Aerosmith: That “Difficult Eighth Album”

Aerosmith Done With Mirrors

The re-birth of Aerosmith in the late eighties appeared to happen overnight. However, Done With Mirrors was the comeback album that didn’t quite get them where they wanted to be. It took a couple of attempts before the nation was singing Love In An Elevator…

Back in 1985 there didn’t seem to be many bands with a huge back catalogue that my friends weren’t already very familiar with: Except Aerosmith.

I had read a live review in Kerrang! Magazine (from a show in America) which spoke of a band with a rich history. In America in the seventies they’d been as big as, say, Ted Nugent’s ego – or so it appeared. So why hadn’t my friends got any of their albums? Why did no-one in the UK seem to know much about them? They were about as well known as, er, Something You’ve Never Heard Of. Why wasn’t the Aerosmith emblem on the back of every unwashed denim jacket of every unwashed biker in the kingdom? The critics liked them, at least in Kerrang!

The answer to why no-one knew them quickly became clear. Their records weren’t for sale. Not in Our Price. Not in Parrot Records. Not even in Oxford Street’s Virgin Megastore or HMV (RIP), or Tower Records in Piccadilly Circus. If I’d been the sort of person to have a ludicrous bet with someone that I could buy a band’s entire back catalogue on vinyl (who me?) it seems I would have lost.

How could an artist’s entire back catalogue be unavailable? Record store shelves were heaving like a schoolboy after ten Jaegermeisters with Status Quo, Scorpions, Hawkwind, Uriah Heep and UFO. Heck, the Tangerine Dream section was full of obscure German imports and rare 12″ singles. Perhaps Aerosmith weren’t very good after all?

The answer to this mystery was that when Aerosmith reformed they signed with Geffen Records. The Columbia-owned back catalogue was out-of -print and not exactly sought after in the UK, where Aerosmith had never had an album in the charts, and thus were about as attractive to punters as One Direction headlining the Download Festival. Needless to say, as Aerosmith’s popularity in the UK increased, so did the availability of their back catalogue.

I bought Done With Mirrors, the only Aerosmith record actually in the shops on the back of that live review.

What struck me most about the record was the guitars. They were bluesy. Funky at times. This was not the prevailing style at the time which, with a few exceptions favoured a heavier sound (Maiden, Priest). There was some great slide in there on the opening track. And the singer had a great voice and some cool lyrics too. Let The Music Do The Talking. I could relate to that. My Fist, Your Face. Nice turn of phrase. This was a far cry from the Boys-Own tales of Troopers and Ancient Mariners in Iron Maiden’s songs, or the ubiquitous demons and dragons in Dio’s and Rainbow’s songs. It was just a bit lighter. A bit less worthy. It was nice of Ronnie James Dio to tell me that a Holy Diver had been down too long in the Midnight Sea, but was it as sage as the advice that Steven Tyler gave when he said that The Reason A Dog has so many friends is ‘cos he wags his tail instead of his tongue? I think not. The final song on the record – Darkness – was also very different, building slowly and with a cool piano riff.

Shortly afterwards, in April 1986, an album appeared in the shops called Classics Live! A listen confirmed Aerosmith had some good Old Songs as well as New Songs. But where to find the back catalogue? There was only one place to go: Shades Records – the heavy rock record store in St Anne’s Court, off Wardour St in London.

Sure enough they had, from what I could see, the whole back catalogue on American import at £8.99 each (you could still buy records for £5.99 at this time). I bought Aerosmith (the debut album) Get Your Wings, Toys In The Attic, Rocks, Draw The Line, Night In The Ruts and Rock In A Hard Place all at the same time. £63 on records all in one go. A little less than a week’s wages at the time.

It was the best £63 I ever spent. Those albums are, to my ears, the Holy Grail of (heavy) rock n roll. Everything you need to know is contained therein. That run of Aerosmith records is not a million miles away quality-wise from the four album run by The Rolling Stones that started with Beggars Banquet and ended with Exile on Main St. And I love those Stones albums (Aerosmith owe a fair bit to The Rolling Stones).

Listening to Done With Mirrors now reveals a mixed bag. Let The Music Do The Talking is possibly the band’s last great song from their classic period (it first appeared – with different lyrics – on the first Joe Perry Project album). My Fist, Your Face, Darkness, The Hop and Gypsy Boots are all good, but the rest might not have made the grade on many of the band’s ’70’s records. Aerosmith changed from this point. They brought in outside writers and became a different band – and hugely successful.

You know the rest: a few months later, in September 1986, a collaboration with Run DMC – Walk This Way – reached the Top Ten in the UK. 1987’s Permanent Vacation and single Dude (Looks like a lady) did the rest – and Aerosmith were on their way back up…

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Record #157 : Aerosmith – Let The Music Do The Talking

or The Joe Perry Project – Let The Music Do The Talking



Categories: Hard Rock

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24 replies

  1. What a great story. I feel really bad for trashing this album before! Man, I must be missing something here. Try as I might I just haven’t gotten into it. The changes since then have been such a mixed bag. As much as I love Pump, and I do love it, they just keep on keepin’ on with that same “winning” formula. All variations on Permanent Vacation, and hell, their last album was partly made up of lost songs from the Pump era!

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  2. I love knowing the back stories to music, I’m almost always surprised by it too. Thanks for sharing all your knowledge…I for one appreciate it!

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  3. I’m glad that those old records finally got their visa for a stay in the U.K, which makes this a happy story-to judge Aerosmith without them is unfair. Like terrible Ted going on safari without his gun!…actually that one might not be a bad idea.

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  4. I’ll be the first to concur that “Done With Mirrors” isn’t as good as 70s classics “Rocks” or “Toys In the Attic.” It is still a good album and what it did for me back in the mid 80s was get me listening to them again. I love your quote about One Direction headlining Download. :0)

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  5. I bought this when it came out too. Sheila was my favorite tune. I also am not afraid to admit I really liked Rock in a Hard Place at least most of it. Bolivian Ragamuffin might be the most Aerosmith sounding Aerosmith song of all time….and I was a huge Joe Perry fan. Jimmy Crespo filled in well on that album.

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  6. Yes..great post.
    When I was a wee lad my Mum gave my brother and I some money and let us pick out our first LPs. I chose Kiss – Rock N Roll Over, and my brother got Aerosmith – Toys In The Attic. I was hooked ever since.
    Aerosmith’s Live! Bootleg double LP is one of my favorites of theirs. I love their take on ‘Train Kept A-Rollin’, ‘I Ain’t Got You’, and ‘Mother Popcorn’

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  7. The Done With Mirrors tour is the first time I ever saw Aerosmith live. . .ironically with Ted Nugent opening for them. Man, they were far from having their shit back together then. . . it was a rough show. I saw them do much better shows later (Joe Perry doing knee slide guitar solos at 60? That’s totally badass!). I dug the album, and it was the only one I had then besides Toys in the Attic. I was partial to Shela and Let the Music Do The Talking.

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  8. Nice to see a fellow 70’s-Aerosmith fan around. ‘Done With Mirrors’ represents a mixed bag for me as well: on one hand, I really, really want to enjoy it, for it is the last album of theirs made in that 70’s sleazy, dangerous, bad attitude, drugs-pumped rock n’ roll vein (not really a fan of what came after it, to be honest). But on the other, I don’t think this is a strong record, songwriting-wise. Very few songs are truly memorable and can rank with their best (‘Let The Music Do The Talking’ and ‘Darkness’ probably, though ‘Shela’ is a personal favourite). I also feel that something else – which I can’t quite put my finger on – is missing. Aerosmith lost something when they broke up, and it was never the same.

    I enjoy ‘Rock In A Hard Place’ more, though. Very underrated album. And their first 6 are just classics, that goes without saying.

    Great article, btw. It was nice to see things through the perspective of a person who actually bought the album when it came out.

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  9. This is their last listenable album IMHO.

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  10. Great post. There’s a lot of charm on this album, it’s probably their most soulful because the production is so stripped back.

    In fact, I don’t think that was intentional. The production sounds like they did it without a producer. Go knows what Ted Templeman was doing at the time. Perhaps he was asleep. The record just sounds like they did it with a competent engineer, and nothing else. It almost sounds like an album that a local band would put together, with a day’s recording in a cheap studio.

    Still, I love this album. It’s not a patch on their earlier albums, but it’s the last true Aerosmith record before things started going awry.

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