Top 10’s: Aerosmith

This is the first entry in my top 10’s posts. The title pretty much speaks for itself but just to outline – I’ll pick an artist/genre and review my ten favourite songs. As always everything is based on personal opinion.

We start with the mighty Aerosmith. If you only know these guys as the band who provided a bunch of astronauts with a sickly sweet love ballad for the film Armageddon (1998) then be sure to get your ears round these tracks and let the memory of that song be erased from your mind for good!!

10. Train Kept a Rollin’ (from Get Your Wings (1974))

We start with this rocked up cover of a blues song originally by Tiny Bradshaw and released in 1951. The more famous version was recorded by Johnny Burnette & The Rock And Roll Trio in 1956 and forms more of the basis for this take. The Yardbirds took the song on in the sixties and really started to add some muscle to it. All these versions had an influence on Aerosmith who included it in their setlists in the early days of their career. They gave it a harder edge, splitting it into into two parts – the first half a blues stomp before accelerating in the second half and really letting rip. Despite the crowd noise halfway through, this is a studio version, the cheering was overdubbed to give it more of a live feel.

9. Sweet Emotion (from Toys In The Attic (1975))

This is Aerosmith at their funkiest. Driven by a brilliant bassline by Tom Hamilton and a huge riff, this mixes the hard rock crunch of the guitars to super catchy melodies that they did imperiously throughout the 70s. It contains a couple of things that set it apart from other rock songs of the time, the first being the use of talkbox on the songs intro (years before Richie Sambora would use it to very famous effect on ‘Livin’ On A Prayer) and the use of backwards tape loops behind the main riff which sound like something the hip hop DJ’s/producers would use at the tail end of the decade.

8. Back In The Saddle (from Rocks (1976))

Superb opening track from one of their greatest albums, this is the band in full sleaze rock glory, pumped full of alcohol, drugs and confidence (before that combination led to them hitting the proverbial brick wall and almost ending their career). Riding in on a brilliant riff from Joe Perry (played on 6 string bass), the band are on tremendously tight and funky form here and Steven Tyler really gets to showcase his vocal power, even adding in a yodel at one point. Perfectly capturing the utter excess that was the band at that moment, it just feels like everyone is having the time of their lives and playing out of their skins.

7. Hangman Jury (from Permanent Vacation (1987))

From the album that saved their career, this is completely different than anything they’d done up until that point. The album was slickly produced, MTV-ready pop rock but this starts as a bluesy country number and suits them well. Steven Tyler is on top form and gives perhaps his most assured vocal performance at that stage of his career. It adds the rock sound as the song progresses but never loses that rootsy feel, this shows the band have more strings to their bow than many give them credit for.

6. Draw The Line (from Draw The Line (1977))

The title track from their last really good album for ten years, this opens the record with a bang. Brilliant riff, uptempo aggressive pace, it’s their punkiest sounding song (fitting for the time). Much like ‘Back In The Saddle’, this sounds like a band absolutely wanting to tear the place up. The energy is off the charts, especially when Steven Tyler spits out a throat shredding verse in the songs final minute. They never produced anything as ferocious as this again for the rest of their career.

5. Same Old Song And Dance (from Get Your Wings (1974))

Get Your Wings (1974) is my favourite Aerosmith album and this is their best ever opener, a straight up blues rock banger. Joe Perry and Brad Whitford are in excellent form here, their dueling guitar work is a real treat, especially the slide work in the solos. Producer Jack Douglas (an integral part of their 1970s golden period) adds a horn section to really beef up the sound and there’s even a really cool saxophone solo to give it even more of an authentic blues feel. It’s one of their most enduring songs, being a part of almost every live show since it was introduced to the world 47 years ago.

4. Amazing (from Get A Grip (1993))

Hey, what about 90s Aerosmith I hear you say. They had some of their biggest hits then didn’t they? They did indeed and there are a few pearls from that period but not too much really resonates with me enough to make this list. This song is the exception. It’s a slick rock ballad with orchestration and layers of keyboards and unlike their big Armageddon hit, stays the right side of maudlin. The reason this works so well is that the melodies are tremendous, Steven Tyler’s vocal performance is incredible, full of passion and the right kind of (sweet) emotion and it contains Joe Perry’s greatest ever solo. He’s not someone I overly rate as a lead guitarist but when he lets loose at the tail end of this song he really hits the mark. They have been producing big epic ballads since the start of their career but this is the best of that style.

3. Dream On (from Aerosmith (1973))

What is there left to say about this song?! This is absolutely magnificent, one of the finest ever rock songs and to think they did this on their debut single. If they’d never released anything again then they would have been safe in the knowledge that they’d gifted the world a stone cold classic on their first attempt. So why is it not number one on the list? Truth be told it probably should be and I wouldn’t argue with anyone who put it there but the next two songs, as well as being absolute beauties, mean more to me than this one. I would recommend this as the perfect starting point for anyone looking to begin their Aerosmith journey and wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t find anything that surpassed it along the way – it’s just that good.

2. Last Child (from Rocks (1976))

The pressure’s on these last two songs now!! I stand by my choices. This has always been near the top of my list as Rocks (1976) was the first album I heard by the band. I put my headphones on and let the needle drop on the vinyl and was hit by ‘Back In The Saddle’ and then this came next. Starting with a hauntingly beautiful intro it just switches into a funky beast!! The riff is amazing, the rhythm section are on point and the harmonies are delicious. This blew my mind as a kid, I was expecting straight ahead rock but instead I got this strutting, dirty, Stonesy sounding classic and it’s stuck with me ever since. Play this loud (alongside the rest of the album) and get immersed in the sound of one of rocks all time greats.

1. Janie’s Got A Gun (from Pump (1989))

What a song!! Pump (1989) was the first Aerosmith album I got in real time (if you like). I had heard ‘Love In An Elevator’ in the build up to it’s release, which I thought was great but then I saw the video for this on MTV and I just had to have it. It’s an almost perfect pop rock song, the production is really distinctive and interesting with the use of keyboards and synths adding a whole new element to the Aerosmith sound. It has an extremely hard hitting subject matter (child abuse) that is delivered with such (com)passion and emotion, especially by Steven Tyler who’s vocal performance is incredible throughout. His voice is the best weapon in the Aerosmith arsenal, across all these ten tracks he is the key element to what makes the songs truly shine and I don’t think he gets mentioned in the lists of vocal greats anywhere near enough. I’ve heard this song countless times and it never fails to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and that’s the mark of a true classic and why it will always be my number one song of theirs.

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