This article first appeared on the old gravelstudios.com, and is reproduced here for your enjoyment.
I was a big Aerosmith fan when I was in middle school. Everyone was. After all, it was the early 90's, and pretty much every other video on MTV had Alicia Silverstone prancing around to Steven Tyler’s shrieking voice.
This was when Aerosmith was at the height of popularity, and they did it with a label that was synonymous in the late 80’s and early 90’s with completely awesome rock music: Geffen.
In this trip down memory lane, I’d like to take a look at the albums that Aerosmith produced while they were at Geffen, and discuss why I think they’re so good, why I enjoyed them then, and why I still enjoy them now.
Done With Mirrors: 1985
The word in the cafeteria when I was a kid was that the name of this album had two meanings. The primary being a reference to how magic tricks can be ‘done with mirrors’, the secondary being that this was Aerosmith’s first album after rehab, and they were done snorting coke off of mirrors. It’s a nice little play on words. My three brothers and I used to listen to this album while we played poker.
Names aside, this album is pretty unremarkable. Most non-Aerosmith fans don’t even know it exists. Now, don’t misunderstand me. It’s a very passably good rock album. But the only song I ever remember hearing anywhere other than on the album itself was “She’s On Fire”.
You can’t really blame them, though. They had only just gotten back together after some serious substance abuse, and were still finding their sea legs. They sound a little like a garage band, but that’s a good thing. They were starting over again, and needed to create a new chemistry.
Permanent Vacation: 1987
Ah, yes…the reason I became an Aerosmith fan. For a long time, this was my favorite album. My brother Joe had it on cassette, and he copied it onto a cheap blank tape for me (the kind you get in a 3-pack at the Dollar General that don’t have cases). I listened to it over and over again on my walkman. I will now relate a story:
When I was in 6th grade, my class went on a trip to Harpers Ferry. Now, because I was a ‘good smart kid’, my teachers always saw fit to put me in groups with ‘bad dumb kids’, hoping I would temper their behavior. I always resented this, because I’ve always loved museums and parks and stuff like that, and it meant I would never get to do and see everything I wanted to. Well, long story short, my parents felt bad for me, and took me to Harpers Ferry several weeks later all by myself. I told you all of that because of this: I listened to Permanent Vacation all the way there and all the way back, singing along at the top of my lungs. My poor parents. But I had a great time.
This is the album that made people realize that maybe Aerosmith wasn’t dead after all, with great songs like ‘Rag Doll’, ‘Dude (Looks Like a Lady)’, and ‘Angel’. They created a wholly unique sound with slide guitar, synthesizers, and a fantastic horn section. This is also the first album in a long collaboration with producer Bruce Fairbairn, and songwriter Desmond Child.
Permanent Vacation was a hard act to follow, but Aerosmith was on a roll. If Permanent Vacation was testing the waters with a toe, Pump jumped in head first. I’ve heard the term ‘momentum’ used in reference to entertainment phenomena. The Aerosmith ball was rolling hard and fast and this point, and it’s obvious they aimed to keep it that way. Pump sounds cleaner, more carefully produced, and rocks much harder. If there was ever an example of the quintessential Aerosmith sound, this is it. Songs like ‘Love in an Elevator’, ‘Janie’s Got a Gun’, and ‘What it Takes’ prove it.
More than anything, I just remember this album playing in the background a lot. At friends’ houses, in my brothers’ rooms, on TV, at the mall, everywhere. By this point, we were all pretty well steeped in Aerosmith. No complaints here.
Get a Grip: 1993
The release of this album put Aerosmith mania into full swing. Aerosmith was everywhere. It seemed like MTV was trying to meet some kind of daily quota for the video of ‘Cryin’’. ‘Amazing’ and ‘Crazy’ weren’t far behind. Alicia Silvertsone was the Aerosmith poster child/pinup girl. Practically every song on this album was a hit single, with matching hit music video. There was even an Aerosmith arcade/Super NES game: Revolution X. They were probably the biggest act at Woodstock 2 (which, in retrospect, wasn’t nearly as big a deal as everyone made it out to be). Wayne and Garth were particularly enamored of the band.
Don’t get me wrong. I was just as crazy about all things Aerosmith as the next teenager, but I have to admit that I was starting to get annoyed. Nobody likes being force-fed, even if it’s something you like. The music was great, but Aerosmith was starting to get played out. Even so, we listened to Get a Grip a lot. ‘Cryin’’ started to get annoying, but the rest of the album was thoroughly enjoyable. Great music for either driving in the car, or running on the treadmill.
I remember a big deal being made over the album cover. Some animals’ rights people thought they had actually pierced a cow’s nipple and branded it with the Aerosmith wings. Of course, even now in the 21st century, people have trouble spotting photoshopped pictures, but I always thought the cover looked pretty fake.
Big Ones: 1994
Big Ones is basically a ‘best of’ album from Permanent Vacation, Pump, and Get a Grip, with a couple of new songs thrown in.
This was a nice album to take with you in the car if you wanted to listen to your favorite Aerosmith songs without having to carry around a stack of CDs (back in the pre-ipod era). Really, though, I think this album was just another way of keeping the Aerosmith momentum going. Geffen needed a way to keep Aerosmith in people’s faces, and they didn’t want to wait for an entirely new album to be written and produced. Big Ones was the ideal solution. ‘Walk on Water’, ‘Blind Man’, and ‘Deuces are Wild’ pretty much ensured that all true Aerosmith fans would buy it, even if they already owned all the other songs on the album. We did, and we did.
Of course, there’s a lot more that I could say about Aerosmith, but that’s unfortunately outside the scope of this article (I particularly like Toys in the Attic, and Nine Lives). Maybe I’ll write about them later. You’ll have to wait and see.