My Playlist: Aerosmith

While bands like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin typically remain my first choice when I’m in the mood for more heavy-oriented rock, I’ve also come to appreciate Aerosmith over the decades. Like Zeppelin, “the Bad Boys from Boston” were an acquired taste. The song that started my Aerosmith journey was the power ballad Dream On, which I first heard on the radio in Germany sometime during the second half of the ’70s. I think it’s fair to say the tune has been burned a bit by overexposure, but I still dig it.

Before getting to some music by Aerosmith, here’s a bit of background on the band that was formed in Boston in 1970. This means they’ve been around for 50 years, which is remarkable; though not without drama, as you’d probably expect. Steven Tyler (lead vocals), who was in a band called Chain Reaction, and Joe Perry (guitar, vocals), Tom Hamilton (bass) and Joey Kramer (drums), who all were members of Jam Band, aka Joe Perry’s Jam Band, first met in 1970 when their respective bands performed at the same venue.

Tyler immediately was turned on by Jam Band’s sound and proposed to combine the two bands, insisting he’d front the combined group as their lead singer. The other guys agreed, and the members of the new band moved together to a place in Boston where they stared rehearsing and writing songs. Apparently, it was Kramer who came up with the name Aerosmith, after he had listened to Harry Nilssen album Aerial Ballet and recalled writing the word “areosmith” all over his notebooks when he was in school.

From left: Tom Hamilton, Joe Perry, Steven Tyler, Joey Kramer & Brad Whitford

Prior to playing their first gig as Aerosmith in Mendon, Mass. in November 1970, the band hired Ray Tabano, a childhood friend of Tyler, as rhythm guitarist. The following year, Tabano was replaced by Brad Whitford, completing the line-up that went on to sign a deal with Columbia Records in mid-1972 and that remains in place to this day. Soon thereafter, Aerosmith went into the studio to record their eponymous debut album that appeared in January 1973 – the first of 15 studio records to date. That’s no exactly an extensive catalogue, considering the band has been around for five decades. But, as hinted above, there has been good deal of drama throughout their history.

Even though it’s perhaps a bit lame to select the obvious tune, I’d like to kick off this playlist with Dream On, written by Tyler, which also became Aerosmith’s first single. It peaked at No. 59 on the Billboard Hot 100 and made it to No. 87 on the Canadian Singles Chart. While the album wasn’t a success initially, in addition to Dream On, it included tracks like Mama Kin and Walkin’ the Dog that became staples during Aerosmith’s live shows and on rock radio. Eventually, Aerosmith was certified 2x Platinum.

Following extensive touring, Aerosmith released their sophomore album Get Your Wings in March 1974. It was the first produced by Jack Douglas and the beginning of a long and successful studio collaboration that resulted in four additional albums. While contemporary reviews were mostly favorable, at first, the album didn’t do very well either. But similar to the debut, Get Your Wings eventually became a commercial success, securing 3x Platinum status. Here’s the band’s excellent cover of Train Kept A-Rollin’, a tune co-written by Tiny Bradshaw and Lois Mann, aka Syd Nathan, and first recorded by Bradshaw in 1951. In addition to Aerosmith, many other artists, such as Johnny Burnette, The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin, have covered the song.

Toys in the Attic, Aerosmith’s third studio album from April 1975, catapulted them to international stardom. It reached No. 11 on the Billboard 200 and remains the band’s most commercially successful album in the U.S. to date, with more than 8 million copies sold. It was ranked at No. 229 on Rolling Stone’s 2012 version of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, though it no longer made the cut for the list’s latest revision published in September this year. Here’s Sweet Emotion, co-written by Tyler and Hamilton, one of their best known tunes that also became their second charting single in the U.S., reaching No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Aerosmith followed up Toys in the Attic with Rocks in May 1976, an instantly successful seller that also became their highest charting album of the ’70s in the U.S., reaching No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also made Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (No. 176). Unlike Toys, it’s still included in the most recent revision, ranking at No. 366. By the time they recorded Rocks, Aerosmith were well into living the rock & roll lifestyle and heavy drug indulgence, but apparently this wasn’t hampering them yet. Here’s the hard hitting opener Back in the Saddle, co-written by Tyler and Perry.

In the late ’70s, the band’s drug use started to take its toll and tensions among the members rose. After a fight between Tyler and Perry following a gig in Cleveland in July 1979, Perry left and formed The Joe Perry Project shortly thereafter. Whitford and long-time writing partner Richie Supa took on some of Perry’s guitar parts on Aerosmith’s next album Night in the Ruts. Eventually, the band hired Jimmy Crespo as their new lead guitarist. In 1981, during the recording sessions for Rock in a Hard Place, Aerosmith’s seventh studio album, Whitford departed and was replaced by Rick Dufay. In 1984, Perry and Whitford were back in the fold. Following a reunion tour, Aerosmith recorded their next studio album Done With Mirrors. Here’s the opener Let the Music Do the Talking, a Perry tune he originally had recorded as the title track for the Joe Perry Project’s debut.

While Aerosmith were back with their original line-up, the band members’ drug addiction continued to pose challenges. In 1986, Tyler successfully completed drug rehab. The rest of the band also completed such efforts over the next few years. In August 1987, Aerosmith released Permanent Vacation, their ninth studio album, a comeback that became their best seller in over a decade with more than 5 million copies. It marked their first effort that brought in songwriters from outside the band. Here’s Dude (Look Like a Lady), co-written by Tyler, Perry and Desmond Child, their first charting single in the ’80s, climbing to No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100.

One of my favorite Aerosmith tunes, Janie’s Got a Gun, appeared on the follow-on Pump from September 1989. It became the band’s highest-charting ’80s album in the U.S., reaching No. 3 on the Billboard 200. Co-written by Tyler and Hamilton, the Janie’s Got a Gun climbed to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it their second most successful U.S. single of the decade. Here’s the official video.

The 1990s saw Aerosmith’s highest-charting U.S. albums with Get a Grip (April 1993) and Nine Lives (March 1997) topping the Billboard 200. Get a Grip also became the band’s best-selling studio album worldwide, with sales exceeding 20 million copies. Like on Permanent Vacation and Pump, the record featured numerous external song collaborators. Seven of the album’s tracks were released as singles, of which three made the U.S. charts: Cryin (No. 12), Amazing (No. 24) and Crazy (No. 17). The tune I’d like to highlight is Line Up, a co-write by Tyler, Perry and Lenny Kravitz who also provided backing vocals.

Let’s do two additional songs from the current century. Here’s the title track of Aerosmith’s 13th studio album Just Push Play, which came out in March 2001. The tune was co-written by Tyler, Mark Hudson and Steve Dudas. Though I feel like it got decent radio play, the song failed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100. It did climb to No. 10 on Billboard’s U.S. Rock Chart, which I find interesting since to me it’s more of a cross-over pop-rock song.

In November 2012, Aerosmith released their 15th and most recent studio album to date, Music from Another Dimension! While it climbed to No. 5 on the Billboard 200, I do seem to recall reading press accounts at the time, with Joe Perry saying this may be the band’s last album – possibly a sign of frustration over the long process it apparently took to make the record. Here’s lead single Legendary Child co-written by Tyler, Perry and Jim Vallence, which appeared in May 2012. Originally, the song had been written and recorded in 1991 during the sessions for the Get a Grip album but had never been released. Here’s the official video. The narrative in the beginning nicely sums up Aerosmith’s eventful history.

Between 2014 and 2018, Tyler and Perry largely focused on side projects. For much of last year, Aerosmith did a concert residency called Aerosmith: Deuces are Wild, mostly in Las Vegas. A European tour that had been planned for the summer of 2020 and a 50th anniversary show at Boston’s Fenway Park in September have all officially been rescheduled until next year.

The band’s current outlook does appear to be somewhat uncertain. Following some drama and lawsuits at the beginning of the year over the band’s refusal to allow drummer Joey Kramer to rejoin the line-up after his recovery from a shoulder injury, Brad Whitford during an interview on the Steve Gorman Rocks radio show in August 2020 expressed doubts over Aerosmith’s future. According to Wikipedia, citing ongoing dysfunction within the group, Whitford said, “I don’t really know what they want to do. And, I don’t really care because, um, truthfully, I’m not interested any more.”

It seems to me drama has been a near-constant during much of Aerosmith’s long history, and there’s a reason why Steven Tyler and Joe Perry have become known as the “Toxic Twins.” But while the band’s best days may be over, I think it’s safe to assume they still have a ton of fans out there who would love to see them once concert tours can resume. I could well see Aerosmith mirror Deep Purple and embark on a “never-ending” farewell tour.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

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What’s My Name…Ringo!

Starr’s new album is full of energy and features impressive friends

Last Friday, Ringo Starr released What’s My Name, his 20th studio album. After having listened to it a few times, I’m quite excited about the record. Admittedly, as a huge fan of The Beatles, I may not be entirely objective here – so be it! I said it before and I say it again: While Ringo isn’t the greatest vocalist and songwriter and perhaps even not the most sophisticated drummer, he is one of the coolest musicians in my book. I just dig the man who at age 79 remains pretty vibrant and just delivered what may be his best work in many years.

Appearing on UMe, What’s My Name was produced by Starr, with longtime collaborator Bruce Sugar handling recording and mixing. The album was recorded at Ringo’s home studio known as Roccabella West. “I don’t want to be in an old-fashioned recording studio anymore, really,” Starr pointed out on his website. “I’ve had enough of the big glass wall and the separation.  We are all together in here, whoever I invite over. This is the smallest club in town. And I love it, being at home, being able to say hi to Barb [referring to his wife, actress Barbara Bach], it’s just been good for me and the music.”

Ringo Starr

The album features an impressive array of other artists, including Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Edgar Winter, Dave Stewart, Benmont Tench, Steve Lukather, Nathan East, Colin Hay, Richard Page, Warren Ham, Windy Wagner and Kari Kimmel, among others. Most of the songs on this record are collaborations between Ringo and others. Let’s get to some music!

Previously, I already featured the album’s nice title track, so here I’d like to kick things off with the opener Gotta Get Up to Get Down. The nice mid-tempo rocker was co-written by Starr and his brother-in-law and guitarist extraordinaire Joe Walsh. In addition to Ringo (drums, vocals) and Walsh (guitar, vocals), the tune features Edgar Winter (clavinet, synthesizer, vocals), Nathan East (bass), Bruce Sugar (synthesizer) and backing vocalists Richard Page, Warren Ham, Windy Wagner and Kari Kimmel.

The most remarkable song on the album is Ringo’s version of Grow Old With Me, one of the last tunes written by John Lennon. It was recorded as a demo in Bermuda in 1980 and later appeared on his first posthumous album Milk And Honey from January 1984. The inspiration for Ringo to cover the song came during an encounter with Jack Douglas, the producer of Double Fantasy, the 1980 studio album by Lennon and Yoko Ono, and the last released by Lennon during his lifetime. “Jack asked if I ever heard The Bermuda Tapes, John’s demos from that time,” Ringo recalled. “And I had never heard all this. The idea that John was talking about me in that time before he died, well, I’m an emotional person. And I just loved this song.”

“I sang it the best that I could,” Ringo went on. “I do well up when I think of John this deeply. And I’ve done my best. We’ve done our best. The other good thing is that I really wanted Paul [McCartney] to play on it, and he said yes. Paul came over and he played bass and sings a little bit on this with me. So John’s on it in a way. I’m on it and Paul’s on it. It’s not a publicity stunt. This is just what I wanted. And the strings that Jack [Douglas] arranged for this track, if you really listen, they do one line from “Here Comes The Sun.” So in a way, it’s the four of us.” Apart from Ringo (drums, vocals) and McCartney (bass, backing vocals), the recording features Walsh (guitar); Jim Cox (piano); Rhea Fowler and Bianca McClure (violin); Lauren Baba (viola); Isaiah Gage (cello); and Allison Lovejoy (accordion).

Another nice track on this album is Magic, which was co-written by Starr and Steve Lukather.  “I wrote that with Steve Lukather, who is magic,” commented Ringo. “I made a mistake of telling Steve, “You’re my last best friend,” and so that how we’re live now. And he’s a beautiful guy. He sometimes puts out a hard shell, but he is so soulful. We work well together. And he’s even better when he’s not playing a thousand notes a minute – which he can. He’s the man. I love the man. Don’t tell him. Sometimes Steve’s so happy playing with me, I say, “You’re having too much fun.” In addition to Ringo (drums, percussion, vocals) and Lukather (guitar, piano), other musicians on the recording include John Pierce (bass), Bruce Sugar (synthesizer), as well as Richard Page, Warren Ham, Windy Wagner and Kari Kimmel on backing vocals.

Money (That’s What I Want) is the second cover on the album. I always liked this tune, which was co-written by Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford. Initially recorded by Barrett Strong in 1959, it became the first hit for Motown. In addition to Ringo, the song has been covered by many other artists including The Beatles in 1963. This latest cover features Starr (drums, percussion, vocals), Lukather (guitar), East (bass), Sugar (piano, organ, synthesizer), as well as Maxine Waters and Julia Waters on backing vocals.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Better Days written by songwriter Sam Hollander. “He [Hollander] had written a song out of things I said in an interview in Rolling Stone,” noted Starr. “I loved the sentiment of it – he had one verse about spending too much time in hospitals, but I didn’t want to even sing that verse – the pity verse. Sam came over and I put the vocals on, and said, `You produce this one,’ but Sam said, “Well, you’re going to do drums.” So, I went in and played it through twice.” I like two takes. And he took “Better Days” away and did it.” Performing on Better Days are Starr (drums, percussion, vocals), Grant Michaels (piano), Peter Levin (organ), Kaveh Rastegar (bass), Pete Min (guitar), James King (horns), as well as Zelma Davis and Garen Gueyikian (backing vocals).

The last word shall belong to Ringo. “When I was a teenager, my mom always said, “Son, you’re at your happiest when you’re playing.” And it’s still true to this day. I’m blessed. I had a dream back when I was thirteen, and just last night I played with all my friends at the Greek, and I’ve been putting together All-Starr bands for 30 years. And it’s still a thrill.” Well said. And it shows!

Sources: Wikipedia, Ringo Starr website, YouTube