Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Aerosmith's Armageddon

Nobody's Fault - Aerosmith (mp3)
Blame It On the Rain - Milli Vanilli (mp3)

[WARNING: I couldn't help but get a little loosw with the bad words on this one. Read no further if you don't appreciate a few healthy F-words in your eyes.]

In 1987, Aerosmith released Permanent Vacation, the album that would bring the dawn of their second birth. When the band appeared with Run D.M.C. in 1986 for the remake of “Walk This Way,” my friends and I thought they were punchlines to some joke. I wasn’t familiar with Aerosmith, and Steven Tyler looked like some science project where some kid mated an anaconda with a hairless lemur.

My friends and I mocked “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” mercilessly. But... but it was kinda catchy. Then the super-ballad “Angel” came out, and we kept making fun of them. Then “Rag Doll” came out, and we totally mocked that song every time it came on. But we never seemed to turn the channel when the video played. We watched.

By PUMP, we were genuine fans sans irony. "Janie's Got a Gun" was the song that finally convinced me to buy the CD, and video auteur David Fincher deserves some of the credit.

Yet even as I grew to like them, I never quite grasped Aerosmith's place in '70s rock history until they reproduced and released the naughty “Sweet Emotion” video and their Pandora’s Box set in 1991. A classmate made a "Best of Aerosmith" mixtape for me, and it got heavy, healthy rotation.

I remained intensely loyal to their CDs through Nine Lives, an overlong album with a handful of songs I still love. Hell, I’ll even admit to being somewhat fond of the damn Armageddon song until Lauren Alaina drove me to despise it.

“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” is the only Number One hit Aerosmith ever had.

Mull on that fact for a minute. Swish it around in your mind.

Aerosmith. Fucking Aerosmith, man! They had one single Number One hit. And it was the cheesy-ass ballad for a cheesy-ass action movie.

What does it mean, that the only way these guys hit the very top was by singing a song written by the same woman who wrote for Laura Branigan and Starship?

Diane Warren wrote hit songs for Toni Braxton, Celine Dion, Leann Rimes, Michael Bolton, Milli Vanilli... and Aerosmith.

Don’tcha think that just has to bug the shit out of a self-respecting band?

A band that was no stranger to top 10 hits, sold-out arenas, and all the fame and trappings of success, yet they get their first chart-topper by falling in line with Celine fucking Dion and Milli fucking Vanilli?!?

Truly, the gods are cruel. For a group who had seen just about every rock soap opera storyline imaginable, would they ever have envisioned a scenario where their band was finally destroyed by a Number One hit?

Yet here we are in 2011, and Aerosmith has only had one legitimate  album of new work in the 21st Century, and it was a full 10 years ago. Their latest has been stuck in suspended animation alongside Chinese Democracy and Duke Nukem, neither of which were one-bajillionth worthy of the wait or the hype surrounding them.

Maybe they just couldn't ever come back from all the drugs of their first peak. They wrote almost all their own songs in the '70s, but by Permanent Vacation, they were using professional songwriters to help them on almost every hit, and this dependence kept getting more extreme until they totally sold their identity to Diane Warren.

How miserable that must have been, to sign on the devil's dotted line, to accept selling out completely, and to be rewarded with that last extra notch of fame and money.

It was, aptly, Aerosmith's Armageddon. With that song, Aerosmith became rock’s Thulsa Doom, and their head’s been rolling down the stairs ever since. Bands just don’t really come back from that kind of beheading very often.

I’m cheering for them, though.

Anyone who saw Steven Tyler perform during American Idol should at least have the temerity to admit that what makes for great rock music has only a smidgen to do with operatic vocal talents and everything to do with charisma and conviction. Steven Tyler, even a wrinkly sold-out version of him, is a bajillion times the performer Lauren or Scotty will ever, ever, ever, ever be. Ever.

Meanwhile, I can’t help but wonder... If that song from Armageddon had never become a hit, if it just muddled past us, mostly ignored, would they have survived? Did a hit they didn’t deserve push them off the cliff? Or were they already headed that way at high speed, having already sold off most of their soul, and I’m just too in love with an easy-come pop hook to accept it?

Some would claim they died after Rocks and never really came back, that it was a ghost-like imitation of the band that enjoyed revived fame in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Not me, but maybe that’s just because I fell in love with their ghost first, and when I fell for them, I never cared much about who wrote the shit so long as it sounded good.

Regardless, if you have even modest appreciation for ‘70s hard rock and haven’t heard or owned Rocks, you’re missing out. I can’t wait ‘til Joe and Steven sit down and listen to their first five albums and work up the voodoo energy for one more album. I hope they start from scratch. No one needs another Chinese Democracy.


troutking said...

Like this post. I got into Aerosmith through Permanent Vacation and really liked that album. Until I listened to their earlier stuff and realized the new stuff was shit, mostly, as you say, written by schlocky hired-gun songwriters. At their best they were a pale imitation of the Rolling Stones, which is still pretty good. Steven Tyler looks like an old woman, but he is charismatic. Oh, guess who's never had a number one hit? The Boss. Led Zeppelin. The Who. It's almost a badge of honor. Recording Angel and I don't wanna miss a thing? Not so much.

Bob said...

James Earl Jones looks like he was unhappy playing the bad guy in Conan The Barbarian.

Hank said...

For my money, Armageddon is still one of the worst movies I ever saw in the theater.

BeckEye said...

I can't even talk about that asteroid love song. But on a similar note, I just heard the other day that Bob Seger's only number one hit was "Shakedown," from Beverly Hills Cop II. Tragic.