Wednesday, June 5, 2024

CD Odyssey Disc 1742: Aerosmith

I had plenty of time to listen to this album yesterday when Sheila and I took a fun-filled trip to Sidney to go thrift shopping (and ended up in rush hour traffic on the drive home).

The trip was worth it, though. I found a bunch of albums of dubious quality, but that I bought anyway because they cost between one and two dollars. Many were records I’d owned years ago on CD or tape back that I’d sold for cash in times of need. I wonder if any of them are the same copies I sold? It is certainly possible. The fact that I sold them in the first place means they won’t be great, but if they survive the first listen, you’ll read about them down the line.

Disc 1741 is…Self-Titled

Artist: Aerosmith

Year of Release: 1973

What’s up with the Cover?  A fairly straightforward band picture album cover, superimposed on a background of a water n’ sky planet that looks like it was pulled straight from a wallpaper option in MS Publisher.

See how all the clouds perfectly align both inside the band cover and outside? In 1973 that was probably a cool effect, now it is something I could do on my home computer in about 20 minutes.

How I Came To Know It: I knew the album through reputation and everyone with an FM radio in the seventies knew the song “Dream On.” This particular CD copy was me finding this album used at a good price in a local bargain bin. One step up from the thrift shop experience I noted earlier, but only a small step.

How It Stacks Up: It may surprise you to know that this is my only Aerosmith album. I may get more in time, but it has been years and hasn’t happened yet.

Rating: 4 stars

The early seventies was a great time for rock and roll. Artists were branching out from the tried and true, and experimenting with new influences, new melodic approaches and overall embracing the grime and heaviness of what the new genre could do when pushed.

This innovative spirit is front and centre on Aerosmith’s eponymous debut. This is a record that is made for the love of the music, and you can hear the care and craft that goes into the composition of every song.

The record’s foundation is the blues, which given the era is hardly surprising. The boys would have grown up in the era of blues revivalism, as evidenced by the record’s final track, a cover of Rufus Thomas’ 1963 hit, “Walkin’ the Dog.”

The rest are original tunes, but the salty sway of the blues remains the underpinning to their structure. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Aerosmith to settle right into that pocket. The result would be recognizable as any live act playing Wednesday nights at the local dive bar, but hardly a classic.

Fortunately, Aerosmith had greater ambition than to be a blues cover band. They add in elements of progressive music, proto-metal, and boogie woogie. The mix creates a surprising range of sound and style across its modest eight songs and 35 minutes.

Steven Tyler’s vocals are wantonly wonderful. His delivery of the record’s standout track, “Dream On” is about as perfect as it gets, a slowly rising crescendo of youth, exuberance and the will to reach beyond your grasp. Years later Tyler’s vocals would become a caricature of his delivery here (albeit delightfully so) but on “Dream On” he is nothing more than an overwrought kid dreaming big, and it shows.

Joe Perry’s guitar solos are brilliant on multiple fronts. He has a classic rock sound to his delivery, and the guitar feels full and ballsy throughout. He also delivers solos throughout the record that go in interesting and unexpected ways, while always serving the song. I’ve never thought of Joe Perry as anything special, but listening to him on this record has me resolved to give him a second chance. Check him out on “Movin’ Out” in particular if you are seeking a late-record gem, as he deftly drops all the interesting bits between Tyler’s bluesy vocals.

I admit, I have been a bit gun shy about Aerosmith over the years. I remember them most during the eighties when they’d become overly commercial and were getting listened to by all manner of people who I thought had no business enjoying real rock music. They also got very glammy and commercial. Were those songs catchy? Damn right they were, but as an avowed metalhead they felt artificial and tinny to me.

By contrast, Aerosmith’s first record shows a band down in the trenches, banging out gritty, creative tracks that get into your bones like rock and roll is supposed to. I liked it so much I may explore their discography a bit more going forward and see if age and time has helped season my appreciation. For now, their debut record is a welcome part of the CD Odyssey.

Best tracks: Make It, Dream On, Mama Kin, Movin’ Out

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