Jimmy Crespo

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Pandora’s Box (1991)

AEROSMITH – Pandora’s Box (1991 Columbia box set)

Aerosmith were out of the gates fairly early into their career when their first anthology style box set was released in 1991.  They were still going strong, at the peak of their popularity.  Their career had two distinct eras marked by the record labels they were signed to:  first Columbia, and then a resurgence with Geffen.

There was also a long gap between Aerosmith studio albums.  Pump was released in ’89 but it took them four years to come up with Get A Grip.  While Geffen waited for Aerosmith to complete Get A Grip, their old label Columbia was allowed to release compilations.  In late 1991 they put out a brand new video for a remixed “Sweet Emotion”, although ironically the remixed version wasn’t included in the forthcoming Pandora’s Box set.  Regardless, there was a stop-gap.  November saw the release of Pandora’s Box just in time for Christmas, with three CDs of music, including a whopping 25 rare, unreleased, or remixed tracks.

Disc 1

They hit you right from the start with a rarity:  Steven Tyler’s “When I Needed You” from 1966 and his band Chain Reaction.  You can barely tell it’s the same singer, but this quaint number is a great opener for a box set with this kind of scope.  Basic 60s rock with a hint of psychedelia.  Onto the first album, it’s “Make It” with an unlisted false start — another cool touch.  “Movin’ Out” is a completely different take than the one from the debut.  It’s superior because it’s harder and more raw.  (Did Pearl Jam rip off part of the guitar lick for “Alive”?)  “One Way Street” is the album version, but an unreleased “On the Road Again” is a fun laid back jam.  Clearly B-side material, but it’s Aerosmith and light and loose.

A sax-laden “Mama Kin” from the first album is the first bonafide hit presented, and like most of the hits in the set, it’s the original version.  It is immediately obvious from the upbeat groove just why it was a hit.  Up next, it’s the slick “Same Old Song and Dance”, the heavy “Train Kept A Rollin'” and haunting “Seasons of Wither”, all from Get Your Wings.  Major props for including the underappreciated “Seasons of Wither” in this box as the song has never had the exposure it deserves.  According to the liner notes, it was written by Steven Tyler on a guitar found by Joey Kramer in a dumpster.  The fretting on the guitar was “fucked” but it had a special tone.  The tuning of that guitar “forced” the song right out of Tyler.

An unreleased live version of “Write Me a Letter” from 1976 is overshadowed by the song that follows it.  It’s the “big one”, the ballad “Dream On”, and usually the centerpiece of any side that it’s on.  The random placement on the second half of CD 1 is a little puzzling.  The title track “Pandora’s Box” follows, a dirty slow funk.

The first disc closes on a trio of rarities.  A 1971 radio jam on Fleetwood Mac’s “Rattlesnake Shake”  goes on for 10 awesome minutes and dominates the disc.  They swiftly follow that with “Walkin’ the Dog” from the same radio broadcast.  Finally, a slinky “Lord of the Thighs” from the Texxas Jam closes CD 1.  Two more Texxas Jam tracks can be found midway through CD 2, which is mildly annoying.

Disc 2

The second disc represents the musical growth of Aerosmith.  A massive “Toys in the Attic” builds on the past:  more energy, better production, more speed.  “Round and Round” is Sabbath-heavy, a sound the band rarely explored.  Only “Nobody’s Fault” (which comes later on this disc) stands as a heavier Aerosmith monolith.

Behind the scenes Aerosmith were suffering from drug-induced absences in the studio.  One day when Joe Perry and Steven Tyler were late, the core trio of Joey Kramer, Brad Whitford, and Tom Hamilton just  jammed.  The result is “Krawhitham”, a menacing unheard jam.  It’s a testament to the “other three” guys in the band and features some stunning playing even if the riff is a bit lacking.  This rough and ready track is followed by four slick Toys in the Attic hits in a row:  “You See Me Crying”, “Sweet Emotion” (the original mix), “No More No More” and “Walk This Way”.  Each song different, each song perfect.  “You See Me Crying” may be the most underrated Aerosmith ballad ever released.

Two more Texxas Jam tracks occupy the middle of disc two:  “I Wanna Know Why” and “Big Ten Inch Record”.  These jams are a blast, but why not bunch all the Texxas tracks together?  Next, “Rats in the Cellar” from Rocks has the same energy as “Toys in the Attic” but with a nastier bite.  “Last Child” is a remix, a slight one at that.  The bass sounds deeper.  An unreleased Otis Rush cover follows called “All Your Love”.  This electric blues is fully formed with a satisfying mix and could easily have made an album.  Why didn’t it make Draw the Line?  That album already had a cover, “Milk Cow Blues” (included here on disc 3) so it is unlikely they wanted two.  Did they choose the right song?

The aforementioned “Nobody’s Fault” is preceded with a snippet of the demo, called “Soul Saver”.  It truly is a monster of a track and one of the band’s few true heavy metal songs.  Nuclear holocaust is a perfect theme for metal, but Tyler’s lyrics are more thoughtful than many of his competitors.  His tormented vocal is one of his career best.  “Sorry, you’re so sorry, don’t be sorry.  Man has known, and now he’s blown it upside down, and hell’s the only sound.  We did an awful job, and now they say it’s nobody’s fault.”

“Lick and a Promise” is a necessary speedy shot in the arm.  Though “Adam’s Apple” is replaced by a live version from 1977, it is the sonic blueprint for a million bands that tried to copy Tyler’s sleazy antics.  Two Draw the Line tracks close the CD:  the title track itself (remixed), and “Critical Mass” .  Again the remix is slight.

Disc 3

The final CD is the decline, but not without plenty of high points.  (“High” points, get it?)  The first high point is a 1978 live version of “Kings and Queens”.  “Good evenin’ boss.  Been a long time coming,” greets Tyler to the hometown Boston crowd.  Live versions don’t usually surpass their studio counterparts, but this one might for its seasoned, raw vibe.”  Joe Perry’s backing vocals make it.

The previously mentioned “Milk Cow Blues” from Draw the Line is an upbeat shuffle, getting the blood pumping once more.  A snippet of a demo called “I Live in Connecticut” leads directly into “Three Mile Smile” from Night in the Ruts.  It allows you to hear how a tune evolves from an idea into a complete song.   You get to hear that again on “Let it Slide” and “Cheese Cake”.  If you love when Joe Perry pulls out his slide guitar, then you will love this pairing.  We’re well into the Aerosmith stuff that doesn’t get enough credit when it’s good.  “Bone To Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy)” is another unsung gem…and the liner notes will tell you exactly what a “Coney Island white fish” is.  The autobiographical “No Surprize” is pretty fine too.

The Beatles cover “Come Together” was one of the very few worthwhile tracks on the awful movie soundtrack Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Fortunately for Aerosmith fans, it has long been available on their 1980 Greatest Hits.  And it’s not the last Beatles cover on this box set.  But it’s the last real hit before the disc takes a serious detour.

“Downtown Charlie” is really ragged; punk rock energy with nobody at home in quality control.  It sounds like one of their “drunken jams” according to Joe Perry in the liner notes.  Wicked playing but no cohesion.  And then they split — Brad Whitford with Whitford/St. Holmes, and Joe Perry with the Joe Perry Project.  Even this is documented.  “Sharpshooter” by Whitford/St. Holmes is a box set highlight, even though it sticks out like a sore thumb by sounding nothing like Aerosmith at all.  This is straight hard rock, with Derek St. Holmes on lead vocals.  Though an astounding vocalist, he is the Antityler and the song does not fit in any way on the tracklist.  Too bad since it’s such a great track.  More at home is Joe Perry’s “South Station Blues” from I’ve Got the Rock N’ Rolls Again.  It’s preceded by an Aerosmith demo called “Shit House Shuffle”.  Aerosmith didn’t use the riff, so Joe did on his solo album.  It totally works with his lead vocal, though it’s a shame Aerosmith never used the idea themselves.  Another wasted jam, “Riff and Roll”, had potential as the kernal of a song, but Tyler’s voice is completely shot.  You can hear what they were going for.  It could have worked on Done With Mirrors had they finished it.

Aerosmith carried on in 1982 with Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay replacing Perry and Whitford.  The resulting album Rock In a Hard Place was inconsistent but not without some gems.  “Jailbait” doesn’t indicate anything was out of place, a worthy followup to frantic manic blasts like “Rats in the Cellar”.  But they only lasted one album before cooler heads prevailed and the classic lineup reunited.

With Perry and Whitford back again, Aerosmith began recording new albums for Geffen.  Columbia still released Aerosmith albums regularly, like Classics Live and Classics Live II.  A previously unreleased oldie from the Get Your Wings days called “Major Barbra” was included as a bonus on Classics LivePandora’s Box includes a second version of “Major Barbra”, a rougher alternate take.  It’s a full minute longer than the version of Classics Live, including harmonica solo.  Another track Columbia released was the classic “Chip Away the Stone” (written by Richie Supa), on 1988’s Gems.  This obscure single never had a proper album release until then, despite its awesome nature.  The Pandora’s Box version is an alternate version, with noticeably less piano in the mix.

The penultimate track is the unreleased Beatles cover “Helter Skelter”, dating back to 1975.  This one got a bit of airplay in 1991 when the box set was released.  It is undoubtedly rough but with suitably aggressive and heavy hitting groove.  The box set is then closed by “Back in the Saddle”, an apt way to describe Aerosmith’s career since.

But wait, what’s this?  “There now, ain’t you glad you stayed?” asks Steven Tyler after a few seconds of silence.  Why, it’s the hidden bonus track!  The unlisted instrumental was written by Brad Whitford and actually titled “Circle Jerk”.  It is very similar to the previous “Krawhitham” instrumental on disc two, but heavier.

Now, what about that remixed “Sweet Emotion” that was released to promote the box set, but wasn’t actually on the box set?  The remix was done by David Thoener and featured some structural changes.  The music video was a smash hit.  You could buy it as a standalone single, with “Circle Jerk” and another unreleased instrumental bonus track called “Subway”.  All three were re-released again as bonus tracks in 1994 on the massive Box of Fire.  The Thoener remix has been issued many times over the years on compilations and movie soundtracks.

There’s little doubt that Pandora’s Box was good value for the money.  For the fans who didn’t have the albums, most of the hits are included in studio versions.  The remixes are minor enough for them not to notice.  For the rest, the wealth of unreleased bonus material justified buying three CDs.  Unlike other box sets like Led Zeppelin’s four disc airship, Pandora’s Box is not designed to be an ecstatic listening experience from start to finish.  It is a study in early Aerosmith from the roots to just before the reunion.  It is the rise and fall, and still fighting to get back up.  It is uneven with mountainous peaks of spontaneous rock and roll chemistry, and also the tired struggle to keep producing music.  Much like its subject, Aerosmith, Pandora’s Box is a flawed portrait.

3.5/5 stars

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 – Box of Fire Bonus Disc (1994) and conclusion

AEROSMITH – Box of Fire Bonus Disc (1994 Sony, only included in the Box of Fire)

Sony did a sonic makeover to the Aerosmith catalogue in ’93, using their new Super Bit Mapping technique. Each CD received a well due remastering job, and improved packaging, as you have seen here throughout this series. In 1994 these albums were released again inside the near-definitive Columbia box set, Box of Fire. Back when I was working in the Record Store, we stocked this one for over $200 brand new. I remember looking at that sealed box longingly, wishing I could peer inside.

The bonus CD included in Box of Fire was an added little reward for those fans who waited to shell out for the full box, rather than buy the CDs individually. In defense of Sony for the double-dip, I distinctly remember them announcing in advance the the future box set would include all the albums and additional goodies. Because of that, I did indeed wait to shell out for Box of Fire. I bought it used, at the store that Joe Big Nose manages today. It was in good shape. I just needed to replace a few broken CD trays, and the outer plastic sleeve was also missing (not a huge deal). I later found that plastic sleeve at another one of our outlets, and the owner “Billy Bob” gave it to me himself! (Thanks man, you have no idea how much that makes an OCD collector like me happy.)

The Bonus Disc has five tracks.

1. “Sweet Emotion” (1991 remix by David Thoener). Remember the music video they released in late 1991 to promote the Pandora’s Box set? That video featured a remix of “Sweet Emotion”, and it was released as a limited as a limited CD single. It’s a little longer and has a few things mixed louder.

2. “Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu”. A later track (1987) from the Less Than Zero soundtrack. I’m always in favour of getting one of Aerosmith’s numerous soundtrack contributions on an Aerosmith disc. I hate buying a soundtrack for one or two songs. Wanna know what Aerosmith sound like produced by Rick Rubin? This old rock n’ roll cover indicates, it’s kinda dry.

3. “Subway”. A cool instrumental jam from the Draw the Line sessions, but originally released on the 1991 “Sweet Emotion” CD single.

4. “Circle Jerk”.  Another instrumental from the same period.  Most fans who collect Aerosmith already had this one.  It was the unlisted “hidden” bonus track at the end of Pandora’s Box.  These two jams are simple and unadorned.  They were unreleased for a reason, although they both could have evolved into cool heavy rock songs.

5. “Dream On” (MTV Anniversary).  This live version from 1991, complete with orchestra, was from an MTV thing later released on a CD of its own. I’d rather have the song on this. It’s a brilliant version, best appreciated by the Aerosmith connoisseur.

The Bonus Disc is housed in a simple cardboard CD sleeve. This slips into a gap inside the Box of Fire, easy to miss and sometimes missing! If you’re buying a Box of Fire, make sure it’s intact.

Wrapping up this exhaustive look at the Box of Fire and all the albums inside, there is very little left to add.  The packaging is cool; a sturdy box with orange flame emblazoned all over.  The front door opens “garage style”, with a little plastic “match” as a handle, painted to look as if burned.  Each CD, housed in its own jewel case, slides easily in and out.  It’s a simply lovely way to display your Aerosmith collection, open or closed — when lined up, the CD spines form an Aerosmith logo!  Each disc is numbered 1-12 (except the Bonus Disc), and can be differentiated from the regular retail versions by the numbered spines.  If you bought these albums separately, they do not have the numbers or the coordinated spines that form the Aerosmith logo.  That’s how you can tell the difference!

I’m glad to have taken the time to listen to the entire Box of Fire, in sequence, from start to finish.  That’s something I haven’t done since I first bought it.

4/5 stars (for Bonus Disc and Box of Fire overall)

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 – Classics Live! (1986)

CLASSICS LIVE_0001AEROSMITH – Classics Live! (1986 Columbia, 1993 Sony)

A reunited Aerosmith managed to put it together enough to tour, and record new music.  Now on Geffen, Done With Mirrors was considered a “good enough” album in most circles.  The Box of Fire set, which this series of reviews is really about, doesn’t include any of the Geffen material.  Instead it jumps ahead to the next Columbia release, which came out the year after Done With Mirrors.   Columbia were now able to put out live albums and compilations.  Classics Live! was the first of these.

We have already established that the Live! Bootleg album is simply excellent.  As a double live album, it is one of the essential releases from the 1970’s that serious rock fans should own.  Classics Live is a different beast, a single LP with odds and ends from tours from 1977 to 1983.  There is no indication who is playing on what, but it is known that all four Aerosmith guitarists (Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Jimmy Crespo, Rick Dufay) play on the album.  They are all pictured inside, but only by ear could you determine who is playing.  For example I think “Train Kept a Rollin'” is a 1983 recording with Crespo and Dufay.

It’s cool that there are songs on Classics Live that were not on Live Bootleg. The most notable of these is “Kings and Queens” which really deserves a lot more praise than it gets.  Aerosmith at their most regal.  The others are a medley of “Three Mile Smile” and “Reefer Headed Woman” from Night in the Ruts.  Joe Perry was definitely out of the band by that time.

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Of the more familiar tracks, “Sweet Emotion” is a particularly good version with Tyler sounding pretty rough from the night before!  I’m pretty sure there’s some heavy overdubbing going on with this album, if the backing vocals are anything to go by.  “Dream On” is excellent as usual, with exceptional sound quality and a raw sounding performance.  “Mama Kin” on the other hand ain’t so hot.  Pretty sloppy and ragged but a lil’ too much.  “Lord of the Thighs” is solid.

The icing on the cake is the unreleased studio track “Major Barbra”.  This outtake from Get Your Wings saw its very first release on Classics Live.  It’s a slow, mournful, but classy ballad in 3/4 time.  It’s a great song that deserved a spot on an Aerosmith album, so here it is!

3.5/5 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)
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)

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Rock in a Hard Place (1982)

Be sure to check out Deke‘s loving review over at Arena Rock – Thunder Bay and Beyond by clicking here!

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AEROSMITH – Rock in a Hard Place (1982 Columbia, 1993 Sony)

I sometimes wonder what it was like to be an Aerosmith fan in 1982.  Their last album, Night in the Ruts, showed signs of decay.  Then out came Rock in a Hard Place.  Joe Perry and Brad Whitford were both gone*, and in their places were Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay.  Both guys are good players and writers, but they are not Perry and Whitford, who were 2/5 of the Aerosmith sound.  Changing two guitar players in the space of an album, especially when you’re losing a guy like Joe Perry, is always risky.  It’s risky because you’re losing a very recognizable member (musically and visually), and you’re changing the creative chemistry of the band.  Whatever was special about the first six albums, there was no guarantee it would carry over to the seventh.  Add to that an unfortunate album cover featuring Stonehenge.  There was nothing wrong with that, until This Is Spinal Tap came out in 1984.  It was a movie that Steven Tyler took very personally. Rock in a Hard Place looked like a joke, now.

Thankfully the record opened with two great songs in a row. The frantic “Jailbait” immediately recalled previous high points like “Toys in the Attic”. New guitar players or not, Hamilton and Kramer were more than capable of laying down that speedy Aero-groove on their own. Unusually for a rhythm section, they have a signature sound together, which makes “Jailbait” naturally sound like Aerosmith. Tyler is a sassy as ever, singing from experience I’m sure. Incidentally “Jailbait” is the only song with a Rick Dufay writing credit. Jimmy Crespo on the other hand co-wrote seven tracks.

Richie Supa, co-writer of “Chip Away the Stone”, returned to help out on the single “Lightning Strikes”. Maybe that’s one factor that makes the song so classic to me. Brad Whitford was still with the band when it was recorded, so that’s him on rhythm guitar instead of Dufay. “Lightning Strikes” was accompanied by a cool music video featuring the new guys. It’s cool how they fit in with the band, looking right at home, smoking on cigs. In the video, the band double as greaser gang bangers, ready to rumble in the middle of the night…when the lightning strikes.

Unfortunately, album quality takes a dip after that!

“Bitch’s Brew” is OK but it’s easy to hear the fatigue. The groove is there and the riff is solid, but there aren’t enough hooks to go around. That’s Crespo on the backing vocals, by the way. “Bolivian Ragamuffin” features some sweet slide guitar and really harkens back to what I like about Aerosmith. It’s just not a good enough song!

“Cry Me a River” is the old Ella Fitzgerald classic, and who but Aerosmith are better at doing unusual classic covers? “Cry Me a River” isn’t one of their best, but it is good. They do it as a smokey, lounge number complete with electric guitars and a monster called Joey Kramer on the drum kit!

Skip “Prelude to Joanie”. What happened here? This song intro is pretty silly.  Did Tyler listen to The Elder and say, “Jeez I have to get more sci-fi and conceptual sounding in my music!” Skip it, and get to the much better “Joanie’s Butterfly”. This sounds fresher. In a way it foreshadows some of the more exotic textures that Aerosmith would try out 15 years later on Nine Lives. It starts acoustic, but when the electric part kicks in, it’s old Aerosmith all over again and it works. It was an ambitious song and for the most part, they pulled it off. It could stand a little more cohesion, but think about the drugs swimming in their veins at the time!

ROCK IN A HARD PLACE_0003“Rock in a Hard Place (Cheshire Cat)” again recalls the good ol’ days, sounding a bit like “Same Old Song and Dance”. Not as good, mind you, but in the ballpark.  “Jig is Up” is an attempt to get back to the funkier Aerosmith vibe, but it’s a completely forgettable track.  Truly filler, B-side material.  (Great guitar playing though.)  “Push Comes to Shove” ends the album on a slower, lounge-y note.  Once again I can’t help but hear the band burned out and running on fumes when I listen.

Aerosmith would tour around, in smaller venues, for the next few years.  Tyler was in some serious shit with his problems, falling down and passing out on stage.  Meanwhile as the band aimlessly toured the country, Joe Perry and Brad Whitford began to talk about what it would take to rejoin the band.  As if fated, Rick Dufay killed his own job with Aerosmith by suggesting to Steven Tyler that getting the other two guys back would be his best option.  Wheels were set in motion.

Record deal with Columbia now done, the label were free to issue live albums and outtakes.  Even as Aerosmith were on tour behind a brand new studio album for Geffen (Done With Mirrors), Columbia ensured there was also a live album on the shelves.  That’s what we’ll be looking at next time.

3/5 stars for Rock in a Hard Place.

* Be sure to check out the Joe Perry Project, and Whitford/St. Holmes.

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)

REVIEW: Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits (1980)

AEROSMITHS GREATEST HITS_0001AEROSMITH – Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits (1980 Columbia, 1993 Sony)

When a fan walked up to Joe Perry in 1980 and asked him to sign the brand new record Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits, the guitar player was so out of it that he didn’t even know there was such a record.  Now 35 years later, it has sold 11 million copies and has become that one Aerosmith disc that everybody seems to have.  My wife asked for Aerosmith’s Get A Grip for her birthday in 1993 from her uncle, but he couldn’t find it, so he got her Greatest Hits instead.  She didn’t know a single song but quickly grew to love every one of them.

This album is legendary.  Even though all the Columbia studio albums were already included, Sony still put Greatest Hits in the Box of Fire set.   Two probable reasons for this are 1) the album is now considered a classic hits record, and 2) there are some versions here not on any other Aerosmith albums.  In fact Sony revamped this album again a few years later, re-releasing it as Greatest Hits 1973-1988 with seven more songs including one unreleased rarity.   That’s another review though, not a part of this series.  Since the Box of Fire has the original 10 track version of Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits, then that’s the one we’re going to look at.  This is the album that was released in 1980 to buy the band some time before having to crank out another studio LP…this time without Joe Perry.

AEROSMITHS GREATEST HITS_0003

This was my first album of “old” Aerosmith, just like it was for my wife.  I got mine in the spring of 1991, and while I was familiar with the hits, I had never heard the rest before.  “Dream On” wasn’t new to me, but if it’s new to you, you might be shocked how Steven Tyler’s voice has changed so much over the years.  Even familiar hits like “Walk This Way” sound ancient compared to today!

Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits was perfectly sequenced.  At 10 songs and 37 minutes, it was also the typical length for a single record hits album.  There are very few songs not included that are glaring by their absence.   Even so, they were eventually released on a second volume called Gems in 1988.  If you’re missing “Mama Kin” or “Nobody’s Fault” then you can simply get Gems to fill in the gaps.  On its own, Greatest Hits has material from all six prior Aerosmith albums, including some rare single edits and one non-album cut.

“Come Together”, the Beatles cover, was released as a live version on Live! Bootleg while the studio version (produced by George Martin) was on the soundtrack for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Saving fans the hassle of buying that awful album to get “Come Together” is the kind of thing that greatest hits albums are meant for.

The single edits include “Same Old Song and Dance”, with the line “Gotcha with the cocaine” replaced with “You shady lookin’ loser”.  I didn’t even notice.  “Sweet Emotion” has a different intro and outro.  “Walk This Way” and “Kings and Queens” are single versions, but most probably didn’t notice that either.  “Kings and Queens” is a stunning inclusion.  It’s one of those Aerosmith classics that always deserved more airtime.

In summary:

  1. Great, concise hit-loaded tracklist.
  2. Rare tracks/versions.
  3. Covers all six prior Aero-platters.

For a single record hits compilation, you can’t really ask for more than that.

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)
Disc 7: Night in the Ruts (1979)
Disc 8: Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits (1980)

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Night in the Ruts (1979)

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

NIGHT IN THE RUTS_0001AEROSMITH – Night in the Ruts (1979 Columbia, 1993 Sony)

Forget about the edge of the desert; the drugs had already taken hold. Aerosmith managed to keep it together on Draw the Line long enough to put out an album that was good enough if you squinted. Infighting, missed gigs and long, overbudget recording sessions were the order of business. It’s just another chapter in the same old rock and roll story. It looked like Aerosmith would be one of those bands that just burned out before the end of the 1970’s.

With half the album finished, Joe Perry quit Aerosmith. Packing it in wasn’t an option financially so Jimmy Crespo, a session player, was hired on. A number of guitar players finished the album, Right in the Nuts Night in the Ruts, a collection of songs that probably wouldn’t have been considered for previous albums like Toys in the Attic for reasons of quality.

Things got off to a strong start with “No Surprize”, a song telling the story of Aerosmith’s beginning, and featuring Joe Perry on guitar.  This is a standard 1970’s Aero-rocker, with no surprises (pun intended).  You wouldn’t know anything was wrong with Aerosmith by the sounds of it.  The playing is faultless (particularly drummer Joey Kramer’s) and the song is well constructed.

“Chiquita” is second, and I can’t help it but I always think of bananas. There’s a groove and some catchy brass parts, but nothing that coalesces into an album-quality song. It doesn’t particularly matter though when you’re Aerosmith though! “Chiqita” is a lesser known highlight regardless of its faults.

Because of its placement on the later (and more well known) album Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits, I’m used to “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” being a closing song. I’ve always found it to be a dramatic and classic Shangri La’s cover, but placing it right dead center of side one doesn’t sound right to me. It’s also worth pointing out that this is the first of three covers on Night in the Ruts. Coming up with original material must have been a struggle since the album is 1/3 covers.

“Cheese Cake” piles on the slide guitar, one of Joe Perry’s brightest talents. Because of his eloquent slide work, “Cheese Cake” is one of the best tracks. I’m pretty sure the lyrics are not about cake. For extra coolness, check out the Aerosmith Pandora’s Box set. “Cheese Cake” is sequenced with “Let it Slide”, an instrumental demo highlighting Joe’s guitar work. Onto “Three Mile Smile”, Aerosmith managed to come up with a funky groove but not much of a song. Once again on the box set, it was sequenced with an instrumental demo (“I Love in Conecticut”) that highlights the playing. Too bad they weren’t focused enough to turn it into a killer song.

A blues cover, “Reefer Headed Woman” kills four minutes, but without focus. The thrill is gone. Tyler remembered his harmonica that day at least; he sounds completely out of it otherwise. If you want some of that old Aerosmith chug, then look no further than the vicious “Bone to Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy)”. For the first time since “Cheese Cake”, it sounds like Aerosmith have ignited the way they used to. “Bone to Bone” hits all the bases, leaving one so frustrated that they couldn’t do it more often on this record.


That’s it for the Tyler/Perry originals. A Yardbirds cover “Think About It” isn’t particularly memorable and Tyler lacks energy. Steven wrote the closing song “Mia” for his daughter, and per the Aerosmith pattern, it’s a piano ballad to close the album. I want to like it more than I do, but like much of Night in the Ruts, it sounds half-finished and tired.

It’s frustrating since the Aerosmith discography up to this point has been largely consistent. Night in the Rights represents the start of the “dark times”, a period where Aerosmith had lost two key members and were in danger of losing their singer to his own demons.

3/5 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)
Disc 7: Night in the Ruts (1979)