Author: BD Joyce
- Artist: Aerosmith
- Album: Get Your Wings
- Year of Release: 1974
- Country: USA
- Label: Columbia
- Format: Jewelcase CD
- Catalogue Number: 474963 2
Little more than a year after the release, and modest success, of their self-titled debut, came Aerosmith’s second album, the aptly-titled Get Your Wings. Aptly-titled, because following the flawed, but not unenjoyable, debut, Get Your Wings is the moment that we hear Aerosmith maturing into the sound that characterises the vast majority of their work from this point forward. Where previously we found a band whose abilities failed to keep pace with their energy and obvious ambition, culminating in a slightly awkward set of mostly mediocre songs which were clearly in thrall to both of their influences (Mick and Keith), we are now presented with a more confident band who clearly know what they are now trying to achieve, but this time have the swagger and songwriting ability to pull it off. It’s surely also no coincidence that Aerosmith find their sound at the same time that they commence their long and productive relationship with producer Jack Douglas, an associate of the legendary Bob Ezrin, also peripherally involved in the production of Get Your Wings.
From the moment the louche, coiling blues riff of the excellent ‘Same Old Song And Dance’ unfurls itself, it is clear that we are dealing with something considerably more dangerous and exciting than the callow and confused youths were able to deliver a year earlier. A riff that needs only to be heard once to embed itself permanently into the consciousness of any right-thinking listener, it is precision-engineered to be peeled from the fretboard of Joe Perry’s low-slung Les Paul, as he prowls the very edge of an outdoor stage at one of the US mega-festivals of the 1970s, lit cigarette hanging from the corner of a curled lip, satisfied with the knowledge that with not much than a syncopated blues scale, Aerosmith have forged a path to the core of what it means to make and to embody rock ‘n’ roll. With Tyler’s now instantly recognisable vocals providing the perfect, insouciant foil to the deliciously filthy guitarwork, the band sound thrillingly and undeniably cool in a way that will simply never date. Douglas’s light touch doesn’t so much as steer Aerosmith in the right direction, as gently persuade them to take the correct turning at every junction – his production allowing the band to sound raw, authentic and live, while simultaneously adding unobtrusive bells and whistles that subtly enhance the songs, such as the layers of horns that adorn the chorus of the opening track.
Despite the somewhat cringeworthy title, ‘Lord Of The Thighs’ maintains the quality set by the opener. Almost unbelievably, Tyler apparently believed that the painful pun on William Golding’s literary classic ‘Lord Of The Flies’ would demonstrate the band’s intelligence, rather than retrospectively expose their unpleasant sexism. Somewhere in America, the Spinal Tap creators were taking note. Unlike its lyrical themes, however, the track itself is an unexpectedly progressive song, and almost feels like a dry run for the better known ‘Walk This Way’, the first version of which appears on Toys In The Attic, the next entry in the band’s discography, with it’s spacious, rhythmic groove. ‘Lord Of The Thighs’ waits until the bridge before deploying the killer riff though, developing through an unusual piano-led verse, which has an almost avant-garde feel that wouldn’t be out of place on Bowie’s Hunky Dory, together with a thrusting, priapic Tyler vocal. When Perry can delay gratification no more, and drops the hugely satisfying riff that dominates the mid-section of the song, the masterful simplicity and bruising swagger of the two-note groove recalls the rarely-matched brilliance of Tres Hombres era ZZ Top, and when it comes to pure, thoroughbred rock ‘n’ roll, there are few higher compliments than that.
Lest we get carried away, we should at this point note that not all of Get Your Wings is this good. In many ways, in contrast with for example AC/DC, Aerosmith are the archetypal singles band. As their career progresses, numerous are the stories relating accounts of a drug-addled band arriving at the studio with barely a note written, forcing out enough good material for a few singles, and stuffing the rest of the album with half-formed ideas and covers, with the aim of selling a new product to generate interest in the next tour of the world’s enormodomes. While the band had not yet attained the fame and fortune needed to fund the loss of almost everything they had worked for, and consequently Get Your Wings is not so afflicted by this issue, there is undoubtedly some filler here that presumably would’ve functioned as an effective way of providing time during the live set for fans to visit the bar to purchase the drinks that they would soon be losing skywards as the band hurtled into ‘Train Kept A Rollin’, another highlight of this album. ‘S.O.S. (Too Bad)’ is arguably the pick of the middle third of the album, that outside of some Queen-esque lead flourishes on ‘Spaced’ struggles for impact, and not unlike ‘Lord Of The Thighs’ testing the water for ‘Walk This Way’, is perhaps the template for the far superior ‘Sweet Emotion’, featuring as it does a driving riff in place of anything that could exactly be described as a chorus.
Everything clicks once more, however, on the outstanding ‘Train Kept A Rollin’. Aerosmith have made no secret during their career of how their love of blues has inspired them, frequently covering old standards both live and on record, culminating in a full album of covers, 2004’s Honkin’ On Bobo. This though, is the original and the best, the quintessential Aerosmith supercharged blues. The stop-start riff that threads its way throughout the song is brutally effective, and as relentless as the titular train. As the verses threaten to careen off the tracks, with the choruses just about holding things together, the beautifully played wailing leads pile on top of each other, constructing an overpowering juggernaut that finally screeches to a halt after nearly 6 minutes of magnificent noise. In fact, the leads are almost too beautifully-played, betraying a sophistication of melodic composition that the talented, but raw, Joe Perry had not yet acquired. As Jack Douglas has subsequently revealed, the solos were actually played by legendary session players Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner. Household names they’re not, but if you’ve ever listened to the work of Lou Reed, Kiss, or Alice Cooper, the chances are you’re more familiar with their playing than you might imagine. Indeed Wagner actually wrote one of Alice Cooper’s most enduring classics, ‘Only Women Bleed’, and with this kind of pedigree, it’s unsurprising that Douglas utilised their services when the song called for a little more experience than Perry or Brad Whitford could offer. It is to the pair’s credit that during the intense touring that followed, they not only played the solos note for note, but also developed as musicians to the point that Douglas never again felt the need to employ the services of his session buddies on an Aerosmith album.
If we ignore the rather lacklustre closer ‘Pandora’s Box’, which is bog-standard boogie, the album reaches a climax on the ageless ‘Seasons Of Wither’. If ‘Train Kept A Rollin’ is the elemental fire at the core of the Aerosmith sound, ‘Seasons Of Wither’ is the emotional heart of the record, and plays much the same role as ‘Dream On’ does on their debut. Less of an obvious ballad than that song, it’s a mid-tempo rocker that displays a surer grasp of dynamics than the rest of the album, and shimmers with an unusually understated power for a band used to writing everything in bold, underlined capitals. The verses combine guitar arpeggios with warm washes of open chords, and subtle vocal harmonies embellishing a winsome vocal melody draw the listener in. The chorus is the band’s best yet, Tyler’s soaring, almost wounded voice declaring that borrowed time takes “the wind right out of your sail” contrasting with huge slabs of guitar, to produce a moment of widescreen, cinematic majesty, the bittersweet and staggering might of which is as impactful today as it must have been on it’s release in 1974.
Get Your Wings is rightly not generally considered to be the pinnacle of Aerosmith’s career. Depending on your viewpoint, that would come on either the next two albums, or during the late 1980s, Run DMC-assisted renaissance. It does, however, make a good argument to be considered one of the best of the rest, and there is something marvellously heartening about the youthful energy and wide-eyed naivety displayed throughout this record. This energy is well-captured by Douglas’ sympathetic and uncluttered production, although (Train Kept A Rollin’ excepted), some of the intensity is sacrificed for clarity. It would’ve been fascinating to hear this album produced with the kind of feral ferocity of, for example, The Stooges’ Raw Power. It’s a minor complaint though – in terms of the songs themselves, there’s a huge amount to like about Get Your Wings, and if it’s not quite my go-to Aerosmith album, it’s certainly one that I continue to hold in huge affection, and one that should be revisited regularly.