Monday, May 2, 2011

Like A Loaded Gun: Aerosmith's Rocks at 35

 Aerosmith - Rocks
Rating: **** 1/2

It was 1976. Aerosmith had hit it big with their third album, Toys in the Attic, the year before. How could they follow it up? The band did just that in 1976 with their fourth studio album, Rocks. Many fans and critics alike agree that it’s the best album made by the bad boys from Boston. Rocks is my favorite Aerosmith album. For some time, it used to be Toys in the Attic. After a couple of listens, Rocks grew on me: it’s much rougher and edgier than Toys. It currently ranks at #30 on my list of favorite albums.
Aerosmith formed in 1970 in Boston. The band originally consisted of singer Steven Tyler, guitarists Joe Perry and Ray Tabano, bassist Tom Hamilton, and drummer Joey Kramer. Tabano got the axe very quickly and was replaced by Brad Whitford. In 1973, the band released their self-titled debut album on Columbia Records. Sales were somewhat disappointing although later in 1976, the band had a hit with “Dream On”.
The opening to “Back in the Saddle” is quite exciting: the song just keeps building up until Steven Tyler screams “I’M BACK!”. “Back in the Saddle” is, without a doubt, a kick ass rock n roll song. It’s mean and raw, for sure. The song has been used for sporting events to get the crowd pumped or it’s just something athletes would have cracked up in the locker room. The fact of the matter is that the song has nothing to do about sports: it’s about sex! However, it uses the idea of sex and cowboys: “Peelin’ off my boots and chaps/I’m saddle sore/Four bits gets you time the racks/I scream for more/Fool’s gold out of their mines/The girls are soaking wet/No tongue’s drier than mine/I’ll come when I get back”. Who writes this anyway?! According to sources, the whip effect heard on the song is actually a 30-foot chord from the studio and the crack is actually the fire of a cap gun. The band did try using a bullwhip but it didn’t work out! Tyler’s vocals are amazing on here and his screams and screeches make it an instant Aerosmith classic. For “Last Child”, you got a funk-rock combo that is oh-so-good. It’s really a cross between blues rock and funk or boogie music. The lyrics, however, are unclear. In the Walk This Way autobiography, I remember reading that “Last Child” is about the clap. I don’t see how it can be. To me, it seems to be written as a comparison between living in the city and living in the country. The guitar work of Joe Perry and Brad Whitford is just great. “Rats in the Cellar” is simple rough and rowdy rocker. In some ways, the song could describe that album as a whole. With lyrics like “Skin’s turning yellow”, one would think the song is about drugs. Bassist Tom Hamilton once said that the song the “take this thing the Yardbirds created, and making it balls to the wall”. One source says the song was inspired by death of the band’s drug dealer. “Combination” marks the first time Joe Perry gets solo songwriting credit to a track. The music is indeed rocking but the lyrics are pretty deep. The song seems to be about a person who can’t stop using his money on drugs.
“Sick as a Dog” starts off side two of the album. In this song, the lyrics seem to deal with young love. It’s either that or the idea of someone being sick or lusting for this one person (“You’re the only friend I got”). The next song, “Nobody’s Fault”, is easily one of the band’s best songs. It could also be the heaviest song they ever made. The opening is just a dark guitar sound before the music kicks in and gets heavy. The lyrics, written by Tyler and Whitford, preach of an Armageddon and how mankind has failed. Tyler preaches: “Eyes are full of desire/Mind is so ill at ease/Everything is on fire/Shit piled up to the knees/Out of rhyme or reason/Everyone’s to blame/Children of the season/Don’t be lame”. The chorus of “Sorry, you’re so sorry” sounds a tad bit pop but the harmonies on the vocals are just great. “Man has known/And now he’s blown it/Upside down and hell’s the only sound/We did an awful job/And now they say it’s nobody’s fault” Tyler continues to preach on. The song has been covered by thrash metal band Testament and former Guns N Roses guitarist Slash cites the song as one of his favorite Aerosmith songs. Drummer Joey Kramer thinks his drumming on this song is one of his personal best (and he’s right!). Both Kramer and Whitford  say that “Nobody’s Fault” is their favorite Aerosmith song. I must say that “Nobody’s Fault” is also my favorite Aerosmith song. “Get The Lead Out” is certainly not about Led Zeppelin but about a crush someone has on a girl. Tyler is clearly flirting: “Hey there good lookin’/What’cha got there cookin’”. The guitar playing on here is really cool. “Lick And A Promise” is fast little rocker, making it the shortest song on the album. According to Steven Tyler the song is about “going out and winning and audience. It’s a tough thing to do. It’s just one of our songs that’s just a real moment in time”. The Album then comes to a wonderful finish…with a ballad. “Home Tonight” is a tender reminder for the singer’s lover to “hold on real tight” since he’ll be “home tonight”.  With an album as rocking as Rocks, closing the album with a ballad seems to be risky. However, the result is beautiful.
Rocks ended up selling many copies and quickly reach platinum status. Radio DJ and That Metal Show host, Eddie Trunk, considers Rocks to be the best Aerosmith album. Former Guns N Roses guitarist Slash praised Rocks many times, saying it changed his life. While Slash was making an attempt to get laid by a hot girl in school, he was taken to her room and listened to records with her. When Rocks played, Slash was amazed. He guesses that he may’ve listened to the album “a half dozen times” in her bedroom and ignored the girl in the process.
“The whole purpose of my being there completely went out the window” he said in 2007.
Metallica guitarist/lead singer James Hetfield has stated that Rocks was an important influence in his music. He also said that it was because of Aerosmith, he started learning to play the guitar. It seems that Rocks is indeed an essential album for the hard rock genre. 35 years later, it’s still relevant. 

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