AEROSMITH – The Road Starts Hear (2021 Universal RSD vinyl)
Are Aerosmith kicking off a series of official bootlegs too? That would be just swell! The label on this record indicates it comes from the “Vindaloo Vaults”. It seems likely there would be more in the vaults besides this October 1971 recording. But even if this is all there is, we sure got lucky. This tape from Boston is Aerosmith’s earliest known recording, and sounds bloody great. Currently it’s only available on RSD vinyl, but don’t be surprised if it gets a CD reissue when Aerosmith re-release their entire catalogue.
Aerosmith’s first LP was different. Tyler hadn’t found his voice yet. The distortion wasn’t cranked up. But there is certainly a fondness for that period, which birthed “Dream On” and a number of other classics. That’s the setting for The Road Starts Hear.
This record commences with some slow, laid back guitars jamming on “Somebody” while the people in the venue chit and chat amongst themselves. Then it really starts – Tyler kicking it up, but drummer Joey Kramer being the real driving force. This recording is clear! There is some minor distortion on Tyler’s microphone, but you can hear both guitars distinctly, along with bass, drums and cymbals.
The blues cover “Reefer Head Woman” wasn’t recorded by Aerosmith properly until 1979’s Night in the Ruts, but this version predates the familiar by eight years! They’re very different but both boast a Steven Tyler harmonica solo. This transitions into “Walkin’ the Dog”, slower and bluesier than the other versions out there. This is a long jam, and for the brilliant guitar work, it’s likely the best take of “Walkin’ the Dog” that you’ll hear.
“Moving Out” leads side two, definitely edgy and sharp. Tyler is at the top of his game and the rest of the dudes provide the momentum. Then they lay back on “Major Barbara”, another song they didn’t release until much later. Though they did record it in a proper studio in 1974 for Get Your Wings, it didn’t get a release until it was added as a bonus to Classics Live in 1987! On this version, listen for a detour into “Hail to the Bus Driver”!
“Dream On” is fully realized, Tyler tinkling on the piano, but the guitar solos still in prototypical form. This brilliant version is probably the heaviest. Finally “Mama Kin” closes the record, a bit different than the way it sounds on the Aerosmith album: more garage-y.
What a band Aerosmith always were! The chemistry is evident on their earliest recordings, as is their hard edged approach to rocking the blues. You cannot go wrong with this record.
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.
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.
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.
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 Live. Pandora’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.
HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES – Rise (2019 Edel Japanese edition) – Discs 2 & 3 Live
How do you do a Japanese edition up right? How about including 21 bonus tracks in the form of a double live album? Get your credit cards out, folks.
Hollywood Vampires Live unfortunately lacks any English documentation, but Japanese readers might know when and where this show was recorded. It focuses on the covers with a handful of originals, the basis of the first Hollywood Vampires album. Unfortunately a few more fallen heroes have been added to the list of rock casualties, and so Lemmy and Bowie are among the stars honoured.
The original tune “Raise the Dead” (featuring an intro by the late Sir Christopher Lee) opens the show, but it’s just preamble for the better known covers. “I Got A Line On You” is the first track where you realize you’re listening to Matt Sorum (Guns N’ Roses, The Cult) on drums. He’s unmistakable. The big surprise is that the bassist is Robert DeLeo (Stone Temple Pilots)! Alice first covered this tune back in ’88 and it sounds like it’s one of his own songs now. “20th Century Boy” has bite, a little more than the studio cut.
Alice pauses to explain the concept of the band. “We are the Hollywood Vampires,” he asserts. “We pay homage to all of our dead drunk friends. And here comes one now.” It’s Keith Moon and “Pinball Wizard”, a Who cover that was not on the Hollywood Vampires’ debut album. “My Generation” was however, and here it’s injected with the live fire of the sweaty concert stage. Jimi Hendrix is honoured next with “Manic Depression”. Joe Perry playing Jimi Hendrix. Cool. Alice Cooper has no problem jumping from style to style, expert performer that he is.
“This one’s for John,” states Alice. That would be John Lennon, with both “Cold Turkey” and “Come Together”. Joe Perry, of course, is no stranger to “Come Together” which Aerosmith scored a hit with themselves. “Come Together” is another nice bonus because it wasn’t on the Vampires album. It has a different feel from Aerosmith’s take even though it’s the same guitar player.
“Seven and Seven Is” (by Arthur Lee and Love) goes next, which is a late addition to the canon. The Vampires recorded it as an iTunes bonus track for the debut album where it remains an exclusive. The live version is a blitz; Matt Sorum’s sticks must have caught fire. Contrasting that is the band’s interpretation of “Whole Lotta Love”, with Alice and Tommy Henriksen singing lead instead of Brian Johnson.
“I met these guys in 1968. They were my best friends. And I drank a little bit with Jim Morrison…” The Doors are next to be saluted. “Five to One” and “Break On Through” kick ass; Alice really gives ‘er. David Bowie gets the nod on “Rebel Rebel” and “Suffragette City”. It all sounds natural to the Hollywood Vampires.
“As Bad As I Am” is an original song about Johnny Depp, and another track that was only on the iTunes version of Hollywood Vampires. It sounds a bit like “Reckless Life” by Guns N’ Roses. Joe Perry takes the next lead vocal on “Stop Messin’ Around”, the old Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac blues number. It’s an obvious choice since Aerosmith covered it on their 2004 blues album Honkin’ on Bobo. This one is an extended jam, far beyond what Aerosmith did with it.
“My Dead Drunk Friends” is a Vampires original, sort of their raison d’etre, that being paying tribute to Alice’s deceased drinking buddies. It pales in comparison to “Ace of Spades” (lead vocals by Henriksen), easily the heaviest song that Joe Perry’s ever played on. Possibly Alice too. Check out DeLeo on bass, doing his best Lemmy. It’s sad that Lemmy Kilmister joined the list of Rainbow regulars who didn’t make it, but holy shit, what a version!
Only now, at the end of the concert, do the Vampires roll out their own past hits. “I’m Eighteen”, “Sweet Emotion”, “Train Kept A Rollin'” and “School’s Out” sound brilliant. In particular, to hear “I’m Eighteen” with Joe Fucking Perry playing guitar? “Sweet Emotion” with Alice Cooper singing? Sweet Jesus Murphy, is this a fever dream? As usual, Alice melds “Another Brick in the Wall” to “School’s Out” pretty much making it the definitive “school” song.
Closing the show, Alice reminds us: “And remember, give blood! To us!”
If the Vampires keep putting out quality releases, then that’s a distinct possibility.
HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES – Rise (2019 Edel Japanese edition) – Disc 1
The first Hollywood Vampires was a covers album with a few originals. The second is an originals album with a few covers! It’s a little strange and kind of sounds exactly how you think it would. Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, Johnny Depp and pals obviously set out to have fun, which is audible, but there’s also a weird bent that runs through. Interestingly some of the best songs are the ones that sound like Aerosmith riffs, done up far better than Aerosmith would have lately.
At the outset, the Aerosmith flavour dominates the stew that is “I Want My Now”. It’s “Draw The Line” meets Alice Cooper. You can hear what it would have been like with Joey Kramer on drums, Tom Hamilton on bass and Steven Tyler shrieking up front, but instead it’s Alice, who has had a much more consistent output of late than Aerosmith. In other words, Perry’s riffs are in good hands and the guy deserves to have a lil’ fun. His guitar work has the looseness that Aerosmith shed years ago.
“Who’s Laughing Now” is psychedelic Alice, which could be the Depp influence. It’s a really good tune accented by 8-string bass (by Tommy Henriksen) and Joe Perry’s unmistakable guitar expertise. It’s also bookended by two weird instrumentals that appear to be Depp creations. Unfortunately all this lead-up ends at the slow and stodgy “The Boogieman Surprise”, probably the weakest tune. This starts a lull. A farcicle “Welcome to Bushwackers”, featuring Jeff Beck, is a token hillbilly country tune that doesn’t live up to its promise. The highlight, obviously, is Jeff Beck.
Course is corrected on Joe Perry’s lead vocal, a surprising “You Can’t Put Your Arm Around A Memory”, the Johnny Thunders song previously covered by Duff McKagan. Joe’s version is poignant and wise. “Git From Round Me” is a pulsing, hypnotic charge through the gates with Johnny Depp sharing vocal duties with Alice and Tommy. Depp takes one by himself on the Bowie cover “Heroes”, a surprisingly outstanding version. According to Cooper, Johnny Depp (who is currently fighting an acrimonious divorce battle with two-way accusations of domestic violence) had a lot of emotion to put into Rise. Perhaps that’s what gives “Heroes” its weight, though it’s not a heavy song.
The best of the brief instrumentals is by second bassist Chris Wyse, called “A Pityful Beauty”. The song it precedes, “New Threat”, is OK. It is not up to the better material, sounding a bit like a stock riff & rhythm. Fortunately “Mr. Spider” has a classic Cooper atmosphere, brimming with drama and horror. Also sounding like classic Alice, but a different kind, is “We Gotta Rise”. It’s “Elected” all over again with a Billion Dollar Babies mold, starring “President” Alice Cooper. Alice isn’t political, but it’s hard to read these lyrics as anything but:
“We gotta rise, let’s rise, We gotta rise, let’s rise above the lies, It’s you and I, it’s do or die, We gotta rise, let’s rise above the lies.”
Maybe that’s reading too much into it, but it sure does sound like a call to arms. Regardless, “We Gotta Rise” is the best original song on the album. Depp’s next lead vocal, the Jim Carroll cover “People Who Died” is just about its equal. A rockabilly punk rocker, “People Who Died” is catchy as the flu, but better for you.
Rise concludes with an interesting spoken word track called “Congratulations”. It works because Alice, Johnny and Joe have rich speaking voices. Tommy Henriksen gets a spoken word portion too, using his more like a beat poet. What you’d think would be a boring slog turns out to be an album highlight.
It’s hard to fathom where Rise will sit in six months time or a year. It has moments less than stellar, where fat could have been cut, but the weirder escapades could warrant many returns. Bad press aside, Johnny Depp is charismatic on record. Joe Perry sounds like he’s having fun playing rock and roll away from Aerosmith. And Alice? When has he ever sounded like he wasn’t having fun?
Rise will probably have more longevity than the Hollywood Vampires’ covers album, it just needs to lose some dead weight.
Come back tomorrow for a look at the Japanese exclusive Discs 2 and 3: Hollywood Vampires Live.
AEROSMITH – Unplugged 1990 (2017 Zap City broadcast CD)
When Aerosmith’s MTV Unplugged aired in Canada, we didn’t get the whole show. We only got about half. Now thanks to easily acquired broadcast CDs, you can get all 14 tracks in one handy place. Because MTV were rigid about things being 100% live, you’ll get none of the annoying backing tracks that Aerosmith use today. That makes Aerosmith Unplugged a strong contender for the best live Aerosmith purchase since Classics Live II.
“Hangman Jury” is a natural for an opener, and actually superior to the Permanent Vacation album cut. “Monkey On My Back” is more surprising, being a heavier groove from Pump. Deconstructed as an acoustic jam, it lays it down hard. The first surprise of the night comes from the Air America soundtrack, to which Aerosmith contributed their Doors cover “Love Me Two Times”. Frankly the unplugged version is better. Tyler gets to honk on the harmonica and tear it up on the vocals a bit.
The first step back into Aerosmith’s past is 1974’s “Seasons of Wither”. When this set was recorded in 1990, only people who owned Get Your Wings would really have known this song. The purity of the unplugged stage is the ideal setting. Then it’s onto 1975 and “Big Ten Inch Record”, the old R&B classic they covered on Toys in the Attic. The album version with full horns is rearranged into an acoustic shuffle with individual guitar solos by Brad Whitford and Joe Perry. That’s all before Thom Gimbel shows up with his sax! This version kills.
Going even further back in time, Aerosmith pull “One Way Street” from the first album featuring a cool Perry solo. For serious fans, “Smokestack Lightning” is a treat because Aerosmith have never recorded it before. The oft-imitated Howlin’ Wolf cover is a natural jam for them. They they unload the heavy artillery exactly halfway into the set: “Dream On”. Arguably the song everybody was waiting to hear; easily a highlight. Playing with minimal instrumentation is a wise way to do it, though it picks up steam at the end.
“Milk Cow Blues” is rolled out next, a rarely played number from Draw the Line. Full steam ahead just like the album version, you don’t wanna be standing on the tracks when this one rolls by. Then, as if you’re daring them to try one that fast again, it’s “Toys in the Attic”. Tyler and Perry’s voices blend naturally together in the unforgiving unplugged environment.
Returning once more to the first album, “Walkin’ the Dog” is the fifth of six cover tunes and the first encore. It’s particularly cool because you get Tyler playing flute. “Train Kept-a Rollin'” from Get Your Wings is the final cover, though presented twice: “fast” and “slow” versions. For a solid thrills-per-second ratio, you gotta go for the fast take. Finally “Last Child” is announced to the excitement of one really hyped guy in the crowd. The funky classic works surprisingly well. A highlight from a show of nothing but highlights.
The CD had a few sonic clicks and quirks that may vary player to player. That would be its only flaw. Anyone buying broadcast CDs should be prepared for less than perfect audio.
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.
This revisit is due to your Heavy Metal Overlord, who told me that Permanent Vacation is his favourite go-to album for reunited Aerosmith. Due to the tremendous respect (and fear) I have for HMO, I decided that I needed to give it another listen.
My conclusion after hearing it again is that I had it dead wrong in my album review. Yes, there are a couple filler songs. “St. John” and “Girl Keeps Coming Apart” still don’t resonate with me. But, man, there are some bangers on Permanent Vacation. I didn’t remember how awesome “Heart’s Done Time” really is. I forgot about the cool Beatles cover “I’m Down”. I didn’t give due credit to the terrific title track. But most important of all is “Magic Touch”. Is Joe Perry playing a whammy bar in the beginning? What a song. Could it be the best song on the album? It certainly has a chorus that goes on for miles.
Permanent Vacation, as an album, might be overshadowed by its own singles “Dude”, “Angel” and “Rag Doll”. But I’ll be damned if “Angel” doesn’t still make the hair on my arms stand up to this day.
I’ve been unfair to Permanent Vacation. It’s far better than I thought it was.
It’s been a while since we’ve been “Just Listening” to an album here, but this one’s always good for a revisit. The last truly great Aerosmith album was 1997’s Nine Lives. I stand by that, because it’s a killer album. We reviewed it back in 2015, so if you’re looking for a more in-depth analysis, check that out. Today we’re just appreciating an album that is too often overlooked for the strengths it has.
The heavy stuff was heavy enough, and the ballads had balls. Songs like “Nine Lives” and “Taste of India” are juggernauts. Drummer Joey Kramer really took them to the next level, which is remarkable since he was sidelined for part of the making of the album. His partner in rhythm, bassist Tom Hamilton, is also on top of things with his lyrical bassline meanderings. You’ll rarely find a better guitar tag team than Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, but Steven Tyler’s words are also noteworthy. The guy is a poet with a dirty mind, and Nine Lives has some of his better lyrics. “‘Cause love is like the right dress on the wrong girl, You never know what you’re gonna find.”
Most people think of Pump or Get a Grip as the last decent Aerosmith. Although it didn’t have as many great singles, Nine Lives is actually a better album than Get a Grip. It has less filler, and rock fans don’t really care about singles anyway. The fact is, from beginning to end, Nine Lives is just a smoother ride.
It took some searching, but I finally found a copy! This is the first Christmas mix CD I ever made, back in 2006. I didn’t start making these until I had left the Record Store. Nobody who works retail wants to listen to Christmas music outside of work. Once I had been gone a year, my brain and soul were freed!
As discussed in the previous Christmas Mix article, after a few years I was running short on good songs to use, so I had to repeat a few from prior years. Several tracks from the 2006 disc made a return appearance in 2010.
1.Hawksley Workman – “3 Generations”. Truly an incredible, family-oriented song that is a highlight of Hawkley’s excellent Christmas album, Almost a Full Moon. The 2006 CD has lots of Hawksley songs.
2. Extreme – “Christmas Time Again”. My sister always liked this one, which sounds like early Extreme – perhaps first album era.
3.The Beatles – “Christmas Time is Here Again”. I leaned heavily on this one, though not a great song, just because it’s the Beatles and it’s a rarity you may not have heard.
4.Jon Bon Jovi – “Please Come Home for Christmas“. Bon Jovi have done several Christmas songs, but Jon’s solo version of “Please Come Home for Christmas” is by far the best. Let’s face it, this is a great tune!
5.Jim Cuddy – “New Year’s Eve”. Another one I lean on because a song about New Year’s Eve is a nice change of pace. Plus, it’s Jim Cuddy!
6.Ted Nugent – “Deck the Halls”. I think every Christmas mix needs a kick in the nuts to keep things interesting. Here’s the kick!
7. Bob & Doug McKenzie – “Twelve Days of Christmas”. It can get a little tedious, as many joke songs are, but people know it and like it.
That’s not bad for repeat. I’m sure Kiss have repeated more than just seven songs on their greatest hits CDs….
For creative types, the first thing you try something is often the best. Maybe that’s the case with my line of Christmas mixes. This first instalment is a great listen, even if you hate Christmas music and everything to do with it. Check out the amazing songs you would have heard in 2006!
“Linus & Lucy” isn’t a Christmas song at all, but it works because Charlie Brown is associated with Christmas. Wynton and Ellis Marsalis did an entire album dedicated to the music of Charlie Brown (Joe Cool’s Blues), but “Linus & Lucy” is the most instantly memorable. And now, all of a sudden, you’re a kid again watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special.
Hawsley Workman’s first appearance here is “First Snow of the Year”, a song that is much too happy for a song about snow! It’s homey, upbeat and jovial. Keeping things upbeat, I went for the Brian Setzer Orchestra next. “Jingle Bells” mixes the big band style with jaw-dropping guitar as only Setzer can do. I then chose to cool things out with “The First Nowell” by the sublime Eric Johnson. His acoustic/electric instrumental contains just as much original music as it does traditional. It’s wonderful.
There was a time when Queen’s “Thank God It’s Christmas” was a rarity. Now you hear it on the radio. When I first had it, it was on a bonus CD within a Queen Classics/Greatest Hits box set. (The “Green Cover”.) Since just about everybody likes Queen (then and now) including it is a slam dunk. It’s 80s Queen but that’s OK, isn’t it?
I used a lot of instrumental music on these Christmas mixes, which tended to come from Merry Axemas 1 and 2. “Joy to the World” by Steve Morse is a beautiful rendition, much like the Eric Johnson track, though Steve’s is entirely electric. Then it’s Joe Perry’s Hawaiian guitar version of Elvis’ “Blue Christmas”. You may recall that I put Elvis’ version on my 2010 CD. Joe’s version is cool because it’s different, though not as popular around our dinner table.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra is, honestly, a band I don’t get. Look, I’m a huge Savatage fan. Massive Savatage fan. I’ve been a fan since I was 15. Trans-Siberian began as a spinoff of Savatage, and I was absolutely shocked when little old men and ladies would come in to the Record Store asking for them! Trans-Siberian isn’t as “metal” as Savatage, but the bombast is all there. They’re popular though, so I put as much Trans-Siberian on here as I could handle. “A Star to Follow” is a pretty gothic version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”. Much better is “A Mad Russian’s Revenge”, an interpretation of Tchaikovsky. I also threw on “The Silent Nutcracker” because it is a simple acoustic guitar instrumental, not at all like the other TSO tracks.
One of Marillion’s very best Christmas tunes is “I Saw Three Ships”, so for my debut Christmas mix, I used nothing but the best Marillion. This is from 2001’s A Very Barry Christmas. There is something special and unique about this band. “I Saw Three Ships” is both true to the song, yet intrinsically Marillion.
Hawksley’s third appearance is a hat trick of perfect celebratory pop. “Claire Fontaine” isn’t particularly seasonal, though it’s from his Christmas CD. It’s about a girl who makes lovely decorative paper. There’s a line about “going home for Christmas” but otherwise there is little connection. Claire could use her paper to wrap gifts, though Hawksley uses it for writing. “Your sheets are very smooth, I like to rub my pen across them.” This was a selfish inclusion. I just love this song.
“Ring Out Solstice Bells” is also a selfish inclusion, because although it is a brilliant track, nobody I knew actually liked Jethro Tull. In fact some, like Mrs. LeBrain, are quite anti-Tull. So who was this song for? Me! And I stand beneath the Christmas tree, doing my best Ian Anderson single-leg stand.
Lo, what is this I hear? More Hawksley? Yes, Hawksley Workman had four tracks on my Christmas CD. That is a full one-half of his original album! I chose “Common Cold” for the last Hawksley. Nobody gets through the holidays without getting sick, not in my family anyway! (Last year I had the flu.) “Nearly OD, on Vitamin C, you’re standing in a lineup with a gift just for me.”
The disc ended with a slew of tracks I’d use again. Cuddy, Nugent, and Bob & Doug closed the CD. A joke song makes a good closer sometimes, so that’s why I re-used Bob & Doug in the exact same position on 2010’s CD!
I like this CD, but I today I would axe the first two Trans-Siberian tracks. I don’t think I’d change anything else. In fact I’m quite thrilled to hear “Linus & Lucy” again for the first time in ages. (I’ll have to give the whole Wynton & Ellis CD a spin again.) Hawksley is always a delight, and I used his very best Christmas songs here. And that Jethro Tull song is brilliant; I don’t care what cynics say.
Do you have a favourite Christmas album? Perhaps you need some Merry Axemas in your life. The first one, in particular.
I used to have an annual tradition of making a Christmas mix CD. I dropped it because after a while I ran out of good Christmas tracks. Something from Merry Axemas used to make the list every year. Not only are there great traditional songs, but also the finest guitar slingers in the world. For an album of (mostly) instrumentals, this one really rings the bells.
Louisiana blues rocker Kenny Wayne Shepherd gets things started with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. Anyone on board with the blues should enjoy the solid jamming going on here! This isn’t for grandma. This is for guitar maniacs! Progressive stylist Eric Johnson has a beautiful “First Nowell”, on a classical and electric guitars with accompaniment. Grandma won’t mind this one at all, in fact she might want a copy for herself. The wizard of the wires, Jeff Beck, then presents his slide guitar version of “Amazing Grace” complete with choir. A different mix of elements, but not too hard to digest.
Not the version from this CD, which is instrumental
The Brian Setzer Orchestra comes out swingin’ with their instrumental “Jingle Bells”. If you ever needed reminding how awesome the former Stray Cat is on six strings, then check this out. Brian keeps it all accessible while simultaneously blowing off your nuts. The big band is icing on the cake. Joe Satriani is next up to the plate with an adventurous “Silent Night/Holy Night Jam”. This one is strictly for guitar-heads and players, as it’s more a Joe showpiece than anything else. Picture Joe circa Flying in a Blue Dream and you’re in the right place, but not very Christmas-y. This is the only song that has never made one of my annual Christmas mix CDs. Steve Morse’s “Joy to the World” is far more successful as far as the Christmas theme goes. Steve does do it his way, but at least you can tell which carol you’re listening to. If anyone can capture angelic Christmas guitar tones, it is Steve Morse.
How big can these names get? Try Steve Vai on for size. You might recall “Christmas Time is Here” from the classic Charlie Brown Christmas special. Vince Guaraldi made it popular for all ages, and Steve does a playful take on it, using his guitar like a voice. And the names keep getting bigger. Heard of Joe Perry before? The Aerosmith guitar hero does Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” as a Hawiian guitar instrumental which suddenly goes surf rock. Rush’s Alex Lifeson then brings “The Little Drummer Boy”, with a low-key and quiet instrumental.
“‘O Holy Night”, performed by Richie Sambora formerly of Bon Jovi, swings and just barely misses. It just doesn’t have that Christmas feel. The Japanese guitarist Hotei has the final track, John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”, which is actually a traditional that Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote lyrics to. He goes a little over the edge partway through, but it mostly maintains the right feel.
Here’s the great thing about Merry Axemas. Even if you don’t care for Christmas music, there is usually a need for it around, once a year. Merry Axemas, with some modest editing, could suit your needs. Don’t celebrate Christmas? No problem — if you’re a fan of these players (particularly Morse, Vai, Perry, and Johnson) then you’ll want to hear what they did with these tracks.