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.”
“Lick and a Promise” (1976)
A highlight of Rocks, with Brad Whitford blazing away in his trademark fast-and-heavy mode. The fast pace and wild times were already catching up with them: As Joe Perry said, “We started out as rock band dabbling in drugs, then we became a drug band dabbling in rock.” But on this breakneck rocker, the party sounds like it’s still raging strong. That “na-na-na-na-na” chorus was so indelible, they recycled it years later as the chorus of their 2001 hit “Jaded.”
“Chip Away the Stone” (1978)
How bad did the drugs get for these guys? Let’s put it this way: They recorded this absolutely perfect shit-kicking country-rock badassery (written by their pal Richie Supa) and then left it off their album. Whoops! Although it became a highlight of their 1980 Live Bootleg throwaway, this studio version gathered dust in the vaults for 10 years.
“No Surprise” (1979)
With the band falling apart and Perry on his way out – just a few years after they seemed to be on the verge of ruling the world – the boys take a look back at how it all went wrong. “No Surprise” tells the story of Aerosmith, from Max’s Kansas City to Clive Davis to corporate corruption to drug breakdowns. The moral of the story: “If Japanese can boil teas/Then where the fuck’s my royalties?”
“Bolivian Ragamuffin” (1982)
These were the band’s lost years in the wasteland, without Perry or Whitford – the years when it seemed like a cool idea to slap Stonehenge on the album cover. But there were still great Aerosmith tunes scattered about, if you had the stomach to hunt for them. Fill-in guitarist Rick Dufay is now Hollywood royalty: His daughter is Minka Kelly.
“Black Velvet Pants,” The Joe Perry Project (1983)
Meanwhile, back in Boston, Perry was keeping the flame burning with his solo band, making three albums that still stand as keepers, especially their third, Once a Rocker, Always a Rocker. This was the hit. It’s about pants. Seriously. But, hey, lyrics were never Joe’s department.
“My Fist Your Face” (1985)
Nobody expected a thing from Aerosmith’s reunion album, Done With Mirrors. When Joe Perry told Rolling Stone, “We are the band your mother warned you about,” nobody took him seriously. Yet it had surprising signs of life, like this barroom-brawl vignette. Weird footnote: I saw the Replacements play this that summer (Paul Westerberg introduced it with the words “Here’s an Aerosmith song for you sissies”), surely a sign that Aerosmith had done something right.
“The Reason a Dog” (1985)
“The reason a dog has so many friends? He wags his tail instead of his tongue.” Nice advice from Steven Tyler – but needless to say, he never made the slightest effort to live by it.
“Shut Up and Dance” (1993)
After Permanent Vacation and Pump, these guys found themselves bigger stars than ever, scoring one gigantic hit after another, some of them great (“Amazing,” “Crying,” “Janie’s Got a Gun”) and some of them stomach-sloshingly atrocious (“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”). But they still dotted their albums with oddities like this one, featuring Tyler’s musings on the mysteries of romance: “When you’re splitting hairs with Mr. Clean/It’s like getting head from a guillotine.” Long may their heads roll!