I was hanging out with an old friend last night in a loud-ish bar, but we could tell the song Rapper's Delight was playing in the background. As it always does, the song sparked several lines of conversation: "The old lady sings the first verse of this song in 'The Wedding Singer,' and we listened to it so much growing up, that I learned all the words because we thought that was hilarious." "Doesn't she put the meatballs in Adam Sandler's hands?" "Yes, she does! Hi-larious! Ooh, and have you ever seen a video of them performing this song? Classic!" "Remember when we used to walk around pretending to speak like Grandmaster Flash and all the other old-timey rappers?" "Why are they always dissing Superman? He's just trying to save them!"
I brought up my favorite verse (like, in any rap song, ever), which is the one about the guy who goes to his friend's house for dinner only to discover that it's disgusting and he has to buy Kaopectate in order to recover. And then he sees his friend two weeks later and the guy says "I understand about the food, Baby Bubba*, but we're still friends." I was so excited to hear the verse that I did that thing where you wait until the down beat every few measures and you kind of nod your head forward and put your hand out flat like you're going to listen really well and then you're like "is it happening now?... NOW?... HERE!...wait, not yet!" Since the song is about 15 minutes long, and my verse is near the end, this went on for a long time.** "Sorry," I said, "but you know me and you know how excited I get about songs."
Which brings us to the rekindling of this blog and today's topic: Aerosmith. Knowing me, and how excited I get about songs, my buddy let me ramble right into a long discussion about how much I love the song Love in an Elevator because he does know me and that is a song about which I get especially excited. Now some of you, if there are any of you out there, may be thinking "wait, that's the stupidest song in the history of time! 'I'll teach you how to fax in the mailroom, honey, and have you home by five'? Who faxes in a mailroom?!" Plus, I remember a super cheesy 80s-tastic video complete with a typical 80s video vamp (which Wikipedia is telling me was played by Brandi Brandt, who happened to be the wife of Nikki Sixx). For some reason, possibly because they like a good deal on all things Liz Claiborne, the band is in a department store. Video Vamp approaches the elevator as she's showing everyone around (one: elevator? where's the escalator? and two: how hard is it to find your way around a department store?). Anyway, she sees Steven Tyler and says "Good morning, Mr. Tyler. Going down?"
So, yes, I get it. It's a cheesy song with a cheesy/misogynist and somewhat implausible video (seriously, I have never seen an elevator in a department store, but I've seen several escalators. I'm just saying...). But it's still a really, really good song and here's my theory of why:
These guys! Joe Perry: silver fox? Crazy tea partier? Or BOTH!
Probably because of their ridiculous stage antics and the fact that their songs are largely equally ridiculous, it's hard to take them seriously as musicians. But something I think Aerosmith can do exceptionally well is harmonize. I'm not sure why they don't always take advantage of their mad skillz, but when they do, they do it surprisingly well. Of course, I'm an admitted sucker for any type of group singing (and so is Brian Eno!). The song is about five minutes long and the best verse for harmony doesn't come until 3:32. I would understand if the typical listener couldn't make it that far, but I LIVE for that verse. If you don't happen to make it, just try to pick out all of the vocal lines in the first chorus. I think there's some interesting stuff going on there and I know I'm right about this because my sister who proclaims that she knows nothing about singing at all completely agrees with me (she is my lay-person phone-a-friend). I like to call her or text her sometimes when I hear it on the radio because I'm excited that I know someone who cares like I do, or at least pretends.
For some reason, it isn't always easy to take these guys seriously
After this? I can't imagine why not!
But, they also have a serious side, I swear. If you don't believe me, think about any time you've ever been heartbroken and listen to the song What it Takes or, my personal favorite, Cryin. In "What it Takes," Steven Tyler takes his signature scream-singing up a notch by sliding it up through several notes, which is an impressive feat in itself, but which I also find adds to idea that he's feeling pain as he's singing the lyrics "tell me how it is that you can sleep in the night without thinking you lost everything that was good in your life to the toss of the diiiiiiiii-IIIIIIIIIIIICE?" Look what you've done to Steven Tyler! How can you sleep at night?
Then, of course, we have "Cryin," complete with the video that made me a seven-year-old feminist. Long story short, this song kills me every time, especially right at the moment where there's a loud drum crash and then all instruments drop out in the moment that Steven Tyler says "I was cryin when I met you now I'm (CRASH) -- DYYYIN -- to let you do what you do down to me." I love a good moment of a cappella in the middle of an anthem almost as much as Brian Eno loves choirs or I love recordings with groups of children singing (see previous posts). As for the video, it features pre-Clueless Alicia Silverstone***, who is in a rocky relationship with Stephen Dorff (who is not Ethan Hawke). They fight a lot, he's not a nice guy, she gets her purse stolen by someone else and beats THAT guy up, she gets her belly button pierced, and the whole time we also see clips of her standing on a ledge on a bridge. Also, we see a lot of inexplicable shots of Steven Tyler in a mask. The viewer is led to believe that she really may jump, especially when she does actually jump backwards off the bridge instead of into the arms of Stephen Dorff (not a popular stance for the early 90s). BUT WAIT, spoiler alert: she's been harnessed to a bungee cord this whole time! MTV had to pixelate her hand, but we're all pretty sure she's flipping S-Do the bird as she dangles from the bridge and the music fades out. It's the music video equivalent of a mic drop.
*Lyrics.com says "Baby Bubba," but I remain skeptical.
**Shoutout to my cabin-mates at camp in 2001. I remember a mixer, I think in the Opera Tent/Opera Field area and Daft Punk's "One More Time" was playing (you know, because it was 2001) and we spent a very long time waiting for the beat to come back after the breakdown in the middle of the song. We were intent on doing the running man when the beat dropped, but we had a hard time catching it. We were so cool.
***It's one of a group of Aerosmith videos from this era, one of which includes Ms. Silverstone but also features Liv Tyler as a stripper... in her dad's music video. Why not?