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