The band had their break-through album with ‘Toys in the Attic’, then their fourt album, ‘Rocks”, would solidify them as one of America’s greatest rock & roll bands. The album would see the band go a little more raw and heavy as the band really let it loose with this one. They recorded the album at the “Wherehouse” which was the band’s rehearsal space where they took the Record Plant’s mobile recording studio and backed it right in to the space and did their thing. Producer, Jack Douglas, was able to get the band loose and wild, which I am sure the heavy usage of drugs helped. Despite all the drugs being used, the band was clicking and the end result fits the album title perfectly because the band ‘Rocks’.
The album came out on May 14, 1976 and would spawn three singles, two of which hit the Top 40 and would eventually go on to sell over 4 million copies in the U.S. (but not all in the year of release of course). The album would go all the way to #3 on the Billboard Charts and would inspire so many future musicians such as Kurt Cobain, James Hetfield, Nikki Sixx and even Slash all citing this as a major influence in their decision to pursue music. Heck for the longest time, ‘Toys in the Attic’ was always my favorite…now, it is ‘Rocks’! The band was still unchanged with Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Tom Hamilton and Joey Kramer and for this album they were a true band, a single unit and were on fire…but not sure how long that would last.
My copy of the album still has the vinyl sleeve in it and it is beautiful. The one side has the caricature of the band playing and it is still bright and beautiful as the colors are stellar. The flip side has all the great pictures of he band and I am so glad it is still in such great shape to enjoy.
The album kicks off with “Back in the Saddle” which has a slow build with the drums and guitar and includes a wicked bass line from Mr. Hamilton and then explodes into a heavy rocker. The song includes a whip sound and some clanking spurs that were fastened to Tyler’s boots with the help of New York Dolls frontman David Johansen. If you were expecting the Gene Autry song, “Back in the Saddle Again” you’d be disappointed, but otherwise you love this song that kicks start the album and includes so many double entendres and even a quick yodel. What a way to kick off the album.
“Last Child” is up next and starts off slow and then turns it up a notch as well. It includes a lap steel guitar for Perry and a banjo done by Paul Prestopino but don’t think this is a country song. No sir! It has funky groove that seems to strut along with Tyler throwing out the verses very deliberately and timed out perfect with the bass beat. There is a killer solo by Whitford and everyone can be heard perfectly as the mix is done so well.
Next up is “Rats in the Cellar” which was Steven’s answer to “Toys in the Attic”. The song was frantic in pace and was pretty much about the disaster of the band that was going behind the scenes with the drugs and arguing as well as it being inspired by the death of their drug dealer. The song is a total blast with its maddening quick tempo and the Kramer’s drumming was incredible on this one. You get a harmonica solo and a full on jam section. It is the closing thing to heavy metal you are going to get from the band.
The last track on Side 1 is “Combination” which sees Perry taking a little of the vocals along with Tyler and apparently Tyler is a little protective of that area as that is his bread & Butter. You will never guess what the song is about…yep…drugs! What else as the drugs consumed the guys lives. The outro of the song has some amazing guitar work and great instrumentation especially with Kramer totally destroying his drums as he frantically flails away with the sticks.
Side 2 kicks off with “Sick as a Dog” was written by Tyler and Hamilton and in fact Hamilton played guitar on it and left the bass work to Tyler and Perry even though Perry does do the guitar solo at the end of the song. It is a solid rocker and although not a stand out on the album, it is still a killer track.
Then a band favorite is next with “Nobody’s Fault”. The apocalyptic song borders on metal as it starts with an ominous sounding before a menacing riff comes in an almost Sabbathy way. Listen to Kramer’s drumming on this one as it is quite stellar as his fills are perfect. The doom and gloom turn out to be a beautiful track and one of the best deep cuts the band has. It sounds like nothing else on the album and yet totally amazing.
“Get the Lead Out” is an old school rocker and what feels like a little Zeppelin shout out. There is almost a dance groove to it and so many great instrumental pieces thrown in for good measure and of course Steven has to throw in some badass harmonica. It is another understated track that works on all levels.
Then we get “Lick and A Promise” which is a song about groupies and the whole rock show experience. It starts out with a machine gun drum attack and is nasty, dirty and a killer rocker. It is raw and has a grit that makes it a massive track.
The last track is a ballad called “Home Tonight” which has some piano and Perry on a pedal steel guitar and has the producer, Hamilton and Kramer on backing vocals. The song has a “Home Sweet Home” vibe before there was that Crue song. I guess we know where Crue got it from. The guitar solo on the album was Whitford and it turned the song into a power ballad as it was so good. They didn’t go out with a bang, but they went in style with this one.
- Back in the Saddle – Keeper
- Last Child – Keeper – Keeper
- Rats in the Cellar – Keeper
- Combination – Keeper
- Sick as a Dog – Keeper
- Nobody’s Fault – Keeper
- Get the Lead Out – Keeper
- Lick and a Promise – Keeper
- Home Tonight – Keeper
The Track Score is a solid 9 out 9 Tracks or 100%. Yeah, it is pretty stellar. The rawness, the energy, the vibe are all perfect on this release. The band was hitting on all cylinders despite the massive drug use and fighting (fighting between Joe and Steven mostly). Producer Jack Douglas captured the band in their element, on their home turf at the Wherehouse and was able to get the boys to gel in to a perfect rock & roll machine. The rocked it hard and borderlined it with some metal, but all-in-all the band delivered an album that would be tough to top…if they ever do. The album title, ‘Rocks’, is quite fitting for this release. If there is one album you need to hear that represents what this band is all about, then do yourself a favor and pick this one up. It is an easy 5.0 out of 5.0 Stars!!