One of Aerosmith‘s most under-rated songs is No Surprize, from the 1979 Night In The Ruts album. It brilliantly tells the story of how the band got together and became successful.
For that reason – and given this blog is called Every Record Tells A Story, it seems appropriate to examine this much overlooked song more closely. I say overlooked – sadly it rarely features in the band’s live set – possibly because even though he co-wrote the song, by the time it was recorded, Joe Perry had left the band and his guitar parts were played by stand-ins Jimmy Crespo and Richie Supa.
Way back in 1971 the band were playing clubs looking for a break:
Nineteen seventy-one, we all heard the starter’s gun
New York was such a pity but at Max’s Kansas City we won,
We all shot the sh- at the bar / With Johnny O’Toole and his scar,
And then old Clive Davis said he’s surely gonna make us a star,
Just the way you are.
But with all our style, I could see in his eye
That we were going on trial
It was no surprize…
Lyrics to No Surprize
Aerosmith played three dates at legendary New York club Max’s Kansas City in 1972. For the second date, Aerosmith’s manager had called two record company executives: Ahmet Ertegun from Atlantic Records – home of Led Zeppelin; and Clive Davis – president of Columbia records and the man who signed Janis Joplin. As the song says, they were “on trial”.
Tyler described what happened in his autobiography “Does The Noise In My Head Bother You?”. With the band having finished their set and Clive Davis calling for an encore, the band’s promoter Frank Connally urged them to go back onstage.
Tyler said “But we don’t know anything else” and Frank said “Just do a jam!” Tyler decided on a thing called “Wit’s Tip” which was a jam the band often played. Frank then suggested a new title. Tyler explains, “Frank goes “Just tell ’em the name of the song is We Don’t Want To F- You, Lady, We Just Want To Eat Your Sandwiches”. The room roared and the band played hot”. At least, that was Tyler’s account in his recent autobiography. Strangely, in Aerosmith official biography Walk This Way, Tyler described the same incident and said “the room fell silent” so you can form your own conclusion…
After the gig, Clive Davis came backstage and said “You guys were great. You’re going to make it big. And you, son” he said turning to Tyler, “are going to be the biggest star in America”.
Interestingly, Ahmet Ertegun from Altantic told the band’s manager “This band sucks. But we’re going to spend ten minutes talking to you as a favour, because Clive Davis is going bananas over this band and the more time we spend talking to you the more nuts Clive’s going to get”.
Aerosmith signed to Clive Davis and Columbia for the then-remarkable $125,000. In hindsight, in signing Aerosmith – fronted by this unknown drug-addled prima donna lead singer, Davis was merely preparing for the day he would sign Whitney Houston…
No Surprize goes on to describe the drug-filled day to day existence of the band, which by 1979 was considerable.
Oh the backstage is rockin’ and we’re coppin’ from the local police / That’s right the local police / Or the justice of peace
Said Tyler “Everyone was laying it out for you, even the cops. Promoters would have it backstage. There would be a deli platter and a mound of coke”.
Tom Hamilton explained in Walk This Way, “The line about getting pot from the police came from an incident in Charlestown, Virginia, where the cops gave the band some pot they’d confiscated”. The lyrics continue with a reference to pills and how they were taking their toll on the band.
Bad times go away, Come again some other day / Topaz and sazzafrazz will keep the blues away…
Finally – and brilliantly – the song shows that the band were having money worries – it ends by having a dig at The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and Broadcast Music inc. – two performing rights organisations:
You ASCAP / If BMI could ever make a mountain fly / If Japanese can boil teas / Then where the f- my royalties?
Not sure what the first bit means exactly, but the conclusion is pretty clear…
Why don’t more bands take this biographical approach to their songs? Perhaps the reason is that not every band has such a story to tell? We met at art college / Didn’t have much knowledge – it sort of peters out a bit after that..
The White Stripes might have had a go: She was my wife / But it was a bit of a bummer / So she became my sister / and my drummer…
One Direction? We all went to X-Factor / Then Simon said “You’re all sacked-a” / Then Nicole said “Wait / I don’t hate – I’m gonna make you a star / Just the way you are…
Hmm. They don’t quite have the same ring to them do they? If you can think of any better, then write in the comments box and we’ll email the band concerned.
Record #148: Aerosmith – No Surprize
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