Revisiting Aerosmith’s Self-Titled Debut Album
When Aerosmith’s eponymous debut slipped unassumingly onto record stores in January 1973, most critics could barely tell them apart from fellow long-haired upstarts the New York Dolls.
But while the Dolls’ influential debacle of a first album preceded a precipitous glitter-cloud implosion amid platform heels, mascara and hard drugs, Aerosmith’s comparatively modest first sighting paved the way to one of the most successful, if likewise upheaval-filled careers in rock and roll history.
First drawn together in 1970 through a mutual appreciation for the late ‘60s British blues bands, and the Yardbirds’ seminal cover of Tiny Bradshaw’s "Train Kept A-Rollin’," in particular (as immortalized on Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 picture Blow-Up), Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Tom Hamilton and Joey Kramer hammered their sound into shape over many months before signing with Clive Davis’ Columbia Records.
The resulting first LP only reached No. 166 on the Billboard chart; but its most unusual track – the uncharacteristically melodic and bombastic second single, "Dream On" – climbed to No. 59 (and No. 1 in their hometown of Boston, and No. 6, three years later, when reissued by Columbia.) Not unlike Led Zeppelin’s "Stairway to Heaven" several years earlier, it helped entrench the "power ballad" strategy employed by countless future hard rock bands.
Listen to Aerosmith's 'Dream On'
This singular anomaly aside, though, the album was otherwise packed to the gills with altogether tougher, Spartan numbers that, though unevenly executed at times (see "Somebody," "Write Me a Letter" and "Movin’ Out" – all signs of the young group’s relative inexperience), laid down the basic, blues-based hard rock blueprint Aerosmith would continually explore and finesse for years to come.
Penned largely by Tyler (indeed, the Tyler/Perry songwriting partnership wouldn’t flourish until the following year’s Get Your Wings), additional rough nuggets ranged from the audacious mission statement of "Make It," to the precocious jamming on "One Way Street," to the white boy street jive of "Mama Kin" (famously covered by Aerosmith disciples Guns N’ Roses, later on), to the groove-tastic, LP-closing romp across Rufus Thomas’ "Walkin’ the Dog."
While Aerosmith’s great potential would only be fully realized by the incredible learning curve showcased on subsequent albums like Toys in the Attic and Rocks, this first LP already held all of the fundamental ingredients needed to get the band where it was going – and is still going today.