“I’m a real fat city
I’m an aero delight”
– Aerosmith, “Let The Music Do The Talking”
It’s difficult to call a legendary band that has been around for over four decades underrated. Considering how ubiquitous they were throughout the entire 1990s, it’s very easy to snobbishly dismiss them as overrated. You wouldn’t be completely wrong – most of their stuff during that decade was not… to put it kindly, not their best stuff. To be more blunt, they sold out to become the world’s oldest teeny-bop bubblegum pop band. To their credit, they went back to their hard rock roots in the 21st Century, but the damage has been done to their reputation.
But I’m not here to bury Aerosmith. I’m here to praise them. Forty seven years in the business, and they have had their original lineup for most of them. And they are still going strong in their concerts.
Anyone unfamiliar with the band’s history can easily go their Wikipedia entry. In the fewest words possible – years of hard drugs and hard living took its toll on lead singer Steven Tyler and lead guitarist Joe Perry, that by the mid 1980’s, they were on the verge of breaking up and were considered irrelevant just when hard rock / glam rock / heavy metal had crossed over the mainstream and dominate the radio and MTV airwaves. Then, Run DMC collaborated with Tyler & Perry to do a rap version of “Walk This Way,” and Aerosmith received a second wind.
To get back to the “overrated” reputation; if you listen to a classic rock station, you will hear the same five Aerosmith songs over and over, with little to no variance. They are; “Dream On,” “Sweet Emotion,” “Walk This Way,” “Rag Doll,” and “Dude (Looks Like A Lady).” In essence, it’s more akin to say that because their biggest hits are so overplayed, the casual fan can not appreciate the band’s versatility. But it gets worse if you listen to an Adult Contemporary, Easy Listening, “Best of the past few decades” station. These stations bombard you with the band’s power ballads: “Cryin’,” “Crazy,” and “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing.”
The fact that these power ballads, which are clearly the band’s “Kangaroo Men” moment, didn’t completely derail the band’s career, is a testament to their greatness.
One of the reasons why I am a big Aerosmith fan is because many of their albums have three, four, or more incredible tracks. I’m mostly referring to their albums from the 1970s and 1980s. I remember having a debate at college about the 1993 album “Get A Grip,” and took the contrarian belief that Side A, the ones with all the hard-rock tracks, was superior to side B, the one with all the ballads (but those were the ones that had Liv Tyler and Alicia Silverstone in the videos.) The ballads brought them short-term success, but long-term, video nearly killed the radio star. (And the video game “Revolution X” did them no favors in the short nor long-term).
I’ve singled out the most overplayed songs, but every once in a while, you will hear other Aerosmith songs played on the radio. And most of the songs I chose on my list have received a spin or two on the station’s playlist. Whether it’s because of a request, or a DJ or PD that is also a big fan of the band, these deep cuts have received at least some love.
So with all this in mind here is my list.
The I, Omnibus Top Ten Underrated Aerosmith Songs
10. (Tie) “I’m Down” and “Come Together” – WatchMojo.com once stated that, “The first rule of Covering Beatles songs is: ‘Don’t Cover a Beatles Song.’” There are so many caveats and disclaimers to this gross oversimplification, that the statement ends up being ludicrous at best, and idiotic at worst. Sure there are thousands and thousands of terrible Beatles covers, but that is because there are thousands and thousands of terrible bands and singers out there. However, if you are Aerosmith, you can cover a Beatles song, make it your own, and do the cover version justice. In fact, their version of “Come Together” is widely considered the only saving grace of the Bee Gees / Peter Frampton 1978 movie, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The bottom line is that the best cover bands in the world just happen to be the best bands in the world period. Every great band covers other artist’s songs, and their songs in turn, get covered by someone else. The funny thing is, the only Aerosmith covers I ever heard was Run DMC’s aforementioned “Walk This Way,” Guns N’ Roses “Mama Kin,” and the next song on this list….
9. “Fever” – Covered by Garth Brooks as “The Fever.” Both versions were equally mildly successful on the Billboard charts. Interesting point: Garth Brooks’ cover was also covered by fellow country music artist Chris LeDoux. Also interesting: all of these remade Aerosmith are not strict covers. The lyrics are altered to varying degrees. What this says about the songwriting of Tyler and Perry, I have no idea.
8. “Toys In The Attic” – The title track of their 1975 album was the source for the classic “Cowboy Bebop” episode. Perhaps this song is the least underplayed, since it has been a staple of the band’s playlist over their past few concert tours. Since the album also has the songs “Sweet Emotion,” and “Walk This Way,” this song has the most potential to be discovered by the casual fan.
7. “Hangman Jury” – Like The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith was influenced by country/western and blues music. Excluding the 2004 album “Honkin’ on Bobo,” which was mostly cover songs, 1987’s “Permanent Vacation” was the band’s most country and blues sounding album. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for harmonicas, or the way Tyler sings in an accurate Southern drawl that completely hides his Yankee heritage and roots, but I feel this song deserves more love. As in the blues tradition, the lyrics to this song is antithetical to your typical power ballad, and why I feel it is superior to the album’s obligatory power ballad, “Angel.”
6. “Deuces Are Wild” – This song was originally recorded in the late 1980’s, but was left out of 1989’s album, “Pump.” It was later farmed out in 1993 to the compilation album, “The Beavis and Butt-Head Experience.” It is one of the hardest sounding power ballads, and therefore, one of the best examples of the genre. On the one hand, this song is better than several of the tracks on “Pump,” and deserved a slot on the album. On the other hand, there was no logical place to place this song when you look at the track listings and the album’s flow as a whole.
5. “Train Kept-A Rollin” – This 1974 song could be considered one of the very first proto-rap songs, since this was released one year before “Walk This Way.” Granted, they are at least, the fifth artist to record this song. But it proves two things: 1) they are indeed one of the best cover bands of all time; and 2) their hard rock / proto-rap version is the best interpretation of this already classic tune.
4. “Kings and Queens” – This should be the official song of every Dungeons & Dragons game ever played! Although the dark overtones of the lyrics is fairly accurate description of Medieval Europe, it is perhaps a bit too dark for the average family friendly, antiseptic, anachronistic Renaissance Faires produced today.
3. “Rats In The Cellar” – The spiritual successor to “Toys In The Attic.” Tyler goes so far to say it is the “shadow” of Toys. The only thing worse than movie sequels is music sequels, one might be surprised to see this song on the list. But Rats is not a sequel per se, it’s more akin to say that Aerosmith ripped off themselves. The reasons why this is at #3 and Toys is at #8 is because Rats is more obscure, and frankly a slightly better song. (Toys is one minute shorter – 3:05 to 4:05, but the difference feels longer than that.)
2. “Let The Music Do The Talking” – It was originally from Joe Perry’s solo project, after he left the band in the late 1970s, the song was retweeked after Perry returned for the 1985 album “Done With Mirrors.” To be perfectly honest, I prefer the original Joe Perry Project version. But the Aerosmith version has a bit more polish, mostly due to the reunification of the band’s original lineup. Thematically speaking, the music and lyrics best epitomizes the band’s attitude better than any other song in their discography.
1. “Big 10 Inch Record” – Once again, it’s a cover. In this case, the original was from 1952 by Bull Moose Jackson. This might be the dirtiest “dirty blues” song ever composed. The entire double-entendre punchline is something one might except from a novelty artist like Red Peters, Benny Hill, or The Bloodhound Gang. The boys remain faithful to the original, once again showing off their love and knowledge of the blues.