let the music do the talking

#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 – Done With Mirrors (1985)

Part one of an Aerosmith two-parter!

AEROSMITH DONE WITH MIRRORS_0001AEROSMITH – Done With Mirrors (1985 Geffen)

This review comes by request of, well, several readers.  Done With Mirrors was Aerosmith’s first record on their new deal with Geffen.  That means it wasn’t included in the massive 13 disc Box of Fire that I reviewed recently.  I intended to get around to Done With Mirrors anyway, but the reader anticipation adds an interesting sort of pressure.

I know some people, like Deke over at Arena Rock, hold this album in high esteem.  “36 minutes of classic Aerorock,” in his books.  I know that Done With Mirrors is a bit of a cult favourite album in some ways.  The band ignore all but one song in their live sets, but some fans have loved it since it came out.  I think it’s possible that some readers, knowing my love for underdog albums, are hoping I’m going to come out with some really appreciative glowing observations about the album.

The fact of the matter is, I’ve never been a fan of this album.  “Let the Music Do the Talking” is probably my second favourite Aero-tune ever, right after “Chip Away the Stone”.  As an album, I have always found Done With Mirrors to be so-so at best, and I’ve never really warmed up to it over the years.  Why is that?

I decided to do something different for this review, and listen to the album as background music while working on something else.  I came away with some strong impressions, so I immediately gave it another listen.  Rather than go song-by-song, I’d rather just talk about the feeling I get from the album now.

I used to think the production (by Ted Templeman) sucked.  I think it could use some embellishment, but hot damn! Aren’t Joey’s drums sounding fucking awesome?  Yes they are.  I’d say Joey’s the MVP on Done With Mirrors, as he is so rock solid consistent right through!

I used to think the songs (all but “Let the Music Do the Talking”) were pretty much just crap.  I think anyone would have to admit that these are not the catchiest tunes Aerosmith have ever written in their storied career.  They do, however, rock.  They rock hard.  “My Fist Your Face” is exactly what it sounds like — a fist right in your face!

I used to think that Steve and the band sounded tired compared to the earlier material, or what came after.  I still think that’s true, but even tired, Aerosmith were capable of blowing out the speakers with bluesy riffs and Steve’s scats.  If you pay attention to the lyrics, you’ll hear that Steve’s as sassy as ever.  I love the name-dropping of “Joe Perry, oooh Mr. Style.”

Compared to, say, Pump, Done With Mirrors doesn’t fare too well.  Letting it stand on its own and just enjoying it as a batch of rockers, it’s actually not as bad as I remembered.  Maybe all these years I just haven’t been letting it in.

Big surprise:  How swampy and cool “She’s On Fire” is.  No idea why it never clicked with me before.  I can say the same for a few songs on this album.  While very few would make my own personal road tapes, there aren’t any to skip.  It’s a fair chunk of solid, hard rocking Aerosmith.  No ballads, no fluff, no embarrassing forays into other genres.

Finally, gotta love the cover art and double meaning.  I’ve always been fond of the packaging way before hearing the album.

Assigning a number rating is hard.

I’d say somewhere between 3.5 4/5 stars.