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Album Review

Aerosmith – ‘Rocks’ [Retro Album Review]



They wrote the one textbook I actually was capable of consuming (and comprehending). As a result, it was the one class I could pass — with flying colors. Truth be told, at age 14, everything I was learning about life — getting chicks, getting laid, getting high and rockin’ hard, I learned from them. And it had my poor mama pacing the floors. Simply put, The Stones “belonged” to the older kids on the block. Aerosmith “belonged” to my crew.

Further fueling the firestorm ignited by their platinum-selling 1975 breakout LP, Toys in the Attic, and their massive recent Top Ten single, “Dream On,” the band’s fourth album, Rocks, dropped via Columbia Records 45 years ago this week (May 14, 1976). And with its release, the bad boys from Beantown informed everyone they were flying high — in more ways than one. Rocks producer Jack Douglas has been quoted describing Aerosmith at that time as, “a brash, rude, sexual, hard-core rock band.” As a fervent follower in those days, I’d wager a bet that Douglas’ assessment was spot-on.

A vivid snapshot of authentic, old school rock star ego and excess, Rocks cut more sharply than the five diamonds pictured on the album cover. Like a shiny Schick chopping across a residue-dusted tray, Rocks was so raw, so real, you can hear dangling syringes clinking in the control room. Almost.

Building (and building) with heart-racing urgency, “Back in the Saddle” galloped gloriously straight out the gate. A convincing confession of a modern-day cowboy conquest, the record’s notorious opener was punched-up by the sounds of jangling spurs and cracking whips. It soon would become a concert staple. “Barkeep give me a drink,” pronto!


Despite the acknowledged “Toxic Twins” allure, Rocks found the other Aerosmith guitarist, Brad Whitford, going nose-to-nose with the band’s beloved poster boy guitarist, Joe Perry — providing significant heavy lifting throughout the nine-song collection, including a chart-busting collab with golden god frontman Steven Tyler on the classic leadoff single, “Last Child.” Pinning a somewhat down-home narrative to a downright dirty riff, this three-and-a-half-minute funk fest felt like a punch to the privates. And it still can stink up a room like an open bag of top-grade hydroponic homegrown.

Another cutting component of the record — the enormous contributions of bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer. #TeamWork While there’s no acceptable substitute for vinyl, experiencing Rocks in a digital format, especially on a set of quality earbuds, only magnifies the immeasurable value of the band’s legendary rhythm section — particularly Kramer’s rib-cracking kick and snare assault on “Rats in the Cellar” and Hamilton’s throaty chug on “Combination.” Of the latter, this Perry-penned gem was one of the record’s tallest standouts. Owning the transparent line, Walkin’ on Gucci, wearing Yves St. Laurent./ Barely stay on, ‘cause I’m so goddamn gaunt, “Combination” is framed beautifully by the undefeated vocal tag team of Tyler and Perry. Take THAT, Glimmer Twins! Driven by grit and gusto, “Combination” brings Side One to a chaotic conclusion — the perfect prelude to the blistering Side Two opener, “Sick as a Dog.”

Aerosmith circa 1976

As if you were right there shooting up with the guys, you can hear the authentic sound of the studio door squeaking behind the intro of “Nobody’s Fault” — haunting chords that surrendered abruptly to the 200-ton guitar avalanche and a sea of combustible lyrics — Eyes are full of desire. Mind is so ill-at-ease. Everything is on fire. Shit piled up to the knees.

And then there was “Get the Led Out.” Even as a naïve church boy who’d not yet even gotten my finger wet, I certainly did like a real boogie-woogie. And even I recognized those guitar licks were sexy as the dickens, Beave. With barely enough time to catch your breath, look out! — here comes “Lick and a Promise,” slashing through the ol’ Realistic hi-fi speakers with blasting, unadulterated cock-rock swagger. He started thinking about the fortune and fame, with the young girls down at his knees. Even I knew what Tyler was talking about on that one. I was dumb, but I wasn’t stupid.

In a fashion similar to Toys in the Attic, Rocks was explosive from the get-go — an M-80, seemingly diffused by a soaring crescendo. And Tyler’s piano-driven power ballad “Home Tonight” served as an epic closing — as if the fellas felt compelled (once again) to offer an assurance following the brutal beat-down, their flock had just endured. I’m sorry, baby. It will never happen again. I promise.

Was it the ultimate Aerosmith effort? That’s a debate best left for nerds even geekier than myself. What can’t be disputed is that Rocks was one of the seminal sets of the ’70s. Reckless and unapologetic, it remains a biting rock record — unashamed of its copious nosebleeds and track marks.


Rocks Track Listing:

Side One:
1. Back in the Saddle (4:40)
2. Last Child (3:26)
3. Rats in the Cellar (4-05)
4. Combination (3:39)

Side Two:
1. Sick as a Dog (4:16)
2. Nobody’s Fault (4:21)
3. Get the Lead Out (3:41)
4. Lick and a Promise (3:05)
5. Home Tonight (3:15)

Run Time: 34:31
Release Date: May 14, 1976
Record Label: Columbia Records


Christopher Long is an author, show biz analyst, TV / radio contributor, award-winning musician and entertainment personality. Referred to once as “the rock and roll Erma Bombeck,” Long is known for his conversational, common sense writing style and passion for sharing his unique perspectives on pop culture. Raised in Missouri's rugged Ozark Mountains and on Florida's sunny Space Coast, Long currently lives in Cocoa Beach. (