The Last In Line by Dio

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The Last In Line by DioAfter stints in several rock groups, Ronnie James Dio found his popular groove in the early eighties with the founding of the group, Dio. Although this band was named after the veteran vocalist and songwriter, it was approached as a true rock group with each member contributing to the original compositions. Dio’s second release, The Last In Line, was released in mid 1984 and reached great critical acclaim within the rock and metal community. The album was also a mainstream crossover hit, reaching the Top 10 on several album charts fueled by three tracks which landed in the Top 10 of the American Mainstream Rock tracks chart.

Dio’s music career began way back in 1957, when he founded the band, The Vegas Kings, as a teenager in his hometown of Cortland, New York. This group went through various changes in name and personnel through the 1960s, with a few singles released along the way. In 1967, that group transformed into The Electric Elves, later shortening its name to Elf. Through the early seventies, Elf recorded three albums and toured with major acts such as Deep Purple. When Ritchie Blackmore left that group to form Rainbow in 1975, he recruited members of Elf, including Dio. While with Rainbow, Dio wrote most of the lyrics for the first three albums. However, when given the opportunity to replace Ozzy Osbourne in the legendary Black Sabbath, Dio jumped ship in 1979. Three years later, disagreements within that band resulted in the departure of Dio and drummer Vinny Appice, who formed Dio in October 1982. The following May, the band released their debut album, Holy Diver, which featured two MTV hits.

The original quartet of Dio included Vivian Campbell on guitar and Jimmy Bain on bass. Later on keyboardist Claude Schnell was recruited for live shows and ultimately became a permanent member of the band.


The Last In Line by Dio
Released: July 2, 1984 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Ronnie James Dio
Recorded: Caribou Ranch, Colorado, 1984
Side One Side Two
We Rock
The Last In Line
Breathless
I Speed at Night
One Night In the City
Evil Eyes
Mystery
Eat Your Heart Out
Egypt (The Chains Are On)
Group Musicians
Ronnie James Dio – Lead Vocals, Keyboards
Vivian Campbell – Guitars
Jimmy Bain – Bass
Vinny Appice – Drums, Percussion

The Last In Line followed the same basic pattern as Holy Diver, leading these albums to later be packaged together. The album comes in strong with “We Rock”, led by the frenzied drums by Appice throughout, including a beat-driven post lead section. Co-written by bassist Bain, the most quality track on the album is the title track, “The Last in Line”. The laid back intro section allows for a nice setup to the driving song proper, with its steady and heavy approach. However, it is Dio’s philosophical and fascinating lyrics that shine brightest on this track, finding the line between good and evil like a heavy metal counterpart to “Hotel California”,

We don’t come along, we are fire, we are strong, we’re the hand that writes and quickly moves away…”

“Breathless” sounds much like Rainbow-era material, built on the interesting riffing by Campbell and the melodic hooks by Dio. “I Speed at Night” may be the most overtly concocted tune (perhaps to take advantage of the recent success of Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55”). In any case, this is not a good showcase for Dio and Appice. The side one closer “One Night In the City” is heavy pop, starting with a couple of interesting riff sections before it breaks into pristine rock with repeatable hooks. “Evil Eyes” forges the high-end 80’s heavy rock where Campbell adds some of his finest guitar work during the brief verses and frantic, hammer-on lead.

“Mystery” is the most accessible song on the album and a true Dio classic. Everything comes together on this collaboration between Dio and Bain, as it is melodic and musically sweet, with a hook, guitar lead, and keyboard riff that it puts in firmly within the boundaries of pop/rock radio. “Eat Your Heart Out” follows as one last accessible hard rock song and a true band collaboration with good rock rudiments. The album closer “Egypt (The Chains Are On)” adds a theatrical and dramatic element to the album with opening wind effects and a slow and deliberative thumping in the verses.

Within two months of its release, The Last In Line was certified Gold and would later go on to become the first Dio album to be certified Platinum. A third album followed soon in 1985, along with more later in the decade, but the group would not again achieve this level of success.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

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Get Your Wings by Aerosmith

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Get Your Wings by AerosmithAfter their raw but potent debut in 1973, Aerosmith really started to forge their classic 1970s rock sound with their second album, Get Your Wings. This was due, in small part, to the arrival of producer Jack Douglas, who would go on to produce a total of seven albums with the group. Douglas helped Aerosmith translate their sound to the studio process of the 1970s and found a nice niche somewhere between blues and rock n’ roll to help launch the group into the mainstream for the first time. In a way, Get Your Wings shows Aerosmith at the crossroads of both finding the rock sound that would proliferate in the 1980s while continuing with the raw, barroom-style tunes of their earliest days.

Aerosmith toured constantly from their earliest days of 1971, through the support for their 1973 debut Aerosmith. Later that same year, they finally took a break and headed into the New York studio to concentrate on this second album for about a solid month. Front man and lead vocalist Steven Tyler continued his compositional dominance by writing three songs solo and co-writing every other song with the exception of the album’s single cover song.

Guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford also continued their dual-axe attack, trading lead and rhythm duties and seamlessly switching between blues-rock and more standard fare hard rock. With this arrangement, many early critics of the band deemed them clones of the Rolling Stones, but that comparison was overtly simplistic as Aerosmith was surely blazing their own, bold trail even at this very early juncture in their career.


Get Your Wings by Aerosmith
Released: March 1, 1974 (Columbia)
Produced by: Ray Colcord and Jack Douglas
Recorded: The Record Plant, New York, December 1973-January 1974
Side One Side Two
Same Old Song and Dance
Lord of the Thighs
Spaced
Woman of the World
S.O.S. (Too Bad)
Train Kept a’ Rollin’
Seasons of Wither
Pandora’s Box
Group Musicians
Steven Tyler – Lead Vocals, Piano, Guitar
Joe Perry – Guitars, Vocals
Brad Whitford – Guitars
Tom Hamilton – Bass
Joey Kramer – Drums, Percussion

 

The most popular song on album starts things off with “Same Old Song and Dance”, built around Perry’s crisp guitar riff. With some edgy lyrics, dueling guitars, interspersed horns, and a tenor sax lead by session man Michael Brecker, the song proved to be a minor hit in the short term and a concert staple for the long run. Tyler’s “Lord of the Thighs” is built on an effective drum beat by Joey Kramer, who drives the intro which builds nicely with each instrument coming in turn. Tyler’s vocals are especially deep and bluesy as the song goes through three definitive sections, ending with Perry’s riff-infused outro with several effect-rich overdubs. The song was the last recorded for the album as Aerosmith needed one more song and locked themselves in the rehearsal room until they came up with this one.

Perhaps the most underwhelming song on the album, “Spaced” is a song that is entertaining nonetheless. With a subtle but eerie beginning to Tyler’s vocals closely follow Perry’s guitar riffing, the song is a lament to man-made mayhem. “Woman of the World” is a song which dates back to the mid sixties and Tyler’s former band, The Strangeurs. Co-written by then-band-mate Don Solomon, the song’s intro follows same basic pattern of “Lord of the Thighs”, but soon finds its own way as a very entertaining and rewarding tune with cool melodies and potent riffing. The ending jam contains a harmonica solo by Tyler, sandwiched between leads by Perry and Whitford.

Aerosmith in 1974

The second side of Get Your Wings kicks off with “S.O.S. (Too Bad)”, which previews some of the more raw, sleeze songs Aerosmith would use on albums like Draw the Line. A hard rock song, with underlying riffs and topical textures, this short and energetic song fills the same space that punk rock would soon occupy. The album’s only cover, “Train Kept A-Rollin'”, actually caused a chasm between the band and producer Douglas. This unique album track fused two distinct versions at differing tempos and put them together back-to-back, with the second one incorporating some “live” elements. Because the band disapproved of the method, Douglas also brought in two session guitarists, each to play lead on respective halves of the song. The addition crowd noise at the end of the track was treated and synthesized to form the “wind” effects that led into the next song.

“Seasons of Wither” is one of the best Aerosmith songs ever and is Tyler’s strongest recording effort. Beyond vocal duties, the singer also picks out the unique acoustic notes that give the tune such an eerie yet beautiful feel. Further, although Get Your Wings is a somewhat weak album for bassist Tom Hamilton, he truly shines on this song, nicely complimenting Tyler’s unique acoustic riffs with moderate and measured notes that drive the song from phrase to phrase. “Seasons of Wither” paints pictures of a vivid scenery which is at once foreboding and romantic and ends with one of the most efficient guitar leads ever, very short with a single, sustained note taking up last few bars of the song. The album finishes strong with a rare compositional credit for drummer Joey Kramer. “Pandora’s Box” is a pure rock n’ soul which bookends the album finely with the return of brass section present in the opener “Same Old Song and Dance” and was heavily inspired by 1960s Motown and blue-eyed soul.

Get Your Wings only reached #74 on the album charts which, at the time, was a big disappointment for the band who had (rightly) felt that they had recorded something special. In time it has sold more than three million copies and proved to be the starting point for their greatest run of quality albums.

~

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1974 albums.

 

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Pump by Aerosmith

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Pump by AerosmithThe second distinct phase of Aerosmith‘s fame hit full stride in 1989 with the release of Pump, the band’s tenth overall studio album and their third release since reuniting in 1985. And much like their third overall release Toys In the Attack back in 1975, this album was a tremendous commercial success. Pump sold over seven million copies, is the only Aerosmith album to score three Top 10 singles on the Billboard pop chart, and became the fourth bestselling album overall for the year 1990. The album is also notable within the Aerosmith collection for its inclusion of a variety of instrumental interludes which precede several of the album tracks, adding a sense of diversity to the mix.

However, the overall musical quality of Pump is more mixed than its impressive commercial accolades may indicate. This was the second of three sequential studio albums with producer Bruce Fairbairn, which were all recorded in Vancouver, BC, Canada. All of these albums employed an overt attempt to further commercialize the band, with hook-heavy material trumping Aerosmith’s strong tradition of more raw and improvised-style, heavy, blues rock. On the bright side, guitarist Brad Whitford explained that the album title was a celebration of how “pumped up” the group was to kick their various substance abuse habbits, and this was especially evident in lead vocalist Steven Tyler, who put forth his greatest effort of his long career.

The group spent of the bulk of the winter of 1988-89 working on this album, first getting together to rehearse in December 1988 near their homes in Massachusetts and then migrating across the continent to the studio in Vancouver in Early 1989. Nearly 20 songs were written, with Fairborn splitting these compositions into “A” and “B” lists as far as “single” consideration. A few of the tracks not included on Pump were the later 1997 hit “Hole In My Soul” and the country-flavored “Sedona Sunrise”, which was later included on the 2006 compilation Devil’s Got a New Disguise.


Pump by Aerosmith
Released: September 12, 1989 (Geffen)
Produced by: Bruce Fairbairn
Recorded: Little Mountain Sound Studio, Vancouver, BC, February–June 1989
Track Listing Group Musicians
Young Lust
F.I.N.E.
Love In An Elevator
Monkey On My Back
Janie’s Got a Gun
The Other Side
My Girl
Don’t Get Mad, Get Even
Voodoo Medicine Man
What It Takes
Steven Tyler – Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Harmonica
Joe Perry – Guitars, Vocals
Brad Whitford – Guitars
Tom Hamilton – Bass, Vocals
Joey Kramer – Drums
 
Pump by Aerosmith

 

Pump commences with a super-sexed triology of tunes filled with not-so-subtle innuendos, almost to the point of absurdity. Tyler later admitted this was almost over-compensation for all the years of fame they spent wasted and disinterested in sex. The Opener “Young Lust” is simple and cheap, yet not terribly trite. Co-written by lead guitarist Joe Perry and hired hand Jim Vallance, this is a strong and frenzied number that, if nothing else, proves the group was not going “adult contemporary” as the 1980s wound down. A fairly impressive drum solo by Joey Kramer bridges into the follow-up “F.I.N.E.” This second song is much more melodic and original than the opener, closer to seventies-era Aerosmith in approach and dynamics. The expert use of both guitarists with distinct rock textures act as a canvas for Tyler’s strong vocals. The song’s title is an acronym for “Fucked Up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional”, coining a Hollywood catch-phrase for the nineties, with the only real drawback of “F.I.N.E.” being a few lame attempts at comedic lines.

“Love In an Elevator” begins with a female spoken-word intro known as “Going Down” while the song proper is pure Tyler and Perry, following each other in riff and melody. The verses contain some anthemic chanting in the spirit of Def Leppard and Perry’s mult-part lead is somewhat interesting with odd backing sound motifs thrown in during this extended mid section, including some backwards-masking and vocal harmonization this continues in the outtro with some trumpets by Fairbairn. Released as a single, the song peaked at number 5 on the Billboard pop chart. “Monkey on My Back” starts with Perry’s slow but heavy, bluesy slide guitar. This song’s overall feel is messy and distant, much like material from 1977’s Draw the Line, which gives it a bit of nostalgic touch, while scorning the excess of those old days with it’s telling of the consequences of heavy drug use.

Bass player Tom Hamilton, an oft-forgotten member of Aerosmith, co-wrote the classic “Janie’s Got a Gun”, which brought the group their first and only Grammy award. This masterpiece of arrangement and production is a true rock classic with beautiful sonic breezes coming from all directions – from the bouncy, high-pitched bass riff and slamming percussive effect of the verses, to the masterful use of keyboards and strings to the storybook passages of distinct song sections. The song tackles serious subject matter in a tackful and creative manner and it solidifies Aerosmith as a notch above most rock bands in their class. While there is little guitar presence (for such a guitar-centric group), “Janie’s Got a Gun” is certainly in the top echelon of pieces through their multi-decade career.

Aerosmith 1989

Many of the musical interludes on Pump were done by Randy Raine-Reusch, with his most impressive being the “Dulcimer Stomp” intro to “The Other Side”. Another Top 40 single, the song proper contains a nice arrangement of horns, harmonized vocals and plenty of pop hooks, while economically using guitars, with just small and subtle bits of riffing. The real weak spot of the album follows in the next trio of songs. “My Girl” contains very little substance or soul, while “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even” has a decent bluesy beginning before it abruptly screams into something totally uninteresting. co-written by Whitford, “Voodoo Medicine Man” seems to make an attempt at something dramatic and deep, but this ultimately doesn’t amount to much beyond the opening verse and the somewhat interesting mid section.

“What It Takes” really salvages the latter part of this album, by returning to the group’s mid seventies practice of performing a power ballad to conclude their albums. Co-wriiten by long time collaborator Desmond Child, Aerosmith perfects the song type they invented a decade and a half earlier, with their secret being more “power” than “ballad”, exuding all the emotion without resorting to any lame, sappy maneuvers. Fairborn’s generous use of accordion and Perry’s interesting pre-bridge guitar lead is only trumped by the song’s outro, the best moment on the album. True performance magic in the fantastic, improvised vocals by Tyler show the true heights of the singer’s talent. While “Janie Got a Gun” is the creative masterpiece which ended the original side one, “What It Takes” is the performance masterpiece to end Pump on the highest of notes.

With the greatest commercial success of their career, Aerosmith found a whole new audience and used this as an opportunity to tour and release a couple compilation albums in the early nineties. Their next studio release would not come until 1993 with the album Get a Grip.

~

1989 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1989 albums.
 

Junta by Phish

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Junta by PhishOriginally released only on cassette, Junta by Phish, defies almost every convention for debut albums. The album was independently recorded and produced by the Vermont-based group but contains top-notch sound to complement the rich progressive-rock influenced epics that persist throughout the album’s lineup. Titled after the band’s first official manager, the album contains mainly nontraditional structures and arrangements based on jazz fusion and improvisation, resulting in symphonic-like epics where each member is given ample room to shine. The rare, few “basic” songs on Junta are mainly light and tend to lean towards the upbeat, funk side of the rock spectrum.

Phish was formed by guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon and drummer Jon Fishman at the University of Vermont in 1983 and they played their first live performance at the school’s cafeteria late that year. They cut their teeth in the mid eighties playing Grateful Dead songs. In 1985, keyboardist Page McConnell joined the group, completing the band’s four-piece lineup, which persists to this day. During this era, the group distributed at least six different experimental self-titled cassettes and Anastasio went so far as to write a nine-song concept album accompanied by a written thesis called The Man Who Stepped into Yesterday.

In 1988, the band began a rigorous practice schedule, which included locking themselves in a room and jamming for hours on end to “discover” new material. Junta is a product of a couple of these sessions and was brought as one piece to the studio to be recorded in its entirety.


Junta by Phish
Released: May 8, 1989 (self-release)
Produced by: Phish
Recorded: Euphoria Sound Studios, Revere, Massachusetts, 1988
Track Listing Group Musicians
Fee
You Enjoy Myself
Esther
Golgi Apparatus
Foam
Dinner and a Movie
The Divided Sky
David Bowie
Fluffhead
Fluff’s Travels
Contact
Trey Anastasio – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Page McConnell – Piano, Vocals
Mike Gordon – Bass, Vocals
Jonathan Fishman – Drums, Trombone, Vocals
 
Junta by Phish

 

Anastasio got the bulk of compositional credit on the album, starting with the opener “Fee”, a truly excellent song with Caribbean and jazz percussive beats and tones. The soaring vocals with staccato backing vocal scats shows that, although they rarely display it, the group has some vocal chops. The first epic, “You Enjoy Myself” is in sharp contrast to the melodic opener, making its arrival one of the few really awkward moments on the album. Improvised with odd timings, the piece works into a progressive waltz, driven by the organ and piano McConnell. Then at about the midway point, an excellent guitar rips in for a few fleeting moments before the climatic funk section starts along with one word chants and a strong bass by Gordon.

“Esther” takes the album on yet another wild turn, as lyric-rich journey which changes mood from carnival to church to an ultimate tranquil tragedy of drowning. The excellent piano riffs by McConnell are reminiscent of Tony Banks during the better Genesis years and the persistent groove by Fishman throughout provides the glue for the song through its nine and a half minutes. “Golgi Apparatus” starts as definite funk jam but soon morphs into something more rock oriented, perhaps the most rock-oriented song on the album, showing the versatility of the group. The next couple of tracks tend to get a bit repetitive. “Foam”, repeats the same mechanical pattern forged by a bass riff with sharp piano notes and guitar motifs above, while “Dinner and a Movie” gets a bit mundane lyrically, but is interesting musically. This is the part of the album where you’re just waiting for a release, the whole jam thing is a bit exhausting by this point.

Then comes the most rewarding song on the album, “The Divided Sky”. This mostly instrumental, twelve-minute epic begins with a nice acoustic intro with the perfect complement of xylophone by McConnell and bass by Gordon. The intro section is cut by deep vocal harmonies where the music stops completely before returning with a totally different feel and arrangement. Here the group methodically builds towards a guitar lead before breaking down to a quiet organ motif on which a new, signature guitar riff builds the song back up. Then comes the payoff of the greatest guitar lead on the album by Anatasio and a full-fledged musical jam by the entire band through the latter part of the song. In contrast, the follow-up eleven-minute “David Bowie”, while still a great jam, pales as a follow-up to “The Divided Sky”.

“Fluffhead” starts with a fine, elongated acoustic guitar riff and honky-tonk piano and breaks into a catchy (albeit silly) hook. Combined with the instrumental part “Fluff’s Travels” (which really isn’t a separate piece), this is the longest piece on the original album, which is saying something for an album like Junta. Another good guitar lead over some very odd chords and timing also make for, perhaps, the closest to a true jazz improv. Eventually it all releases into reprise of “Fluffhead” with some Gospel-like revival singing improvisation before it dissolves into a simple, strumming acoustic riff and a winding rendition of the opening riff. The album wraps with “Contact”, the sole composition by Gordon, whose slow bass riff introduces the song. Much like the album’s opener, this closer has a Latin feel and, while lyrics are again repetitive again, but not as mundane as on other songs and the tune is more than salvaged by some nice bass motifs and a bridge with romantic lyrics.

Junta finally got wide release when Elektra Records distributed a massive two CD, two-hour release in late 1992, three and a half years after the original cassette. The newer version included three bonus tracks – “Sanity”, “Icculus”, and the twenty-five minute “Union Federal” – along with a longer version of “Contact”. In 2012, a vinyl version of the original eleven song version of Junta was released, which in a way completed this classic album’s journey to the appropriate medium.

~

1989 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1989 albums.

 

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Don’t Look Back by Boston

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Don't Look Back by BostonDon’t Look Back was the much anticipated second album by Boston. After the unprecedented success of the group’s debut album, the two year wait was considered a long gap between albums. Still, producer and composer Tom Scholz considered the album to be rushed and history has shown that this album fell far short of the debut (which, by the way, was our album of the year for 1976). Still, there are moments of brilliance dispersed through this album which are among the finest ever produced by Scholz. Further, Don’t Look Back did reach #1 on the album charts, achieving one benchmark that the debut did not (Boston peaked at number 3), even if overall sales through three and a half decades were only about a fifth of the incredible 17 million of the debut.

Due to the unprecedented record sales of Boston, the group went from a virtually unknown act to a major headliner in less than a year. In fact, Boston was the first and only band to make their New York debut at historic Madison Square Garden in 1977. The fusion of Scholz’s unique guitar sounds and vocalist Brad Delp‘s vocal abilities were a major draw to catch this rock “band” live. However, Boston was never really a true band but more a conscious effort to de-emphasize Scholz as the mastermind behind the music.

Despite their incredible success on all fronts through 1976 and 1977, Don’t Look Back was recorded in a tiny home studio built by Scholz (at the time he jokingly called Boston “the one multi-million-selling basement band that never left the basement”). For the most part, this album was recorded by three of the five members of the original band with guitarist Barry Goudreau only providing leads on a handful of tracks and bassist Fran Sheehan only partially playing on one. In the end, Don’t Look Back meets (and in some cases surpasses) the sonic quality of Boston’s dazzling debut, but most of its compositions tend to pale in comparison.


Don’t Look Back by Boston
Released: August 2, 1978 (Epic)
Produced by: Tom Scholz
Recorded: Hideaway Studio and Northern Studio, Massachusetts, 1977-78
Side One Side Two
Don’t Look Back
The Journey
It’s Easy
A Man I’ll Never Be
Feelin’ Satisfied
Party
Used to Bad News
Don’t Be Afraid
Primary Musicians
Brad Delp – All Vocals
Tom Scholz – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Percussion
Barry Goudreau – Guitars
Sib Hashian – Drums, Percussion

 

A few of the songs on Don’t Look Back, came from Scholz’s early seventies back catalog, including the title song “Don’t Look Back”, which became a Top 10 hit for the group. Led by the infectious, recurring guitar riff, which is an apt beginning for an album so dominated by guitar sounds, this song contains the most variation and development of any on the album. During the choruses Scholz’s layered riff builds, offering a new variation with each iteration and the climatic lead section, while Delp’s layered vocals are well formed and melodic throughout.

Next comes the sequence of “The Journey”/”It’s Easy”, which mimics the “Foreplay/Long Time” from the debut album (although that original was considered one track). “The Journey is a short sonic instrumental with Scholz repeating the same emotional riff, adding more dramatic effects each time until abruptly breaking into the full arrangement of “It’s Easy”. Lyrically, this song goes back to the philosophical realm of past songs like “Peace of Mind”, while leaning more towards a love song. Musically, it is pretty average with only the pre-chorus vocals providing any real highlight on the song.

A Man I'll Never Be singleCompleting the first side is “A Man I’ll Never Be”, the best song on Don’t Look Back. On its surface, this is built like a typical power ballad (even though those really weren’t that typical in 1978). But what makes this song special is the layered guitar riffs, which are some of the best ever – anywhere! Particularly impressive is the Scholz’s lead during the middle section which jumps from key to key in an impressive choir of guitar mastery. Nearly all the sonic candy provided by Scholz alone, with Delp adding rather low key vocals and drummer Sib Hashian sticking to a standard drum beat. Further, the sticky-sweet, trite lyrics keep this one from being a true masterpiece, while it certainly comes close. In the end all the great guitars give way to a majestic organ to bring the climax to an end before a very short piano outro closes the song. This piano was actually the only part of the entire album recorded in a “professional” recording studio, simply because Scholz could not fit one in his basement.

Boston in 1978

By all accounts, the second side of the album is where the weak spots lie and Scholz later conceded that only the first side of Don’t Look Back was truly completed. The best part of the upbeat “Feelin’ Satisfied” is a long riff-driven outro following the second verse. The next track “Party”, the weakest song on the album which sounds like a cheap filler to emulate the far superior “Smokin’” from Boston. A much better song is the moody yet melodic “Used to Bad News”, written solely by Delp. Here Scholz completely puts down the guitars to focus on the fine melodies of the Hammond organ. Delp fills in with a great acoustic (along with his vocal melodies) and Goudreau provides a short guitar lead before the organ returns for some fine riffing during the final verse. Although the shortest song on side two, “Used to Bad News” seems to pack in more quality than the other three combined. “Don’t Be Afraid” finishes things off, again offering sonic quality and vocal mastery with the added dynamics of some mean drumming by Hashian. Still, the composition itself is rather weak, making this an unsatisfying conclusion to what potentially could have been a much better album.

Boston went on another tour following Don’t Look Back, but management problems soon plagued the band. Further, Scholz refused to be hurried in producing Boston’s third album and CBS Records filed a lawsuit, alleging breach of contract. A long court battle ensued and that album, Third Stage took more than eight years until it was finally released at the end of 1986.

~

1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.
 

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The Cars

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The CarsQuite simply one of the best produced albums of the era, the 1978 self-titled debut album from The Cars was a unique sounding breakthrough which brought the group instant worldwide attention. This is due to the brilliant production by Roy Thomas Baker and the approachable compositions of group leader Ric Ocasek. Combined, these elements made for a potent mix of new wave cool and radio-friendly pop, which positioned The Cars as an unavoidable jewel to carry the day in the late seventies. The band would later jokingly refer to this as their “true greatest-hits album”, as just about all of the nine tracks have receive significant rotation on rock radio through the years.

Ocasek and bassist Benjamin Orr began performing as a duo in Columbus, Ohio before migrating to Boston in the early 1970s. There they joined with keyboardist Greg Hawkes, formed the folk band Milkwood, and released a 1973 album which failed to chart. After a few more Ocasek/Orr incarnations, including a jazz band, the group decided to go in a rock-oriented direction. Guitarist Elliot Easton and drummer David Robinson rounded out the quintet with Robinson coming up with the band’s simple name.

After a demo of the song “Just What I Needed” began getting heavy airplay on a Boston radio station, Elektra Records sent Baker across the ocean to scout the band. After seeing The Cars perform in a Boston school gymnasium, Baker instantly signed the group to a four album deal, all of which he would personally produce.


The Cars by The Cars
Released: June 14, 1978 (Elektra)
Produced by: Roy Thomas Baker
Recorded: AIR Studios, London, February 1978
Side One Side Two
Good Times Roll
My Best Friend’s Girl
Just What I Needed
I’m in Touch with Your World
Don’t Cha Stop
You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
Bye Bye Love
Moving In Stereo
All Mixed Up
Band Musicians
Ric Ocasek – Guitars, Lead Vocals
Benjamin Orr – Bass, Lead Vocals
Elliot Easton – Guitars, Vocals
Greg Hawkes – Keyboards, Saxophone, Vocals
David Robinson – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

The albums first three tracks each reached the Top 40 on the pop charts. “Good Times Roll” commences the album aptly with a slow-rocking guitar riff to draw in traditional rock fans while a full-fledged new wave band arrangement and production is attractive to fans on late 70s pop. Like many of the popular songs on the album, “Good Times Roll” is masterfully segmented with repeated choruses each containing different sonic elements – a guitar riff, a synth lead, chorus vocals, and creative counter-melodies. The song methodically sequences through musical passages on the journey to the song’s end. Ocasek’s lyrics and title are meant more as irony than a true pronouncement of celebration.

“My Best Friend’s Girl” follows with much of the same formula as “Good Times Roll”, building from a simple guitar riff to a full band arrangement. However, this song has more roots rock and blues elements than the opener, especially the cleanly picked guitar overdub and lead by Easton and the bouncy electric piano by Hawkes. While this recording pushes the song into new wave territory, it remains firmly a pop song with simple elements like handclaps and call-and-response vocal interplay. “Just What I Needed” may be the most purely new wave song on the album with spazzy guitars and square-wave synth lead. The only song on the first side which Orr sings instead of Ocasek, the song was the group’s first big hit regionally and internationally.

Aside from the cool but repetitive guitar riffing, “I’m in Touch with Your World” is really just a sound-effect-laden collage which tends to sound undercooked and a bit confused. Although not a terrible listen, the song is almost like an experimental piece which samples many synth-driven sound effects and uses other concise methods such as a saxophone solo that lasts all of five seconds. “Don’t Cha Stop” starts with a good guitar led verse which unfortunately gives way to the stale caricature of a chorus. Aside from drummer Robinson getting a chance to really wail on the drums, this side one closer one of the few tracks on the album which doesn’t hold up sonically three and a half decades later.

The flange-driven drum march of “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight”, which later contains a few really good guitar jams. Beyond that, the song tends to lose steam as it gets repetitive during the body. Perhaps, the formula from side one goes a bit too far on this side two opener and by this point on the album Ocasek’s dry vocals seem to wear a little thin on the ears of the passive listener. Perhaps Baker had this in mind when sequencing the final three tracks which each feature Orr on lead vocals.

These final three also segue into each other, in an exhilarating mini-suite which may constitute the finest part of The Cars. “Bye Bye Love” is simply the best song on the album. A composition which dates back to the mid seventies, this tune has a driving rock energy and Orr not only handles lead vocals but also plays his best bass on the album. Aside from Orr, the song is a real showcase for Hawkes, who artfully uses the repetitive riffs between the verse lines with layered and building keyboard font which change with each iteration. A less in-your-face and more unassuming track than some of the more popular songs, “Bye Bye Love” starts and concludes with great energy with Easton’s brilliant guitar a head-banging, rudimentary rock riff.

The Cars, 1978

Hawkes co-wrote “Moving in Stereo”, making it the only song on the album not composed solely by Ocasek. A darker, theatrical, and more intense sonic experience which nearly lasts five minutes (a very long song for this album), the song carries a theme for audiophiles and stereo enthusiasts. Orr has a much smoother singer style which works well for this moody song and his bass is treated with an effects unit that doubles the bass line one octave higher. The closer “All Mixed Up” is the closest thing to a ballad on this album, with Orr singing in an almost folk-like method and with a higher range than anywhere else. While the song maintains some of the album’s new wave elements, it contains many other features such as some good faux synth orchestral horns, an actual saxophone, and a short, country-influenced guitar lead.

The Cars sold one million copies by the end of 1978 and remained on the charts for nearly three years. Although it only peaked at number 18, Billboard ranked it number 4 on their “Top Albums of the Year” countdown. Critically, the album has been labeled “a genuine rock masterpiece”. It launched a ten year charting career for the group which included several more hit albums and songs.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1978 albums.

1978 Images

 

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Get a Grip by Aerosmith

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Get a Grip by AerosmithAerosmith made an amazing comeback in the late 1980s, as the band which was essentially dead at the beginning of that decade sprang back with a second act unlike many others in rock history. However, with their first release of the 1990s, Get a Grip, the band kind of “jumped the shark” in providing manufactured, crowd-tested anthems with extra vanilla production techniques and cheap, low grade lyrics. Further, the group attempted to mask is hyper-commercialized approach by adding some boilerplate social commentary. As tacky as this approach was artistically, it certainly worked commercially as Get a Grip became Aerosmith’s best-selling studio album worldwide with sales of over 20 million copies.

Produced by Bruce Fairbairn, the album employees outside composers and performers more than any other Aerosmith album, with compositions by only band members being more the exception than the rule. Joey Kramer, a quality drummer since the band’s inception with their debut album two decades earlier, is reduced to providing almost mind-numbing drumming and hardly ever adding any variation to the most basic of 4/4 beats. This may just be the most egregious of several examples where the band just decided to play it safe and not really variate from their late eighties formula, even regress at times.

The album was actually rejected by Geffen in its original form during the summer of 1992 and the band returned to the studio to record more “radio-friendly” material, ultimately delaying the album’s release by about 6 months. Get a Grip would be the final album Aerosmith would record for Geffen Records.

 


Get a Grip by Aerosmith
Released: April 20, 1993 (Virgin)
Produced by: Bruce Fairbairn
Recorded: A&M Studios, Hollywood & Little Mountain Sound, Vancouver, Jan-Nov 1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
Intro / Eat the Rich
Get a Grip
Fever
Livin’ On the Edge
Flesh
Walk On Down
Shut Up and Dance
Cryin’
Gotta Love It
Crazy
Line Up
Amazing
Boogie Man
Steven Tyler – Lead Vocals, Piano, Harmonica
Joe Perry – Guitars, Vocals
Brad Whitford – Guitars
Tom Hamilton – Bass, Vocals
Joey Kramer – Drums
 

Get a Grip by Aerosmith

 
The tackiness of the album is evident from the jump with the terrible “Intro” with jungle noises, behind a cheesy rap by vocalist Steven Tyler and sampling of “Walk This Way”. This leads to “Eat the Rich”, co-written by hired songwriter Jim Vallance, which starts as a decent enough, riff-driven rock song but is unfortunately tarnished by cheap and cheesy lyrics and a few tawdry lines thrown in for pure “shock value”. Then, as if to just underline the total suckiness of the song, it ends with a loud belch. Still, this song was a hit and appeared on a few future compilations.

Vallance also co-wrote the title song “Get a Grip”, a frantic rap which gets repetitive. Better than the opener, but still pretty weak. “Fever” is the best of the opening trio because of strong rock and blues influences by lead guitarist Joe Perry. This still feels a bit cheap and, by this point in the album, it feels like this band of 40-somethings is trying just a bit too hard to be  hip and hard rocking.

Song doctor Mark Hudson’s “Livin’ On the Edge” is the first real quality song on the album, featuring Brad Whitford on acoustic guitar accompanied by almost-Eastern-sounding lead guitars and good quality melodies. There is also a decent bridge arrangement with some slight piano and the song’s only real issue is the artificially elongated ending, which reprises after a few false stops, extending the song about a minute and a half longer than it should be without much true benefit for the listener. The song was a Top 20 hit on the Pop charts. “Flesh” was co-written by long time collaborator Desmond Child and starts with a synthesized and sound-effect-drenched opening, before finally kicking with decent musical and melodic elements featuring Whitford on lead guitar. Perry’s “Walk On Down” is just as weak lyrically as other material but is a bit interesting because of Joe Perry’s vocals. “Shut Up and Dance” may be the nadir of this album. Composed by jack Blades and Tommy Shaw (then of Damn Yankees), there is a decent hook in the chorus but the verses are really cheap and repetitive.
 

 
“Cryin'” was co-written by Taylor Rhodes and is, perhaps, the best song on the album. A ballad performed at maximum volume, the production value is top-notch and the song contains a great fade-out coda, reminding us that Aerosmith can really extend a song organically when they really want to. Both Perry and Whitford play guitar solos while Tyler adds a harmonica solo.

Bassist Tom Hamilton adds some funky bass to the groove “Gotta Love It”, which also contains some biting guitar riffs. Child returns and adds some mandolin to the ballad “Crazy”, which has a decent enough vibe once you get past the corny intro. The song was another chart success for the band and also earned the band a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal in 1994. “Line Up” features Lenny Kravitz in a fusion between Motown and heavy rock along with a bluesy slide guitar and a slight horn section.

Leaving aside the experimental “Boogie Man”, the album truly completes with “Amazing” by Richard Supa. This excellent piano ballad with great chord structure and perfectly arranged instrumentation, almost single-handedly redeems the album with a great outtro similar to “What It Takes” on their previous album, but a lame 1940s-like spoken radio announcement completely rips the listener from the moody vibe and reminds him how cheesy this album really is right to the end.

Although a commercial phenom, Get a Grip tainted Aerosmith’s reputation for authentic rock quite substantially. They would redeem themselves a bit with their next album, the fine Nine Lives in 1997, which was much more substantial musically but less successful commercially.

~

1993 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1993 albums.

 

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Aerosmith

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Aerosmith 1973 debut albumAerosmith emerged as a blues rock alternative in a music sea of glam rock and prog rock of the early 1970s. Their impressive 1973 debut album doesn’t contain anything particularly innovative musically, but still manages to forge some unforgettable moments. The album is also the band’s most authentically bluesy release (something they’d try to replicate three decades later with the 2004 cover album Honkin’ On Bobo) and some of these extended blues numbers were the longest songs the band would ever release. Band leader and lead vocalist Steven Tyler wrote the bulk of the original material and uses a bit of an exaggerated “blues” voice, something he would soon abandon.

Tyler began performing as a drummer in his native New Hampshire as early as 1964. In nearby Massachusetts, guitarist Joe Perry and bassist Tom Hamilton formed a free-form and blues group called the Jam Band (commonly known as “Joe Perry’s Jam Band”). Eventually the performers were united in 1970 in Boston by drummer Joey Kramer, a Berkley student who had gotten to know all the above musicians. With Kramer on drums, Tyler moved to “frontman” and the new band chose a name inspired by Harry Nilsson’s album Aerial Ballet. Another Berkley student, Brad Whitford joined as rhythm guitarist in 1971, completing the classic quartet which makes up the band to this day.

By the time their debut album was released, the band had been playing constantly for nearly three years, helping to forge a confident boogie-blues and riff-based hard rock sound. Producer Adrian Barber captured this sound in a raw yet professional manner, avoiding the typical stumbles and haziness that normally comes with a debut.


Aerosmith by Aerosmith
Released: January 5, 1973 (Columbia)
Produced by: Adrian Barber
Recorded: Intermedia Studios, 1972
Side One Side Two
Make It
Somebody
Dream On
One Way Street
Mama Kin
Write Me a Letter
Movin’ Out
Walkin’ the Dog
Group Musicians
Steven Tyler – Lead Vocals, Piano, Harmonica
Joe Perry – Guitars
Brad Whitford – Guitars
Tom Hamilton – Bass
Joey Kramer – Drums

Aerosmith’s recording career begins with an excellent example of their early sound. “Make It” is a mixture of fuzzy but clean riffs and some distant whining guitars above a solid rhythm with about medium quality recording. “Somebody” a pure, riff-driven rocker follows. It appears the band was going for the accessible radio hit (which probably would have worked for the later, more polished Aerosmith) but it never did quite catch on and just lays there for the enjoyment of us future music lovers. This song has an interesting middle section, which slowly develops but works towards a whiny, bluesy guitar mimicked in sync by Tyler’s ad-libbed voice.

The original recording of “Dream On” is unique, surreal, and timeless song, which can often be overlooked as the classic signature song that it is. This may be due to the fact that it has been way overplayed on rock radio and, let’s face it, the band kind of butchers it live. The song is unique on this album, driven by piano, mellotron, and high pitched vocals by Tyler, and ringing guitar notes by Perry. It was the band’s first single, but only reached #59 in 1973. It did much better during a second release in 1976, reaching the Top Ten after Aerosmith had broken through to the main stream.

The first side closes with “One Way Street”, the perfect fusion of blues and rock which represents the heart of the album. Whitford takes over lead guitar on this one, which is a multi-part jam with some finer details touched up by Hamilton’s bass and Tyler’s harmonica. “Mama Kin” is the second song on the album which remained a signature throughout their career. It starts with a long intro section of Perry’s steady but strong riff and works in much stop/start action by the rest of the musicians. Guest David Woodford provides saxophone to the mix and Perry adds some backing vocals.

Aerosmith, 1973

The rest of side two contains solid yet relatively unknown tracks. “Write Me a Letter” was recorded with a real live feel to it, sounding like it was done in a club. The guitars are crisp and Kramer’s drumming is especially sharp and dynamic, rising above the rest of the band. “Movin’ Out” was co-written by Perry and is another strong blues with a real Celtic undertone to it. The album completes with “Walkin’ the Dog”, the only cover song on the album, written by Rufus Thomas. It may also be the most Zeppelin-esque of any song on the album, very upbeat and entertaining and a strong way to finish the album.

By all commercial metrics, Aerosmith was a flop upon its release and, like its top single, was issued new life only after the band broke through with success on their mid 70s albums. However, musically this album stood the test of time and decades later sounds fresh and entertaining.

~

1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1973 albums.

 

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Permanent Vacation by Aerosmith

Permanent Vacation by AerosmithIn spite of their much celebrated “reunion” in 1984, two years later Aerosmith was still a band in turmoil. Their 1985 album Done With Mirrors did not do so well commercially and various members of the band were still struggling with the alcohol and drug habits which caused their initial split in 1979. Still, the band was determined to get back to the top of the rock world and made a concerted effort to make their next studio album the vehicle on which to make that rise. Permanent Vacation pretty much accomplished this goal, but not before some tough decisions were made. The band’s label, Geffen Records, insisted that they would only fund this recording if all five band members complete a drug and alcohol rehab program (which they did). Also, after listening to the demos, Geffen insisted that outside songwriters be brought in to work with the band members, a tough condition to accept for a band that had previously recorded eight albums of all original material over the preceding fourteen years.

The “song doctors” which were hired fired for this project were Desmond Child and Jim Vallance. Child was a Florida resident who had a minor hit with his band Rouge in 1979 before deciding to dedicate his time to strictly songwriting. He penned some hits for bands like Cher, Kiss, Bon Jovi, Poison, and Joan Jett before writing pop hits for Aerosmith starting with this album, through the 1990s. Vallance was best know for his songwriting partnership with Bryan Adams which lasted through his first five solo albums and all of Adams’ early hits. Vallance also wrote songs for Kiss, Bonnie Raitt, and Northern Lights, and would also help to write several hit songs for Aerosmith through the mid 1990s. Permanent Vacation was recorded in Vallance’s hometown of Vancouver and produced by Bruce Fairbairn.

As for the band members of Aerosmith themselves, they credit the fact that they successfully “cleaned up” for reawakening their musical zest. This was most evident right out front with vocalist Steven Tyler, who especially shined on this album with his strong and dynamic singing, catchy hooks, interesting lyrics, and even a return to his blues roots with prolific harp playing. The combination of the polished pop songs, classic-era rockers, and a judicious amount of experimentation made for a successful combination on this album with very few weak points throughout.


Permanent Vacation by Aerosmith
Released: August 18, 1987 (Geffen)
Produced by: Bruce Fairbairn
Recorded: Little Mountain Sound Studios, Vancouver, BC, March–May 1987
Side One Side Two
Heart’s Done Time
Magic Touch
Rag Doll
Simoriah
Dude (Looks Like a Lady)
St. John
Hangman Jury
Girl Keeps Coming Apart
Angel
Permanent Vacation
I’m Down
The Movie
Band Musicians
Steven Tyler – Lead Vocals, Harmonica, Piano | Joe Perry – Guitars, Vocals
Brad Whitford – Guitars | Tom Hamilton – Bass | Joey Kramer – Drums

The album begins with a couple of riff driven rockers by Tyler and lead guitars Joe Perry along with one each of the “song doctors”. “Heart’s Done Time”, co-written by Child, provides an intense intro section and some autobiographical lyrics which seem to tell of the band’s rocky journey to this point in their career. “Magic Touch”, co-written by Vallance contains some signature Perry-style muddy guitar riffs with decent, melodic vocals by Tyler.

“Rag Doll” was one of three charting hits from the album and brings in yet another professional songwriter, Holly Knight, who collaborated with Vallance and Tyler in a swinging hybrid between 1940s “hit parade” and 1980s “hair rock”. A strong horn section along with Perry’s slide guitar sweeten the song nicely and add a contrast like no other to the album. The following “Simoriah” contains textured riffs and soaring vocals, returning the band to the full-fledged rock n roll realm.

“Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” -was co-written by Child and became the band’s biggest hit in years. This clavichord led, brass intensive was originally written as “Cruisin’ for a Lady” but was updated after Tyler met the band Mötley Crüe and derived from their California “dude” talk, this new title, refrain, and narrative.

The most interesting songs on the album bookend the end of side one and beginning of side two, as each returns to some of the band’s vintage roots. The earthy blues of “St. John” hearkens back to Aerosmith’s very first album in 1973 and is more blues than rock, although there is still plenty of both. The excellent, harmonica-driven “Hangman Jury” starts as a perfect rendition of acoustic blues, with porch swing on a summer night effects included, before breaking into an upbeat Aerosmith rocker circa mid-1970s. In fact, the opening rendition was so perfect that that the band was later sued by blues man Lead Belly’s estate for royalties.

“Girl Keeps Coming Apart” is a frenzied and exciting song, led by the driving drums by Joey Kramer, the funky guitars and harmonies by Perry, and plenty of sonic splashes from horns and harmonicas throughout. Unfortunately, the album’s momentum is broken by the power ballad “Angel” which, although a big radio hit, is the tackiest and most caricature-driven song. Aerosmith had a hand in creating this type of song, as they finished many of their 1970s albums with lighter fare, but with “Angel” they went just a tad too far and it is probably the weakest moment on the album. The Caribbean-influenced title track follows, which was co-written by guitarist Brad Whitford and is quite fun and entertaining.

Of the scores of artists that attempted to cover Beatles songs over the years, Aerosmith has done the best job. I’ve long opined, to much controversy, that their 1978 cover of “Come Together” was superior to the 1969 original, and the same may be true of “I’m Down” on this album, which adds some great sound to the famous Shea Stadium performance of the song by the Beatles 22 years earlier, which looked like a lot of fun but really couldn’t be heard over the screaming fans. The album concludes with “The Movie”, a weird instrumental credited to all five members of the band, but driven mainly by the pulsating bass line of Tom Hamilton, many added synthesized effects, and a spoken female voice in a foreign language.

Permanent Vacation is considered Aerosmith’s true comeback album and went on to sell over five million copies in the U.S. alone. It would reinvent Aerosmith through the rest of the 1980s and throughout the 1990s, as they pretty followed the same formula and found continued commercial success.

~
R.A.


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Rock In a Hard Place by Aerosmith

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Rock In a Hard Place by AerosmithRock In a Hard Place is considered by some to not be a “real” Aerosmith album because it is the only one to not include all five members. I have a hard time concurring as this has been one of my favorite Aerosmith albums for close to thirty years. It is a strong, edgy, and (most importantly) unique effort that captures a lot of dynamics surrounding the band’s situation perfectly. Though, many fans and critics lamented the departure of guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford and claimed that the band’s traditional chemistry was not present on this album. Perry left the band abruptly while in the middle of recording the previous album, Night In the Ruts and went on to form the Joe Perry Project. Whitford was still with the band at the beginning of this album’s sessions in 1981 but departed after recording just one track.

Of course, the music still sounds like Aerosmith because of the presence of Steven Tyler. But Tyler’s voice is strained throughout the album, something that may otherwise be a liability, but surprisingly this adds to the overall air of desperation throughout the mixes. It also adds to the feel that this is a straight-forward, no B.S. rock jam album, although certain facts seem to dispute this notion. Primarily, there was a very steep price tag ($1.5 million) in producing this album, and from that perspective it is understandable why so many may consider it a failure.

Perry and Whitford were replaced by guitarists Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay, who each brought a unique yet hard-rockin’ edge. This was especially true for Crespo, who co-wrote many of the songs on the album. Also, drummer Joey Kramer plays especially well on this album, holding together some of the looser compositions with a strong and steady rhythm.

 


Rock In a Hard Place by Aerosmith
Released: April 1, 1982 (Columbia)
Produced by: Jack Douglas, Steven Tyler, & Tony Bongiovi
Recorded: Record Plant, New York, 1981-1982
Side One Side Two
Jailbait
Lightning Strikes
Bitch’s Brew
Bolivian Ragamuffin
Cry Me a River
Prelude To Joanie
Joanie’s Butterfly
Rock in a Hard Place (Cheshire Cat)
Jig Is Up
Push Comes To Shove
Group Musicians
Steven Tyler – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Jimmy Crespo – Guitars, Vocals
Rick Dufay – Guitars
Tom Hamilton – Bass
Joey Kramer – Drums

 
The album starts in a frenzy with “Jailbait”, a collaboration by Tyler, Crespo, and Dufay. The song seems to be linked in many ways with “Bitch’s Brew” as it explicitly refers to it, is composed in a very loose lyrical fashion, and the subject matter seems to very similar – seduction and sex. Of these two, “Bitch’s Brew” is a lot more interesting due to its odd arrangement and Tyler’s vocals, which are particularly strained throughout, and he does a pretty impressive Bob Dylan impersonation during the final verse.

A slow, synthesized string introduces “Lightning Strikes”, a song written by longtime band collaborator Richard Supa about gangs and gang fights. This is the only track to feature Brad Whitford, who left the band during its recording in 1981. Whitford, who was a founding member of Aerosmith, is billed as simply an “additional musician” in the credits. The band created one of their earliest actual music videos for MTV and other networks with this song. Directed by Arnold Levine
 

 
“Bolivian Ragamuffin” is a heavy blue composition similar to the band’s material on Draw The Line. Crespo wails on a crying, slide electric throughout and this song seems to be the band at its most intense jamming on the album. A cover of Arthur Hamilton’s “Cry Me a River” lightens the mood a bit with a soft, jazzy, night club intro and opening verses. However, the song does explode later into a full-fledged strong rock interpretation while maintaining the basic, moody vibe.

The second side starts with, perhaps, the oddest Aerosmith song on record called “Joanie’s Butterfly”. Kicking off with a “Prelude” that includes a highly synthesized, barely audible, spoken voice above a chorus of quasi-Eastern chants by Tyler, the song proper breaks in with a more straight-forward, Eastern-flavored rhythm, with a strummed acoustic, layered percussion, a dulcimer, and more layered vocals. At about 1:45, the song breaks into a more rock-oriented arrangement with some really nice sonic changes straight through until the long ending crescendo with violin and various other string instruments. The song was co-written by producer Jack Douglas who is yet to reveal the true meaning (if any) of the odd lyrics which are extremely cryptic;

He was a kick ass rocking horse, he was a one horned, unicornucopia
Two, two in Utopia, three star, verge into infinity…

The album finishes strong with three well-produced rockers. The title song, “Rock In a Hard Place (Cheshire Cat)” is a fine rock song featuring the strongest performance on the album by bassist Tom Hamilton and more great guitar work by the two newcomers. “Jig Is Up” is one of the great forgotten classics of Aerosmith, with a solid rock sound not heard from the band since 1976’s Rocks, and a lyrical theme similar to the Stones’ “Brown Sugar”. The album closes with Tyler’s “Push Comes to Shove”, a completely undecipherable screed by the singer that is reportedly about his then girlfriend and future wife, but who knows to what end. Nonetheless, it is a pleasant listen in the Aerosmith-blues style and features some good piano by session man Paul Harris.

Panned by most critics, fans, and band members themselves, Rock In a Hard Place may well be an underrated gem in the long career of one of America’s most storied bands. Still, purists lament that it is the only release which deviates from the five man lineup that was the band before and would be the band again. In 1984, Aerosmith embarked on a reunion tour which brought Perry and Whitford back into the fold and the original lineup remains in tact to this day.

~

 

1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums.
 

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