Chip Away the Stone

#752: Chip Away the Stone

GETTING MORE TALE #752: Chip Away the Stone

I didn’t have any childhood friends who were into Aerosmith.  I had to get into them on my own.

Well, that might not be entirely true.  Next door neighbour George may have been into them, but the rest of us ignored Aerosmith because they were “the band with the singer with the weird lips”.  They weren’t “metal” enough to be in my wheelhouse at that young age.  There wasn’t much Aerosmith being played on MuchMusic in the early 80s.  Maybe “Lightning Strikes”, but that was about it.  The music video with the greasers didn’t appeal to us metal kids.  The Joe Perry Project didn’t do it for us either.  The video with the pink saxophone?  (“Black Velvet Pants”.)  Not metal enough!  We were strict metal heads as kids, and pink saxophones were not metal.

What was it that finally caught my Aero-attention?  Joe Perry’s plexiglas guitar.

This all seems silly from an adult perspective, but we were just kids.  We loved metal, not just for the music but also that all-important image.  Videos were so important to us.  A band not only had to sound cool, but they had to look it.  Aerosmith didn’t look cool to us, with the tights and the lips.  That changed in early ’86.

Ironically enough the video was called “Let the Music Do the Talking”.  It was and is a killer song.  I didn’t know, or care about its history as a song by the Joe Perry Project.  What caught my eye was that guitar.  A transparent guitar?  I’d never seen anything like that before.  My best friend Bob and I were obsessed with unusual guitars.

“I have to tape this and show it to Bob,” I said.

The video itself was pretty cool.  A group of bootleggers snuck a camera into a concert to make their own video.  It was a glimpse at an adult activity we’d yet to experience: the live concert.  “Let the Music Do the Talking” made concerts look just as cool as we imagined they would be.  There was even a twist ending.  And like that, Aerosmith began to chip away the walls around me.  Once they got me to pay attention, I was loving the song!  Sure it wasn’t “metal”, but it was fast and rocked hard.  The singer may have looked kind of weird, but the guitar player was cool as hell!  I’d never seen anyone use a slide before.  Watching Joe Perry hammering away at that clear guitar gave me a million new air guitar moves.

What came next was “Walk This Way” with Run DMC, Permanent Vacation and mainstream recognition.  Before long everybody was into Aerosmith (again).  “Angel” came out when I was really into ballads, and it was a fantastic ballad.  On a kid’s allowance, I wasn’t able to get the album for many years, but Aerosmith were still on my radar.

Only a year after Permanent Vacation came the song that I grew to love the most.  What came out a year after Permanent Vacation, you may be asking?

Many people didn’t catch the 1988 release of Gems.  It was on their former record label Columbia and didn’t get a lot of notice.  What Gems had wasn’t a new song, just an obscure one dusted off:  “Chip Away the Stone”.

Written by Richie Supa, “Chip Away the Stone” is one of a few hit songs the guitarist gave to Aerosmith.  Others like “Amazing” might be more well-know, but “Chip Away” is special.  When the music video hit in late ’88, Supa was featured in it via archival footage (look for the guy with the moustache).  If anyone knew “Chip Away” in ’88 prior to Gems, it would have been through their album Live! Bootleg.  The studio version was only available on a rare single!  If you were a kid living in Kitchener in the late 80s, good luck finding it, or even knowing it existed.  For us, and the majority of fans, “Chip Away the Stone” was a brand new song.

I was getting into piano in rock songs around this time too.  “Chip Away the Stone” had just a hint of boogie-woogie and it hit the right chords for me.  Even though I was expanding my musical horizons slowly but surely, the music video still had a huge impact.  Considering it was made up of old live footage, it was surprisingly well edited, fresh and cutting-edge.  The shots of the piano were spliced to look like somebody was playing on one super-long piano keyboard.  I assumed it was Richie Supa playing piano:  the credits are unclear.  Either way, that video got me deeper into Aerosmith.  Way deeper.

Today my two favourite songs are “Chip Away the Stone” and “Let the Music Do the Talking”.  I have plenty of others — “Seasons of Whither”, “F.I.N.E.”, “Draw the Line” — but those first two just stick with me.  Part of that is nostalgia, but the other is that they are just great fucking songs.

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REVIEW: Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits 1973-1988 (1997)

AEROSMITH – Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits 1973-1988 (1997 Sony)

Back in May/June, we took a detailed look at the entire Aerosmith Box of Fire set (1994), including the original Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits (1980).  What we didn’t inspect was the expanded 1997 reissue of Greatest Hits, now dubbed Greatest Hits 1973-1988, including an unreleased track.

Since this CD is based on the original Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits, it contains all the original songs. Because of the greatly expanded tracklist (from 10 to now 17 tracks), it is the preferred listening experience. The title is misleading: If it truly was the greatest hits from ’73 – ’88, wouldn’t “Angel” be included? “Dude”? “Rag Doll”? Yes, but this is the Columbia Records music, not the Geffen stuff. Casual fans don’t know that. Casual fans might see the title and say, “Oh cool…this will have some of the 80’s music on there.” No, it doesn’t.

“Chip Away The Stone” was released on CD for the first time on 1988’s Gems album, and there are a lot of fans out there who would name this as a favourite.  Putting it on the expanded Greatest Hits is what we in the reviewing world might call a “no-brainer”.  It elevates the album to a whole new level.

“Seasons of Wither” is a beautiful one from the early days, an acoustic number just a little different than your typical “ballad”. Fantastic song. “Big Ten-Inch Record” is loaded with horns and soul and sounds like classic Aerosmith. Be glad these tunes were added, among others. They’re all still great today, and not overplayed on radio or in concert. Of course you still get the songs you know, such as “Dream On”, “Same Old Song and Dance”, “Sweet Emotion”, and all that good stuff.

One unreleased song is present: A live version of “One Way Street”. This is actually a more recent recording from 1994 (so what’s this 1973-1988 nonsense?), and was also on a Walmart exclusive EP called Made in America in 1997.  “One Way Street” is a debut album classic, and oh so very welcome here.  It was recorded for radio broadcast, and the setting sounds intimate.  Steve’s harmonica work is the high point of this great little-known song.

I used to advise fans to pick this up instead of the old, cheaper Greatest Hits.  Today you can find it for under $5 if you know where to look.   The price has dropped considerably since I paid almost $28 for it on US import!

5/5 stars

AEROSMITH BOX OF FIRE complete reviews:

Disc 1: Aerosmith (1973)
Disc 2: Get Your Wings (1974)
Disc 3: Toys in the Attic (1975)
Disc 4: Rocks (1976)
Disc 5: Draw the Line (1977)
Disc 6: Live! Bootleg (1978)
Disc 7: Night in the Ruts (1979)
Disc 8: Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits (1980)
Disc 9: Rock in a Hard Place (1982)
Disc 10: Classics Live! (1986)
Disc 11: Classics Live! II (1987)
Disc 12: Gems (1988)
Disc 13: Box of Fire Bonus Disc (1994)

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Gems (1988)

AEROSMITH – Gems (1988 Columbia, 1993 Sony)

It’s impossible to view the 1988 compilation Aerosmith Gems as anything but purely a companion piece to 1980’s Greatest Hits.  It purposely avoids overlap with that prior album, while providing a slice of the heavier side of ‘Smith.  Since Greatest Hits pretty much included all the major greatest hits, Gems tends to focus on underplayed fan favourites.

Let’s check ’em off one by one.

1. “Rats in the Cellar”.  I’m on record for liking albums to start with a corker!  This one has an absolutely furious pulse, which in turn will set your pulse racing!

2. “Lick and a Promise”.  Solid album cut and underplayed favourite.

3. “Chip Away the Stone”.  Here is the reason I first bought Gems!  This amazing Richie Supa song was only available on a 7″ single, and in live form on Live! Bootleg.  Getting a CD copy on an Aerosmith album is a no-brainer winning reason for fans to buy Gems.  “Chip Away the Stone” was accompanied by an awesome music video, ensuring that a new generation of Aero-fans got acquainted with it, in the wake of Permanent Vacation.  This song can’t be topped!

That’s Richie Supa in the music video too, with the ‘stache.

4. “No Surprize”.  Decent album cut from Night in the Ruts.  A laid-back Aero-rocker.

5. “Mama Kin”.  Believe it or not, good ol’ “Ma’ Kin” wasn’t on Greatest Hits!  Including it on Gems was another no-brainer, since Guns N’ Roses put it on their Lies EP in ’88, instantly ensuring that millions of kids were hearing it.

6. “Adam’s Apple”.  I’m always in favour of Joe Perry breaking out his slide guitar.

7. “Nobody’s Fault”.  Brad Whitford’s apocalyptic metal stomper always deserves more exposure.

8. “Round and Round”.  Same with this one.  The songs are like a reflection of each other.

9. “Critical Mass”.  From Draw the Line, when Aerosmith were reaching critical mass themselves.  Regardless of the chemicals in their veins, “Critical Mass” retains the trademark Aero-groove.

10. “Lord of the Thighs”.  Concert favourite, and about damn time we got a song from Get Your Wings!

11. “Jailbait”.  Whoah nelly, hold on to your hats!  Just when you thought Aerosmith were so wrecked they couldn’t even stand up, they surprised with the vintage-sounding “Jailbait”.  Since material from Rock in a Hard Place was included, my only disappointment is that “Lightning Strikes” is nowhere to be found on Gems.

12. “Train Kept a Rollin'”.  Closing with this one is natural.  Aerosmith introduced this Yardbirds song to a new generation of rock fans in ’74, and then they did it for me in ’88!

I do need to address the elephant in the room, regarding the Box of Fire box set, in which Gems was included.  I’m not really sure that throwing in an entire greatest hits album consisting of music that is on the other CDs, all but one song, was necessary.  Couldn’t the soul exclusive, “Chip Away the Stone”, have just been included as a bonus track on one of the other CDs?

But that’s not the fault of Gems, an otherwise fine companion piece to Greatest Hits.

4/5 stars

Come back tomorrow for the final review in this Aero-series!

AEROSMITH BOX OF FIRE review series:

BOX OF FIRE THUMBDisc 1: Aerosmith (1973)
Disc 2: Get Your Wings (1974)
Disc 3: Toys in the Attic (1975)
Disc 4: Rocks (1976)
Disc 5: Draw the Line (1977)
Disc 6: Live! Bootleg (1978)
Disc 7: Night in the Ruts (1979)
Disc 8: Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits (1980)
Disc 9: Rock in a Hard Place (1982)
Disc 10: Classics Live! (1986)
Disc 11: Classics Live! II (1987)
Disc 12: Gems (1988)

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Live! Bootleg (1978)

For Deke‘s loving review over at Arena Rock – Thunder Bay and Beyond, click here!

LIVE BOOTLEG_0001AEROSMITH – Live! Bootleg (1978 Columbia, 2003 Sony)

Five records in, and it’s time for a double live.  Aerosmith had gained a reputation for their fiery live shows, and bootleggers were ensuring that fans willing to pay had something live that they could buy.  The way to beat the bootleggers was for Aerosmith to put out their own official live album.  Collecting tracks from a variety of live performances and radio broadcasts, including many songs unavailable on album, Live! Bootleg is today one of the best examples of the epic double live.  The intentionally shoddy album art conceals within it a live record of nuclear critical mass.  With liner notes, photos, and even hidden tracks, Live! Bootleg hits all the bases.

“Back in the Saddle” recorded in ’77 is chosen to open the proceedings, which it does with the kind of rawness that only comes with a real live performance.  Unfortunately it’s a thin sounding version, but fear not because “Sweet Emotion” in March ’78 is full of guitar noise.  The liner notes state that there are no synthesizers on the song, just guitars “screaming in pair”.  Then “Lord of the Thighs” from the same gig keeps the momentum going smooth and dirty.  The extended jamming stretches the song out to the seven minute mark, and that is the kind of noisy spontaneity that wasn’t captured on any of Aerosmith’s studio albums.

“Toys in the Attic” was recorded in the boys’ home town of Boston, straining at the leash.  It’s a fevered live take, faster and more reckless.  Then, also from Boston is the Tyler/Whitford classic of Aerofunk tastiness, it’s the “Last Child”.  Live (in a club), it’s funkier and slinkier.  The first surprise rolled out on the album is the Beatles cover “Come Together”, from a secret gig in ’78 at the band’s headquarters the Wherehouse.  It’s very similar to the studio version they did for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band soundtrack, perhaps a bit slower and more menacing.

Joe Perry dusts off the talk box for an ultra-funky “Walk This Way”.  In Deke’s review at Arena Rock, he said “Joey [Kramer] sets the tone and man he’s driving the bus at break-neck speed.”  That’s it exactly!  This is Aerosmith starring in that movie about the bus that couldn’t slow down!  (I think it was called The Bus that Couldn’t Slow Down.)  As if that isn’t hot enough, a smoking “Sick as a Dog” from ’77 crashes the damn bus over the guiderail and off into the sunset!  Lots of tasty extended soloing here.

Eight songs in and only now we’re hitting the first ballad, and only ballad!  “Dream On” is a necessary outing.  Aerosmith slow it down a bit a-la “Stairway” and let it build.  Look for a surprise f-bomb in the middle of the song.  (I guess Aerosmith were not being recorded for radio broadcast that day, or if they were, Tyler just didn’t give a fuck!)

LIVE BOOTLEG_0006Deke’s good buddy T-Bone and I have one thing in common.  Our favourite Aerosmith song of all time is “Chip Away the Stone”, written with Richie Supa.  This brand new song was chosen as the single fron Live! Bootleg.  The studio version was relegated to a B-side!  The live one has less piano, but has just as much boogie.  This is Aerosmith doing that old time rock and roll.  (The current version of Guns N’ Roses has been known to play “Chip Away the Stone” from time to time.)

Bringing back the funk of “Sight for Sore Eyes”, there is no time for rest, and from there it’s straight into “Mama Kin”.  Everything that the first Aerosmith album lacked in out-of-control raucousness is intact on this live version.  Without a breath they tear into “S.O.S. (Too Bad)”, ablaze with the intensity of fully-fuelled Aerosmith.

There’s an awkward transition between “S.O.S.” (recorded ’77 in Indianapolis) and “I Ain’t Got You” (1973 for a radio broadcast).  The younger band sound very different, less wartorn and ragged from the drugs.  They go straight into James Brown’s “Mother Popcorn”, complete with sax.  It’s the funkiest thing Aerosmith have ever done by a long shot.  Material like these tracks are perfect examples why Live! Bootleg is so beloved today.  They were giving you value for your money, and songs that you didn’t have, but didn’t know you didn’t have!

The next surprise is the unlisted “Draw the Line”, a live version so over the top that perhaps it even surpasses the original!  Wait until you get to Tyler’s screams if you don’t believe me.  Checkmate honey!  After a tracklist like this, ending the album with “Train Kept a Rollin'” (Detroit 1978) is one of the only options left.  Probably tired from an energetic set, Tyler gets the audience’s help on the chorus.  Joe Perry’s hanging by a thread but still able to piece together some gratuitous solos.   He throws in a bit of Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” for shits n’ giggles too.  Live! Bootleg ends on an overindulgent but perfectly appropriate note.

The radioactive fallout from their double live album bought Aerosmith, burning out fast from the inside, a little more time before being required to produce something new.  Even then they were breaking from the strain.  Something had to give.

Fortunately before imploding, Aerosmith managed to crank out the obligatory double live album that helped seal their place in rock history.  Check that one off the box!

5/5 stars

AEROSMITH BOX OF FIRE review series:

BOX OF FIRE THUMBDisc 1: Aerosmith (1973)
Disc 2: Get Your Wings (1974)
Disc 3: Toys in the Attic (1975)
Disc 4: Rocks (1976)
Disc 5: Draw the Line (1977)
Disc 6: Live! Bootleg (1978)