1. Dream on
Steven Tallarico wrote Dream on during stolen moments on a hotel Steinway piano, four years before Aerosmith came to be, and longer still before he assumed the stage name Steven Tyler. Initially the band had to pay their dues not just with the public, but with their record company CBS; competition was strong from contemporaries the New York Dolls, who were critically adored and deemed much cooler by almost everyone, and from within their own label – there was a young songwriter called Bruce Springsteen who seemed to release an album every time they did and took up most of CBS’s promotional resources. Best Aerosmith albums, with deep southern-influenced barroom boogie standards such as Mama Kin, gave little hint of the unit-shifting, power-balladeering behemoth the Boston quintet would become in the 1990s. One song stuck out, however, and still stands out as maybe their finest moment. The left hand and right hand on the piano – taken up by bassist Tom Hamilton and guitarist Joe Perry respectively – weave a hauntingly baroque and instantly recognisable musical tapestry, even if you’ve never heard the song before. You could say it’s their Stairway to Heaven, but it’s better than that. “Every time I look in the mirror,” sings a 24-year-old Tyler, “All these lines on my face getting clearer …” He’s oddly morose for one so young, but the crux of the song is about dreaming until your dreams come true. Tyler also chucks in the strangely prescient line: “You’ve got to lose to know how to win.” That they would do abundantly later down the line.
2. Draw the Line
By the time Aerosmith came to record the album Draw the Line in 1977, they had entered what they later called their Wonder Years, on account of the fact they wondered where all those years went. The album was recorded at a studio called The Centangle, and by then the band had made so much money they were accompanied by two bodyguards, a fleet of cars and motorcycles and around 20 guns. “We got good dope, because now we could afford it,” said Joe Perry, though the paranoia and disunity their usage caused can be heard on the tracks from the album, except for this title track, which is a cohesive monster of a song. The band managed to infuse the sessions with the energy of rivals the New York Dolls (who had split by this point) and the Sex Pistols, whom they loved. Indeed, the screamy middle-eight of Draw the Line is the most punk thing they ever did. The album took six months to record, cost half a million dollars – and bombed, relatively speaking. “You know the White Album?” said Tyler later, “Draw the Line is our blackout album”. The period included car accidents, fights, breakdowns, exhaustion, and Tyler and Perry picked up their “Toxic Twins” sobriquet around this time, too.