Rick Dufay

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)