CATALOG CRAWL: AEROSMITH, Part 1 (1973-1975)

They’ve been an institution for so many decades now that it’s hard to remember when Aerosmith was a gang of young, hungry strivers. Starting in 1970, they built a reputation as a live act with a sound that took Stones-ish traditional rock, an R&B-derived ability to groove and a peculiar alchemy that added curiously serpentine riffs and a lyrical stance that incorporated wit, horniness and surprising flashes of emotion and intellect. The first installment of Catalog Crawl for this band looks closely at their 1973-1975 period and how they quickly developed over a period of three albums from an energetic club band to a polished outfit with the distinctive style and songwriting chops to dominate arenas.

Members: Steven Tyler (vocals), Joe Perry and Brad Whitford (guitars), Tom Hamilton (bass), Joey Kramer (drums)

AEROSMITH (1973): a rough-and-ready affair, favoring a live-in-the-studio sound with minimal overdubs. This approach works because the band knows its early repertoire inside and out and delivers it in a gutsy, tight manner that shows off their chemistry and attitude. Tyler’s vocals swagger all over the place, the Perry/Whitford guitar interplay is taut and the rhythm section rolls it all forward with quiet relentlessness. The signature track is “Dream On,” a protean power ballad that communicates the narrator’s visceral need to believe in its titular message with ghostly mellotron and echo-drenched vocals, but the secret killer is “Mama Kin,” a rollicking soul-inflected rocker that Axl Rose loved so much he got a tattoo of its title.  The remainder is sturdy stuff like “Make It,” a pounder with surprisingly tricky/cyclical rhythms and “Movin’ Out,” a mini-masterclass in dynamics that shifts its moods as skillfully as its riffs. Surprise frills: the way Tyler punctuates each chorus of “One Way Street” with a different bluesy, vocally-generated sound effect and the Jethro Tull-esque intro to “Walkin’ The Dog,” complete with wood flute!

GET YOUR WINGS (1974): Aerosmith teams up with producer Jack Douglas for the first time here and the result is like a film changing from black-and-white photography to glorious Technicolor. Classic opening cut “Same Old Song And Dance” shows it all: handclaps/ stomps come in at strategic times to glammishly accentuate the beat and a horn section teases out its jazzy swagger. A cover of the Yardbirds-anointed standard “Train Kept A-Rollin'” becomes a slow-then-fast production piece here, building from steamy midtempo jam to runaway metallic carriage with a sound that gets thicker by the minute… and then a smooth, Spaghetti Western “blowing wind” segue takes you into the desolate, mournful balladry-with-muscle of “Seasons Of Wither.”  Douglas’ attention to textures sharpens up the band’s presentation: note how the throbbing, insistent groove of “Lord Of The Thighs” communicates its narrator’s lustiness and how “Spaced” comes on like an eerie haunted house of a moodpiece. The Perry/Whitford guitar team smokes throughout, the rhythm section shows a unique sense of swing for arena-rockers and Tyler delights in his horndog master-of-ceremonies role, particularly on the debauched “Pandora’s Box.”

TOYS IN THE ATTIC (1975): the transition from gifted up-and-comers to world-class rock band completes itself here. With Douglas serving as their defacto sixth member, Aerosmith put together a varied collection of carefully-constructed songs that all receive distinctive studio treatments fueled by band chemistry (musical and otherwise). Thus, you get career-defining material like “Sweet Emotion” and “Walk This Way,” instant classics that fuse rock attitude to funk’s sinuous swing and then sift all kinds of angular arrangement twists and lusty, quirky lyrics over the top. Elsewhere, the album’s panoramic sweep is big enough to encompass the juke-joint bawdiness of “Big Ten-Inch Record,” the desolate half-speed metal of “Round And Round” and emotionally wrung-out orchestrations on “You See Me Crying.” The band works hand-in-glove with Douglas to keep all the stylistic shifts coherent, adding extra ear candy along the way like the round-robin vocal harmony tag on “Uncle Salty” and the gorgeous acoustic intro to rock-life portrait “No More No More.” Like the best albums, it takes you on a journey as it explores the band’s skills and collective personality.

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