Jack Douglas

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)

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Toys in the Attic (1975)

TOYS IN THE ATTIC_0001AEROSMITH – Toys in the Attic (1975 Columbia, 1993 Sony)

What’s your lucky number?  For Aerosmith, maybe it’s 3.  Third album in as many years, Toys in the Attic is considered by some to be the album: “If you’re only going to get one,” the desert island record.  Considering that Rocks was yet to come, let’s withhold judgement until we get there.  For now just be aware there is a lot of Aero-love in the world for Toys in the Attic, and you can hear why.

As if to prove that Aerosmith could keep up with some of their heavier competitors out there, “Toys in the Attic” is a blazing guitarfest careening through the speaker into your skull.  What a way to open an album: it’s a statement.  The band were honed to a razor-sharp edge by producer Jack Douglas.  Joe Perry in particular had grown to be a ferociously good blues-rock player, and “Toys in the Attic” is the evidence.

One of the great joys of listening to Aerosmith is finding the little known album gems that weren’t repeatedly re-released on hits packages.  “Uncle Salty”, a slow crawl through the blues via the neck of a bottle, is one such track.  Also underexposed is “Adam’s Apple”, which shows off Joe Perry’s greasy slide guitar sleaze.  The horn section makes an appearance here too, adding extra sauce.  Then they bring the funk on “Walk the Way”.  Run DMC recognized that funk and knew how to update it in 1986.  In 1975, Tom Hamilton’s rolling bass was the stuff that groove is made of.  This is the kind of song that proves the musical ability of these five gents from beantown beyond the shadow of a doubt.  Then the sassy horns return on “Big Ten Inch Record”, an old R&B classic from 1952.  Remarkably the band pull it off with class and sassafras.

“Sweet Emotion” is one of the band’s best known today, something that Tom Hamilton must be happy about, since it’s one of only a few Tyler/Hamilton co-writes.  It’s no surprise that Hamilton had a hand in its composition since it’s based on another one of his rolling bass lines.  But listen to the way Joey Kramer and Brad Whitford lock into him.  That groove is the foundation on which Aerosmith was built.  On top of that, Steven Tyler has always had a way with melody.  “No More No More” is one of his most irresistible singalongs.

The Sabbathy thunder of “Round and Round” was an unexpected twist.  Tracks like this and the later “Nobody’s Fault” show the metallic side of Aerosmith that usually remains shrouded.  “Round and Round”, though menacing and heavy as a brick, is the least memorable song on Toys in the Attic (only because the competition was so good).  Brad Whitford takes care of the solos on this one, a song he co-wrote (just like “Nobody’s Fault”).

“You See Me Crying” ends the album on a melancholy note but lovely note.  A piano based tune with strings and McCartney-ish melodies, it is truly the kind of classic that Aerosmith will be remembered for.  If it were not for songs like “Dream On”, “Seasons of Wither”, and “You See Me Crying”, then Aerosmith would be just another American rock and roll band playing their version of the blues that the Stones and Zeppelins of the world had already plundered.  “You See Me Crying” was proof that Aerosmith were more than that, and had their own thing going on.  (That’s Whitford playing the solos again, by the way.)

So what’s better?  Toys in the Attic, or Rocks?  Let’s find out next time.

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)

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Get Your Wings (1974)

GET YOUR WINGS_0001AEROSMITH – Get Your Wings (1974 Columbia, 1993 Sony remaster)

Only the year after dropping their debut, Aerosmith cranked out another collection of solid bluesy rock tunes, but this time with better production! With Bob Ezrin overseeing the project, Aerosmith made the fateful hookup with Jack Douglas. Although the band had bigger hits under Bruce Fairbairn in the 80’s, Aerosmith made their best albums with Jack Douglas in the 70’s.

Get Your Wings really sounds like the Aerosmith we now know and love. The first album wasn’t all the way there yet. Get Your Wings sounds like my kinda Aerosmith. Surely, the opener “Same Old Song and Dance” is familiar to millions. Horn laden and funky, “Same Old Song and Dance” hits all the Aero-bases.

As a piano player, Steven Tyler usually keeps in simple and rhythmic, and “Lord of the Thighs” is the perfect example of that kind of Tyler piano part. It’s a menacing song, right in the pocket, also boasting some of Joe Perry’s more memorable solos.

One of my favourite songs, and one of the least-known is the sci-fi tale “Spaced”. This is a story about the “last man to survive”. It’s an ambitious tune for Aerosmith, and boasts a number of catchy parts. Another seldom heard track is “Woman of the World” which is also pretty cool. I like the acoustic intro and the smoking Joe Perry licks. “S.O.S. (Too Bad)” is a full-speed-ahead Aerosmith blast of adrenaline, a definite classic. These tracks boast a high level of musical depth and satisfying chops.

Aerosmith covered the legendary Yardbirds song “Train Kept a Rollin'” and managed to make it their own. When it picks up steam at the end, better hold on tight. This song may enduce whiplash. You get to cool down as it fades into the acoustic classic “Seasons of Wither”. As far as I’m concerned, “Seasons of Wither” is almost as brilliant as “Dream On”. It’s that good. It also takes advantage of the fuller production that Jack Douglas brought to the table.*

Although “Seasons of Wither” would have been a fine side closer, a coda is tacked on in the funky “Pandora’s Box”. Double and triple entendres, a rock solid rhythm section, and those soon-to-be-trademark Aerosmith horns n’ piano — what more do you need? While it does feel oddly sequenced, “Pandora’s Box” is every bit as classic as anything else on the album.

Get Your Wings showed significant growth from the band’s debut. Their trajectory had yet to peak…even better things were ahead.

4/5 stars

* I noticed in the photos in the CD booklet, this album was once available in Quad!  Oh, to have a quad version of “Seasons of Wither”!

AEROSMITH BOX OF FIRE review series:

BOX OF FIRE THUMBDisc 1: Aerosmith (1973)
Disc 2: Get Your Wings (1974)