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Aerosmith

     Aerosmith (Columbia, 1973)
    Get Your Wings (Columbia, 1974)
      Toys in the Attic (Columbia, 1975)
      Rocks (Columbia, 1976)
   Draw the Line (Columbia, 1977)
  Live Bootleg (Columbia, 1978)
  Night in the Ruts (Columbia, 1979)
  Rock in a Hard Place (Columbia, 1982)
   Done With Mirrors (Geffen, 1985)
   Classics Live (Columbia, 1986)
   Classics Live II (Columbia, 1987)
   Permanent Vacation (Geffen, 1987)
     Pump (Geffen, 1989)
    Get a Grip (Geffen Universal, 1993)
   Box of Fire (Columbia, 1994)
   Nine Lives (Columbia, 1997)
   A Little South of Sanity (Geffen, 1998)
    Just Push Play (Columbia, 2001)
      O, Yeah! Ultimate Aerosmith Hits (Columbia, 2002)
     Honkin' on Bobo (Columbia, 2004)

In the days when drugs and alcohol were required substances on the road to rock & roll nirvana, Aerosmith blazed the path of excess, American-style. Though the Boston quintet's glam-rock swagger and lip-smacking arena-rock dramatics paved the way for Guns n' Roses, Mötley Crüe, and countless others, their hip-shake rhythms were steeped in old R&B and blues. The band's affinity for the groove provided a logical bridge for the first rock-rap crossover, Run-D.M.C.'s inner-city reincarnation of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way."

Aerosmith establishes the formula that would carry the so-called Toxic Twins -singer Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry - through three decades in which they'd swing wildly between hits and hokum, shotgun-blues raunch and purple balladry. Perry brought riffs by way of the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds, and Tyler the bawdiness, while second guitarist Brad Whitford, bassist Tom Hamilton, and drummer Joey Kramer applied the lubrication. "Dream On" is the debut's signature piece, a "Stairway to Heaven"–style ballad that suggested these hard-rock bad boys had arena aspirations from the get-go.

That goal became reality after the twin triumphs of Toys in the Attic and Rocks, hard-rock landmarks that bring the melody without stinting on the toughness. But the band's excesses soon swallowed them up, as evidenced by a bankrupt series of studio albums from Draw the Line through Done With Mirrors. Things got so bad during this period that Perry and later Whitford briefly quit.

Ignited by the Run-D.M.C. collaboration, the reunited and newly cleaned-up Aerosmith began marshalling a comeback. An audacious single, "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)," perked up the otherwise thin Permanent Vacation, but Pump made their return to hard-rock glory official: It was the first wall-to-wall classic since Rocks. It revealed a previously well-concealed social consciousness on "Janie's Got a Gun" and still managed to snarl through the slick production. Its success ushered in a new era of studio puffery, with ballads and gimmicks competing for space with the rockers on Get a Grip. As a live act, the new Aerosmith came across like multimillionaire craftsmen; their hook-filled but disconcertingly sanitized bombast is documented on the live disc A Little South of Sanity.

On Nine Lives the band repeated itself and others, with "Hole in My Soul" revising "Dream On," while Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" is the template for "Taste of India." Just Push Play continued to press the same buttons that recharged the band's career: power ballads so overblown they might make Mariah Carey blush, the occasional contemporary production touch (turntable scratching, drum loops), plus the time-tested arsenal of dirty guitar licks and lip-smacking, jive-rapping sexual innuendo. The blues covers that dominate Honkin' on Bobo allow Aerosmith to play it looser and raunchier, and this time there're no gratuitous pop concessions to muck up the low-rent thrills.

Among a truckload of compilations and retrospectives, the best is O, Yeah! Ultimate Aerosmith Hits, which combines the classic Seventies material with "Janie's Got a Gun"–era hits for Geffen, and the priciest is Box of Fire, which repackages the 12 albums from the band's first Columbia Records era with a marginal five-song bonus disc.

As of early 2010, Aerosmith's future was in doubt. After a disastrous tour, Tyler said he was working on a solo album and cut off contact with his bandmates, and the remaining members began searching for a replacement singer.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

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