Album title: Rocks
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
Running Time: 34m 30s
Units sold/certifications: 4 million (US)
Chart performance: #3 (US)
James Hetfield: “When I was 15, I went over to watch this band rehearse. All I had was this little combo amp, and they had a real PA, the smell of the gear, the smell of tubes burning … I got hooked. In the back they had some Aerosmith records, and they played “Rocks”. At that point, I fell into the rock & roll fever. That was it.”
Slash: “I chased the most beautiful girl – who was twice my age – for about three months. And when I finally got into her apartment, she played me “Rocks” for the first time. I listened to it about four or five times, completely forgot about the girl, and split the apartment. That’s what Aerosmith means to me.”
Track by track
Back in the Saddle
it seems to be recurring that we talk about Aerosmith “signature tunes” but there’s no doubt that the wild west-themed “Back in the Saddle” is up there with the best of them. A musically powerful rocker, it is built on a thumping bass line from Tom Hamilton and growling guitar from Joe Perry and Brad Whitford. Lyrically it is about a horny cowboy who arrives looking for “Sukie Jones” (“she turned to give me a wink/that’d make a grown man cry”). It’s not long before he gets down to it (“come easy, go easy, all right until the rising sun/I’m calling all the shots tonight, I’m like a loaded gun”) and we’re led in to a fantastic foot-tapping middle-eight before collapsing in to what seems like an ecstatic, perhaps erotic drunken screech from Tyler (“ridin’ hiiiigh….!”). Quite fantastic.
At this point of Aerosmith’s career, as bona-fide major rock stars, it was starting to become apparent that the lifestyle was taking its toll (as was alluded to lyrically on previous album “Toys in the Attic”). They could certainly write some amazing music as evidenced by “Last Child”, a fearsome funk stomper with Brad Whitford absolutely on fire as co-writer and performer. Lyrically though it’s hard to know what Tyler is on: “Take me back to a south Tallahassee/Down cross the bridge to my sweet sassafrassy…my hot tail poon-tang sweatheart/Sweathog, ready to make a silk purse/From a J Paul Getty and his ear/With a face in a beer”. Having said that it could be argued that the song is all the more endearing for what sounds like clever wordplay mauled by drug-inspired confusion.
Rats in the Cellar
I have linked the studio version above in spite of some live versions being available on YouTube simply because it’s so outstanding. A full pelt rocker which looks back in barely-disguised disgust at Aerosmith’s down and out days in New York (“Goin’ under, rats are in the cellar/Goin’ under, skin is turnin’ yella/Nose is runny, losin’ my connection/Losin’ money, gettin’ no affection). Sonically it’s absolutely incredible with a whispering Tyler overdub sitting spookily behind his main vocal on the verses and producer Jack Douglas throwing as much musical chaos in to the four minutes as he can.
The Joe Perry-penned “Combination” is effectively a vocal duet between Tyler and Perry about the drug and drink excesses that the band were engaging in (“My heart says no but my head says stay/My work is finished, or so I’ve been told/Can’t part the three of us, once we got a hold”). As is the case throughout the album, the guitar work is fantastic in what is a more straight-forward but no-less entertaining song.
Sick as a Dog
Perhaps they were bored but “Sick as a Dog” is notable for bassist Tom Hamilton picking up the guitar for the first half of the song while Joe Perry plays his bass – only for the pair to swap back for the final guitar solo. The song absolutely smokes musically, bouncing along on the upbeat riff, drifting in to a slowed-down middle-eight before picking up again for that closing Perry solo. The track itself is rumoured to be about the first time Tyler met Mick Jagger (“Please, I just got to talk to you/Please, well keep your head out of the loo”). Do they say “loo” in America?
I risk repeating myself but I’m pretty sure Aerosmith have not rocked as hard and heavy as they did here. “Nobody’s Fault” reflects the seventies paranoia over the San Andreas Fault and the scaremongering with regard to California falling in to the sea (“Holy lands are sinkin’/Birds take to the sky/The prophets are all stinking drunk/I know the reason why”). The song deals with the ignored warnings (“Man has known/And now he’s blown it”), how the noble men “spoke” (“but how discouragin’/When no one really hears”) and that California is more at risk as it has “too many houses on stilt”. The song closes with a clever disclaimer: “We did an awful job/Now they say it’s nobody’s fault”.
Get the Lead Out
If you were feeling overwrought by the intensity of “Nobody’s Fault” then there’s nothing like a good dose of Aerosleaze to sort you out. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to what the “lead” in the title might be a euphemism for (“Won’t you grab my shaker/I got to meet your maker/Get out the lead/Get out of bed/Get the lead out”). The riff is familiar and inviting, the lyrics even more so (“I’ll show you my fist/Take hold of my wrist/We really can’t miss”). Utter filth and all the better for it.
Lick and a Promise
Aerosmith were really in their groove on “Lick and a Promise” – high-energy stadium rock with the sort of feel-good positivity that they didn’t always exude when talking about the rock n’ roll lifestyle. Tyler sings about the relationship between the audience and a singer called Johnny (“Backstreet boogie in the house of delight/Where they steal the show/The money come sour but the ladies are sweet/It’s a love affair”) and the perks of the lifestyle (“He started thinking ’bout the fortune and fame/With the young girls down at his knees”). The crowd-assisted chant of “na na na na” is perfect too – but it’s no surprise as Jack Douglas’ work on “Rocks” was classy from start to finish.
After rocking for a little over 30 minutes the band sign off with the powerful ballad “Home Tonight”. The lyrical message is simple (“Now it’s time to say good night to you/Now it’s time to bid you sweet adieu”) and the track is characterised by a gentle keyboard and percussion accompaniment through the verse before the band kick back in for the bridge and chorus (“Baby, don’t let go/Hold on real tight/’Cause i’ll be home tonight”). As for Joe Perry’s solo? Well, it’s arguably the sweetest piece of music the band produced in their entire career.
This was definitely the peak of Aerosmith’s powers. Marginally more consistent than “Toys in the Attic” and strong in just about every respect, captured here are the final moments before the band were to effectively implode in their own personal drug-and-booze orgies that had been slowly chipping away at them for years. There’s nothing short of four-star here and every track melds perfectly in to each other in what is a well-paced, brilliantly-produced, superior collection of songs.