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Forgotten Hard Rock Albums: Aerosmith, "Rock in a Hard Place"

I've been an obsessed hard rock & heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.

"Rock in a Hard Place" CD cover

"Rock in a Hard Place" CD cover

Aerosmith - "Rock in a Hard Place"

Columbia Records, 1982

10 tracks, run time: 40:16

Aerosmith barely survived the 1970s -- the toxic combination of stardom, drugs, and egos nearly destroyed them from within. Tired of butting heads with coke-addled vocalist Steven Tyler, guitarist Joe Perry split midway through the recording of 1979's Night in the Ruts to start his own band, The Joe Perry Project. Aerosmith drafted Jimmy Crespo to replace Perry and soldiered on, completing the Ruts album by the skin of their collective teeth.

When it came time to record the first Aerosmith studio album of the new decade, Rock in a Hard Place, rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford also decided he'd had enough, and bailed out after recording only one song, the eventual single "Lightning Strikes." Once again, Steven Tyler was forced to drag an Aerosmith album across the finish line with little more than sheer stubbornness. Crespo provided the bulk of the guitar work during recording and additional six-stringer Rick Dufay was brought in to fill out the lineup when it came time to tour.

Rock in a Hard Place has never been the most well regarded Aerosmith disc, but it happens to be a sentimental favorite of this writer, because it was the album that got me hooked on the Bad Boys of Boston back in the day. I was only twelve years old when Hard Place came out, so when I first heard "Lightning Strikes" on a local music-video TV show, I knew nothing about the band or their behind-the-scenes turmoil -- I just knew that song was badass, and I wanted to hear more!

"Lightning Strikes"

The Songs

Rock in a Hard Place kicks off well enough with the frenzied "Jailbait" and slams into the aforementioned "Lightning Strikes," a crunchy, metallic tale of street-gang warfare that is probably the only song from this record that's considered a "classic" Aerosmith track today. (Legend has it that even Joe Perry loves "Lightning Strikes" and wishes that he'd had a hand in creating it.) The slinky, sleazy "Bitch's Brew" has a nice bluesy groove and the bold, brassy "Bolivian Ragamuffin" keeps the energy level high.

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The soulful ballad "Cry Me a River" is a cover of a 1953 song written by Arthur Hamilton and performed by torch singer Julie London. I'm not familiar with the original, but Tyler totally goes for broke on it, delivering his best vocal performance on the album.

Side 2 gets off to a strange start with the short, trippy sound collage "Prelude to Joanie," which serves as the intro to the twangy, psychedelic flavored epic "Joanie's Butterfly." "Rock in a Hard Place (Cheshire Cat)" is a raunchy, basic blues-rock stomper, and the album comes to a close with the punchy sleaze rocker "Jig is Up" and the middling "Push Comes to Shove," which gives Tyler a chance to show off his harmonica chops.

All in all, Rock in a Hard Place is a solid release. Unfortunately most Aerosmith fans tend to rank it near the bottom of the band's catalog due to the lack of Perry and Whitford, but Jimmy Crespo's impressive six-string fireworks provide most of the album's highlights. Jimmy has never been given his due by the Aerosmith faithful, which is a shame, because this guy was a more than capable replacement for the mighty Joe Perry. Mad respect, Jimmy!

Rock in a Hard Place may not rate as high in the Smith catalog as classics like Toys in the Attic or Rocks, but it's a respectably rockin' slab of sleaze in its own right that does the Aerosmith name proud, as far as I'm concerned.

"Rock in a Hard Place (Cheshire Cat)"

The Aftermath

Rock in a Hard Place briefly scraped the top 40 upon its release in 1982, and when Aerosmith hit the road to support it they struggled to make it through a tour of small theaters and clubs -- a far cry from the enormo-domes they'd been playing during the previous decade. Stories of a strung-out Tyler passing out on stage in the middle of the set during this period have become the stuff of rock n' roll legend.

In 1984, Joe Perry and Steven Tyler mended fences, and when Joe announced that he was returning to the band, Brad Whitford soon followed. All of the band members then entered rehab to deal with their various chemical issues.

The half-baked "reunion" album that followed, Done With Mirrors (1985), showed some hints of the old Aerosmith fire, but it was obvious that the band wasn't quite back to full power yet. It would take an unexpectedly awesome, totally out-of-left-field collaboration with Run-DMC to finally bring Aerosmith back from the brink.

"Bolivian Ragamuffin" (live 1982)

© 2021 Keith Abt

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