Mama Kin

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)

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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)

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Toys in the Attic (1975)

TOYS IN THE ATTIC_0001AEROSMITH – Toys in the Attic (1975 Columbia, 1993 Sony)

What’s your lucky number?  For Aerosmith, maybe it’s 3.  Third album in as many years, Toys in the Attic is considered by some to be the album: “If you’re only going to get one,” the desert island record.  Considering that Rocks was yet to come, let’s withhold judgement until we get there.  For now just be aware there is a lot of Aero-love in the world for Toys in the Attic, and you can hear why.

As if to prove that Aerosmith could keep up with some of their heavier competitors out there, “Toys in the Attic” is a blazing guitarfest careening through the speaker into your skull.  What a way to open an album: it’s a statement.  The band were honed to a razor-sharp edge by producer Jack Douglas.  Joe Perry in particular had grown to be a ferociously good blues-rock player, and “Toys in the Attic” is the evidence.

One of the great joys of listening to Aerosmith is finding the little known album gems that weren’t repeatedly re-released on hits packages.  “Uncle Salty”, a slow crawl through the blues via the neck of a bottle, is one such track.  Also underexposed is “Adam’s Apple”, which shows off Joe Perry’s greasy slide guitar sleaze.  The horn section makes an appearance here too, adding extra sauce.  Then they bring the funk on “Walk the Way”.  Run DMC recognized that funk and knew how to update it in 1986.  In 1975, Tom Hamilton’s rolling bass was the stuff that groove is made of.  This is the kind of song that proves the musical ability of these five gents from beantown beyond the shadow of a doubt.  Then the sassy horns return on “Big Ten Inch Record”, an old R&B classic from 1952.  Remarkably the band pull it off with class and sassafras.

“Sweet Emotion” is one of the band’s best known today, something that Tom Hamilton must be happy about, since it’s one of only a few Tyler/Hamilton co-writes.  It’s no surprise that Hamilton had a hand in its composition since it’s based on another one of his rolling bass lines.  But listen to the way Joey Kramer and Brad Whitford lock into him.  That groove is the foundation on which Aerosmith was built.  On top of that, Steven Tyler has always had a way with melody.  “No More No More” is one of his most irresistible singalongs.

The Sabbathy thunder of “Round and Round” was an unexpected twist.  Tracks like this and the later “Nobody’s Fault” show the metallic side of Aerosmith that usually remains shrouded.  “Round and Round”, though menacing and heavy as a brick, is the least memorable song on Toys in the Attic (only because the competition was so good).  Brad Whitford takes care of the solos on this one, a song he co-wrote (just like “Nobody’s Fault”).

“You See Me Crying” ends the album on a melancholy note but lovely note.  A piano based tune with strings and McCartney-ish melodies, it is truly the kind of classic that Aerosmith will be remembered for.  If it were not for songs like “Dream On”, “Seasons of Wither”, and “You See Me Crying”, then Aerosmith would be just another American rock and roll band playing their version of the blues that the Stones and Zeppelins of the world had already plundered.  “You See Me Crying” was proof that Aerosmith were more than that, and had their own thing going on.  (That’s Whitford playing the solos again, by the way.)

So what’s better?  Toys in the Attic, or Rocks?  Let’s find out next time.

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)

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Get Your Wings (1974)

GET YOUR WINGS_0001AEROSMITH – Get Your Wings (1974 Columbia, 1993 Sony remaster)

Only the year after dropping their debut, Aerosmith cranked out another collection of solid bluesy rock tunes, but this time with better production! With Bob Ezrin overseeing the project, Aerosmith made the fateful hookup with Jack Douglas. Although the band had bigger hits under Bruce Fairbairn in the 80’s, Aerosmith made their best albums with Jack Douglas in the 70’s.

Get Your Wings really sounds like the Aerosmith we now know and love. The first album wasn’t all the way there yet. Get Your Wings sounds like my kinda Aerosmith. Surely, the opener “Same Old Song and Dance” is familiar to millions. Horn laden and funky, “Same Old Song and Dance” hits all the Aero-bases.

As a piano player, Steven Tyler usually keeps in simple and rhythmic, and “Lord of the Thighs” is the perfect example of that kind of Tyler piano part. It’s a menacing song, right in the pocket, also boasting some of Joe Perry’s more memorable solos.

One of my favourite songs, and one of the least-known is the sci-fi tale “Spaced”. This is a story about the “last man to survive”. It’s an ambitious tune for Aerosmith, and boasts a number of catchy parts. Another seldom heard track is “Woman of the World” which is also pretty cool. I like the acoustic intro and the smoking Joe Perry licks. “S.O.S. (Too Bad)” is a full-speed-ahead Aerosmith blast of adrenaline, a definite classic. These tracks boast a high level of musical depth and satisfying chops.

Aerosmith covered the legendary Yardbirds song “Train Kept a Rollin'” and managed to make it their own. When it picks up steam at the end, better hold on tight. This song may enduce whiplash. You get to cool down as it fades into the acoustic classic “Seasons of Wither”. As far as I’m concerned, “Seasons of Wither” is almost as brilliant as “Dream On”. It’s that good. It also takes advantage of the fuller production that Jack Douglas brought to the table.*

Although “Seasons of Wither” would have been a fine side closer, a coda is tacked on in the funky “Pandora’s Box”. Double and triple entendres, a rock solid rhythm section, and those soon-to-be-trademark Aerosmith horns n’ piano — what more do you need? While it does feel oddly sequenced, “Pandora’s Box” is every bit as classic as anything else on the album.

Get Your Wings showed significant growth from the band’s debut. Their trajectory had yet to peak…even better things were ahead.

4/5 stars

* I noticed in the photos in the CD booklet, this album was once available in Quad!  Oh, to have a quad version of “Seasons of Wither”!

AEROSMITH BOX OF FIRE review series:

BOX OF FIRE THUMBDisc 1: Aerosmith (1973)
Disc 2: Get Your Wings (1974)

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Aerosmith (1973)

It’s time for another series here at mikeladano.com! It’s been a while since I’ve tackled something this big, but for the last two weeks I’ve been writing and listening to a band that I hadn’t been spending a lot of time with in recent years. That band is AEROSMITH and it’s time to look at every original classic Aerosmith album on Columbia Records. The scope of the series is really simple: I’m reviewing all 13 discs in 1994’s massive Box of Fire collection — the entire box set from start to finish!

BOX OF FIRE THUMB

If you’re not into Aerosmith, I apologize, but that’s what I’ve got for the next couple weeks. To use the words of my friend Aaron, I just had to give’r.

You ready? As Steven Tyler might say, “Oooh-wha-ga-ga-ga-GOW!” Let’s go!

AEROSMITH_0001AEROSMITH – Aerosmith (1973 Columbia, 1993 Sony remaster)

Who woulda thunk that the band of young kids on this shitty album cover would become one of the biggest rock bands in history?  Nobody, that’s who!

I love this album.  I love its simplicity, its raw sound, basic production and youthful glee.  I love the built-in musical maturity that seemed to bloom fully formed.  I love the interplay of the whole band, their chemistry already intact.  Everything you love about the way that Perry and Whitford make their guitars mesh with bassist Tom Hamilton, and how Hamilton syncs in with Joey Kramer on drums — it’s already here.  Meanwhile, Steven Tyler had yet to discover all of his sass, but he was well on his way.   All Aerosmith (1973) is missing is great production, something the band would develop with Jack Douglas on the next album Get Your Wings.

It’s easy to draw comparisons between Aerosmith’s and Kiss’ first records.  Both records exhibited a more “rock n’ roll” vibe, and tame production values, with a band straining at the leash to really play like they do live.  Ultimately it took both bands a few years to capture that.

The two massive hits on Aerosmith are two of their best known and beloved:  “Dream On” and “Mama Kin”.  Think about that for a second.  One album with both “Dream On” and “Mama Kin”!  What more do you want?

You’ll also get six other great early Aero-gems.  “Walkin’ the Dog”, a Rufus Thomas cover, is one that Aerosmith still drags out in concert occasionally.  A decade later Ratt covered Aerosmith’s version, well before Guns N’ Roses made covering Aerosmith the cool thing to do, as they did with “Mama Kin”!

Hidden gem: “Movin’ Out”, based on a couple really cool Joe Perry riffs. There’s also a killer, even more raw alternate version on the Pandora’s Box set. Aerosmith recently dusted this one off again, and it sounded amazing.

I don’t think there is a weak song on the album.  There aren’t a lot that are “greatest hits”, but each one is great in its own way.  “Write Me”, “Somebody”, “Make It” and “One Way Street” are all catchy little blues rock tunes, nothing to write home about but plenty to shake your ass to.

Incidentally, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, Aerosmith also contains the greatest opening line of any debut album ever:  “Good evening people welcome to the show…”

Long story short: Aerosmith is a tasty blend of all the great Aerosmith ingredients that I love.  Electric rock and blues form a perfect blend, and Steven Tyler was the perfect singer to front this band.  Throw in some of his harmonica, piano and mellotron and you have a potent mix.  But keep in mind, greater things came in very short order.  Aerosmith, solid as it is, was only a precursor to true greatness.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – New York, New York (Live at the Ritz 1988)

NEW RELEASE

GUNS N’ ROSES – New York, New York (Live at the Ritz 1988 – FM Radio Broadcast, Gossip)

SAM_1729‘Twas Scott who alerted me to the release of this classic Guns N’ Roses concert on CD.  A few tracks from the gig are missing, most notably “Shadow of Your Love”, but most of what I remember seeing on MuchMusic back in the 80’s is intact.  Although I do not recall seeing “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” on the TV version, I used to love this concert.  I watched it over and over.  I had seen it over half a dozen times before I even bought Appetite for Destruction.  I dubbed an audio version to cassette, before my buddy T-Rev recorded the entire show for me later on.  I used to know these versions better than the originals.  It’s a pleasure to finally have them on CD.

Remember the sound of the guitars being picked up in the darkness before Duff’s opening bassline to “It’s So Easy”?  I don’t think I’d seen a band on TV before who seemed so…dangerous.  The sound of Duff singing the backing vocals are another element I distinctly remember.  Axl could get pretty mobile on stage, and his vocals often fell apart mid-sentence, while Duff held it all together.  He was Guns’ secret weapon, Duff McKagan.   Up next in the spotlight is Slash with those chugging, scraping guitars on “Mr. Brownstone”.    Axl then delivers his first classic monologue of the evening:

“I don’t know what by chance the television audience will see…what anyone will see…but what we’ll see tonight…is that we wanna dedicate this song to the people who try to hold you back!  The people that tell you how to live!  People that tell you how to dress!  People that tell you how to talk!  People that tell you what you can say and what you can’t say.  I personally don’t need that!  Those are the kind of people that been getting me down.  They make me feel like somebody…somebody out there….is ‘Out Ta Get Me’!”

Funny story about this song.  I had a highschool buddy named Anand who was the first kid I knew in our class to get Appetite.  Anand had strict parents.  One day he was down in the basement studying, rocking out to Appetite.  His little brother strolled in during his homework, and kept coming around to bug him.  He hung around long enough to learn the words to some songs, and returned upstairs to his parents singing, “They’re out to get me! I’m fucking innocent!”  Anand got grounded.

Needless to say the chorus to this amazing song was beeped when I first saw it on TV.  I loved it anyway.  That Izzy Stradlin riff kicks it classic-style, while Duff once again holds down the backing vocals.  Slash is shambolic, losing control several times but always pulling it back together, cig in mouth the whole time.  I love this one big sour chord he hits at 2:25 into the song.  If I remember he almost fell at that moment in the show; the audience were pulling at his guitar, but all you can hear is this big awful chord. Then it happens again at 3:00!  And again at 3:10!  The whole solo is a fucking disaster, and that must have been fun for the people in the front row.  Guns N’ Roses were so in the face of the crowd that there was constant physical contact.  That’s a fucking concert.

“Sweet Child” comes early in the set, and obviously it’s not nearly as sweet as the album version, and Axl’s hoarse.   Still, Axl hoarse in 1988 is something very different from 2014, and it sounds great to these ears.  “My Michelle” is credited on the back cover as written by Rose and “Stardlin”, making obvious that this is not an official release.  I hope Izzy Stardlin gets paid his due royalties.  The band get more and more reckless/loose/inebriated as the concert goes on.  Again it’s McKagan who seems to be holding it together and cheerleading from behind.

A very intense version of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” follows which I am less familiar with because it didn’t make the TV version I had seen.  Axl dedicates this to a friend named Todd who had “danced a little bit too hard with Mr. Brownstone”.  Needless to say, it’s very cool hearing this song played by the classic five piece lineup.  With Steven Adler on drums, it’s more to the point.  The arrangement is slightly different than what you know from the Use Your Illusion I album, but it still has the slow singalong  part that later evolved into the “reggae” section that they were known to play live later on.  Axl was a charismatic frontman and this was his moment to show off his power over an audience.

His next introduction was another memorable one:

 “About five or six years ago I hitchhiked here, and ended up stuck out…in the middle of this place.  Climbed up out of the freeway, and this little old black man comes up to me and my friend with our backpacks and about ten bucks between us…and he goes, ‘You know where you are?!  You in the jungle, baby!  You’re gonna die!’  That’s a true story, that ain’t no lie.  So ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, rats!”

This was the only tune of theirs that I knew really well back in early ’88.  It is played tight, possibly the only song of the night that is.  There’s magic in hearing this lineup play this song, their song.  And speaking of them, I always enjoy Axl’s band introductions:  Mr. Duff “Rose” McKagan on bass guitar.  Mr. Steven “Popcorn” Adler on the drums.  Mr. Izzy Stradlin on the white guitar.  Axl says he and Izzy have been together for 13 years.   He saves the most recognizable member for last:

“And last, but definitely not least…in a world that he did not create, but he will go through it as if it was his own making…half man, half beast…I’m not sure what it is, but whatever it is, it’s weird and it’s pissed off and it calls itself Slash.”


Slash then introduces a song about “a walk in the park”, called “Nightrain”.  Of the songs they played that night I thought “Nightrain” was a little less than great.  It always seems to be the one I wait to finish.  Then, Slash opens “Paradise City” with a little surf rock guitar before the classic opening lick.  This is the song where things got a little out of control for W. Axl Rose.  Doing his trademark slinky snake dance, he got a little too close to the crowd and was pulled in.  The band kept on playing and Slash took an extended solo, but you can see Axl trying to climb out. Security finally pulled him up, and then you can see Axl getting his bearings and checking himself over.  His shirt and several pieces of jewelry were ripped off, but as soon as Axl sees that he is OK, he resumes snake dancing and finishes the song!  Slash’s solo during Axl’s “down time” remains a show highlight, as does Axl’s quick recovery!

For encores you get Aerosmith’s “Mama Kin” (dedicated to Steven Tyler) and “Rocket Queen”.  The former is fast and tight, and the latter is epic and ominous.  It is a natural closer, especially with Slash’s extended soloing.  Axl delivers the closing in full-on ragged scream mode, as it should be.

I’m very glad to have this time capsule of a concert in my CD collection.  Highly recommended.

4/5 stars

LIVE AT THE RITZ_0002