Archive for February, 2013


For Aerosmith, drugs took a boiling point approach. Their lives got louder, faster and crazier until they simply blew up, and it culminated with the tepid reaction to their 1977 album Draw the Line and Joe Perry’s angry departure from the band. It was followed in short order by Brad Whitford also bidding Aerosmith adieu right after their 1979 album Night In the Ruts. Then came the feces storm that was Rock In a Hard Place, their audience’s extremely bad reaction to new guitarists Rick Dufay and Jimmy Crespo (“Where’s Joe f***in’ Perry?!?”) and Steven Tyler’s collapse on stage in 1982 – the rest of the band thought he was dead. Cocaine, hard touring and egos the size of Australia had killed Aerosmith with greatest discrimination.

But back in the mid-‘70s, Aerosmith was flyin’ high, both figuratively and literally. They followed up on Toys In the Attic 13 months later with another rock and roll behemoth, Rocks. Aerosmith were clearly on a roll, and the juggernaut wasn’t going to stop until it burned out. Drugs make it break down a lot faster, and Aerosmith had people putting lines of cocaine in front of them for years now. But this period was the golden state, the very narrow sliver of time when drugs are fueling a band’s creativity while the toll on the body still hasn’t reached an unmanageable level. For a great many bands that time is way too short, and Aerosmith are no exception.

Toys In the Attic and Rocks are the two hands-down greatest moments in the first phase of Aerosmith’s career, before they died their first death and were resurrected with Permanent Vacation. Like I said, the two albums are only separated by a scant 13 months, and are indeed musical twins. Comparing them to see which is better is like pitting siblings against each other with knives, but hey, that’s what music critics do, right?

Both Toys and Rocks are 9 tracks long, and there’s only 2 and a half minutes difference in runtime, so they’re just begging for a showdown. They have similar structures, both containing one menacing rock tune (“Sweet Emotion” and “Back In the Saddle”) and one heavy metal gem (“Round and Round” and “Nobody’s Fault”), and both cap off with a bloated rock ballad powered by piano (“You See Me Crying” and “Home Tonight”). They also both have a monument to sex and philandering (“Walk This Way” and “Lick and a Promise”). Indeed, most songs from one album have a loose parallel on the other.

And if you still say comparisons between the two are unfair, there’s that Rocks actually has a sequel song to a track on Toys In the Attic. The title track of that album is a fast and frenetic song about insanity with a killer guitar drone near the end. Steven Tyler screams like he’s really going insane, marking the first appearance of his signature screeching howl. And Rocks track #3 is a companion piece to that, with a similar musical tone and even a matching name, “Rats In the Cellar.” Whether you go to the attic to retreat into your own mind, or the cellar to party with the vermin, you’ll go insane either way.

But which album is better? I think for that you’d have to look at individual songs. “Nobody’s Fault” has a darker and more urgent groove than “Round and Round,” though “Round and Round” has a better sense of heaviness. “Home Tonight” is a better power ballad than its counterpart, and doesn’t contain the annoying falsetto whine that “You See Me Crying” does. Rocks has more jaunty, dirty numbers in “Last Child” and “Get the Lead Out,” but Toys In the Attic some great teenager anthems like “Walk This Way” and “Adam’s Apple.” Rocks acknowledges the toll drugs were taking on Aerosmith as a whole (“Combination” and “Sick as a Dog”) while Toys is practically silent on the matter. Rocks also features a slightly darker and more wicked tone, while Toys is more fun. It just depends on what you prefer.

In singles, however, there isn’t even a competition – Toys wins hands-down. “Sweet Emotion” and “Walk This Way” are both Toys, while the only very successful single from Rocks is opener “Back In the Saddle”. It’s a good song, no doubt, but can’t stand up to “Walk This Way” and is blown out of the water by the deliciously awesome “Sweet Emotion.” Success of singles definitely isn’t the only thing to take into account – there’s also cohesion as an album. Both Toys and Rocks score high marks on that front, but the presence of TWO iconic Aerosmith songs on Toys push it over the line for me.

Official AO verdict: Toys In the Attic wins out over Rocks, but only just.

Whip It Out

There’s a hidden gem right in the middle of Toys In the Attic, one that’s completely forgotten amidst Aerosmith’s bevy of more famous songs. In the face of “Sweet Emotion,” “Love In an Elevator,” “Cryin’,” “Amazing” and “Train Kept a Rollin’,” a short cover song that was never released as a single must seem very, very small. But besides the fact that I have a slight weakness for underdogs, “Big Ten Inch Record” captures in perfectly crystallized form one of the things I love the most about Aerosmith: the astronomically witty way they talk about sex.

“Big Ten Inch Record” was written by Fred Weismantel, someone for whom a quick Google search turned up very little. As far as I can tell, he wrote many songs back in the early ‘50s, none of which made waves. “Big Ten Inch Record” was first recorded by Bull Moose Jackson in 1952, and was popular but too risqué for radio (nowadays, Radio Disney might think it was kinda tame).

Bull Moose Jackson

Bull Moose Jackson

Zunk Buker, Steven Tyler’s friend and drug dealer, heard the song on the Dr. Demento show and sent a copy to the band. They recorded it mostly straight up, put it on Toys In the Attic, and then kinda forgot about it. I don’t think it was played live very much after the ’75 tour.

In the ancient times of yore when music was played on something called (air quotes) VINYL – oooooooh! – records came in three varieties: 12” LPs, 10” EPs, and 7” singles. “Big Ten Inch Record” is a simple jump blues number about how the singer has a 10” record from a blues band that his girlfriend simply can’t resist. There is a double entendre here, though, and it becomes abundantly clear after the first verse-chorus cycle. You’d have to be thick as block of lead to not get what is really being said.

Got me the strangest woman / Believe me, this chick’s no cinch / But I really get her goin’ / when I get out my big ten inch / …record of a band that plays the blues/ Of a band that plays the blues/ She just loves my big ten inch / …record of her favorite blues

Y’know, I was considering explaining the double entendre in simple and clinical terms, but I think I should have a little faith in my audience’s intelligence and instead employ an old phrase about blues music: if you have to ask, you’ll never know.

Aerosmith’s version drives the point home ever-so-slightly more. It still has that little pause between every instance of “big ten inch” and “record.” It’s amazing what a pause can do (“She’s beautiful! She’s rich! She’s got huge… tracts of land!”). But Steven Tyler changes the lyrics just a tad; every time Bull Moose says “get out my/your big ten inch,” Steven says “whip out my/your big ten inch.” “Whip it out” has a slightly narrower application, and is usually used when talking about a single thing. Again, if you have to ask…

This is a great song because it has a wink. Every time the singer says “big ten inch” and pauses, you can just imagine that he’s smiling and winking at you, as if to say “yeah, you know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout!” This type of discourse about sex, naughtiness and body parts is SO much better than the obvious and crude words of modern music artists, and also comedians. Innuendo and implication make the listener work for it, and that brings them into the comedy. They’re participants in it, not just spectators.

I don’t know about you, but I far prefer Steven Tyler beckoning me into bawdiness rather than Snoop Dogg or Wiz Khalifa throwing it right in my face, trying to break my nose with it. At the very least, it makes me exercise my mind rather than just being entertained.

Next: Toys In the Attic vs. Rocks – DEATHMATCH!!!

Spilt Milk

Elyssa Jerret

Elyssa Jerret

I don’t know the specifics (because I’ve only just started Walk This Way, the Aerosmith autobiography), but there was an argument between Elyssa Jerret (Joe Perry’s girlfriend) and Terry Cohen (bass player Tom Hamilton’s girlfriend). I think it’d be a little generous of me to say Elyssa was one freaked out psychotic devil woman. Terry, if she was anything like her funnyman boyfriend-later-husband, probably directed a very witty and cuttingly accurate barb at Elyssa. Words followed, there was probably cursing, and it climaxed with Elyssa pouring a glass of milk down the back of Terry’s shirt.

It was like an episode of Real Housewives, but with more calcium.

But probably the most famous feud was the hate triangle involving Perry, Jerret and Steven Tyler. Steven and Elyssa hated each other, Joe was caught in the middle, AND they were all doing copious amounts of cocaine.

This wouldn’t have been particularly remarkable if that swirling mess of animus hadn’t produced one of Aerosmith’s most famous and enduring songs, “Sweet Emotion.” Released on Toys In the Attic in 1975, the song features an eerie and sorta-voodoo intro with a smooth and steady bass riff under a talkbox guitar. In live performances, Joe took to saying “sweet emotion” into the talkbox, an eye-rolling testament to how famous the song would later become.

After the drums kick in, the full band begin a groove, the level of which hadn’t been seen previously in their career (“Lord of the Thighs” hinted at it). The guitar riff is simply killer, and right up there with “Iron Man,” “Layla” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as an immortal rock staple. The heaviness of this song was also previously unseen, but that alone wouldn’t equal even a tenth of what this song does. The heaviness combined with the smooth delivery and effortless grind are what make “Sweet Emotion” great.

Even given that it’s musically one of the most recognizable riffs in rock history and easily Aerosmith’s best song, the lyrics Steven Tyler sings and the way he sings them are the icing on this deliciously dirty cake. Steven took all the frustration Elyssa caused in him and turned it into art, like any great singer does. Elyssa is never mentioned by name in the song, of course, and the entire thing isn’t even about her, but there’s a definite vibe of “what a waste of human skin you are.” Let’s break it down:

Talk about things that nobody cares: Elyssa apparently had a habit of prattling on and on long after everyone had stopped listening. I’m sure you know people like that (or ARE people like that).

Wearin’ out things that nobody wears: Steven’s insulting her fashion sense now – understandable, but a bit of a low blow.

Callin’ my name but I gotta make clear / I can’t say, baby, where I’ll be in a year: wherever Steven is, he hopes it will be far away from Elyssa.

There’s more about Elyssa, but Steven also addresses Joe about Elyssa’s constant stream of ugliness (Tellin’ you things like “your girlfriend lied” / You can’t catch me ‘cause the rabbit done died).

Around the time of Toys In the Attic’s release, Steven had a brief “relationship” with model Bebe Buell. There’s quotes around that because it was really a sex-driven fling, nothing more. Buell had developed a interest in dating rock stars, sorta like a super-groupie, ever since dating teenage drummer Barry Cowsill when she was 16 (she was actually older than him). Even though she lived with Todd Rundgren for many years, she simultaneously dated the likes of David Bowie, Jimmy Page, Iggy Pop and Mick Jagger (who HASN’T he slept with?). And sure enough, she had a fling with Steven Tyler. But unlike her others, this one produced a child. And more than that, this child grew up to be super-famous in her own right; she’s none other than the lovely Liv Tyler.

Liv Tyler

Liv Tyler

Bebe kept the true parentage of her child from both Liv and Steven. Liv grew up thinking that Todd Rundgren was her father, only meeting Steven in 1985, and then just thinking he was a nice man who bought her a Coke. But she noticed a strange similarity between herself and Steven’s other daughter, Mia. After that, the truth was revealed.

Steven didn’t know anything about the pregnancy or Liv’s existence until shortly before meeting Liv for the first time, right around the time he got clean of drugs. He was very skeptical at first when Bebe told him they had a daughter together, but the very first time he saw Liv he was nearly brought to tears.

They looked alike, sure, but I think there was something else, too. There must have been a little bell somewhere deep inside Steven that was put there when Liv was born, but that Steven didn’t even know about until it rang when he first saw Liv. It’s a bell that comes to you when you give a piece of yourself to someone, or someone gives a piece of themself to you. I’m familiar with that bell; it rang inside of me the first time I saw Annie, my bone marrow donor (more on that later).

Next: what’s a Bull Moose Jackson? Is it a bull or a moose?

Aerosmith - Toys In the Attic - 4/8/1975

Aerosmith – Toys In the Attic – 4/8/1975

Jon Bon Jovi once said that when he bought a copy of Toys In the Attic and was reading the lyrics to “Walk This Way,” he was like Beavis and Butt-head combined. There wasn’t really anything shocking or new about them. They were raunchy and crude, no doubt, but similar sentiments had been expressed in rock music since its inception. “Walk This Way” is basically about the sexual exploits of a young man at the mercy of both his appetites and the women he encounters, a young man who very well could be Tyler himself. There are tales of threesomes, deflowerings, high school locker rooms and cougars on the hunt.

Steven Tyler had obviously learned his lessons well from the Rolling Stones, because Stones influence is all over that track. But when you actually listen to the song, rather than just read the lyrics, he reveals that he’s a more careful and clever songwriter than Mick. The music is happy and celebratory, fast-paced and hard-charging. And the lyrics are delivered at a breakneck speed, words spilling out of Steven’s mouth like an avalanche. Lead singers the world over look at “Walk This Way” as a challenge because the words-per-minute is just so high. But Steven does it the best, probably because of his big, elastic lips.

Steven Tyler

Steven Tyler

The speed with which the lyrics tumble out is the real genius of the song. As filthy and lust-filled as the lyrics are, one word spills over onto the previous one so your brain can’t really keep up. Parents listening casually couldn’t figure out what the hell Steven was saying. It was only kids like Jon Bon Jovi that really got it. The airplay and publicity of “Walk This Way” didn’t cause nearly as much uproar as “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” or “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” even though it’s 3x as sexually overt as either of those songs. See, Mick? All you had to do was sing faster!

Quick words and quick wit are even more the domain of early hip-hop artists, before the art form became the domain of profanity and violence thanks to gangster rap. Run-DMC, pioneers of the hip-hop field, were voracious consumers of all forms of popular music through the ages. Their teaming with rock producer Rick Rubin led them to discover “Walk This Way,” and they liked it before they even knew who performed it.

Run-DMC

Run-DMC

The year was 1985, ten years after “Walk This Way” came out. Aerosmith had already soared high and crashed hard in the fame realm, victims of drugs and dementia. They were as good as dead despite a reunion record, the lackluster Done With Mirrors. Then Run-DMC came along and resurrected “Walk This Way” into a rap-rock hybrid. Rather than using the original track, they brought Aerosmith in to play while they rapped over it. They not only resuscitated Aerosmith’s dying-for-the-2nd-time career, but they created something brilliantly new: the fusion of rock and rap.

I don’t like rap music, but the marriage of Aerosmith’s dirty groove with Run-DMC’s streetwise smoothness is simply beautiful. It transcends rock music or rap music, making those definitions not really matter anymore. Aerosmith and Run-DMC were united because they both loved music, and that commonality was more important that their differences.

It’s the same thing that brought Steven Tyler and Joe Perry back together after so much crap had built up between them. Girlfriends and wives got in the way, posturing and pride widened the divide, and they came to the point of fist-fights and hate. Joe left the band in ’79, and for all intents and purposes took the heart of Aerosmith with him. But they couldn’t escape their musical brotherhood.

Next: speaking of wives and girlfriends…

American Stones

In the ‘60s, rock and roll that was completely American was… kinda lame. After the Day the Music Died and the Chuck Berry/Jerry Lee Lewis pedophilia scandals (thanks, you two for RUINING everything…) America dropped the rock and roll ball. Luckily, the U.K. was ready to swoop in after not too long with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Who. Those bands were all so huge that America spent the next 5 years making carbon copies of British originals. The Beach Boys and other surf rock bands were the only originality the States had to offer. That should tell you something…

the corner of Haight & Ashbury

the corner of Haight & Ashbury

Then came the explosion of the Haight-Ashbury culture, which saw bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane coming to the front, and the dark drug culture of the Doors, opposite of the happy pot-smokers in San Francisco. Creedence Clearwater Revival offered a little southern-fried jangle and drawl, but they were too short-lived. And then there was Jimi Hendrix, an American trying to convince all of Europe he was one of them. His backup band was British, and he behaved like a Brit, so who was to say (other than his parents) that he was really American?

It’s ironic but true – rock and roll may have been started by black American blues musicians, but by the ‘60s, it was the domain of British white guys.

In the early ‘70s, things started to heat back up in America, but only slightly. The first few years saw a glut of bands like Kansas, Foreigner, Journey and Styx. But little did the world know that they would soon see the unleashing of a Boston juggernaut: Aerosmith.

Aerosmith

Aerosmith

When Aerosmith slithered on the scene, their eponymous first album was released at the same time and on the same label as another savior of American rock and roll, Bruce Springsteen. Because of that, they didn’t get their proper acknowledgement until a few years later. It also meant they had time to actually earn it. By their third album, Toys In the Attic, they were not only the tightest band making music, but they were ready to be hoisted up as America’s answer to all those great British groups.

It wasn’t an accident that Aerosmith reminded the public of the Rolling Stones. Steven Tyler had a swagger, style and physical profile very similar to those of Mick Jagger, just like Joe Perry was akin to Keith Richards in both appearance and guitar style. Steven and Joe even had a similar dynamic to Mick and Keith; one was the flamboyant and crowd-pleasing frontman, while the other was quieter and more unobtrusive, providing mystique.

I’m not saying there was anything insidious or contrived going on here. Record execs didn’t generate the idea of emulating the Stones in the hope of making more money. Rather, this was a simple matter of Steven and Joe admiring the Stones so damn much. Aerosmith probably made a conscious decision to look like Mick and Keith (long dark hair, skinny, colorful dress), but the similar stage relationship between the two had to be instinctual. To Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones were just “how it was done.” Why wouldn’t they be similar?

Next: the Big Three of rock stardom – can you guess what they are?

In “The Colony of Slippermen” and the beginning of the fourth side of the vinyl, Rael meets a group of grotesquely deformed men; the Slipperman costume Peter Gabriel wore for the Lamb tour was the same as what’s described in the song. Upon meeting one of them, Rael discovers that he is indeed one of them, all having fallen prey to the lamias’ charms.

Rael’s brother John makes his 3rd appearance – the first being during “In the Cage,” the second in “The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging.” He, too, has become a Slipperman, and the only cure for their condition is… um, castration.

If you’ve never heard “The Colony of Slippermen” before and you’re learning about it for the first time now, I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it too. I believe the modern way of conveying the sentiment is WTF??!!?!?

you have issues, my friend...

you have issues, my friend…

Against my better judgment, I’m gonna dip my toe into the ocean of psychosis Peter Gabriel is revealing here. So the progression goes Rael meets the lamia, Rael becomes a Slipperman, Rael visits Doktor Dyper to get castrated, Rael is cured. The rather obvious parallel to the lamia sequence is that there’s an inherent connection between sex and devouring, like a black widow killing and eating her mate. Likewise, the parallel to the Slippermen sequence is this: sex causes deformity, and elimination of the sexual urge cures the deformity.

Again, WTF??!!?!?

Anyway, there’re some bits about John abandoning Rael again when he’s needed, Rael having the chance to get out of this nightmareland and back to his beloved N.Y.C., and saving John from drowning only to find it’s not John but (GASP!) himself.

Honestly, the story of Rael and his journey lost me a long time ago. I agree with Tony Banks when he says that the story aspect of The Lamb is the weakest thing about it. It contains some simply amazing musical elements (the mind-bending heaviness of “In the Cage,” the timeless beauty of “The Carpet Crawlers,” the brief but epic keyboard solo in “The Colony of Slippermen,” others…) and the lyrics present some great ideas, but the actual plot is bizarre and directionless. I get that it’s a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress and that it’s more about the journey than the endpoint, but it winds up more like Naked Lunch without all the drug references.

Speaking of endpoints, the last thing that happens in the plot of The Lamb is Rael finding out that John is really himself. While this brings up questions of the definition of self and other existential issues, it’s quickly forgotten about with the instant segue into the capping track, “it.” The sweeping and epic tone of “it” are offset by its breakneck tempo; it’s easily the fastest song on The Lamb. The lyrics to “it” are very philosophical, descending into a soup of all the things it is. “It is chicken / it is eggs.” “It is real / it is Rael.” By the way, I’ve tried turning “it is Rael” into “it Israel” and making that mean something – it was futile.

The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway marked a change in the way the band operated, a way that proved unsustainable. With Banks, Rutherford, Hackett and Collins composing the music without Gabriel’s input, and Peter writing the lyrics alone, it put strains on what was before a very democratic band.

Partway through the writing process, Peter got his ego stroked by William Friedkin; Having just directed The Exorcist to great success, he wanted to remake Hollywood by bringing in all new people, including Peter as an “ideas man,” based on one of his song intro stories printed on the back of Genesis Live. After the band made it clear that he couldn’t work on the album and be Friedkin’s hanger-on, Gabriel said goodbye to Genesis. Horrified that he might have been responsible for Genesis breaking up, Friedkin backed off, and Gabriel returned to work. But the rest of Genesis could sense the beginning of the end, because they then knew that this could happen at any time.

Add to that the birth of Peter’s first child and the innumerable difficulties with the delivery. Doctors initially didn’t think Anna-Marie Gabriel would survive. Quite naturally, that ordeal became the center of Peter’s world in both thought and deed, and that meant his work with Genesis was dwarfed. But rather than responding with caring and humanity, the other band members were very unsupportive. That, I think, sealed the deal on Peter Gabriel leaving. He had the courtesy to finish the album and the following tour, but it was a poorly-kept secret that this would be Gabriel’s last hurrah with Genesis.

To me, The Lamb is kind of like a train wreck that explodes in glorious fireworks. It’s quite an awful sight, but a beautiful one too. It confuses me, frustrates me, fascinates me, and ultimately leaves me wanting more. Even though it never has a payoff, I can’t walk away from it – I don’t even want to, because it’s such a fantastic mess. It does what a precious few great pieces of art can, and that’s constantly being ALMOST within reach of its spectators… but not quite.