Despite their remarkable durability and popularity over the course of three decades,
Aerosmith have never gotten much respect from critics. In the '70s, they were regularly
dismissed as second-rate Rolling Stones imitators or, worse, shallow commercial hard-rockers.
But the seemingly indestructible Boston quintet has always been an original, thanks
to frontman Steven Tyler's randy howl and double-entendre-laden lyrics, guitarist Joe Perry's
anthemic riffs and an imposingly focused rhythm section. It's also worth noting that, unlike
many of its arena-rattling contemporaries, Aerosmith has always kept a close, if not always
obvious, connection to its blues roots, maintaining a gritty rhythmic base that continues to
infuse even the band's smoothest commercial crossovers. Aerosmith's knack for confounding its
detractors remains one of its most endearing traits. By the early 1980s, the band, decimated by
drug problems and interpersonal tensions, was widely written off by the music industry as a
sub-Spinal Tap spent force. Yet these ageless elder statesmen clawed their way back to stage
a decisive, near-miraculous late-'80s resurgence as clean-and-sober comeback kids.
The band's classic lineup -- Tyler, Perry, rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford, bassist Tom Hamilton
and drummer Joey Kramer -- convened in 1970. Even when they were knocking around the Beantown scene
playing high school dances and college frat parties, their sights were set firmly on the top.
They got the chance when Clive Davis signed the band to Columbia Recordsin 1972. Their early
albums -- Aerosmith, Get Your Wings, Toys in the Attic and Rocks -- yielded testosterone-fueled FM
anthems like "Walk This Way," "Sweet Emotion," "Back in the Saddle" and the proto-power-ballad
"Dream On." Aerosmith managed to combine '60s grit and '70s excess with a smartass swagger that
effectively pressed the hormonal buttons of a nation of tailgate-partying teens.
With 1977's Draw the Line, the band members' substance problems precipitated a musical
decline that would soon progress into a full-blown career tailspin. By that point, Tyler and
Perry's prodigious heroin intake had earned them the nickname "the Toxic Twins." Perry quit
the band in 1979, followed by Whitford the next year. Yet an altered Aerosmith slogged on with
the uninspired Night in the Ruts and Rock In A Hard Place. Perry led the Joe Perry Project through
three so-so albums and Whitford formed a short-lived semi-supergroup with ex-Ted Nugent singer Derek St. Holmes.
The original lineup eventually regrouped and signed to Geffen Records, but 1985's Done
with Mirrors was a somewhat half-hearted return. The following year, Tyler and Perry gained
some much-needed street cred with high-profile guest appearances on Run-DMC's rock-rap reworking
of "Walk This Way."
Aerosmith's real comeback commenced with 1987's instantly commercial Permanent Vacation,
on which producer Bruce Fairbairn streamlined the band's sound without sacrificing its essential
grit. Having emerged from detox as vociferous advocates of sobriety and with a late-blooming
social conscience, the band became MTV fixtures via the Top 20 hits "Dude (Looks Like A Lady),"
"Angel" and "Rag Doll." 1989's Pump raised the stakes, yielding a quartet of smashes that included
the Grammy-winning pro-feminist "Janie's Got A Gun." Get A Grip, from 1993, completed the trilogy
of commercial blockbusters that Aerosmith collaborated on with Fairburn and a cast of stellar
songwriters; hits included "Livin' On the Edge" and "Crazy," which inspired the infamous video
clip that made MTV stars of Alicia Silverstone and Steven's actress/model daughter, Liv.
By 1991, Aerosmith was so massively popular that the band was able to sign an enormously
lucrative deal with its original label, Columbia, despite the fact that they still owed Geffen
more albums. They'd end up giving the label three more records, inlcuding Get A Grip,
the best-of collection, Big Ones, and the double-live Little South Of Sanity. In 1994,
the band raked in a reported seven-figure advance for its autobiography Walk This Way,
written with Stephen Davis and published three years later. They wouldn't make their
Columbia bow until 1997's Nine Lives, but the abundant energy and adventurousness of
that album suggest that the company will be getting its money's worth. That was further
underscored by the success of the ballsy, Oscar-nominated power ballad, "Don't Want To Miss A Thing,"
from the big-budget sci-fi disaster flick, Armageddon. The fact that the 50-year-old Steven Tyler
was singing the theme song for a movie in which his daughter Liv played the female lead says
a lot about Aerosmith's durability.