In May 1976 the “Bad Boys of Boston”, Aerosmith, released their 4th album Rocks. A decidedly perfect title for an album that certainly rocks. Unlike previous efforts, this record peels off the veneer of their pop/rock smash hits Walk This Way and Sweet Emotion, and bares the rawer, purer harder side of the band. That said, there’s no mistaking their signature sound and approach to the material. All the band’s members contributed in the composition and arrangements, except Joey Kramer the drummer, who was just fine where he was: keeping the beat...and what a beat!
The album gallops open with Back in the Saddle, one of the 3 charted numbers on the record. It begins with some slide work over a pounding bass and giddy-up drum line, then Steve Tyler shrieks “I’m back, I’m back, I’m back in the saddle again”. Lead guitarist Joe Perry plays a 6-string bass (likely a Fender Bass VI) over Brad Whitford’s lead on this raspy kickass opener, which would also be a show-opener for years to come. Track 2 Last Child struts like a boss, bordering on funk behind Tom Hamilton’s bass groove, while the vocal harmonies between Perry and Tyler make this hit tight and crisp, Perry plays lap steel here with invited guest Paul Prestopino on banjo. Rats in the Cellar is a wink and nod to Toys in the Attic, yet with a more ‘realistic’ outlook, Perry explains,”...Rats was more like what was actually going on, things were coming apart, sanity was scurrying south, caution was flung to the winds, and little by little the chaos was permanently moving in”. It pounds out energy from the start, aggressive vocals and some deft guitar chops between Perry and Whitford. Most of Perry’s sound came from his vast array of guitars such as one Les Paul Custom, two Strats and a Telecaster.
The second side of the album is packed with straightforward rock and roll, with classics such as Sick As a Dog, co-written by Hamilton who plays rhythm guitar alongside Perry and Tyler, both on 6-string bass, which carries this rocker all the way to fade out...a dynamite ‘road song’ to be sure. Perry lays it all out “ I played bass for the first half of the song. Then I put the bass down and played guitar in the end, and Steven picked up the bass and played it for the rest of the song - all live in the studio! One take”. Finally, a song that has never been considered their best, yet is the band’s favourite, Nobody’s Fault, a heavy rocker telling of impending doom, “Holy lands are sinking, birds take to the sky, the prophets are all stinking drunk, and I know the reason why…”; a Zeppelinesque thomper of pure rock pedigree.
Rocks went straight through the ceiling sales wise, platinum in Canada and quadruple platinum in the U.S., (tied with Van Halen for most platinum albums by an American group) The album’s influence was enormous, inspiring artists such as Slash (Guns ‘n Roses), who, as a boy, picked up the guitar after hearing it, along with James Hetfield (Metallica), and Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) to name but a few.
This album tops the list of their great original hard rock musical adventures that paid off so well, maybe too well, for they were spiralling into heavy drug use and everything that came after was, or has been considered by fans as less than the creative output of Aerosmith’s early records. Nevertheless, they were considered “America’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band”, and that’s what they were out to prove. Joe Perry describes the driving force behind Rocks this way, “it was to re-identify us as America’s ultimate garage band, with blistering guitars, blistering vocals, balls-to-the-wall smash-your-eardrums production. When it came out in May ‘76, the cover showed five diamonds, one for each of us. We saw the record as a jewel, the culmination of all our angst and anger and excitement and joy as go-for-broke rock and rollers”.