was one of the most popular hard rock bands of the '70s, setting
the style and sound of hard rock and heavy metal for the next
two decades with their raunchy, bluesy swagger. The Boston-based
quintet found the middle ground between the menace of the Rolling
Stones and the campy, sleazy flamboyance of the New York Dolls,
developing a lean, dirty riff-oriented boogie that was loose and
swinging and as hard as a diamond.
In the meantime, they developed a prototype for power ballads
with "Dream On," a piano ballad that was orchestrated with strings
and distorted guitars. Aerosmith's ability to pull off both ballads
and rock & roll made them extremely popular during the mid-'70s,
when they had a string of gold and platinum albums. By the early
'80s, the group's audience had declined as the band fell prey
to drug and alcohol abuse. However, their career was far from
over — in the late '80s, Aerosmith pulled off one of the most
remarkable comebacks in rock history, returning to the top of
the charts with a group of albums that equalled, if not surpassed,
the popularity of their '70s albums.
In 1970, the first incarnation of Aerosmith formed when vocalist
Steven Tyler met guitarist Joe Perry while working at a Sunapee,
NH, ice-cream parlor. Tyler, who originally was a drummer, and
Perry decided to form a power trio with bassist Tom Hamilton.
The group soon expanded to a quartet, adding a second guitarist
called Ray Tabano; he was quickly replaced by Brad Whitford, a
former member of Earth Inc. With the addition of drummer Joey
Kramer, Tyler became the full-time lead singer by the end of year.
Aerosmith relocated to Boston at the end of 1970.
After playing clubs in the Massachusetts and New York areas for
two years, the group landed a record contract with Columbia Records
in 1972. Aerosmith's self-titled debut album was released in the
fall of 1973, climbing to number 166. "Dream On" was released
as the first single and it was a minor hit, reaching number 59.
For the next year, the band built a fan base by touring America,
supporting groups as diverse as the Kinks, Mahavishnu Orchestra,
Sha Na Na, and Mott the Hoople. The performance of Get Your Wings
(1974), the group's second album and the first produced by Jack
Douglas, benefited from their constant touring, spending a total
of 86 weeks on the chart.
Aerosmith's third record, 1975's Toys in the Attic, was their
breakthrough album both commercially and artistically. By the
time it was recorded, the band's sound had developed into a sleek,
hard-driving hard rock powered by simple, almost brutal, blues-based
riffs. Many critics at the time labeled the group as punk rockers,
and it's easy to see why — instead of adhering to the world-music
pretentions of Led Zeppelin or the prolonged gloomy mysticism
of Black Sabbath, Aerosmith stripped heavy metal to its basic
core, spitting out spare riffs that not only rocked, but rolled.
Steven Tyler's lyrics were filled with double entendres and clever
jokes and the entire band had a streetwise charisma that separated
them from the heavy, lumbering arena rockers of the era. Toys
in the Attic captured the essence of the newly invigorated Aerosmith.
"Sweet Emotion," the first single from Toys in the Attic, broke
into the Top 40 in the summer of 1975, with the album reaching
number 11 shortly afterward. Its success prompted the re-release
of the power \ballad "Dream On," which shot into the Top Ten in
early 1976. Both Aerosmith and Get Your Wings climbed back up
the charts in the wake of Toys in the Attic. "Walk This Way,"
the final single from Toys in the Attic, was released around the
time of the group's new 1976 album, Rocks. Although it didn't
feature a Top Ten hit like "Walk This Way," Rocks went platinum
quickly, peaking at number three.
In early 1977, Aerosmith took a break and prepared material for
their fifth album. Released late in 1977, Draw the Line was another
hit, climbing to number 11 on the U.S. charts, but it showed signs
of exhaustion. In addition to another tour in 1978, the band appeared
in the movie Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, performing
"Come Together," which eventually became a number 23 hit. Live!
Bootleg appeared late in 1978 and became another success, reaching
number 13. Aerosmith recorded Night in the Ruts in 1979, releasing
the record at the end of the year. By the time of its release,
Joe Perry had left the band to form the Joe Perry Project. Night
in the Ruts performed respectably, climbing to number 14 and going
gold, yet it was the least successful Aerosmith record to date.
Brad Whitford left the group in early 1980, forming the Whitsford-St.
Holmes Band with former Ted Nugent guitarist Derek St. Holmes.
As Aerosmith regrouped with new guitarists Jimmy Crespo and Rick
Dufay, the band released Aerosmith's Greatest Hits in late 1980;
the record would eventually sell over six million copies. The
new lineup of Aerosmith released Rock in a Hard Place in 1982.
Peaking at number 32, it failed to match the performance of Night
in the Ruts. Perry and Whitford returned to the band in 1984 and
the group began a reunion tour dubbed Back in the Saddle. Early
in the tour, Tyler collapsed on stage, offering proof that the
band hadn't conquered their notorious drug and alcohol addictions.
The following year, Aerosmith released Done with Mirrors, the
original lineup's first record since 1979 and their first for
Geffen Records. Although it didn't perform as well as Rock in
a Hard Place, the album showed that the band was revitalized.
After the release of Done with Mirrors, Tyler and Perry completed
rehabilitation programs. In 1986, the pair appeared on Run D.M.C.'s
cover of "Walk This Way," along with appearing in the video. "Walk
This Way" became a hit, reaching number four and receiving saturation
airplay on MTV. "Walk This Way" set the stage for the band's full-scale
comeback effort, the Bruce Fairburn-produced Permanent Vacation
(1987). Tyler and Perry collaborated with professional hard rock
songwriters like Holly Knight and Desmond Child, resulting in
the hits "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)," "Rag Doll" and "Angel." Permanent
Vacation peaked at number 11 and sold over three million copies.
Pump, released in 1989, continued the band's winning streak, reaching
number five, selling over four million copies, and spawning the
Top Ten singles "Love in an Elevator," "Janie's Got a Gun," and
"What It Takes." Aerosmith released Get a Grip in 1993. Like Permanent
Vacation and Pump, Get a Grip was produced by Bruce Fairburn and
featured significant contributions by professional songwriters.
The album was as successful as the band's previous two records,
featuring the hit singles "Livin' on the Edge," "Cryin'," and
"Amazing." In 1994, Aerosmith released Big Ones, a compilation
of hits from their Geffen years which fulfilled their contract
with the label; it went double platinum shortly after its release.
While Aerosmith was at the height of its revitalized popularity
in the early '90s, the group signed a lucrative multi-million
dollar contract with Columbia Records, even though they still
owed Geffen two albums. It wasn't until 1995 that the band was
able to begin working on their first record under the new contract
— nearly five years after the contract was signed. The making
of Aerosmith albums usually had been difficult affairs, but the
recording of Nine Lives was plagued with bad luck. The band went
through a number of producers and songwriters before settling
on Kevin Shirley in 1996. More damaging, however, was the dismissal
of the band's manager Tim Collins, who had been responsible for
bringing the band from the brink of addiction. Upon his firing,
Collins insinuated that Steven Tyler was using hard drugs again,
an allegation that Aerosmith adamantly denied. Under such circumstances,
recording became quite difficult, and when Nine Lives finally
appeared in the spring of 1997, it was greeted with great anticipation,
yet the initial reviews were mixed and even though album debuted
at number one, it quickly fell down the charts. The live A Little
South of Sanity followed in 1998. Three years later, Aerosmith
strutted their stuff on the halftime special on CBS with the likes
of Mary J. Blige, Nelly, *N Sync, and Britney Spears, just prior
to issuing their heart stomping Just Push Play in March 2001.
— Stephen Thomas Erlewine
All Music Guide