Most of the worst bands that make it big don’t last long. They have a moment with their fingers up the pulse of the people, and that’s it. Kansas, Asia, Boston, Palookaville, I sense a theme here.
Oh, wait a minute. I have to address the subjectivity issue. Yeah, everybody has different tastes and there is no good and bad. Half bullshit.
What we like in music, what we call taste, comes from our mindsets and, if you will, our soulsets. What we are feeling and what we are thinking. Now, if you contend that what we are feeling is beyond objectivity, I agree. But plenty can be said objectively about mindsets. For example, if your mind is closed to anything but what you already like, you WILL have bad taste, except perhaps in those things you already like, and even there I rather doubt it since nothing good can come of atrophy. Old wine in new skins eventually becomes vinegar.
Part of greatness in music is that the music reaches beyond itself, pointing to something new. Not necessarily grand concepts because details count too, a lot. Whether it’s the Beatles combining Chuck Berry and the Everly Brothers with Tin Pan Alley zing, adding instruments and new electric sounds as they went, or the Misfits doing their twist on the Ramones and the sick joke tradition, the music is good partly because it’s staking out its own turf. This is why pure genre exercises can never be great.
Which is one of the reasons Aerosmith sucks. Yes, back to the top: Aerosmith is a really bad band that has thrived as long as any band from the 1970s unto today. I ask myself why.
I was prepared to like them, way back then. I must have seen some at least mildly intriguing publicity, and I did know that they had the same management as the New York Dolls, my favorite band at that time (and still right up there). If memory serves, their first hit, Dream On, did not become a hit until their second album had been released, or very close to it. Anyway, I bought their 2nd album before I heard Dream On, which was on their first album, and not a half bad song for AM radio at the time. Anyway, I bought the album and slapped it on the turntable and…blah. By far the best song was their cover of The Train Kept a Rollin’, which was actually more a cover of the Yardbirds’ Stroll On, but the songs are basically the same anyway. In 40+ years they never did better.
The rest was just Heavy Rock boilerplate: flashy but instantly forgettable guitar, thud, thud, thud on the bass/drums, and the usual sex cliché lyrics, Spinal Tap without the wit. And that’s all they’ve been doing ever since.
I heard a story about Dream On. I don’t know that it’s true, but for me it rings so I’ll repeat it. Seems that the song was written by a band that was rehearsing in the same studio as Aerosmith, and they left it taped on the wall. The rest is history. I believe the story because they never developed that strain of “their” music, and this is a band if ever there was one who milked what worked.
It’s almost impossible to slog around in blues/rock riffs for that long and not come up with something good. Grand Funk did it. Foghat did it. Deep Purple did it. Hell, Modern English did it. I’ll give Aerosmith their due: parts of Sweet Emotion are sharp, and the end of Sick as a Dog (stolen and improved by the Sex Pistols) is fine shit. And that’s it. I confess that I have not listened to everything they ever did. They probably do have another one or two minutes of good music in there somewhere. But life is too short and first they have to give me a reason.
What really gets me about Steve and Joe and the boys is the pure exploitation, which of course is more a comment on those who allow themselves to be exploited. I suppose there is some Warholian genius in their flagrant genericness. When the “anybody can do it” ethos was first promulgated about Punk (by critics who had obviously never tried it), it should have been said of Aerosmith. They should have added “and everybody will buy it.”
But then why couldn’t other bands seize the obvious and ride it to fame and profit? Well, they did: all those 80s hair bands were Aerosmith’s children, up to and including Guns n Roses who at least had a few good tunes. Such bad boys. They probably had drug problem consultants – “tailoring your drugs to YOUR image!”
Yeah, the de rigeur drug problems, the leering fuck-me-now-or I’ll-jerk-off-right-here lyrics, the scarves on the mike stand that you wanna stuff down Tyler’s throat, the image ripoff of everything the Stones had already made safe and the Dolls had already taken two steps further, the seamless transition to TV celebrity status and fast food commercials – these guys are Pat Boone with eyeliner.
Absolutely Sweet Emotion, but little else. Still, Aerosmith’s worst shit is so much better than anything Journey ever did. How exactly does that work?
There is you subjectivity, I suppose?
The good part of Sweet Emotion sounds like an outtake from Her Satanic Majesties Request, and the rest is generic beyond sleep. But the lyrics:
Some sweat hog mama with a face like a gent
Said my get up and go musta got up and went
Well I got good news, shes a real good liar
cause the backstage boogie set your pants on fire
Huh? Sweet emotion, indeed.
Yes, they are better than Journey, although even Journey had a good intro to one of their songs, something about “any way that you want me.” But Journey never got any respect from people like us. They’re like the Little River Band. I hear Aerosmith regularly on XM Underground Garage, which is what got my blood boiling. I LIKE the Underground Garage.
Can’t agree with you here, Gene. I got “Toys In The Attic” when I was a kid and was really into it and I still think it’s very good. That led me to “Get Your Wings” which I liked quite a bit too. Then I bought “Rocks” when it came out and liked that less. Then I lost interest. Don’t know quite why I never bought the debut album. Maybe because I thought “Dream On” was pretty wimpy. Sure, Aerosmith has overstayed their welcome, but who alive hasn’t? They had their moments for me and there are about a million bands I hate more.
I can tell you why you never bought the debut, Steve. Apart from Dream On, which may be wimpy but is always a pleasure to listen to, the first elpee is way underproduced and underplayed and underdeveloped. The following few albums don’t have a good thought in their heads, but they do riff quite energetically and forcefully. I think Gene reveals in his comment about the Underground Garage that it isn’t really that they suck, but that they riff energetically and blandly, more like MOR crap like Journey than real rock. And then after that they really do suck, for many many years, except for Love in an Elevator, of course.