In recent years, Aerosmith’s fondness for big ballads and endless reprises of “Walk This Way” might have turned the band into something of a caricature. But make no mistake: The Boston outfit has been pumping out outstanding rock songs during its nearly 40 years of existence. From its raunchy, bluesy first album to the sludgy <em>Rocks</em> to its electric live albums, Aerosmith has consistently been one of America’s finest, the pairing of Steven Tyler and Joe Perry causing fireworks both on record and in arenas. Here are 10 gems from the vault guaranteed to convince any skeptic, and don’t forget to check out the band’s new record, Music from Another Dimension, available now.
This rave-up about the gypsy life and the lost innocence that results has a simple riff, coy lyrics, and just enough horns to make it boogie; Joe Perry's guitar solo shows off his chops but doesn't sacrifice melody to the gods of virtuosity. Two decades after its release on Aerosmith's debut, it was – appropriately – covered by the '80s heirs to Aerosmith's rock-hedonist throne: Guns N' Roses.
“S.O.S. (Too Bad)”
This taut rocker about Tyler getting in trouble with the ladies has an almost power-pop-like pep, though its propulsive low end is firmly rooted in the blues. The "Toxic Twins" pairing of Steven Tyler and Perry is in peak form here, with Tyler's wail and Perry's slide down the fretboard in perfect unison on the chorus.
“Round And Round”
Offering a hint of the bleary-eyed dankness that would come on Aerosmith's next album, "Round and Round" is a bleak, circular grind, the band powering through an increasingly urgent endless-loop riff while Tyler pleads his romantic case to a less-than-forthcoming lover. That the music sounds better suited to soundtracking an apocalypse than a breakup is probably a large part of the point.
Rocks is the pinnacle of Aerosmith's early years – a dark, swampy album dredged up from the blues' deepest abyss. On "Nobody's Fault," Tyler is in street-corner preacher mode, warning of fire and brimstone and dark days because, "Man has known and now he's blown it/ upside-down and hell's the owner sound"; behind him, the band chugs away through a dazed and confused elegy for the now-dimmed world around them.
“Bright Light Fright”
Joe Perry handles lead vocals on this speedy track, which has a squealing sax and a pumping beat that recalls a hangover-borne rush of blood to the head. Which is appropriate, given that it's about the horror that can only be experienced during a Morning After.
“Lord Of The Thighs”
Tyler is operating at peak levels of lasciviousness on this dogged cut from Get Your Wings; the version on the '70s concert compilation Live! Bootleg, recorded during a Chicago concert in 1978, stretches "Thighs" to its breaking point, turning its ending into a sweaty, extended tug-of-war. (The Breeders' cover is also worth checking; bassist Josephine Wiggs took over vocal duties, offering an almost-blasÃ© reading of the lyrics as the band pummels its instruments behind her.)
“No More No More”
As Aerosmith got bigger, the travails of fame began to creep further into their lyrics – though it's a credit to the band's self-aware swagger that those tales rarely dip into self-pity. "No More No More" opens with a riff that could almost be called airy, then adds some back-of-the-barroom piano; both provide a fever-dream counterpoint to Tyler's stories about the road's less glamorous aspects.
“Draw The Line”
The chiming title cut of Aerosmith's second album possesses even more energy in this live version, taken from a 1978 show in southern California. (It appears on a live compilation celebrating Perry's mid '80s return to the Aerosmith fold.) The interplay between the riffs, Perry's squawking lead, and Tyler's matter-of-fact delivery is at peak form, and even though this version doesn't have the down-from-heaven backing vocals of the take committed to wax it does pack a nice left hook.
This 1999 track has a chunky riff that could have easily been lifted from one of the indie-rock darlings dominating college radio at the time – but Aerosmith turn it into just one segment of a grand look back at caddishness gone by, with Tyler lamenting his assistance in innocence lost and buried-in-the-mix strings underscoring his guilt.
“Lick & A Promise”
The intro of "Lick & A Promise" – Joey Kramer's frenetic drumming fading in, growing louder as it gets more intense – sets up the lyrical conceit of this jumpy tune, which follows an up-from-the-depths rock star who's trying to juggle as many women as he can while also pleasing crowds night after night. It's a testament to the "na-na-na-na-na" pre-chorus's sublimity that the love-'em-and-leave-'em conceit doesn't seem too troubling.