Tuesday, 6 December 2011
100 LPs Shortlist #16: Aerosmith by Aerosmith
For a while, in the mid-1990s, my vinyl collecting phase took me to some interesting places, both musically and geographically. Musically, I found a entire group of albums that were common in only one theme - first LPs by a famous band that sound completely different to the artists we know and love. Bands that have staked their reputations and careers on a certain sound, for better or for worse, but their first LP was radically different from the rest of their work. The reasons are different in each case, but in a lot of cases the bands have found what works for them and then taken off on that tangent.
Among the bands whose first record that caught my attention in those days were:
Chicago (then known as Chicago Transit Authority)
Electric Light Orchestra
The Rolling Stones
…among others. All mainstream I know, but one needs to start somewhere...
The first Aerosmith album is notable due to the fact that it sounds hardly like anything the band are famous for.
The real star of this album is not Steve Tyler's voice (although this is remarkable in itself here, for reasons that will be explained later) but Joe Perry's guitar work. His playing is stellar throughout, but the guitar sound is curious - it sounds like he is using a Gibson Les Paul through a tiny 20-watt or so practice amp, turned up full boar and close-mic'ed. Still, the guitars are way up in the mix to give a big sound, whatever the origins.
It sounds like it was recorded cheaply in a tiny studio, giving a grit and edginess that is missing from later records. It is almost as if the band were getting down the core of their live set onto tape as quickly as possible. There are very few overdubs or little evidence of studio trickery.
Steve's voice is such that he doesn't use the high-pitched screech on this record, rather it is more of a smooth croon. It would appear he hasn't developed that sound yet (or he hasn't taken too many drugs yet), although there are small hints of it on "Dream On" and "Moving Out". Also curiously absent is the sleaze and double entendre that is ubiquitous in their later work and, for my money, the record makes for a refreshing change. Here, the lyrical themes are of a small bar band trying to make a go of it, as mentioned in "Moving Out":
…"working like a dog in a rock 'n' roll band".
The band hadn't mastered that 4-on-the-floor rhythmic groove that characterised some of their later work, like on "Walk This Way" or "Sweet Emotion". However, the band was firmly entrenched in their Rolling Stones obsession; churning out loud twin-guitar riffs reminiscent of Mick Taylor and Keef on "Exile On Main Street" and "Sticky Fingers". Indeed, the final track is a version of a song that the Stones tacked on their first LP, "Walking The Dog". Aerosmith's version is well-intentioned but misguided, it sounds more like a lumbering elephant than a swaggering beast that the band were capable of.
The rest of the songs here are originals, and they are all killer. "Dream On" became a rock radio staple in the US upon its re-release as a single in 1976, and it still gives me goosebumps listening to it. Indeed it was sampled by Eminem for his track "Sing For the Moment", but the original features these creepy, snake-like guitar lines that are just amazing to hear as the rest of the band ebbs and flows, driving the emotion up and down as necessary. "One Way Street" is a very cool 7 minute blues jam where the guitars just rule. "Mama Kin" was covered by Guns 'n' Roses on their first EP, but they don't come close to the crunch of the sound here.
The band's next record, "Get Your Wings" had a much more polished and clinical sound, again borrowing a song made famous by a British Invasion band ("Train Kept A-Rollin" by the Yardbirds), but the band completely slaughter it. The polish drained any edge from the sound and left the songs feeling flat. This was all fixed again for 1975's "Toys In the Attic", which sent the band into the stratosphere. But that's another story...