Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Aerospotting: Selections from Get Your Wings (1974)

There are a few bands whose music I not only love to listen to, but think about for how great it is. Believe it or not, Aerosmith is my favourite. In this column, I will occasionally be taking a look at significant tracks throughout their career and trying to suss out exactly what makes them so special - to me at least.

Get Your Wings: biker slang for a rite of passage (wherein oral sex is performed on a menstruating partner,) in short, to earn respect.

The difference between album one and album two for this band can be summed up by one word: darkness. There's something "dark" about this record, not just the shadowy album cover compared to the blue sky and clouds motif of their debut. Album one was mostly about hoping to "Make It," the story of a hungry rock and roll band, with some "woman done me wrong" Rolling Stones 3rd-generation blues tunes, and Steen Tyler's latent hippie psychedelia distinguishing the affair. Album two takes more inspiration from "the dark side" - sex, drugs, booze, violence. Boozy sex, druggy violence, violent sex... all rendered through the refracted lyrics of Steven Tyler. The words on this album seem to have a certain logic pointing somewhere in that general direction. "Same Old Song and Dance" may be about a drug dealer on trial. "Lord of the Thighs" may be about a pimp. "SOS (Too Bad)" could very well be a retelling of "House of the Rising Sun." Part of the brilliance is that lack of obviousness. Aerosmith in the 70's does indulge in a lot of rock and roll clich├ęs, and yet because Tyler's way of doing lyrics is so inimitably weird, it never succumbs to them. It ends up elevating them. Oh, and what a riff on this one.

This is not the only quality that recommends the album, though, because the band plays like hot fire all over the record. Here, Joey Kramer develops the prototype for the broken-down funk groove that will later power "Walk This Way." Joe Perry and Brad Whitford develop this ominous, pulsing rhythm of a guitar riff before Tyler's piano rolls in, introducing that sleazy, menacing delivery, lyrics like an alchemical incantation.

Nobody with anything to say about the subject would ever classify Get Your Wings as Aerosmith's best album - it doesn't have the highest highs of their career - but it happens to be the one I like listening to from beginning to end best, which marks it as their most consistent effort. It just strikes that gritty, dense tone so well and doesn't manage to wear it out. That encompasses the dense sci-fi psychodrama of "Spaced" (a song about interstellar travel that manages to not be pretentious, sitting next to those drug dealer tunes? Wow) and the frothy psychedelic pop of "Woman of the World." "WOTW" is the workhorse of the album. It's not considered an exceptional cut by any means, and definitely not one that the band uses to identify itself even at that time, but I feel like there were any number of working man's bands in the mid-70's that would have loved to have a tune like that in their setlist. Here it's just considered filler, surrounded by more outrageous, provocative cuts. Turn the album over and you are greeted with the rabid garbage punk of "SOS (Too Bad.)" Incidentally, while the band would never be identified as punk today, critics at the time were using the word to mean anything new that was hard, fast and nasty. Tyler always denied the connection because in New York City, "punk" is someone lazy, and this is a band that always tried very hard. That's true, but at their best they were also very good at covering their tracks.

The album reaches its steamy climax with "Train Kept a Rollin'," a resurrection of an ancient blues song as an epic workout, slowly gathering steam from a measured stomper to a roaring inferno of lust. I've had a bit of a problem with this song ever since I learned it was studio musicians who first recorded the track's legendary faux-live solo, but I've heard them do it live so I guess they must have eventually picked it up. And in the afterglow, it transforms via some artificial crowd noise, into "Seasons of Wither." And if "Lord of the Thighs" is alchemy, this is pure witchcraft, a summoning of evil spirits, of loneliness and regret. Beauty, sadness and cold. That lyrics, "Love for the devil brought her to me" is everything, and it's just the beginning. Prior to that, the album's tone had relished its sins, and only now do we start to see the true cost of an evil good time. And yet, a morality play like this was not meant to save souls: only to say, "buyer beware."

And then there's a little cabaret clarinet cleanse the palate before the album returns to fun sexy sex.

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