Once again your rockin’ writer felt the need to resurrect his “Listen Again” series. For those of you just joining us, the “Listen Again” series is a series in which we revisit albums that for one reason or another didn’t receive the attention or acclaim they deserved when they were originally released. Whether it was the recording was ahead of its time, broke away from the artist’s usual style, was poorly publicized or initially misunderstood, the “Listen Again” series urges music fans to listen again. This time we (ahem) examine an album first introduced to your crusty chronicler by an old scout buddy Steven Grasse–Aerosmith’s Aerosmith.
If you’ve been living under a rock instead of listening to it, Aerosmith is a blues-based rock band from the US. The signature sound has since grown to include elements of other genres including heavy metal, pop and R&B. Founded in 1970 the original line-up included: Joe Perry (guitar), Tom Hamilton (bass), Steven Tyler (lead vocals), Joey Kramer (drums) and Ray Tabano (guitar). The following year Tabano was replaced by Brad Whitford. They were signed to the Columbia Records label in 1972 and have put out several multi-platinum albums including their premiere platter the eponymous Aerosmith.
Side One of the 8-track album opens on “Make It” the first of Tyler’s tunes here. It’s an apropos intro considering the lyrics: “Good evening people, welcome to the show, got something here I want you all to know”. (Oddly, when released as a promo single to drum up some PR for the platter, it didn’t get much attention from radio stations.)
The second selection is “Somebody”. This was one of the few songs here that was not written entirely by Tyler. This one was co-written with his buddy Steven Emspack. It’s a blues-riff driven ditty destined to be but a B-side to the next number on the release “Dream On”.
Indeed, “Dream On” was not only the best cut on this side but perhaps the entire album. This power ballad was also unique because it was the only song on which Tyler used his “real” voice. He was initially insecure about how he sounded and attempted to sing lower and imitate soul singers like James Brown on the rest of the LP.
The first side closes on the lengthy “One Way Street”. With a running time of 7 minutes, the piece focuses on infidelity and betrayal. The band would seldom play this live (and to date is only performed about twice per tour).
The flip side opens on “Mama Kin”. Here listeners were introduced to the talents of saxophonist David Wooford. It is also noteworthy for its strong backbeat and for the band’s first use of profanity (“sh*t”). (Aerosmith was one of the few groups founded in the 1970s to make free use of profanity in their songs.)
It’s followed by “Write Me a Letter”. Musically, this is basically a blues piece. It is also the first Aerosmith track to feature the harmonica. Wooford encores on sax.
The next number is “Movin’ Out”. This is the first published piece co-composed by Tyler and Perry. Oddly, it was recorded on a water bed at the band’s apartment. Tyler considers this to be “the first real Aerosmith song”.
The closing cut is a cover of Rufus Thomas’ “Walkin’ the Dog”. Previously covered by the Rolling Stones and The Grateful Dead in the 1960s, the band had to work to put their burgeoning signature sound to it. (The title was misprinted on the original album cover and second printing would include a modified cover pic.)
Released at the start of 1973 with a running time of almost 36 minutes, the album was not considered a commercial success but managed to garner good reviews in general. In fact, Rolling Stone magazine gave it four stars. It made it to number 21 on The Billboard 200. (It would eventually go gold in 1975.)
The single “Dream On” would only reach number 59 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song would not be forgotten though and upon re-release in 1976 would climb to number 6. It would go double-platinum before the end of 1986 and be re-mastered and re-released on CD in 1993.
Perhaps every generation of rock music fans needs its own heroes. Those who came of age during the mid-1970s chose the band Aerosmith. Some critics think this choice initially seemed based more on looks than sound.
There was the salacious eyed and pouty-lipped Tyler who appeared to be a lot like Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. He did not, however, have Jagger’s command of song or movement. Perry, at first, appeared to some to be little more than a limited version of Keith Richards.
Still, they would soon go on to forge a sound and identity all their own born of this very album. Yes, criticisms of the band and their initial offering are somewhat valid, but this release does denote the assorted attributes of a group that would go on to become one of the definitive American rock bands of the 1970s. If you’ve never listened to Aerosmith’s Aerosmith, listen to it. If you’ve already listened to it . . . listen again.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.