Music/Popular Culture

Tournament of Rock IV: the Aerosmith pod

Tournament of Rock IV: Monsters of Corporate Rock!How it works.

The second pod was, perhaps predictably, a runaway, with #14 seed Van Hagar trompling the field with better than 60% of the vote. We’ll see them in the Sweet 16.

On to group three, which features another hard rock monster act gone about as mainstream as it is possible to go. The contestants are:

  • #2 Seed Aerosmith (post-rehab incarnation, 1986-present)
  • Chicago (post-Terry Kath era – 1978-forward)
  • Fleetwood Mac (the Buckingham/Nicks incarnation – 1975-forward)
  • Pat Benatar
  • Greg Kihn


After the release of Done with Mirrors, Tyler and Perry completed rehabilitation programs. In 1986, the pair appeared on Run-D.M.C.’s cover of “Walk This Way,” along with appearing in the video. “Walk This Way” became a hit, reaching number four and receiving saturation airplay on MTV. “Walk This Way” set the stage for the band’s full-scale comeback effort, the Bruce Fairbairn-produced Permanent Vacation (1987). Tyler and Perry collaborated with professional hard rock songwriters like Holly Knight and Desmond Child, resulting in the hits “Dude (Looks Like a Lady),” “Rag Doll,” and “Angel.” Permanent Vacation peaked at number 11 and sold over three million copies.

fikshun: For awhile, they were manufacturing the same painful ballad for years, weren’t they? Steven Tyler has been a caricature of himself for so long that I kinda started thinking of him as a Kardashian – someone who was famous for being famous and nothing else.

Me: EmbAerosmith is #5 on my all-time Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen list. With a bullet. I don’t know which is sadder, given the band’s awesome early career: Steven Tyler pimping on American Idol or the rest of the band blustering about how they’re not gonna take it anymore. Oh, wait – there’s money? Never mind.


By 1981, with the release of the 15th album, the poor-selling Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, the band parted ways with Columbia Records and began looking for a new approach. They found it in writer/producer David Foster, who returned to an emphasis on the band’s talent for power ballads as sung by [Peter] Cetera. They also brought in one of Foster’s favorite session musicians, Bill Champlin as a full-fledged bandmember. … With these additions, the band signed with Full Moon Records, an imprint of Warner Bros., and released Chicago 16 in the spring of 1982, prefaced by the single “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” which topped the charts, leading to a major comeback. The album returned Chicago to million-selling, Top Ten status. Chicago 17, released in the spring of 1984, was even more successful — in fact, the biggest-selling album of the band’s career, with platinum certifications for six million copies as of 1997. It spawned two Top Five hits, “Hard Habit to Break” and “You’re the Inspiration.”

Bonesparkle: I like how that last sentence there uses “spawned.” Because if ever hell spawned a simpering, no-testicles corporate wuss monster it was Peter Cetera.

Fleetwood Mac

By the mid-’70s, Fleetwood Mac had relocated to California, where they added the soft rock duo of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks to their lineup. Obsessed with the meticulously arranged pop of the Beach Boys and the Beatles, Buckingham helped the band become one of the most popular groups of the late ’70s. Combining soft rock with the confessional introspection of singer/songwriters, Fleetwood Mac created a slick but emotional sound that helped 1977’s Rumours become one of the biggest-selling albums of all time.

Me: I ain’t gonna lie – I loved Fleetwood Mac and Rumours. But little by little the folks who had actual talent (John, Mick, Christine and John) allowed themselves to become the house band for Stevie’s self-indulgent, formulaic faux-gypsy show.

fikshun: Corporations don’t run long and go over budget on releasing products. In that sense, FM is successful despite themselves. Next to Kiss though, I’m hard-pressed to think of a band of musicians who better shrank into their personae: “Animal” on drums, “Steve Dallas from Bloom County” on bass, “sensitive songwriter guy” on guitar, “enigmatic witch girl” on vocals, and … damn it, Christine McVie, you’re not playing along.

Pat Benatar

Pat Benatar’s polished mainstream pop/rock made her one of the more popular female vocalists of the early ’80s. Although she came on like an arena rocker with her power chords, tough sexuality, and powerful vocals, her music was straight pop/rock underneath all the bluster.

Me: I saw Benatar live just as she was topping the charts for the first time. I’ve seen cardboard cutouts with more presence. In fact, my seats that night weren’t great, so it could well have been a cardboard cutout on stage with somebody playing a tape of her songs and I couldn’t really have told the difference. She does get some props for the way the “Love Is a Battlefield” video struck an important blow for feminism, I guess. I mean, when a greasy douchebag is being, well, a greasy douchebag, the best way to handle the situation is dance at him all mad sexy like.

fikshun: Regularly manufactured high-quality “you done me wrong” rockers for years … until Seven the Hard Way, when they decided using sex to sell records was wrong. Way to go – make your millions by selling oil and then suddenly brand yourself a green company.

Greg Kihn

In 1981, [Kihn] earned his first bona fide hit with the Top 20 single, “The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em),” from the Rockihnroll album. He continued in a more commercial vein through the ’80s with a series of pun-titled albums: Kihntinued (1982), Kihnspiracy (1983), Kihntageous (1984), and Citizen Kihn (1985). He scored his biggest hit with 1983’s “Jeopardy” (number two) from the Kihnspiracy album.

fikshun: Utter corporate rock fail. If you don’t believe me, go to Amazon and try to buy “The Breakup Song” or “Jeopardy.” Last I checked, you couldn’t get his original recording mp3s from Amazon, could only find some of his mp3s on iTunes, and hard-copy, out of print CDs were retailing for north of $100. What corporation loses so much value that no one thinks it’s worth the effort to buy up the old IP and repackage it?

Me: “The Breakup Song” is still one of my favorite ’80s hits. Kihn was having fun and, seriously, he gets extra credit for inspiring Weird Al’s “I Lost on Jeopardy,” don’t you think?

Click to vote.

Image Credit: The Married Gamers

5 replies »

  1. Though I love Pat Benatar, and my wife loves Chicago, I think I’ll have to go with Fleetwood Mac. Rumors is just a fantastic album.

    Being in the Army living in the barracks, I was exposed to plenty of rap, and while listening to Aerosmith one day, it occurred to me, this is white rap! I tried telling people that and then Run-DMC proved my point not 6 months later.

  2. Jeez, what to say about this group. Chicago had a good first album, then went nuts, even to the tune of taking out a full page ad in newspapers around the country in support of the revolution. Whatever the hell that was all about. They had a megalomaniac as a producer, though–Guercio? That doesn’t explain why they stayed bad. FM is the saddest one, though. This was a great band when Peter Green created it out of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and was even still great after he left following his breakdown–Kiln House being one of the most under-rated albums ever. But when they got to California they just lost it. And I even owned that album too, with witchygirl singing that song that still shows up in department store muzaks. Aerosmith at least made music you could dance to. Could anyone dance to Tusk? Gotta go with FM here–the California FM is maybe the worst major band to come out of California, with the possible exception of the Eagles.

  3. I don’t have a dog in this fight. As a fairly young kid, i remember Aerosmith hooking up with Run DMC, but only found their decent to very good stuff later. I still wouldn’t bother buying an Aerosmith album.

    Fleetwood Mac, blech … but i never bothered knowing that the original lineup came from Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Maybe i’d like the really early stuff, but i’d still feel dirty because Stevie Nicks.

    Chicago? Nope, never even bothered because rank sucktitude.

    I voted Aerosmith simply because my voting strategy throughout will be which band is the least bad/has some redeeming qualities.

  4. Voted for Chicago – showing my age, probably, but Aerosmith’s fall, while a melancholy thing to see (to paraphrase Jonathan Swift) bothers me less for some reason than having had to witness the slow, steady decomposition of a band that once played as interesting a version of jazz rock as Al Kooper’s original Blood, Sweat and Tears did (for one album). Hell, I saw Chicago open for Jimi Hendrix. How we got from a band that could impress – with Jimi following – to the schlock rock of “Old Days” is the story of corporate rock – selling out one’s cred for sales guided by by taste meisters in suits who were buying cars from the profits they made on dreams (to paraphrase the Traffic lyric)….