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
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