REVIEW: Aerosmith – Rocks (1976)

AEROSMITH – Rocks (1975 Columbia, 1993 Sony)

Packaged clean and sharp, Aerosmith made their intentions clear on the cover art for Rocks.  The album launched a million guitar players and a hundred careers in rock and roll.  It is also notable as being the last album before a major turning point; the point at which Aerosmith let the drugs work against them in a major way.

“Back in the Saddle” is an impressive opener.  The main riff in the song is not a guitar, but Joe Perry playing a six string bass.  Steven Tyler has mastered his own voice by this time, squealing and shrieking in conjunction with the hooks.  In some ways “Back in the Saddle” sounds like the birth of the true Aerosmith.  “Last Child” meanwhile nails the oft-overlooked funky side of Aerosmith.

“Take me back to-a south Tallahassee,
Down cross the bridge to my sweet sassafrassy,
Can’t stand up on my feet in the city,
Gotta get back to the real nitty gritty.”

With the help of an understated horn section, Aerosmith turn “Last Child” into something special.  This unexpectedly fades into the metallic aggression of “Rats in the Cellar”.  A spiritual sequel to the song “Toys in the Attic”, this one’s even meaner and faster.  Somebody said that the goal here was take what the Yardbirds were doing and turn it up.  Harmonica hooks and slide guitar goodness — I’d say they nailed it.

I need something groovy and right in the pocket after that, and “Combination” sung together by Tyler and Perry is one such groove. “Combination” is an album highlight boasting hooks and cool bass licks galore, and listen to Joey Kramer tearing it up on the drums! “Sick as a Dog” is another semi-forgotten classic. I’ve loved this melodic rocker (similar to past tracks such as “No More No More”) since day one. I can’t help but get it in my head every time I actually am sick as a dog. (Knock wood, no major illnesses yet in 2015!)

Perhaps the most important song on Rocks is the Whitford/Tyler composition “Nobody’s Fault”.  Along with “Round and Round”, Whitford has a knack for coming up with some of the heaviest Aerosmith riffs.  Testament covered it in 1988 for The New Order, taking it to an extreme that Whitford couldn’t have predicted.  The post-apocalyptic lyrics fit the concept of the Testament album.

Aerosmith’s original recording of Nobody’s Fault features some of Tyler’s most impassioned howls.  Drummer Joey Kramer considers it to be his best drumming, and I’m sure Whitford feels the same about his guitar work.  Although you can still hear that Aerosmith beat, “Nobody’s Fault” proves the band are versatile and more than just another American blues rockin’ band.

Bringing back the funk, “Get the Lead Out” isn’t particularly a standout except in terms in performance (which, with Aerosmith, is always above reproach).   “Lick and a Promise” returns us to quality, with a stock rocker about Tyler’s favourite subject.  We’re now at the end of the record, and “Home Tonight” continues Aerosmith’s knack for ending an album effectively with a slow number.  A piano ballad with plenty of guitars, “Home Tonight” adds that bit of class that Rocks needed in order to compete with an album like Toys in the Attic.

So how does Rocks compare with Toys in the Attic, anyway?

Too close to call.  Rocks is definitely a heavier record, and Toys in the Attic is closer to the dead-center of Aerosmith’s sound with the horns and strings.  Otherwise, it’s splitting hairs.

5/5 stars

AEROSMITH BOX OF FIRE review series:

BOX OF FIRE THUMBDisc 1: Aerosmith (1973)
Disc 2: Get Your Wings (1974)
Disc 3: Toys in the Attic (1975)
Disc 4: Rocks (1976)

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37 comments

  1. Excellent review, Mike! One the most classic rock albums of all time. The Toys vs Rocks debate is one of those great arguments (like Exile vs Sticky) that often conclude with the realization that they’re both masterpieces!
    Thanks. Tim

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  2. Boom,love this record start to finish! I think it ranks as my all time fav #2 album of all time! Just love everything about this record just one Classic after another ..luv Sick As A Dog! I’m really digging this series Mikey! Well done …come to think of it it’s hard to like you said split between which one is better Toys or Rock….Geez my #2 May have changed upon further review!

    Liked by 1 person

        1. I don’t like to talk about the ice-cream years, I’ve been straight now for five years but I know one sniff of Ben & Jerrys and the whole hell ride will be on again.

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        1. I think they we’re really on to something with the Dimension album. Too many songs, but many of them were really back to basics and I thought it was their best record since Get A Grip. But no, they will never make stuff like Sick As A Dog or Nobody’s Fault again.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. And great observation — the pics are only possible because of the great booklets these CDs have! I love the two-page foldout in every CD with the memorabilia. Those are brilliant and well made.

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        1. Yes they are. There is only one minor difference between these and the normal retail versions which is one spine on the back cover. You know what it looks like all lined up, but I’ll save the pictures and reveal for the final part! The retail versions don’t look like that all lined up, they have normal spines.

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        2. Cool. I had spotted the difference in the spines but I’ve never owned the normal versions so wasn’t sure what they were like inside. It’s one of my favourite box sets actually. I remember being really excited about buying it. The only disappointment is that the match on the lid got broken a little. I’ve toyed with burning a new one and gluing it on!

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        3. Can you fix the original one with Krazy Glue? I use that stuff on my toys and it is pretty good stuff for 90% of my breaks.

          Doing a new match might be tricky without it turning brittle and fragile, I’d recommend painting a match, maybe sanding it down a bit near the tip to look like it’s been burned.

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  3. Another great review of another classic. It’s unbelievable to think that the old release schedule for these bands was a killer record every year! Look at that…’73, ’74, ’75, ’76. Pretty obviously the white stuff was the fuel, and like Mike said, still before the powder started running roughshod over the band in so many negative ways.

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  4. I think your conclusion sums it up nicely – one ought not to split hairs, just enjoy them both!
    Looking forward to learning about what happens between this one & permanent vacation, keep up the excellent work Mike!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nice review of one of my favourite LPs period. This is by far my favourite ‘Smith. I mean ‘Toys’ is a really great album, but I like this one better because it’s heavier – Toys hits you, Rocks cuts you open.

    Sick As a Dog – is one me of me and Mrs 1537’s songs.

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  6. Toys In The Attic is still my favourite Aerosmith 70’s album, but this album is awesome as well. And it sounds like a million bucks. And the songs – Last Child, Rats In The Cellar, Nobody’s Fault… The latter is my favourite Aerosmith song together with Sweet Emotion. But sadly, it was all downhill from here. Not that Draw The Line is bad or anything.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I know, same here. I’m so way behind reading your stuff. Haven’t had the time to check out Deke’s stuff either. Not enuff hours in the day.
      And we’re off to Sweden Rock Festival in a few days as well…

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  7. Great work again, Mike. I couldn’t pick a favourite between this and Toys … both are great and I often find that listening to one leads to listening to the other.

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