were some fucking great songs on there.

Tom Hamilton: As with Get Your Wings, there was an element of make-or-break to that album. But we worked with Bruce Fairbairn in Vancouver and he was just the personality that we needed at that point. We needed a strong leader and a coach who would kick our asses and make sure everybody was there and ready to work on time every day, instead of us sitting around all afternoon waiting for people’s hangovers to wear off. We aimed a little bit higher than before and really hit the mark, certainly compared to Done With Mirrors.

Brad Whitford: This was a good time. We felt rejuvenated, and working with Bruce Fairbairn and Bob Rock in Vancouver was a lot of fun. The music was definitely coming back into focus then. John Kalodner was very instrumental in getting Joe and Steven to write with outside writers and that developed into some really interesting music.

I mean, it’s a bit of blow to the ego to have someone say ‘Your writing could use some help’, at first you don’t know how to take it, and it was a definite sore spot for us. But when we stepped back and listened to what John was saying it made sense. John said to us ‘Look, you guys are in a position here that if you can get some really strong material, you could really expand your audience, getting MTV and radio could really do amazing things for your career.’

It was hard, because all the writing up to that point was a collective amongst the band, so it was very tough for us guys to get used to, because we were working separately a lot. It hurt a little, but it made sense to give it a shot. But John was right, and it paid off. If we’d have stuck our noses up at him and been stubborn, there might not be an Aerosmith now.

Pump (1989)

If 1987’s Permanent Vacation put the newly-sober ’Smiths back on top, then this crowned their comeback. It remains their last true classic.

Joey Kramer: We were fortunate to be able to do the re-make of Walk This Way with Run-DMC, which re-ignited our career. to follow that up with Permament 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 that lived up in the hills in Vancouver 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, but he could play them all, and so 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.