The earliest recordings by most classic artists are dreadful. The Beatles’ early demos? Awful. The Rolling Stones? Amateurish. Prince? Formless, too-long songs. Nirvana? Juvenile. Traces of the future brilliance are there, but not many.
Which is what makes this recently unearthed Aerosmith tape from 1971 — recorded either at a rehearsal or a soundcheck 12-18 months before the release of their debut album — so remarkable. It’s got a grit, heart and raunch that are sorely missing from the band’s admittedly stiff and flat-sounding debut, which nevertheless features “Dream On,” probably their most legendary song.
That rawness and loose feel — a few rowdy pals were present for at least part of this recording — make “The Road Starts Hear” feel like being in your high-school friends’ band’s rehearsal room, with them playing eight feet away … if your high school friends happened to be Aerosmith.
The seven songs here are mostly early versions of songs from the first album — “Mama Kin,” “Somebody,” their grinding take on “Walkin’ the Dog” — along with the early outtake “Major Barbara” and a cover of the 1940s-era blues song “Reefer Head Woman” (resuscitated years later for 1979’s “Night in the Ruts,” presumably because the band was low on material at the time).
Wherever it was recorded, the band clearly felt a hell of a lot more comfortable than they did later in a formal recording studio: Despite the informality of the recordings here, nearly all of the songs crush the versions recorded for the first album. Guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford and bassist Tom Hamilton mesh together like a single instrument, forming a Stones-like, bluesy groove driven by drummer Joey Kramer, who shows off the swing he developed in his years playing in R&B bands; also like their heroes the Stones, the band is loose but tight, moving as a unit and stretching out the songs at will. And even in 1971, Steven Tyler was Steven Tyler, whooping and yelping and screeching and wailing on his harmonica like the classic lead singer he was rapidly becoming. They were already great.
Yet the most historically interesting track here is the early take of “Dream On,” which was already in its finished form. All of its deeply familiar elements were in place — the baroque guitar intro, the crescendo at the end culminating with Tyler’s shriek — but it closes not with the usual fade, but with the piano-and-guitar intro to the later ballad “You See Me Crying,” which would close their third album, 1975’s “Toys in the Attic.”
“Aerosmith — 1971: The Road Starts Hear” is a special Record Store Day Black Friday release, initially only available on vinyl and cassette accompanied by rare archival photos and liner notes featuring new interviews with the band — and like most RSD specials, all copies will probably all be snapped up within minutes on Saturday. However, it is labeled as an “RSD First” release, meaning that chances are good it will show up as a digital and CD release, if not a vinyl re-release, once a period of exclusivity ends in 2022.
And since this is the first release from their recent deal with Universal — which sees the band’s entire catalog moving to that company — who knows what else is in the attic?