45 Years Ago: Aerosmith Gets Medieval on ‘Kings and Queens’
In hindsight, maybe sticking five drug-addicted rock stars in an abandoned convent with a crew to satisfy their every whim was not a great recipe for making a world-class album.
Aerosmith nevertheless persisted, setting up shop at the Cenacle just outside New York City in the summer of 1977 with longtime producer Jack Douglas to begin work on their fifth album, Draw the Line. They were riding high on the back-to-back success of two world-conquering masterpieces, Toys in the Attic and Rocks, and the pressure was on to make another hard-rock smash.
Unfortunately, Aerosmith was also riding high on every substance under the sun. The Draw the Line sessions were often a debauchery-filled slog in which little actual songwriting got done.
"When it came to writing ... it felt like we were trying to squeeze toothpaste out of an empty tube," Joe Perry wrote in his 2014 memoir Rocks: My Life In and Out of Aerosmith. "Everyone was exhausted from constant touring and recording. I was in a marriage I wanted out of. Adding to the madness of the moment was the fact that we were being fueled by a medicine chest of high-quality drugs. With Manhattan only 45 miles away, there was a continuous flow of dealer friends from the city."
Perry and Steven Tyler — known in their hedonistic heyday as the Toxic Twins — were largely checked out during the making of Draw the Line. That left room for Brad Whitford, Tom Hamilton and Joey Kramer to experiment. They occasionally struck gold, as on the single "Kings and Queens," a proggy, medieval epic fleshed out by melancholy piano chords and twinkling mandolin and banjo.
Listen to Aerosmith's 'Kings and Queens'
"Well, it was kind of at a point where we were working on a particular record," Whitford told Songfacts, "and a lot of what we were doing in getting ready to record all that music – a lot of it was Joey, Tom and myself and Jack Douglas doing a lot of work on our own, and that's where a lot of that song came from. It was kind of us guys left to ourselves; Joe and Steven weren't there at that point"
Whitford admitted that "it probably would have ended up sounding different if they were there, but we were able to stretch out a little bit and hit a chord with that tune. We had the basis of it, and when Steven heard it, it really appealed to him and he came up with those great lyrics. It was just one of those things."
Tyler, in his zonked-out headspace, latched onto something in the music to "Kings and Queens" and delivered (with help from Douglas) an epic saga of lords, maidens, bishops and Vikings. He described himself in the 2011 memoir Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? as "a stoned-out rock star in his tattered satin rags lying on the ancient stone floor of a castle — slightly mad, but still capable of conjuring up a revolutionary album that would astound the ears of the ones who heard it and make the critics cringe."
He credited a "medieval fantasy," which "must have seeped into my subconscious one enchanted evening when I wrote 'Kings and Queens': 'Oh, I know I lived this life before, Somehow know now truths I must be sure. Tossin', turnin', nightmares burnin', dreams of swords in hand. Sailing ships, the Viking spits, the blood of father's land – Only to deceive.'"
Released as the second Draw the Line single on Feb. 21, 1978, and later as the B-side to Aerosmith's cover of the Beatles' "Come Together," "Kings and Queens" reached a meager No. 70 on the Billboard Hot 100. But it's become a cult classic among fans, and later got a second wind when it appeared in 2008's Guitar Hero: Aerosmith. The band has played it live intermittently, including in 2019 during the Deuces Are Wild Las Vegas residency. "It seemed a little more daunting to perform live until we just decided to do it, and then it became a little less intimidating once we were able to play it live," Whitford told Songfacts. "Yeah, it's not so bad, we can do that."
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