Back in 1984, Aerosmith left Columbia Records and signed with Geffen. The great thing for Columbia was that despite them leaving the label, the new deal with Geffen still allowed the release material as they still had control of the bands earlier work. They took full advantage of that by releasing ‘Classics Live!’ in 1986 and ‘Classics Live! II’ in 1987. Then the bands new found fame was with the song “Walk This Way” and their smash album ‘Permanent Vacation’, Columbia records didn’t miss another opportunity to capitalize on that success. This time around they went for another greatest hits compilation package called ‘Gems’ which was released on November 15, 1988.
The great thing about this greatest hits compilation is that there are no repeats from the band’s first Greatest Hits album from 1980. Columbia purposefully delivered a much heavier set of songs that were extremely popular with fans even though they might not have all been huge hits. They were “gems”. All but one song on the release are basically the album cuts so no real reason to buy except for one. The album contained the studio version of the song “Chip Away The Stone” which had never been released prior except as a live version on ‘Live! Bootleg’. That gave reason enough for the serious fan to grab hold of this release. It didn’t do that great, only going to #133 on the Billboard Album Chart, but it has since been certified Gold.
The first track, “Rats in the Cellar” (off ‘Rocks’), was Steven’s answer to the hit song “Toys in the Attic”. The song was frantic in pace and was pretty much about the disaster of the band that was going on behind the scenes with the drugs and arguing as well as it being inspired by the death of their drug dealer. The song is a total blast with its maddening quick tempo and then Kramer’s drumming was incredible on this one as well. You get a harmonica solo and a full on jam section. It is the closest thing to heavy metal you are going to get from the band.
Then we get “Lick and A Promise” (off ‘Rocks’) which is a song about groupies and the whole rock show experience. It starts out with a machine gun drum attack and is nasty, dirty and a killer rocker. It is raw and has a grit that makes it a massive track.
With the next song, we finally get the studio version of the Richard Supa penned song “Chip Away the Stone”. The only other version previously was the live version on ‘Live! Bootleg’ and I believe a 7″ Vinyl Single. It is a sleazy little track with a wicked groove full of piss and vigor. The live version wasn’t my favorite on the album, but the studio version is pretty killer as I love that bluesy guitar and the honky tonk style piano.
“No Surprize” (off “Night in the Ruts’) is a story about the band. The song is a mix of blues and old time rock & roll with a Chuck Berry vibe on guitar coming from Perry. There is a cool line in it with “Vaccinate your ass with a phonograph needle” and I wonder now if that would work to battle Covid. Probably not. Sadly, it was one of only a very few really good ones on that album.
“Mama Kin” (off ‘Aerosmith) has a long intro into the song by Joe Perry with a killer riff and some solid bass lines by Tom Hamilton. There is also a saxophone played throughout the song by David Woodford. The rhythm section on this one is the backbone, but those Perry riffs are also pretty killer. Steven Tyler’s vocals are soulful and yet feels a little sleazy and full of energy. It is a blast of a song.
“Adam’s Apple” (off ‘Toys in the Attic’) was written solely by Tyler and he gives his version of the Biblical story from the Garden of Eden and it is full of sexual overtones of course. The blues rocker is a showcase for Tyler as his vocals are so front and center, but don’t rule out the others as there is some great riffage, a cool solo and spectacular drum fills to make everyone happy. Hamilton’s bass work is also sensational as he keeps the groove going for the band and keeping everyone moving forward. Not a super well-known track from the band so I would say a very underrated track.
Then comes a band favorite is next with “Nobody’s Fault” (off ‘Rocks’). The apocalyptic song borders on metal as it starts with an ominous sound before a menacing riff comes in an almost Sabbathy way. Listen to Joey Kramer’s drumming on this one as it is quite stellar as his fills are perfect. The doom and gloom turn out to be a beautiful track and one of the best deep cuts the band has. It sounds like nothing else on that album and yet totally amazing.
“Round and Round” (off ‘Toys in the Attic’) has a Sabbathy vibe as well with a really dark vibe, thanks to Brad Whitford’s riffage, which gives us a more metal Aerosmith. Kramer’s use of the cymbals adds to the metal sound and Hamilton takes his bass deeper in to the depths of hell which feels like where the song was birthed. A little torn on where I stand with it, but I’ll keep it.
“Critical Mass” (off ‘Draw the Line’) is an unsung hero on that album. Led by some great bass work by Hamilton with Perry on guitar, the song grooves on nicely. Throw in a little Tyler on Harmonica and you have the makings of killer track and one of the more interesting ones on the album with Tyler at times, attacking the lyrics with a verocity that is unmatched. The song’s intensity and jam-like feel make it a standout.
Then we go in to the cool ass song, “Lord of the Thighs” (off ‘Get Your Wings’), which a result of the creepy, nasty place the band was recording. Full of pimps and hookers, inspiration was had by Tyler to create this dark masterpiece filled with so many innuendos and double entendres to make a grown man blush. Kramer lays down a nice groove with his drum beats which is quite funky at times. Tyler’s vocals are deep, bluesy and deliver the intensity needed for this darker track. All around great song.
“Jailbait” (off ‘Rock And A Hard Place’) is wild and frenzied and one hot beautiful mess. Some killer riffage by Jimmy Crespo and some great drumming and bass from Kramer and Hamilton, respectively. This feels like classic Aerosmith as it still has that 70’s rock sound and Steven really is in the groove with this one.
“Train Kept a Rollin’” (off ‘Get Your Wings’) is a cover and was made famous by the Yardbirds (which is a cover as well), but Aerosmith took this song and made it their own so much so that they close out shows with it. The song was originally by Tiny Bradshaw way back in 1951. Aerosmith brought it to the modern times and made it nastier then the last track. One thing I have learned in researching this song is that the two absolutely brilliant guitar solos were not done by the band. The first solo was by Steve Hunter and the second solo was by Dick Wagner. The song also sounds live which adds to the raw sound but those crowd noises were added and actually from the George Harrison’s ‘Concert for Bangladesh. But who cares, it all sounds so great.
No Track Score on this one as it is a compilation plus it is all pretty awesome. I don’t know if it is better than the 1980 ‘Greatest Hits’ compilation, but I actually might pull this one out more since it is more the deep cuts and not full of the classic rock radio staples. Columbia Records did a good thing with this one by not repeating and giving us at least one unreleased track. If you want to really see what the band is about, check this one out. My Overall Score is a 5.0 out of 5.0 Stars just for pure enjoyment of this record. It really rocks out.
UP NEXT: ‘PUMP’ (1989)
THE AEROSMITH COLLECTION SERIES:
- ‘Aerosmith’ (1973)
- ‘Get Your Wings’ (1974)
- ‘Toys in the Attic’ (1975)
- ‘Rocks’ (1976)
- ‘Draw the Line’ (1977)
- ‘Live! Bootleg’ (1978)
- ‘Night in the Ruts’ (1979)
- ‘Greatest Hits’ (1980)
- ‘Rock in a Hard Place’ (1982)
- ‘Done With Mirrors’ (1985)
- Run DMC – “Walk This Way” 12″ Single (1986)
- ‘Classics Live!’ (1986)
- ‘Classics Live! II’ (1987)
- ‘Permanent Vacation’ (1987)
- “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” (1987) – 7″ Single & 12″ Maxi-Single (Bonus Edition)
- “Angel” (1988) – 7″ Single (Bonus Edition)
- “Rag Doll” (1988) – 7″ Single (Bonus Edition)
- ‘Gems’ (1988)
- ‘Pump’ (1989)
- ‘Pandora’s Box’ (1991)
- ‘Get a Grip’ (1993)
- ‘Nine Lives’ (1997)
- ‘A Little South of Sanity’ (1998)
- ‘Just Push Play’ (2001)
- ‘Honkin on Bobo’ (2004)
- ‘Rockin’ The Joint (2005)
- ‘Music From Another Dimension’ (2012)
- ‘1971: The Road Starts Hear’ (2021)
- The Albums Ranked Worst To First