Aerosmith shows no signs of fading Music: Steven Tyler and the band are making up for time lost to hard living with hard work and good songs.

January 03, 1998|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Aerosmith wasn't kidding when it called its current album "Nine Lives." Like the lucky cats who seem to escape death over and over, Aerosmith has managed to keep its commercial

fortunes alive for more than 25 years, despite a history that would have obliterated other bands.

After a string of multi-platinum albums in the mid-'70s, the band suffered as drug use and internal quarrels took their toll. Sales fell off, guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford left, and by 1980, Aerosmith was a shadow of its former self. A problem-plagued 1984 reunion tour had fans worrying if the band would ever "Walk This Way" again.

But the band cleaned up its act, turned its sound around and, by 1988, was more popular than ever. Not only was Aerosmith putting singles like "Angel" and "Janie's Got a Gun" into the Top 10, but it had inspired a whole new wave of pop-friendly hard-rock acts, from Guns N' Roses to Motley Crue to Poison.

Now, a decade later, the young bands that followed in Aerosmith's wake have drifted off the charts or sunk without a trace. Yet somehow, Aerosmith soldiers on. The million-selling "Nine Lives" is still on the charts some 40 weeks after its release, the band's videos can still be seen on MTV, and its tour continues to fill arenas across the country.

What's the band's secret? It's simple, says singer Steven Tyler.

"It's about songs.

"It's really simple," he says. "We're really fortunate to have a bunch of songs that people like.

"Like 'Falling In Love (Is Hard on the Knees)' is your basic, good-ol' rock-and-roll song, that would sound good if you were at the Six Flags amusement park on the roller coaster, and it was blasting. It's just a good time."

Creating that sort of rock-and-roll good time is hard work, though. Tyler, in particular, is a big fan of simple, catchy songwriting, the kind of thing that can, as he puts it, "get inside of you and change your whole mood for that day." That's what the Beach Boys and Animals singles he grew up on did for him, and that's what he hopes Aerosmith's music will do for others.

He didn't always think this way, though. When Aerosmith released its reunion album, "Done with Mirrors," back in 1985, singles were the last thing on the band's mind. "We were always proud of being an album-oriented band," he says, looking back. "Which was an interesting point of view. I think we also would have loved it if some of our songs were singles, but because they weren't, we were proud that the albums were big without the singles, you know?"

That changed after Tyler happened to catch Bryan Adams in concert. "It reminded me of the Beach Boys when I was 18, where the whole house was just rocking," he says. "They were singing every chorus. It was like what pot did for the '60s. Everybody was singing the same line, everybody was loving it.

"I thought: 'This is it. This is what I want.' And, you know, we did that."

But writing a hit single isn't quite as easy as deciding to do so. Take "Janie's Got a Gun," for example. Tyler says he came up with the title and chorus melody pretty quickly, but filling out the rest of the song was long, hard work. "It took me six months to figure out why the [heck] she had a gun. It was really ridiculous!" he laughs.

So he did research on handgun violence, as well as on child abuse, which he describes as "the elephant in the living room of America." Eventually, it all clicked. "Abuse, tied in with the gun, that was it for me," he says, then sings a line from the song: " 'Run away from the pain ' "

"Ain't That a Bitch," from the current album, came about as an experiment Tyler and Perry decided to conduct.

"These people who win gold medals for the U.S. Olympic teams, they do a thing called visualization," says Tyler. "You know -- they 'see' themselves get the medal, blah, blah, blah. So I said, 'Close your eyes, Joe.' We closed our eyes. I said, 'We're at the second row of the Grammys.' They don't usually put you up there unless you're going to win something -- we realized that the first time we were invited, and we were back in the 30th row.

"And then it says, Aerosmith. Up in big letters. What does it say next? Let's fill in the blank. And I just came up with: Aerosmith, 'Ain't That a Bitch.' And I thought, What a great title! So I wrote that down on my list, and sure enough. It took us three albums to come up with a good enough song, but we did."

Hearing Tyler talk about the songwriting process, you'd almost think he likes it even more than being onstage.

"It's really thrilling to me and what gets me off the most," he admits. "What keeps me in this band for so many years. Bands that don't have the longevity and don't stay around, I don't know what happens to them. Maybe they're not in the process enough.

"But it's the process I love seeing how these stupid little ideas come out, and then sure enough, not but a year later, the whole world is singing these songs."

In concert

When: Tonight at 8

Where: USAirways Arena

Tickets: $37.75 and $27.75

Call: 410-481-7328 for tickets; 410-792-7490 for information

Sundial: To hear excerpts from Aerosmith's current release, "Nine Lives," call 410-783-1800 and enter the code 6108.

Pub Date: 1/03/98

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