How have Aerosmith managed to stay together this long? "It's very easy," Steven Tyler told me in 2001, with Joe Perry sitting right next to him. "The worst part of Joe is that he's a fucking asshole. It ends there. And by the way, no more of one than I've ever doubled him on. So what's the big deal?" Well put, sir! So don't worry too much about American Idol ripping the Aerosmith guys apart. It's been tried. Whether it's drugs, groupies, diseases, detox or motorcycles, nothing has ever been able to kill the strange chemistry between these five famously combative personalities.
"We went through that whole period in the Eighties of losing everything," Perry told me. "We lost it all, crashed and burned – and without dwelling on the whys and wherefores, it really made us think, 'What's it about?' It's really about five guys getting together to make a band. There are better songwriters out there, and better guitar players and better drummers and better bass players, but when these five guys get together we can play everything from a Diane Warren song to 'Train Kept A-Rollin'.' We made every mistake six times. We fuckin' paid for it all. I left the band, Brad left the band, we fucked up a lot, signed bad contracts, had bad managers, had good managers. But through it all, something kept us together."
That something is the music. Aerosmith have loads of mega-famous hits, but here's a lucky 13 salute to some of the deep cuts savored by fans over the years. Some are songs from the classic Seventies albums that never achieved hit status. Some are buried treasures from the comeback years of the Eighties and Nineties. And some are goofs from the wasted drug-hell years in between, when nobody gave a crap about Aerosmith – not even Aerosmith. Happy hunting!
"Make It" (1972)
Every Seventies hard rock band was required to do at least one "Good evening, people, welcome to the show" song. Aerosmith put theirs at the start of their raw debut album, and they opened their shows with it for years.
"Mama Kin" (1972)
This was the anthem that defined the Aerosmith lifestyle: "Living out your fantasy/Sleeping late and smoking tea." Guns N' Roses later covered it on their Live Like a Suicide EP, with the immortal Axl intro "This is a song about your fucking mother." Steven Tyler wrote the song solo before joining the band, and he was so taken with its mystical hippie message he got "MA KIN" tattooed on his arm. Skinny bastard that he is, he didn't have enough arm to fit the whole song title.
"Seasons of Wither" (1973)
Downer, man. This zonked-out chemical blues reveals the sensitive soul lurking behind the band's "Lord of the Thighs" swagger. Tyler wrote it one Halloween when he was shacking up on a Vermont chicken farm with drummer Joey Kramer. "So I went down to the basement, burned some incense and picked up this guitar that Joey had found in a dumpster somewhere. It was fretted pretty fucked, and it had a special tone to it. That tuning forced that song right out."
"No More No More" (1975)
The ultimate rock & roll vampire lament, with Tyler howling, "Ain't seen the daylight since I started this band." Even on an album as jam-packed with classics as Toys in the Attic is, this song stands out. Joe Perry's elegiac guitar solo at the end might hold up as his all-time definitive statement.
"Sick as a Dog" (1976)
Tom Hamilton's greatest hit, although most would nominate "Sweet Emotion." It's a tale of a boy and a girl on the road, two lost kids stranded in some cheap motel, sweating out a long night of fear together, sharing messy secrets they'll never be able to tell anyone else. It ends with that Byrds-gone-metal guitar riff, girl-group handclaps and Tyler yelping, "Taaaake me baaaack."