Aerosmith: Rocks (1976)


–AEROSMITH: Rocks (1976):

“Goin’ under, rats in the cellar
Goin’ under, skin’s turnin’ yellow
Nose is runny, losin’ my connection
Losin’ money, getting no affection”–Rats in the Cellar, Aerosmith

 When I first heard “Rats in the Cellar” it was the summer of 1989, I was 13 years old and had just returned from my local library, where my parents had let me check out a few hard rock records and CDs to satisfy my growing curiosity about the genre. One of those CDs was an Aerosmith compilation CD entitled Gems, and in picking it out I had been hoping to hear some of the current radio hits like “Angel,” “Rag Doll,” and “Dude Looks Like a Lady.” Dude, I had no idea.

Since I didn’t have a CD player of my own, my dad kindly offered to dub the CD onto a cassette for me. I remember standing there in the living room with my folks as the first raunchy sounds of “Rats in the Cellar” exploded through the speakers. My dad, an old classic rocker himself from a generation earlier, started chuckling and mocking the whole seedy affair, though I was immediately intrigued with this obnoxious, insane nugget of a song. The guitars snarled along in a raunchy manner as Stephen Tyler screamed and spit out some of the ugliest gutter-punk lyrics my young ears had ever heard. It sounded ugly (yet cool!), AND it annoyed my parents: a perfect formula for successful metal fandom.

Some five or so years later, I finally picked up the remastered CD version of Rocks from the local Best Buy store. It had been a long time since I first cut my teeth on the ‘Smith, and I had since gotten hooked on the heavier metal of the Metallica, Maidens, Savatages and Helloweens of the world. But I thought back to a compelling Rocks story I had read about Slash, who as a pre-teen had visited the apartment of an attractive, much-older young woman. As the story went, the girl had put Rocks on the turntable, only to have Slash listen to it for hours on end and then run home with it and keep it forever. That story from a Circus Magazine interview left a lasting impression on me, and finally hearing the whole album made an even greater impact. THIS record, ladies and gentleman, is what rock’n’roll is truly all about.

Rocks, released in the extremely fruitful musical year of America’s Bicentennial, is one of my all-time favorite albums because it is just so aptly-titled. It simply ROCKS through and through, with no pretensions or pompous grandstanding. This is a confident and well-honed Aerosmith on their fourth and greatest album, a record that builds upon the tasty foundation of 1975’s breakthrough Toys in the Attic effort. Rocks features just as many melodic hooks as its outstanding predecessor, but the high-octane power and street-level toughness is amped yet another notch.

Opening with the slow, galloping crunch of the classic single “Back in the Saddle,” Rocks is off to a muscular start. Tyler’s raspy, piercing screams during the chorus send chills down one’s spine, while the dual guitar tandem of Joe Perry and Brad Whitford complement each other tit-for-tat on this song. “Last Child” opens with a beautifully arpeggiated guitar line and a wistful vocal from Tyler before plunging into a groovy shuffle of a funky rock’n’roll tune. Tyler’s ode to a city slicker longing for rural serenity morphs not-so-subtly into the aforementioned sleazy monster of a rocker, “Rats in the Cellar.” “Combination” is an up-tempo power cruncher of a song with perplexing verbiage from Tyler that sails somewhere high above my comprehension level. The chorus is simply irresistible, featuring a lilting guitar vibrato that perfectly introduces the tasty solo section. “Sick As A Dog” is a quintessential Aerosmith ballad of lament, only much rockier and more powerful than their syrupy ‘90s fare.

The grinding and metallic “Nobody’s Fault” is Aerosmith’s heaviest and most ominous track ever. Here Tyler screams in protest of mankind’s devastation of our planet decades before warnings of climate change became commonplace. “One of these days you’ll be sorry/ Too many houses on stilt/ Three million years or just a story/ Four on the floor up to the hilt.” The song is so blasted heavy Testament covered it over a decade later, for crying out loud. “Get the Lead Out” is a simple and lustful boogie LED Zeppelinish kind of tune, with Tyler crooning “Hey good looking, what you got there cooking?” The song is pleasant and danceable, thanks to the deep groove of bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer, but Rocks really gets “cooking” again with the exhilarating “Lick and a Promise.” This ’banging ode to the exploits of a young rock star is so rocking and catchy that it demands infinite repeats. While the closing ballad “Home Tonight” is not one of Aerosmith’s best and certainly not as emotive as the gorgeous “You See Me Crying” off Toys…, I still give them props for Tyler’s stirring vocal work and the haunting melody of the chorus. Rocks may feel like it ended a bit too soon, but that’s far better than wearing out a welcome.

Simply put, Rocks does what Rob Halford sang about on Hell Bent for Leather. It “delivers the goods” on all counts. If I ever get stranded on some remote Pacific Island, I better have a CD player and a copy of Rocks with me–or at least a hot older girlfriend to steal it from.

–Track listing: 1.) Back in the Saddle 2.) Last Child 3.) Rats in the Cellar 4.) Combination 5.) Sick as a Dog 6.) Nobody’s Fault 7.)  Get the Lead Out 8.) Lick and a Promise 9.) Home Tonight


~ by jonnyboyrocker on September 26, 2009.

One Response to “Aerosmith: Rocks (1976)”

  1. you know…the ‘skins turning yellow’ thing…makes me wonder how long he knew he had hepatitis? or is it an asian reference? you know me and lyrics 🙂

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