Classic Compilation: Aerosmith – Big Ones

Aerosmith’s career is a strange one. During the 70s they came out of nowhere to establish themselves as America’s home-grown stadium fillers, take all the drugs and make minimum commercial impact outside of north America. As the decade closed they carelessly lost not just one, but both, of their guitar players, Brad Whitford and Joe Perry, so as the 80s dawned the band were pretty much at rock bottom. The return of Whitford and Perry in 1984 was the start of a reversal of fortune, interventions for substance abuse and drug rehab sessions. There was also some intense career rebuilding, as Aerosmith were dragged back to relevance by Run D.M.C., and then adopted Bon Jovi’s approach of bringing in outside writers to help them pen a bunch of accessible and shamelessly commercial pop-rock numbers that would see them make in roads on the European charts for the first time.

Following this unexpected career revival, Aerosmith had accusations of selling out regularly thrown at them, but by this time they had become stadium filling megastars. Many of the band’s established fans abandoned them at this point, and to this day refuse to give any credit to the material that Aerosmith released following their 1987 comeback, however, Aerosmith had tapped in to a huge global audience, and over the course of three albums on Geffen Records, they became one of the biggest hard rock bands on the planet, despite the fact that they were stylistically opposite to the rising grungesters of the early 90s.

Released in 1994, Big Ones, as its names suggests, collected the biggest hit singles that Aerosmith had racked up since their lazarine comeback. Given that the three albums which Aerosmith released during this period, 1987’s Permanent Vacation, 1989’s Pump, and 1993’s Get a Grip were a mixed bag, with Pump being the most consistent of the bunch, and the other two being patchy albums which leaned too heavily on the big hits, Big Ones is an economical way of getting hold of Aerosmith’s singles from their most commercially fertile years. True, during this period Aerosmith and their writing partners only seemed to have three go-to settings – riff heavy party rock, sleazy smut rock, or power ballads, but their singles were among the very best rockers and power ballads being released at the time.

Given that a compilation like Big Ones is aimed squarely at the pop market, it was perhaps inevitable that rock album purists rolled their eyes and continued to decry Aerosmith’s ‘selling out’, however Big Ones did massive business for the band and remains a fine collection of material that stands up to repeated plays. This is the Aerosmith whose videos dominated the hard rock elements of MTV through the late 80s and into the mid 90s, and therefore Big Ones is still the Aerosmith collection that most fair-weather fans would reach for before anything else, and it’s just a shame that they weren’t able to include their collaboration with Run D.M.C. on the version of “Walk This Way” that had reinvigorated their career.

The material on Big Ones may have infuriated Aerosmith’s long term fans, but as a collection of pop-rockers that made the hair metallers of the era look like hilariously pale imitations, it’s hard to fault, and it remains the compilation that makes the case for Aerosmith as pop stars.

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