Sorry, Frampton Comes Alive, But The Best Album of 1976 Was Aerosmith’s Rocks

cover Steven Tyler 1976

As expected, Aerosmith‘s ‘Rocks’ did not feature heavily in the BBC’s The Great Album Showdown – a show that sought to identify the Finest Rock Album of All Time. Yet in my estimation it was certainly worthy of a second look…

The rise of Aerosmith in the USA in 1975 was stratospheric. Sales of ‘Toys In The Attic were in the millions and it pulled the first two albums along too which both went gold. In 1975 Hit Parader magazine described Aerosmith as “America’s official Led Zeppelin substitutes, winning over heavy metal fans by the thousands”.

On June 12, 1976 they headlined the Pontiac Stadium in Michigan in front of 80,000 people.

Then came Rocks. Forget Love In An Elevator and all that stuff. In its own way, Rocks is every bit as great a record as Led Zep 2. It’s up there with Paranoid. With Never Mind The Bollocks. With OK Computer. With Exile On Main Street. With Ziggy Stardust. Perhaps even with Up All Night

There was a severe drought in the UK in 1976. Demis Roussos had the best selling album (that wasn’t a Greatest Hits compilation – i.e. ABBA’s Greatest Hits and 20 Golden Greats by The Beach Boys). Frampton Comes Alive was the biggest selling album in the USA and Brotherhood of Man’s Save Your Kisses For Me was the top selling UK single. That’s a heck of a drought right there.

It was also quite sunny and it didn’t rain very much.

Now I know there will be howls of protest from you all, saying “Wait! Surely Demis’ distinct operatic vocal style was a powerful and beautiful thing?! Surely Peter’s gorgeous golden locks and blend of pop and rock was a joy to hear and the fact that you can find an unwanted copy of Frampton Comes Alive in every charity shop in the land is simply a massive injustice?! Surely millions of Americans can’t be wrong?”

Firstly, for those who think millions of Americans can’t be wrong I have two words: Sarah and Palin.

Secondly, sometimes you have to pull History to one side, and have a Strong Word. Such as, “What Were You Thinking making that the best selling record of the year…?”

In the UK Rocks failed to reach the top 40 best selling albums of the year. By some margin. They were in good company. The Ramones debut and The Modern Lovers also failed to make the end of year list. Even Bowie’s Station To Station barely scraped in.

Rocks makes Aerosmith’s latter day output look like Gary Barlow’s solo career after Take That split up in the nineties. It’s no exaggeration to say that without it, there would have been no Appetite For Destruction:

There’s a story that Slash tells about the first time he heard Aerosmith’s Rocks album which belonged to a girlfriend.

“I weaselled my way into her apartment. So we’re hanging out and she put Rocks by Aerosmith on, and I was mesmerised by it…I must have played it about half a dozen times, completely ignored her, and then got on my bike and rode…she’s out there somewhere and I missed it. But it was worth it. That was the record that changed my life.”

I didn’t ditch a girlfriend on hearing the record: chance would have been a fine thing. But it had a similar effect. The record is honest, atmospheric and dripping in the essence of drug use rock n roll.

Like Appetite For Destruction eleven years later Rocks gives a graphical account of the rock lifestyle: at least for those rock stars who were, in Keith Richards‘ memorable words to Chichester Magistrates Court in 1967 “not worried about petty morals”.

Rats In The Cellar – a belter of a track – has Tyler singing of “losing my connection” – which related to the death of the band’s drug dealer in New York.

Last Child mentions a “ten day rule” which is how long the band would ahem, re-focus their groupie use in order to not infect wives and girlfriends on their return home. Nice.

Combination, according to Joe Perry “is about heroin, cocaine and me” as well as being Perry’s debut lead vocal on an Aerosmith record. I just love the following lines which eloquently sums up a strung out Joe Perry:

I got the Nouveauree / and dragged it home to bed … Walking on Gucci wearing Yves St Laurent / Barely stay on cause I’m so goddam gaunt.

The Nouveauree? I think it sounds like a drug reference, but who knows? Either way, it’s surely a made up word. Judas Priest had a good one on Rapid Fire: “Desolisation”. Nouveauree gets close.

Perhaps my favourite track is Lick and a Promise, which according to Tyler “is about going out and winning an audience”. They played the song live the first time I saw them. I thought I was in heaven (I think the review in Kerrang! said something similar along the lines of: “I know there is a God because Aerosmith played Lick And A Promise last night”). I haven’t even mentioned the best known song on the album: Back in the Saddle, a highlight of Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits record. Or the super heavy Nobody’s Fault – the best song about an earthquake released in the seventies. And I include Carole King’s I Feel The Earth Move in that list.

But whilst Rocks has to be the starting point if you are looking to snuffle around Old Skool Aerosmith, not everyone wants seven Aerosmith albums. I pity them, and there’s no accounting for taste, but there you go. So in my next post, I shall propose an Alternative Best Of Aerosmith….

Record #152: Aerosmith – Rocks



Categories: Hard Rock

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

50 replies

  1. Very funny!
    I really need to see that alternative Best of Aerosmith next time out. If it’s strong enough, i may even remove Iris Williams’s Hi There from my playlist.

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  2. “Firstly, for those who think millions of Americans can’t be wrong I have two words: Sarah and Palin.”

    BWAAHAHAHAHAHHA!

    You know, I’m not going to argue with you, because taste is subjective. But I will say this. I think I like Draw The Line better. I know that’s kind of like saying you like Deep Purple Fireball better than Machine Head but…oh well…I do like Fireball better than Machine Head.

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  3. I have to agree, Rocks is a killer album. It was one of those albums, along with Frampton Comes Alive that I never had to buy because everybody else I knew had it. I have to also agree that Rocks beats the other album mentioned.

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  4. Yes…I agree that ‘Rocks’ is greatly overlooked.
    I also really like Aerosmith’s ‘Get Your Wings’…another classic.

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  5. Yes! “Rocks” is brilliant, Side One especially. (Yeah, I still think of it as Sides One and Two.)
    I love the jam that ends “Combination.”
    Other Aerosmith albums are good enough, occasionally better than good enough, but “Rocks” is the one truly essential Aerosmith album.

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  6. A “Best Of Aerosmith” list is shockingly easy to compile.
    Disc1: Toys In The Attic”
    Disc2: “Rocks”
    Sneak in the song “Draw The Line” in there somewhere.
    You can safely and blissfully ignore everything else.

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  7. Great post! Lots of laughs at Desolisation! Hahah

    Rocks is a great album although other Aerosmith albums probably trouble my stereo more regularly now. As to whether it’s the best album of 1976… its in with a good shout! I’m racking my brain… Agents of Fortune? 2112? It’s a close call! And I’m partial to a bit of Frampton too…

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  8. Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life was that year, too – that’s an important one. Ramones’ first is tough to beat… I may have to listen to Rocks and come back…

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    • Yup, SITKOL is amazing. Love the little EP that came with it – like he’d finished the album then came up with another three songs. Hold ’em over for the next one? Nah – just get it out there! I still remember listening to Pastime Paradise and thinking “oh – this sounds like that Coolio song…”

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  9. I’d vote for Frampton Comes Alive as the worst album of 1976!

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  10. And the best, “Station to Station” by David Bowie.

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  11. Whilst ‘Rocks’ would make my top 10 LP’s ever – in the 1976 category it’s bang up against the first Ramones LP and ‘High Voltage’. A bit of a vintage year.

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  12. Nugents free for all was much better.

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  13. Great post. I always think it’s strange that despite being utterly flawless, this album never got noticed in the UK – and still doesn’t get noticed! I guess people won’t give it the time of the days these days because of later musical crimes (Dudes, Elevators, etc).

    It’s probably the last great ‘classic’ rock record before punk came along and pressed the reset button.

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    • Thanks. I think it is a little underappreciated in the UK. And I suspect you are right that their eighties work may have poisoned the populace against them (and that record). Needless to say I have repurchased the album on vinyl when rebuilding my vinyl collection. It has a nice inner sleeve too, which my original import never had.

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  14. PS. I always thought that Perry lyric on Combination was ‘Nouveau riche’.

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  15. Yeah, I’d certainly give “Rocks” the edge over Frampton… but “Frampton Comes Alive” was a great album as well, and Peter is an amazing guitar player who is grossly underrated. Other than “Do You Feel Like We Do” (which is a timeless hardcore jam), the rest of the album sounds a bit dated. I think “Toys In The Attic” blows both of the aforementioned albums away though.

    And speaking of 1976, let’s not overlook AC/DC’s (my personal favorite) Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap AND High Voltage, Led Zeppelin’s Presence, Queen’s ‘A Day At The Races’, Rush’s ‘2112’ & ‘All The World’s A Stage’, Boston’s debut album, The Doobies’ ‘Takin’ It To The Streets’, Steve Miller’s ‘Fly Like an Eagle’, Kiss ‘Destroyer’, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers… and you have Marley, Stevie, Dylan, Skynyrd, Bowie, The Ramones, The Stones, Rainbow, Priest, Thin Lizzy…. I mean, holy shit, 1976 rocked! And I would put Frampton’s live album in one of the upper tiers of that year.

    Wish we could have years like 1976 now. We’re in the Dark Ages of music in 2015, other than some decent YouTube finds when you get lucky. Sucks!

    Liked by 1 person

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