I have hundreds, maybe even thousands, of CDs worth of music I can choose from at any given time. Astral Weeks? A Love Supreme? Kind of Blue? Abbey Road? Pictures at an Exhibition? All that and much, much, much, much more.
And yet, the other day, among all those riches, I consciously selected as my commute music a CD worth of outtakes from Aerosmith’s Rock in a Hard Place.
No, I can’t explain how my head got that far up my arse either.
Rock in a Hard Place, for the short-memoried, was the 1982 album Aerosmith recorded at its grungiest, druggiest low point, featuring replacement guitar players Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay. (Crespo does most of the playing on the record.) It’s full of hoarse, raspy singing and lowest-common-denominator riff-rock.
I knew that when I downloaded these particular outtakes, back when I was into that sort of thing … and I’m not quite sure what I expected to hear.
Aerosmith circa 1982 was not a band capable of transcendence; they had enough trouble just standing upright. If their finished, polished studio recording didn’t make the grade, their demos and outtakes weren’t going to offer up any diamonds in the rough.
And now that I’ve listened to them, I can confirm that, yeah, they don’t.
Steven Tyler sounds (to steal one of his pet words) gacked throughout. Depending on your point of view, that’s either better or worse than Dufay, who sounds completely absent. (Or, at least, I only hear one guitar a lot of the time, and based on what I’ve read, it’s probably Crespo.)
Simple chromatic riffs abound, and once or twice, the band finds a good one — viz. “Take It Or Leave It” and “Gut Bucket Blues,” two ancestral versions of what ended up as the delightfully titled “Bolivian Ragamuffin.” It’s not a great song — there’s a reason you don’t hear it seven times a day on classic-rock radio, or even seven times a decade — but it does its offbeat shuffle-step thing well enough to stand out in this company.
(“Jail Bait” has a decent riff too, and builds up a decent head of steam … but really, there’s no reason for any self-respecting man of any age to sing a song called “Jail Bait,” and I’m not interested in hearing it.)
The outtake version of “Cry Me A River” (yeah, that) is probably the best song here, just ’cause there’s actually songcraft involved (even if it’s someone else’s), and on the ride-out the band falls into a nice loping Aerocrunchy groove with Tyler freestyling all sassy n’ comfortable on top, and when he reaches up for one of his octave vocal leaps — “I cried a river over YOUUUUUUU!” — it’s almost, sortakinda, if you squint a little bit, maybe a little transcendent.
And then Tyler hits the very last note, and it comes out strangled and vibrato-warped and sickly and parodic and wrong … and the spirit and the momentum go, and we’re back with a bunch of burned-out cokeheads trying to scrape together a record.
(I’m not 100 percent sure that last note was blown intentionally; Tyler follows it with an aggrieved, disappointed-sounding “Fuck!”)
I haven’t thrown out this CD, even though it deserves it. I guess I’m a quantity-over-quality kind of guy … and who knows, maybe some morning, this will be exactly the music to suit my mood and situation. It is important to have a choice for every moment, after all.
And when I take it out again, Van Morrison and John Coltrane and Modest Mussorgsky will shake their heads and fume, and commiserate together about my idiocy after I leave the house.
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If any of the above sounds interesting to you, well, YouTube is your friend. If you have to start anywhere, start at about 12:10 — you’ll catch the end of “Cry Me A River” and segue into one of the “Bolivian Ragamuffin” variations: