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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The Hardware: Gibson Les Paul

Just like the Fender Stratocaster, Gibson’s Les Paul is one of the defining electric guitars

As Jim, who writes the excellent Music Enthusiast blog, pointed out a couple of weeks ago after I had published my post about the Fender Stratocaster, I could just as well have called the Gibson Les Paul the model that embodies the electric guitar. I couldn’t agree more; in fact, I had planned all along to do a post on the Les Paul as well, so let’s get to it!

Obviously, the legendary guitar is closely associated with American guitarist, songwriter and inventor Les Paul. The origins of the electric guitar that would bear his name date back to 1940 when Paul built the so-called “Log” at the Epiphone guitar factory. The crude instrument, which consisted of a 4″ × 4″ chunk of pine wood with strings and a pickup, was one of the first solid-body electric guitars. To improve the look, Paul took the wings of an Epiphone archtop body and added them to the pine body.

Les Paul Log

When Paul offered his idea to the Gibson Guitar Corporation in 1941, they initially turned him down. That changed when rival Fender started marketing their Esquire model in 1950, a solid-body electric guitar that later turned into the Broadcaster and eventually the Telecaster.

After Gibson Guitar president Ted McCarty realized the enthusiasm about the Esquire and the Broadcaster, he asked Paul to become a consultant to the company. In 1951, Paul, McCarty and his team started developing a solid-body. While apparently there are differing recollections who contributed what, the result was the first Gibson Les Paul, introduced in 1952. Paul used it for the first time in public in June that year during a live performance at the Paramount Theatre in New York.

Gibson Les Paul 1952

The initial Les Paul featured a mahogany body and neck, two P-90 single coil pickups and a one-piece, trapeze-style bridge/tailpiece with strings fitted under a steel stop-bar. In 1953, a second Les Paul model called the Les Paul Custom was introduced. A more important development happened in 1957, when Gibson introduced humbucker pickups on the Les Pauls. According to Wikipedia, a humbucker is a double-coil pick-up to cancel out the interference picked up by single-coil pickups, i.e., bucking the hum.

While the Les Paul models were formidable instruments, they were pretty heavy, which is why initially they weren’t widely embraced by guitarists. As a result, in 1961, Gibson introduced the Gibson SG, a lighter solid-body guitar that became the company’s best-selling model of all time. The company also stopped producing the traditional Les Paul.

Gibson SG 1961

Initially, Gibson launched the SG as the new Gibson Les Paul. But since the model had been developed without Paul’s knowledge and he was unhappy with the design, he requested that his name be removed from the headstock. Gibson agreed and Paul remained as a consultant with the company. Personally, I’ve always found the SG is a really cool looking guitar.

Ironically, a few years after production had been discontinued, Les Paul models started to become en vogue when guitarists like Keith Richards and Eric Clapton discovered and began using them. Other guitarists followed, such as Mike Bloomfield from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia. Again reacting to popularity trends, Gibson reintroduced the Les Paul single cutaway guitar in July 1968. While there have been some tweaks over the years, the model remains in production to this day.

As indicated above, many guitarists have used Les Pauls. Following is a list of some of them.

Duane Allman

The legendary session musician and lead guitarist of the Allman Brothers Band has used various Les Paul models. Here’s a great clip of the band’s epic live performance of Whipping Post at the Fillmore East in 1970. I believe Allman was playing a 1957 Les Paul Goldtop.

Eric Clapton

While Clapton is better known for Fender Stratocaster guitars, he has also used Gibson models, including a 1960 sunburst Les Paul and a 1957 goldtop Les Paul Custom. In 2010, Gibson announced the Clapton 1960 Les Paul Standard signature model, also known as the “Beano Burst.” Here’s a clip of Clapton playing his 1960 Les Paul.

Jimmy Page

Page has used various Les Paul models, including from 1959 and 1973. He also owned a modified 1960 Les Paul Custom “Black Beauty,” which was stolen in 1970 and has never been found. Gibson has produced three Jimmy Page signature models. In this clip from Led Zeppelin’s live performance of We’re Gonna Groove at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1970, Page can be seen using a Les Paul.

Slash

Slash has used many different Les Paul models including his own custom shop Les Paul. Altogether, he has collaborated with Gibson on eight signature models. Here’s a clip of a 1988 Guns N’ Roses’ live performance of Sweet Child O’ Mine, featuring Slash on a Les Paul.

Joe Perry

The Aerosmith lead guitarist has used many Gibson guitar models, including various Les Pauls. Gibson has released two Joe Perry signature Les Pauls, the first in 1996, the second in 2004. The latter is known as the Boneyard Les Paul. In the following clip of a live performance of Toys In the Attic, Perry is playing the Boneyard.

Gary Moore

Moore played a Les Paul Standard. There were also two Gibson Gary Moore signature Les Pauls. Here’s the blues rocker and his Les Paul in action live with Walking By Myself.

Pete Townshend

Among other Gibson models, The Who guitarist used various customized Les Pauls from 1973 to 1979. In 2005, Gibson introduced three Townshend signature Les Paul Deluxe guitars, based on his heavily customized “#1” Wine Red 1976 Les Paul Deluxe, “#3” Gold top 1976, and “#9” Cherry Sunburst 1976. Here is a great clip of a 1978 live performance of Won’t Get Fooled Again, which became the closing scene of The Kids Are Alright rockumentary, in which Townshend plays one of his customized Les Pauls. Sadly, one of the most iconic moments in rock also captured the last performance of Keith Moon, who died in September that year.

Of course, this post would not be complete without a clip of the maestro himself, Les Paul. Not only does it show Paul perform one of his biggest hit singles, How High the Moon (1951), but he also demonstrates one of his inventions called Les Paulverizer. According to Wikipedia, the little device attached to his guitar allowed Paul to access pre-recorded layers of songs during live performance, so he could replicate his recorded sound on stage.

Sources: Wikipedia; Premier Guitar; YouTube