Artist Spotlight: Aerosmith 1973-1993 (or; A Field Guide on How to Squander Goodwill) [Part 5 of 5]

Part 1 here. Part 2 here. Part 3 here. Part 4 here.

When we last checked in with the band, Joe Perry was on his way to try and make amends with Steven Tyler…

Done with Mirrors (1985)

Former and future Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry and his manager Tim Collins had returned to Boston to put the band back together. Of course, there were problems. Perry was never going to go back to prior managers Krebs and Leber, and vocalist Steven Tyler, drummer Joey Kramer, and bassist Tom Hamilton had just re-upped their contracts with Krebs-Leber for 5 years and 6 albums, despite having been dropped by Columbia and having no label. Guitarist Brad Whitford was still a free agent.

“When Tim Collins came along, Joe told me Tim had taken him under his wing and had been a brother to him and was working his ass off day and night to help him get his life back,” Tyler said. “I was suspicious, because Tim had grandiose ideas. He’d say, ‘I’m going to turn you guys back into what you used to be.’ No one else came along and had the guts to say that too our faces… But it was hard. Krebs had us working. I was trying to be loyal. So, we postponed doing anything.”

Meanwhile, the Rock in a Hard Place lineup was still sporadically playing shows. They even entered the studio and cut an instrumental track written by replacement guitarist Jimmy Crespo called “Written in Stone”. However, while the original lineup was patching things up, The Joe Perry Project members were telling him to reunite and now worry about them, and the other replacement guitarist in Aerosmith, Rick Dufay, was also telling them to reunite.

“It was obvious what had to happen,” Hamilton said. “Rick Dufay was even telling us we had to get back together with Joe. But I still feel kind of bad about Jimmy Crespo… I feel weird that we never sat down with Jimmy and said, ‘Man, you did so fuckin’ great, but we gotta put the band back together and someday we hope we can make it right for you’. Always meant to call him. Never did.”

The plan was for the reunited original line up to tour, but they had no album, no video, and no label for tour support. They couldn’t get any label to return their calls. Undeterred, the band started rehearsing old material, and even turned “Let the Music Do the Talking” from The Joe Perry Project into an Aerosmith song when Tyler wrote new lyrics for it.

The band had a meeting about getting a new record deal, and afterwards, someone had put on the old records.  The ballad “You See Me Crying” from Toys in the Attic came on. Tyler said, “Hey! That’s great! We should cover this. Who is it?”

Perry replied, “It’s us, fuckhead.”

In the spring of 1984, the band embarked on their Back in the Saddle Tour. They were a band invigorated, but still not 100%. They were still having the problems with substance abuse, and the only notice they got from MTV (after the channel didn’t play any of their videos) was when Tyler snorted and entire gram of cocaine and keeled over, falling in the audience.  If that wasn’t enough, Krebs was still sending court orders to seize the band’s box office receipts. Fortunately, Collins had the foresight to set up a new dummy company for every stop on the tour, so that when the court orders came in, they couldn’t be attached to the receipts. It kept the wolves at bay, and it pretty ingenious when it comes right down to it.

The next natural step was finding a label. There were some interested parties, but no label was willing to pull the trigger until Collins managed to play Geffen and Arista against each other. Geffen ended up winning out, and their point of contact was John Kalodner. If you’ve ever seen any of Aerosmith’s late 80’s videos, he’s the guy in glasses with the long hair and giant beard. Collins chose Geffen because he knew Kalodner was honest. When Collins sent a tape of Perry’s Once a Rocker to Kalodner, he said, “It completely sucks. How could you even send out a piece of shit tape like this? I love Joe Perry, you’ve got a real artist here, but this tape just blows.”

“I used to tell people that the reason we signed to Geffen was because we loved John Kalodner’s beard,” Perry said.

The band started to work on their big comeback record in early 1985, but the immediately resisted any input from Kalodner. They had never had an A&R person before, and they were not accustomed to having outside songwriting help, and they weren’t about to start now. Kalodner stepped back, and let them do it the way they wanted to do it. The album turned in the record, to which Kalodner said there were no hits on it. Collins replied, “This is the best that they can do right now.”

The album is… not great. The music is actually pretty good, but Tyler’s vocals are rough and borderline unlistenable. While the band were doing interviews on sobriety, they were just as fucked up as they ever were.

Despite being heavily promoted by Geffen, the album was a commercial and critical flop because it only sold, get this… 400,000 units. Does any album today sell 400,000 copies? Geffen Records was extremely unhappy, and the band was about to be dropped. Fortunately, because that following summer not many big bands were out on tour, Aerosmith was able to make a decent chunk of change out on tour, despite being far from the well-oiled machine they had been in the past, or that they would become again.

At some point after this in 1986, the band staged an intervention for Tyler, despite all of them also still using. At the time, Tyler was not only an alcoholic, but he was also taking heroin, cocaine, methadone, as well as crushing up and snorting valium and Xanax. Things came to a head with management when Collins refused to give Tyler money for drugs, and Tyler punched a hole in the wall, and then autographed it, and left.

Collins met up with the rest of the band who were rehearsing while Tyler was indulging his appetites. He told them that it isn’t just Tyler, it’s everybody that needs to get sober. Collins promised them that if they all got sober, they would be the biggest band in the world by 1990. But first, they had to take care of Tyler before he ended up in the ground.

Collins told Tyler that he and Perry had an interview with the BBC, but because of the time difference, they had to be at the office at 6am sharp. Tyler arrived to find the entire band there to give him an intervention, which because the rest of the band was still using, was contentious at best. After several hours, Tyler broke down. “You’re right,’ Tyler broke down crying, “I need help. I’ll go, but only if we’re all in this together and you all get help, too. I’ll go.” Tyler was in rehab for 45 days.

“Walk this Way” with Run DMC (1986)

After the tour was over, but before Tyler went to rehab, producer Rick Rubin called Collins and asked if Tyler and Perry would play on a rap version of “Walk This Way”. Collins replied, “Um, Rick, what is rap?”

Kalodner told Collins, “I think this could be really cool. I think we should definitely do this.”

Back in the early days of hip hop, many M.C.’s rapped over the opening beat of the song. Many DJs, when discovering the beat, would wash the labels off of Toys in the Attic in the hopes that no one else would discover the beat. DJs guarded the track fiercely, and never gave it up.

It seems that no one but Rubin and Jam Master Jay were initially interested. DMC (Darryl McDaniels), Run (Joseph Simmons), Tyler, and Perry all were unsure about what they were doing. Run specifically had a problem with the lyrics, calling it “hillbilly gibberish… country bumpkin bullshit!” When rappers performed over the beat before, they would just freestyle over the opening beat, never the whole thing. But Rubin was trying to make a track that would give Run DMC further reach.

“I didn’t know what was gonna happen when I walked into the studio,” Perry said. “I thought they’d show us some ideas on how to rearrange the song, but all they had was a drum track. Rick Rubin says, ‘All you gotta do is play the song the way you play it’. So, I sat down and played it.”

The two groups really came together on the set of the video.  You’ve already seen it, and you’ll have another chance below, but it shows Tyler/Perry and Run DMC on opposites of the same wall, annoying each other with increasing volume until Tyler breaks through the wall, and the groups perform together. And then all racial tension in America was erased forever.

Tyler’s face at 2:25 really cracks me up.

The single was a smash hit, peaking at #4 in the U.S. Most importantly, MTV started playing the video twice an hour.  While the video did help Run DMC, Raising Hell became the first platinum selling rap album. But it arguably helped Aerosmith more, giving them the boost, it needed for their comeback. Finally, Aerosmith was on MTV.

Classics Live! (1986) / Classics Live! II (1987)

There isn’t a ton to say about these. Classics Live! had some recordings from the Crespo/Dufay lineup, but also had some studio overdubbing by Crespo as well. Classics Live! II was a mostly complete show from New Year’s Eve featuring the reunited original lineup. The only thing of note was the studio outtake of “Major Barbra”, which origins go back to Aerosmith, but was recorded for Get Your Wings.

The first edition was released in 1986, and took some of the thunder from Done With Mirrors. Conversely, Classics Live! II was buried by Permanent Vacation. They were re-released in 1988 as Classics Live! Complete, but frankly, it’s not worth your time.

Permanent Vacation (1987)

Now, the stage was set, after several years of struggle. But before they could move forward, there was a little problem of rampant substance abuse. After Perry relapsed on tour, he returned to rehab to kick heroin. Whitford was reading a book called I’ll Quit Tomorrow, when he realized the book as about him, and he joined Alcoholics Anonymous. Kramer was shipped to an out of state rehab center after his home burned down (an unrelated circumstance). At last, they finally got Hamilton to give up pot.

But before everyone dried out, they had to settle on blaming everyone else but themselves for the failure of Done With Mirrors. Collins and Kalodner put their foot down. Kalodner said, “Let’s go make a record my way, bring in some new blood, new writers. We can make a great record with this band.”

“There was a lot of controversy about John Kalodner bringing people in to work with us and share credit on our songs. A lot,” Perry said. “We’d always worked our way, under the gun, boxed into terrible twenty-four-hour sessions. In spite of everything, the music always came out.”

Kalodner first placed a call to Jim Steinman, who was most famous for Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell, but Steinman and the group couldn’t reach an agreement. The first person who actually came in was Desmond Child, who most recently had a hand in Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, which was a huge smash. Child helped finish “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)”, “Heart’s Done Time”, and “Angel”.

Next up was Jim Vallance, who is most notably known as Bryan Adams’ songwriting partner. Tyler and Vallance wrote “Magic Touch”, “Simoriah”, “Hangman Jury” and a little song called “Rag Time”.

Everyone was psyched about “Rag Time”, except the title. Kalodner said, “Kids won’t give a fuck about ‘Rag Time’.” He brought in the third and final outside writer, Holly Knight. Knight is an interesting figure; her first big break was playing keyboards (uncredited) on Kiss’ Unmasked. She then had a couple bands (Spider and Device) that had top 40 singles, but she went on to write “Invincible” and “Love Is a Battlefield” for Pat Benatar, among many others. Most importantly, she wrote and performed on “One of the Living” from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome with Tina Turner and Tim Capello (who was the oily, muscled sax player in The Lost Boys).

“I said, ‘Y’know, ‘Rag Time’, rages, like my scarves’, but [Kalodner] says, ‘No one will understand this’,” Tyler said. “We brainstormed for three days in Vancouver. Nothing. Finally, we’re going through it again and Holly reads my lyrics – ‘I’m rippin’ up a rag doll, like throwin’ away an old toy’ and she says, ‘Hey! Call it ‘Rag Doll’! Along with that, and changing a few other words, I gave her credit on the song.”

There is some debate about how gracious Tyler was, however. “This was a big deal… Later when it was a big hit record, Tyler was enraged. He’d yell at me: ‘Who’s to say that it wouldn’t have been huge it was Rag Time?’,” Collins said. “’We’ll never know’ was all I could tell him.”

“It’s hard not to hammer away at the fact that Permanent Vacation was the first record that Aerosmith ever did basically clean,” Hamilton said. “Or that we all knew this album was do or die… A lot of it was painful, because we gave up some control, big time… We made a decision that we wanted to come back, reestablish ourselves, and that ended up taking priority. That’s how we made the album that saved our career.”

Permanent Vacation is where the band came into my life. I can remember hearing “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” on the radio as a kid, and the Bad Stepdad I mention in a prior installment had bought the album. He had a CD player, which was a big deal still in 1987, and he made a copy for me. I listened to it over and over again. Even during grunge, when it was painfully uncool, I still rocked Permanent Vacation. The title track is a great rock song (one of the few songs with no outside songwriters), and the band released their second Beatles cover, “I’m Down”.

Is it cheesier than the early records? Absolutely, but I hadn’t heard them yet. Was it better than what passed for mainstream rock back then? Almost always, yes. I mean, I was eleven, I wasn’t exactly hip to the underground. One thing that is absolutely not cheesy, is the instrumental “The Movie”, which is without a doubt the “artiest” song in the Aerosmith catalog.

So, yeah, I love it. But I hate “Angel” and I never, ever, ever want to hear that song again.

“Yes, we used some other writers to help get us out of the hole,” Tyler said. “Yes, I did a whole lot of lame things: ‘Magic Touch’, ‘Angel’. I love sappy ballads, Beatles songs like ‘In My Life’. Half of me loves them, the other half is whispering, ‘You fuckin’ wimp! Don’t put any more of that shit out’!”

Permanent Vacation to date has sold over five million copies. The band went on an extremely successful tour, but with their newfound sobriety, this created new challenges. The band took on a whole new stage crew, with the understanding that they were not to partake in any drug or alcohol use in front of the band. The same went for opening acts Dokken and White Lion. There was a slight hiccup, however, when on the next leg of the tour, the band took out Guns N’ Roses as an opener. Initially, GNR would play, then leave, and then Aerosmith would arrive. As the tour went on, the stipulations were relaxed.

“I talked to them a little about drugs,” Tyler said. “Aerosmith was upset that the press was giving us a lot of shit about supposedly not letting them drink and smoke and do drugs. That offended us because we never presumed to tell anyone that. Before the first show, I told them where I came from with drugs and booze and just told them, ‘Look, if you got any blow, please keep it to yourself. Do it in your dressing room. If you do it in mine, I’m gonna have to leave my own dressing room’.”

While doing press, Tyler was also extremely frank about his drug use. “We did interviews and talked about not taking drugs until we almost wanted to take them again. I told them I didn’t want to say to kids, ‘Don’t do drugs’, because when I was a kid, I tried to do exactly what adults told me not to do. What I wanted to do was make a video for kids showing me having a seizure, turning blue, choking on my own tongue with a needle sticking in my arm. A video of me vomiting up blood in the dressing room after the last encore. A video showing the reality of drug use.”

Gems (1988)

Back in 1978, the band teamed up with Tyler’s friend Richie Supa. Supa brought the song “Chip Away the Stone” to the band, who started putting it in their live sets. It was released in a live version as part of Live! Bootleg, and as a non-album single in 1978. It was re-released in 1988 as a single to promote the collection, Gems, and it peaked at #13 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. A song that’s 11 years old, on the Modern Rock chart.

Anyway, Gems is a good collection of the more rock-oriented songs from the band’s history, but it was made redundant by Pandora’s Box. Supa worked sporadically with the band throughout the 80s and 90s, and went on to work on solo albums by Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora. Two Richies for the price of one!

Pump (1989)

Two months after the tour ended, the band resumed work on the follow up to Permanent Vacation. Now that they were invigorated, they sought to reduce the influence of outside writers> They told Kalodner directly, they weren’t writing with anyone on this album. This isn’t exactly how it turned out.

“I sat at my Korg and talked to Joe and the guys a lot about what kids who bought our records,” Tyler said. “What they listened to, what they wanted, what the younger bands were doing. Then it came to me that we didn’t have to give a shit. All we had to do was look inside and let out the kid. ‘Let out the kid’.  It was a big theme for me when I was making that record.”

The band started in the usual was a band starts, by just jamming it out. The very first day, they came up with “Monkey on My Back”. When it came time to record, they did it live in one take, and Tyler did the vocals later.

The band minimized outside songwriters, but they were still there. Desmond Child was back helping Tyler and Perry with “What It Takes”, and “F.I.N.E.”, while Jim Vallance had helped with “Young Lust” and “The Other Side”.

I’ve always like “What It Takes”, but it really is foreshadowing what the band was going to start cranking out in a few years. “The Other Side”, the fourth single from the album (which didn’t do that great), came under fire from famous Motown songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland, stating that the song sounded similar to the melody in The Four Tops’ “Standing in the Shadows of Love”. Decide for yourself!

If you’ve heard Pump, you know that it’s 90% about sex, and 9% about substance abuse recovery (and 1% miscellaneous). But you also know about “Janie’s Got a Gun”. The song was surprisingly tasteful, and coming from this band, was kind of shocking. The band fought an uphill battle to even get it on the record, and fought even longer to get it released as a single. “The real fight was over the line ‘put a bullet in his brain’,” Tyler said. “Later the program director at Z-100 in New York told me it was all bullshit anyway, they played songs with those kinds of lyrics.”

“For me, [Pump] wasn’t about ‘letting out the kid’,” Perry said. “It was about us at forty, having the same feelings we used to have, still listening to rock n’ roll. I still have that side of me that loves Deep Purple and the Sex Pistols. ‘Highway Star’, ‘Smoke on the Water’. I still get goose bumps when I hear ‘Immigrant Song’.”

Pump was released in September of 1989, shipped platinum, and has sold 7 million copies.

Pandora’s Box (1991)

I just wanted to mention that the box set Pandora’s Box is a great example of what a box set should be. It has the hits, alternate takes, unreleased stuff, live tracks, and if you get the physical edition, tons of photos and blurbs about lots of the songs.

Get a Grip (1993)

And then the entire band was killed in a plane crash and that was it. Thanks for reading!

Ok, maybe not.

I don’t want to get into Get a Grip, except to say that the album is pretty good if you leave off the three ballads. In addition to the usual suspects, the band also brought in Lenny Kravitz and Jack Blades and Tommy Shaw as song doctors, but there are only two songs without outside help… which seems like an over correction, especially after Pump was their highest selling album when it was released.

So, there’s some more bullshit. Manager Tim Collins, spent his time forcing the band to go to rehab when they were sober, on three separate occasions. Collins then stopped showing up to meeting with the label, and the band, and managed to force a wedge between the members. Eventually, the band had enough after the final rehab attempt, they were without Collins and realized he had been fabricating a lot of drama between the members. Collins ended up fired from the band, but he walked away with a huge chunk of change.

There’s tons more drama, but frankly, without the music to support it, there’s not much point to going on with it.  The band has spent years sniping at each other in the press, Tyler auditioned for the failed Led Zeppelin reunion that Robert Plant refused to do, Aerosmith was going to go on an anniversary tour without Steven Tyler (with suggested replacement Lenny Kravitz), a Las Vegas residency… it goes on and on.

The real question is, how did Aerosmith go from America’s favorite rock band to the abomination they are today? Or were, because their future is always in doubt (Whitford said in 2020, “I don’t really know what they want to do. And, I don’t really care because, truthfully, I’m not interested any more”). I think because there are two distinct egos in the band, Tyler and Perry. Tyler is obviously more interested in sappy ballads and selling records, while Perry tries (and often fails) to keep it rock. In the last decade or so, Perry has released a couple of rock records and played with Alice Cooper in Hollywood Vampires, while Tyler released a mainstream country pop album, so that kind of tells you where they are at.

If you held in this long, thanks for reading! Stay tuned next week, for, whatever…