Good art always comes from psychic pain or hunger

“Good art always comes from psychic pain or hunger. People can be succesful but they still have the pain from the past and a lot of times they can channel that into songs that are combined with good times that have happened to them and then they even have a longer career, but most art comes from people that are tortured, in themselves, and you’re not gonna see that as much now because the development of drugs such as the SSRIs, Paxel and Zoloft and all of those drugs from the, you know, the medications that even out people, and the use Ritalin and other drugs, Adderall and those drugs in younger children, evens them out and doesn’t allow behaviour that superstars exhibited in their growing up, such as probably Steven Tyler and Steve Perry and other great frontmen, I’m sure, all the great frontmen and even frontwomen, I’m sure, Ann Wilson and whatever, I’m sure that these people were outcasts to some extent and definitely were not properly behaved in school because their brains don’t function like anybody else’s, and normalizing these kids now is one of the many reasons there’s gonna be a lot less music that’s great. And nobody… Everyone’s afraid to say that but it’s totally true.”

John Kalodner

A wall of bras and panties

“They (Aerosmith) were a great band which is why I wanted to sign them. I had seen them. I didn’t really understand what a great problem the drugs were, and when Tim Collins finally decided that he had to do something about it, and he did do something about it in the fall of 1986 and I decided I was gonna try one more time to see what I could get outta them, and I’ll never forget, going to rehearsal; it’s a blizzard with lightning in Boston, January 1987, they had gotten cleaned up, and I go in their rehearsal room, and there’s an entire wall that’s maybe 30 feet high and 40 feet wide, of bras and panties, and that’s what, y’know, this is in their rehearsal room, and I’m thinking, “what am I doing”? Like, I really appreciate bras and panties, but it’s like I, I’m not really sure that, y’know, because they played new songs which I didn’t think were good enough, so I finally say to Steven Tyler, in front of the wall of bras and panties, that I really feel that he should try to work with Desmond Child who had just done Slippery When Wet, try their focus on some of the ideas, like “Dude Looks Like A Lady”, which I heard the idea of, but not being a songwriter or musician, I couldn’t straighten it out. So anyway, they listened to me and Tim Collins got Steven and Joe to meet with Desmond, Jim Vallance and a few other people and that’s how it started to take shape then I convinced them to go to Vancouver to work with Bruce Fairbairn, who I had to convince to work with Aerosmith, because he wasn’t very convinced that that was going to be a good use of his time.“

John Kalodner, on starting to work with Aerosmith on Permanent Vacation.

Mistakes (We all make)

A few days ago I wrote about how John Kalodner pulled “Deuces are wild” out of Pump because, according to Jim Vallance, he didn’t like the title. Quite melodramatically, I said:

“But why, John, WHY? Of all the things you’ve done that are incomprehensible to me, this one really hurts!”.

And then I found this interesting transcription of an interview with John Kalodner where, regarding his work on Pump, he admited:

I made some mistakes as well. I should have put “Deuces Are Wild” on there, which is on the Beavis and Butthead soundtrack. I made a mistake by that.

And suddenly my world is right again!

What’s in a song title

Do you care much for song titles, are they important to you? I mostly listen to an album several times, enough to get the tunes in my head, and after that I may try to learn the song titles. Sometimes I just don’t.

But apparently, song titles are very important and we do care about them. It’s one of the first things that songwriters have to learn and master. I can understand the obvious stuff (and that’s why I say it’s obvious):

  • A good title is not only catchy, but it can (and should) set the tone and focus for and entire song you want to write.
  • Whatever your title is, everything in the song should focus around the central idea of that one title: your song needs to stay focused on one specific theme, idea, feeling, or emotion.
  • Should a title be short or long? The general rule is, the shorter the better. It’s easier to sing a shorter title and easier to remember it as well.
  • When you write a song with just one word in the title, that’s a great way to go because it helps to remember it that much easier.

“Songwriting: The Importance Of Good Song Titles”, by Mike Freze (Part 1 & Part 2)

Regarding one word titles, I was thinking about Aerosmith’s “Crying”, “Crazy” and “Amazing” from the “Get a grip” album while plotting this post. Great songs, but I would have included them in three separate records, really. That album had another two very catchy one-word song titles: “Flesh” and “Fever”. As for the song titles themselves, I like “Crazy”, I’m not sure about “Amazing”, and I loathe “Cryin’”. How and why those titles made it past John Kalodner is beyond my understanding. And that’s probably why he is one of the most successful A&R guys in music’s history and I just have this blog, right?

I’ve been thinking about all this because while reading around about John Kalodner and Aerosmith, I landed on the website of songwriter Jim Vallance. There’s this famous story about the song “Rag Doll” (from “Permanent Vaction”). Steven Tyler had originally written “Rag Time” while working with Jim Vallance, but John Kalodner didn’t like it.

John Kalodner: Steven gave me some bullshit about New Orleans, the old traditions, the roots of rock ‘n roll. I said to him “Kids won’t give a fuck about Rag Time”. So I called Holly Knight, who’d written for Pat Benatar and Heart.

And apparently song titles are so important that they brain-stormed for 3 days (3 days!!) before she came up with “Rag Doll”. She changed one word and got song-writing credit.

Tim Collins (Aerosmith’s manager): This was a big deal. John brought in Holly Knight, who changed one word and got a piece of the song. Later, when it was a big hit record, Tyler was enraged. He’d yell at me, “Who’s to say that it wouldn’t have been huge if it was ‘Rag Time’?”.

I knew the story about “Rag Doll” but I didn’t know the one about “Deuces are wild”. I really love that song, it’s one of my favourites of Aerosmith’s latest, most commercial era. I knew it was first released on the “Beavis and Butthead Experience” album because it didn’t make it into “Pump”, but what I didn’t know is why. The reason? John Kalodner didn’t like the title!

Jim Vallance: When the time came to select songs for Aerosmith’s Pump album, “Deuces Are Wild” was a contender. Everyone loved the song … everyone except Geffen A&R man John Kalodner!

(…) In mid-1989, myself and Steven Tyler (in one camp) and John Kalodner (in the other camp) locked horns over “Deuces Are Wild”. John liked the melody and the lyrics, but he insisted we find a different title. Steven and I loved the title. It sounded good. It worked. Like naughty school-boys we defied Kalodner and stood our ground! John Kalodner stood his ground too … and pulled the song off the album!

But why, John, WHY? Of all the things you’ve done that are incomprehensible to me, this one really hurts!

Fortunately, the song came around again later.

Jim Vallance: Fast-forward a couple of years, to 1993, when Aerosmith were asked to contribute a song to the compilation album “Beavis and Butthead Experience”. For reasons I’ve never fully understood (perhaps they were in the middle of a tour?) Aerosmith decided not to record a new track. Instead, they simply added Steven’s vocal and Joe’s guitar to the “Deuces Are Wild” demo I’d recorded in my home studio five years earlier (and some drum overdubs from Joey?).

You can listen to the demo on the website (Audio-2: The “music minus vocals” demo I recorded in December 1988). I absolutely love it, it moves me to tears.

The website of Jim Vallance is a treasure vault of inside information about his work, and it has many interesting anecdotes about many bands and how their songs came to be, as well as sound clips of early demos. Just check the list of songs, I’m sure there is something there you’ll find interesting.