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DRAW THE LINE (1977)

Joe Perry: "The Beatles had their white album; 'Draw the Line' was our blackout album" ("Walk this Way").


Touring for the main "Rocks" cycles ended on Dec. 19, 1976, following which the band took a short break before embarking on their Japanese tour at the end of January. While there the band enjoyed a taste of Beatlemania with Joe and Elyssa having to get an extra hotel room in which to store all their gifts. Following the tour, the band members vacationed in Hawaii on their way back to the mainland U.S. before getting down to the work of recording a new studio album. Local press suggested that members were split, some on Maui and others, along with the road crew, in Kona and Honolulu. Intended or not, the band had fallen into the tour-album-tour trap. "Rocks" had seen the band at its most potent, the scales of reasonableness delicately balanced between performance, creativity, chemical and interpersonal abuse. By early 1977, the balance was shifting, slowly, almost imperceptibly at first; more precisely it was becoming one noted by an imbalance. A metaphorical artistic mountain had been climbed, but the band had yet to define whether there would be a plateau or descent. What no one realized was that as the band started out to make their next album, they were standing on a precipice that would ultimately result in their decline and Joe Perry's departure. As Joe would later opine, the band had gone from musicians dabbling in drugs to full-blown druggies dabbling in music. He'd later evaluate the period in which the album was created: "At that point, we were really beginning to take everything for granted... Rather than trying to move things onto the next level for us musically and maybe take some time off and put it back together, it just kind of fell apart. We were too self-indulgent. Too self-absorbed, and gain, we lost sight of what we were there for" (Billboard, 8/15/98). "Rocks" and "Draw the Line" as albums couldn't provide a better contrast between the two states of consciousness within the band. Perhaps a better line of demarcation was the April 13 death of Father Frank Connelly, in a Norwich, CT hospital from the ravages of pancreatic cancer. A true genius, a visionary, Frank's role in the ascendancy of Aerosmith can never be understated even if he'd long been out of the band's orbit.

On the charts the reissued "Walk This Way" remained on the Hot-100 into early March, and was followed up with the release of "Back in the Saddle," which attained top-40 status and kept the band's visibility on the charts into early June (when "Rocks" also dropped off the Billboard Top-200) — perfectly setting the stage for a new single from a new album... The band had enjoyed the methodology of recording "Rocks" at their Waltham rehearsal space and wanted to do similar for the new album, but with a change of scenery facilitated by using remote recording services. Following a month's worth of preproduction at the Wherehouse (with Steven hanging at Jack's house in New Jersey and Joe working on his own in his home basement), staff at the Record Plant located the Cenacle. Isolated on 100 acres of wooded land in Mount Kisco in Westchester County, New York, it had formerly been operated by the Congregation of Our Lady of the Cenacle. Originally bought for Broadway showman Billy Rose, the estate had become a 100-room retreat house that could "accommodate 200 people for brief periods of solitude, prayer and contemplation" (New York Times, 9/29/74). By 1974 the sisters had become unable to afford its upkeep, and it had been leased by two doctors who had hoped to transform it into a treatment center for troubled youth (in 1979 the property would be sold to Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church). Troubled youth of a different sort were certainly those who took up residence in early 1977. Tom, Joey, Brad and Jack arrived first and set about the task of reconfiguring the facility to be usable as a recording studio, without damaging or making any changes to the rooms used. The overall concept was that the Cenacle was a retreat where the band would be able to recharge and create simultaneously. Placing the musicians in different rooms would allow the aural ambiance of those rooms to be infused into the rooms: As Jack recalled, "Joey's drums were in the chapel, Steven was up on the second floor, Brad was in the living room, and Joe was in this big walk-in fireplace" ("Walk This Way"). At the Cenacle, the band came together for the new project for the first time.

The problem was that the band was essentially coming into the studio from being on the road. There hadn't been much of a break in December and January, and even less following the Japan trip. There was also the question of material, or lack thereof, and Jack recalled there being discussion about possibly including covers on the album. One such song would be committed to tape, "Milk Cow Blues," and made the release. Another, Otis Rush's "All Your Love" didn't. With showing up first, having worked on preproduction material, the band had factionalized. Brad, Tom, and Joey worked on ideas in hopes that Joe and Steven would show up and contribute. When they did show up at the Cenacle, both Steven and Joe disappeared to play with new toys or indulge in a toxic chemical summer camp. Steven recalled, "I hit the wall. This was as far as I wanted to go, because I would like fall asleep for two days, just not coming downstairs to record and not caring if Joey and Brad and Tom were doing their guitar parts. Drug-wise, this is the end of it" (Billboard, 8/15/98). The location hardly meant that drugs couldn't be delivered from the city, and friends such as David Johansen regularly visited and participated in the insanity." As illustrated by the unreleased jams — "Krawhitham," "Circle Jerk" and "Subway" — later to surface on "Pandora's Box" in 1991, Tom, Brad, and Joey did try to get to work with Jack on new material. The problem was that Steven and Joe were missing. With Joe, the drugs had purportedly taken control. He had ideas, new expressions he wanted to try, notably incorporating more slide guitar into songs, but was incapable of performing. Joe would turn up for sessions "glassy eyed" only to be thrown out when he couldn't play. He'd stowed the ideas that he'd worked on for the album in a cookie tin, which he promptly misplaced, so it appeared he wasn't serious about the sessions. Or he'd be throwing up in the middle of jams. Following which, he'd disappear for days. Fortunately, the slide idea that became "Draw the Line" caught Steven's ear...

While the resulting album would be disjointed and variable in quality in contrast to the previous material, perhaps one positive to come out of the situation was that shift in dynamics. With the less toxic trio doing more of the work there were more opportunities for them to step in and fill the void. Brad was able to contribute more guitar than usual, since Joe couldn't be bothered to get out of bed at times. Regardless, his work fit the songs so there was no point replacing it. Nor time. It shouldn't be surprising that eventual album songs, "Critical Mass," "Kings and Queens," and "The Hand That Feeds," lacked credited input by Joe. Aerosmith's time at the Cenacle was generally unproductive, and their delays resulted in the start of the Aerosmith Express tour having to be rescheduled. Their scheduling also meant that the next band who had booked the facility, KISS, had to move their recording sessions for their "Love Gun" album to the Record Plant in New York City (they had been scheduled to record May 9-27 with mixing taking place through June 11). Whatever the case, by the time the band finished up at the Cenacle, "Draw the Line" was still not completed. In the early morning of June 1, the day following the last day at the Cenacle, Joey Kramer was injured in a car accident while returning to Boston. After falling asleep while driving his Ferrari he was awoken as the car drove into the back of a truck and then collided with a guardrail. He'd receive several stitches for assorted cuts from the windscreen glass shattering, and a $19,000 ($80,000 in 2019) repair bill, not to mention luckily missing an artery. Dates scheduled to start in Buffalo on June 3, followed by the year's first "World Series of Rock" stadium show in Cleveland were postponed or canceled; with the tour rescheduled to start in Ft. Worth on June 21. According to Joey Kramer they performed some "God-awful shows" during this leg of the tour.

Awful or not, "Draw the Line" debuted in the band's set at this time, the first taste from the forthcoming album, so it was clear that even with Joe and Steven's challenges in Armonk that the band had been able to knock it into enough of a shape to be performed. Also present in the set was the band's cover of "Rattlesnake Shake," which raises the question of whether that was another the songs the band considered as a cover for the album. Following the conclusion of the tour run on July 9, the band headed into the Record Plant to continue trying to work on the album. If Joe had been unable to play at times in Armonk, then Steven was similarly blocked in regard to the album's lyrics — hardly a new situation, then or in the years to come. Ever defensive on the matter, Steven commented, "Why does it take me so long [to deliver the lyrics]? Because I'm not Patti Smith who sits down and writes poetry every time something comes to my head. I don't keep a diary or anything like that, and I have to write the words exactly to the music. You can't sit down and write all the words to an album in one week. It's got to come from somewhere, and it's hard. It doesn't come out unless you sit down and think about it and fill the fireplace, 20 times at least, with paper" (Rock Talk with Lisa Robinson via Springfield Union, 8/28/77). He'd also suggest that life on the road was not conducive to being productive in any manner... It would be left to Jack Douglas to write the lyrics to "Critical Mass" and he would end up prodding Steven with ideas in order to get "Kings and Queens" written. Some other songs ended up on the album as a matter of necessity. Other band members had rejected Joe's "Bright Light Fright," which he had demoed in his basement during his solo pre-production for the album and brought in fully formed. Jack, who had come to regret his decision to work with the band, persuaded the others to record it, providing Joe with his first lead vocal.

For Joe, "The basic difference between this album and all our other albums is that we would make albums and then take the songs that were could play and do them on stage. This time we'll be able to play 80 per cent of the songs on-stage. Also, all these songs are real rockers, real cookers. There's not a slow, draggy song on the album" (Rock Talk with Lisa Robinson via Springfield Union, 8/18/77). One such piece was "Get it Up," which Joe had worked up prior to the album sessions. Some of the other nearly-lost cookie tin ideas included what became "Sight for Sore Eyes," a song he'd started working on with David Johansen. Another musical seed grew into "I Wanna Know Why." But only one idea had been fully fleshed out and the rest required work by the band to knock into shape. Work continued on the album even while the band were on the road — and work commenced on the next project, the live album, with shows being recorded for possible use. During the band's visit to Europe in August, they spent time at George Martin's AIR Studio in London, to record the solo for the song that would become the lead-off single from the album. But by late-September the band were back on the road at home for another leg of the "Aerosmith Express" tour. By this time "I Wanna Know Why" and "Get it Up" had been added to the set, providing hope to stalwart fans that a new album was really coming.

Guests, no strangers to Aerosmith albums, were brought in to season the material. 1994 vocalist Karen Lawrence, who'd sung backing vocals for Jeff Beck, was brought in to sing on "Get it Up" (Brad would perform on a single track on the debut 1994 album, produced by Jack Douglas, released in 1978). Scott Cushnie returned to provide some boogie-woogie piano on "I Wanna Know Why" and "Critical Mass." And Stan Bronstein played saxophone and sousaphone on "I Wanna Know Why" and "Bright Light Fright" respectively. Even Jack got in on the act, adding mandolin to "Kings and Queens" with Paul Prestopino completing the treatment on banjo. The title track — issued far in advance of the album's release — struggled to a disappointing #42 on the Billboard Hot-100 chart and was gone after 10 weeks. And for most reviewers, that was one of the album's stronger tracks. One review noted, "This hard rock outfit's single from a forthcoming album is a high energy, driving rocker that maintains its peak energy level throughout. The charged guitar and bass riffs are delivered in a fast-paced flurry while Steve Tyler's vocals soar through the heavy instrumentation" (Billboard, 10/15/77). To add injury to insult, both Joe and Steven were injured at a show in Philadelphia on Oct. 9. As the band returned to the stage for their encores, an M-80 firework lobbed from the audience exploded close by injuring Joe's hand and Steven's eye. It was hardly an unusual occurrence for bands at the time, and they certainly weren't the only musicians injured by their fans, but the injuries knocked the band off the road for a couple of weeks.

The album was finally released December 9. In the United States, it was certified Gold by the RIAA on December 9 and Platinum on December 13, 1977; Its most recent certification is for 2X Platinum on August 16, 1996. Gold by the CRIA (Canada - 50,000 units) was awarded on December 1, 1977. In the SoundScan era the album sold 120,556 units between 1991 and Feb. 2007, which was (at the time) only slightly more than "Done with Mirrors" sold in the same period. In the U.S., the album reached #11 on the Billboard Top-200 charts on Jan. 27, 1978 during a 20-week run. During 19-weeks on Cashbox the album reached #10. Internationally, the album reached #9 in Japan and #10 in Canada. The band may have been relieved to have completed the album, but they would have known that they'd dialed it in. Tom recalled, "I'll never forget when this record was done, I went to an old friend's house for a party up in New Hampshire. And everybody pretty much politely listened to it, and then I went up to my friend and I said, 'Wow, what do you think?' and he said, 'I think it sucks'" (Billboard, 8/15/98). While the cover was stunning, with bold caricature drawn by Al Hirschfeld, many reviews interpreted the lack of logo or title as a mark of arrogance by the band — that in their minds it seemed that they had become so successful that anyone would know which band the album was from by simply looking at the art. Copies were soon modified with the application of a sticker featuring the band's logo and album title, and many international issues had those features incorporated immediately. The caricature may have been more ironic than it had seemed in concept...

Steven had had grand plans for his entrance on stage. The show would start with a holographic Tyler singing, and then the real Tyler would enter and approach the hologram, shaking hands with it, and then merge with the image. But in the end, it didn't happen, and many reviews suggested that Aerosmith 1977 was little more than a rehash of the previous year, that the band were simply resting on their laurels. Coming off the road just after "Draw the Line" was released spelt its doom to a certain extent. The band's visibility plummeted while they took a three-month break, so while it may have shipped 1.5 million copies fast, it disappeared off the charts rapidly. Many of the reviews of the album noted one thing in common: A sameness of the album, in that the band seemed to be resting on their laurels with and album that broke no new ground. It also lacked a hit single. And then there was a void. "Kings and Queens" wouldn't be issued until late-February, coinciding with the band preparing to head back on the road. Backed with "Critical Mass" (Columbia 3-10699), it stiffed and scrapped to a five-week run on Billboard's Hot-100 singles charts plateauing at #70 even with positive press: "With a saga of Kings and Queens and guillotines, the boys from b-town romp again. Taken off the 'Draw the Line' album, the track offers a big production, driving beat and cymbal work, tight vocals, guitars and a piano-bass interlude" (Cashbox, 3/4/78). It was quickly followed by "Get it Up," backed with "Milk Cow Blues" (Columbia 3-10727), which failed to chart at all (though it did bubble under for a couple of weeks on Cashbox), even with positive reviews: "Aerosmith's power charged heavy metal sound works well here as the riveting guitars pace the rhythms. Steve Tyler's lead vocals are gutsy and bold, charged with the same high-level energy as the instrumentals" (Billboard, 4/15/78). The single bubbled under but utterly failed to chart and the slide off the charts continued for the album. With no touring and minimal national media promotion the album was gone from Billboard's Top-200 by May 13.

In December the announcement was made that Aerosmith had signed on to participate in Robert Stigwood's $12 million treatment of the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" which was expected, at least in terms of ambitiousness, to outstrip his previous adaptation of the Who's "Tommy." The band joined a cast including the Bee Gees, Peter Frampton, and Alice Cooper. The band's participation required that they cancel a string of tour dates scheduled for early January. The band members had not been inactive as touring wound down, Steven contributed backing vocals to a Jack Douglas production, Frankie Miller's "Double Trouble" album being recorded at the Record Plant in New York City. It was released in March. Richie Supa and Karen Lawrence also participated. Brad also contributed guitar on one song on Karen's band's 1994 album released later that year. While the band continued to tour from March onwards, they were now focused on their next project: A live album...

Assorted review excerpts:

"And, at the fifth fence, the prize Boston fillies tumble down. Which is a sorta fancy way of saying that for the first time on record, Aerosmith have blown it. And blown it badly... Where once there was muscle is now all flab, where once there was a tenacity is now an adamant loss of direction. Or more precisely, where once there were good hooklines, clever riffs and a real intensity of feel is now all half-baked, indolent boring riffs of little consequence and thus a dour lack of unity of purpose within the band... They're still thrashing away adeptly enough, and Jack Douglas has still got all the earmarking of a great hard rock producer but the material here is all so stiff, so uninspired... 'I Wanna Know Why' sounds like another Stones Exile-era rocker, but somehow it never rises and, like the whole album itself, you're left waiting for a punchline that never comes.

The only time Aerosmith seem at all inspired is actually on side two's epic 'Kings & Queens'. Basically a fairly daft song with its whole "In days of olde" slant easily worthy of the prattish posings of Freddie Mercury, 'Kings & Queens' still has its moments, principally a brilliant break where Douglas (I presume) superimposes Bernard Hermann's nerve-tensing stringed screams straight off the 'Psycho' soundtrack onto a great rush of Aerosmith amyl-nitrate rock... The main problem may ultimately reside with guitarist Joe Perry. Until now he could invariably match Steve Tyler's not unappealing lyrical bluster with good riffs and chord progressions. Here he just doesn't seem to bother — and his own solo venture, a short spew of directionless, hotcha-fast rock jive entitled 'Bright Light Fright', sounds as amateurish as any mediocre new wave band (when adequately recorded) ... At the last count it's all down to indolence, I guess. It's been a weird, rather uneventful and often downright mediocre year for Aerosmith and maybe that's all reflected in this their dour product" (New Musical Express, 12/17/77).

"For rough, tough black-and-blue material, Aerosmith is close to the top of the heap. 'Draw the Line' won't win them new friends, but it will keep old-timers happy. Most heavyweight undertakings are chancy, and this is no exception. Much dross, strictly out-take material, fills in the gaps between some genuine blasters. 'Critical Mass' and 'Get It Up' are both bright numbers with solid rhythms while 'Draw the Line' and 'I Wanna Know Why' didn't deserve preservation. It's hard to be enthusiastic about this one, but it's impossible to write Aerosmith off" (Toronto Globe and Mail, 12/21/77).

"'Draw the Line' is probably Aerosmith's least satisfactory album. The fact that it can still be highly recommended points out how solid a band we're dealing with. The LP offers the usual array of Aerosmith traits: slashing guitars and vocals, locomotive chord progressions, barely decipherable, punning lyrics. It's a sound as full, whooshing and searing as a Concorde's takeoff — all enhanced by another reliable, robust Jack Douglas production job. The problem is there are fewer immediately striking songs than usual. For the most part, the group seems to be merely adding to its catalogue... Each of its previous albums contains almost a half-dozen candidates for 'best of' honors. The new, nine-song package comes up with only three. There's nothing all that bad about the other six tracks — just a slight slip in quality. The three winners are the title tune, 'Get It Up' and 'Kings and Queens.' The title tune is a fast-moving, damn-the-torpedoes cooker, with a memorable guitar riff. 'Get It Up' is the gritty, sexy, shake-your-booty contribution. Highlighted by some earthy Ron Wood-style slide licks, it comes across as engagingly as any funky number the group has done. But the most outstanding song is the ambitious 'Kings and Queens.' Its Celtic folk tune-influenced verse, diverse instrumental effects and Stephen Tyler's soaring multitracked vocals give it a driving majesty. Aerosmith is so clearly the class of the U.S. hard rock bands that even when it's in a holding pattern, like 'Draw the Line,' it far outstrips its commonplace rivals" (Los Angeles Times, 1/8/78).

"Aerosmith have arrived for good, mates. Just check out the packaging of their new album: the front and back covers not only lack the emerging group-logo which graced their last two LPs, but also dispense with the title of the set. Instead, the denizens who haunt the record racks will be greeted with a black-and-white caricature of the group members (by Al Hirschfeld, no less), and a no-frills listing of the song titles. Only those potential buyers already acquainted with Steven Tyler's overbite (or those hip enough to turn the LP spineside-up) will know that they're holding Aerosmith's 'Draw The Line' in their cash-crossed palms; Aerosmith are playing in Led Zeppelin's if-you-have-to-tell-'em-who-you-are-you-ain't-made-it-baby! league now. Aerosmith is thus solidly anchored to ride out the shifting currents of rock taste in the late 70's, both on the album-sales charts, and in concert arenas that have always welcomed them...

'Draw the Line' advances Aerosmith a half-notch (at most) on up their great chain of being, but the accustomed pleasures of their sound are, well, quite comfortably reiterated. 'Draw The Line' frequently invokes Aerosmith's (or probably Tyler's) songwriting formula, that of seizing some cliché or figure of speech, objectifying it with a hard-rock background and a correspondingly vague plot, at last making it stand on its own as a kind of born-again bromide.... 'Draw the Line', with its echoed, pulsating fuzzhook, is a particularly tough opener. 'Get It Up''s lyrics worry over our old nemesis of secondary impotence, but the rock-hard music doesn't suffer either variety of that dysfunction. Joe Perry's 'Bright Light Fright' laments the numbing road life of rock bands for one more go-round, but his version is somehow more compelling than most other guitar-pilgrims', presumably because he moves in higher circles of super-stardom... For now (and most likely for a long time to come), Aerosmith are solidly with us, and it just may be that there is something to be said for surviving the 70's together" (Creem, 3/78).

"Since Aerosmith's name and logo don't even appear on the outer sleeve of 'Draw the Line,' someone obviously feels rather secure about the band's position in the hard-rock sweepstakes. The group is famous now — that's the message transmitted by Abe Hirschfeld's front-cover drawing. But fame and security don't always mix. 'Draw the Line' is a truly horrendous record, chaotic to the point of malfunction and with an almost impenetrably dense sound adding to the confusion. This album shows the band in a state of shock, caught for the first time in the quandary of the meaningful encore... If 'Toys in the Attic' and 'Rocks" proved that Aerosmith could pilot its own plane to the giddiest of heights, then 'Draw the Line' shows that anyone can develop a severe case of fear of flying. For those who remember times when riffs rolled hot and heavy from the Joe Perry/Brad Whitford guitar team will probably be the first to wonder what happened. For a riff-based band to come up with only one outstanding guitar hook for an entire LP is beyond belief, yet the title track features the only memorable guitar line here" (Rolling Stone #260, 3/9/78).

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