Back in the Saddle
Rats in the Cellar
Sick as a Dog
Get the Lead Out
Lick and a Promise
1976's Rocks – and its predecessor, Toys In The Attic – were Aerosmith’s great one-two punch. But where the latter found them in full showboating mode, the former doubled down on the kind of nasty, druggy rock’n’roll that that their idols the Rolling Stones had once owned the patent on.
Rocks is sleazier than a Boston back alley and sharper than a hypodermic needle. Back In The Saddle and Last Child ooze chemically enhanced confidence, the hyper-speed blues of Rats In The Cellar sounds like it’s just mainlined a kilo of Columbia’s finest, while Combination is the greatest Aerosmith song nobody ever talks about:
Rocks was Peak 70s Aerosmith. They wouldn’t hit the same artistic or commercial heights for more than a decade, by which time they were largely clean if not serene.
"The first record that changed my life in a huge way was Aerosmith's Rocks," Godsmack's Sully Erna told us. "I'd been a musician since I was three-and-a-half years old, and I was raised on blues and more jazzy music: Buddy Rich, Ray Charles, Etta James and a lot of old-school stuff. But then I discovered Joe Perry and Aerosmith. A friend played me Last Child from Rocks. I think it was the first time I smoked a joint, and it was a really life-changing point for me, because it really lured me into the world of rock. It was super-cool for a young kid."
He wasn't the only one.
Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute.
Other albums released in May 1976
- Fly Like An Eagle - Steve Miller Band
- Rising - Rainbow
- Warren Zevon - Warren Zevon
- Agents of Fortune - Blue Öyster Cult
- Balls of Fire - Black Oak Arkansas
- Nine on a Ten Scale - Sammy Hagar
- No Earthly Connection - Rick Wakeman
- No Heavy Petting - UFO
- The Royal Scam - Steely Dan
- Tales of Mystery and Imagination - The Alan Parsons Project
What they said...
"Despite hard drug use escalating among band members, Aerosmith produced a superb follow-up to their masterwork Toys in the Attic, nearly topping it in the process. Many Aero fans will point to Toys as the band's quintessential album (it contained two radio/concert standards after all, Walk This Way and Sweet Emotion), but out of all their albums, Rocks did the best job of capturing Aerosmith at their most raw and rocking. (AllMusic)
"The best performances here – Lick And A Promise, Sick As A Dog and Rats In The Cellar – are essentially remakes of the highlights of the relatively flat Toys in the Attic. The songs have all the band’s trademarks and while they can be accused of neither profundity nor originality, Aerosmith’s stylized hard-rock image and sound pack a high-energy punch most other heavy metal bands lack." (Rolling Stone)
"Steven Tyler is the band's obvious focal point, a distinction earned primarily by his adaptation of the sexual stance that missed the young Jack Flash. On the rockers, his delivery is polished and commanding and sufficiently enthusiastic to disguise the general innnocuousness of the lyrics. On the riff-dominated songs, though, such as Last Child or Back in the Saddle, he is prone to shrieks that don't bear repetition. Unlike Jagger, his vocal performance cannot save otherwise mediocre material." (Super Seventies)
What you said...
John Naples: My all time favourite album, and Aerosmith's best album ever! Still listen to this today. Love their first six albums, the sixth being the Live! Bootleg album. That was my first Aerosmith concert, the Live! Bootleg tour at MSG in NYC, November 24, 1978. Excellent!
John Davidson: My first introduction to Aerosmith was the highly inauspicious Night In The Ruts so its perhaps no surprise that I didn't really delve into their back catalog at the time.
They seemed more like an amped up Stones than an American Led Zeppelin and there were plenty of other bands around that played to my SF/Fantasy interests in Rush and Rainbow and then the whole NWOBHM.
So having neglected their best albums of the 70s I didn't really listen to Aerosmith again until they started having hits in the MTV years and didn't explore their back catalogue at all until I met my wife (who was a big fan).
On its own merits, without the nostalgia kick of remembering this from the 70s I still like this album. It has a real groove to it and some great riffs but it doesn't quite have that 'epic' feel to it that I enjoy most about heavy rock (though Nobody's Fault comes closest ).
A solid 8/10 and there's not a bad track on the album so it's definitely going on my playlist for further spins.
Mark Herrington: A welcome opportunity to reacquaint myself with an album I hadn’t listened to for many a year. First off, it has travelled the years extremely well and sounds almost timeless , which is a tribute to its rocking consistency. This is crunchy, funky good-time rock with a dark centre. An ideal disc to get a party going.
It’s hard to have favourites on an album that charges along so seamlessly, but if pushed I’d pick the almost metal sounding Nobody’s Fault. One of the darkest , densest tracks on here, it has an almost Sabbath-like groove.
Looking back, the album clearly had influences on hard rock and metal in the following decade, the 80s. A great album.
Uli Hassinger: I know that many rate Rocks as Aerosmith best album, but I do not agree. For me it’s just an average rock album with no killing tune. The best one is Nobodys Fault. Last Child, Sick As A Dog and Combination are decent songs too. Rats In The Cellar, Get The Lead Out and Lick And A Promise, on the other hand, are pure crap.
In my opinion Aerosmith had their best run at the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s with Permanant Vacation, Pump and Get A Grip, all brilliant records. In the 70s they had a few good songs, but that's it. To me it's only 5/10.
Chris Elliott: I must be listening to a different album. It's okay but not much more. This album always left me cold. It's not that heavy. There's no great track that hooks you. It plods along doing blues rock with no great spark.
There's no nostalgia. I never quite got 70s American heavy rock in general, so it's battling an uphill slope. Even so, it still seems the weakest of their "classic" albums. Mind you, it probably makes more sense in a country with Corvettes rather than the Vauxhall Viva.
Evan Sanders: Having grown up outside of Boston, we believe that Aerosmith are rock gods, and it's common to know people who have been friends with the band members over the years. It's hard to write anything bad about this album. Every song is strong, and they seemed determined to show that there would be no fourth album slump after their debut, Get Your Wings, and Toys In The Attic.
Back In The Saddle may be one of the most iconic album openers ever, setting a tone similar to Whole Lotta Love or Immigrant Song on Led Zeppelin II and III. The only criticism is that Rocks isn't quite at the level of the three albums that came before it, which is like dissing on Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy as being not as good as the four before it. Alas, the slump did indeed come with their next album Draw The Line, as the consequences of their lifestyle took their toll. 8/10.
Richard Cardenas: I remember being disappointed when this came out. To me it lacked the rawness of the original three. As time has passed, it has grown on me but it will never ascend higher then fourth for me. Still, it’s better than anything they put out after. 8/10.
Wade Babineau: Not a bad track in the bunch. I was 14 in 1984 when the video for Let the Music Do the Talking came on MuchMusic and I had heard of Aerosmith from friends, but had not acquired any music from them. Purchased the Done With Mirrors album and the record store guy asked if I had heard any of their older material. I said no and he recommended I start with Toys in The Attic and this album. I was not disappointed and they remain in heavy rotation in my playlists. Easily give this album a 10.
Greg Schwepe: Wow. So, where to begin with Rocks? For starters, it’s where I began with Aerosmith. I remember pedalling my bike to Finder’s Records in ’76 or ’77-ish to buy this after seeing (and most likely hearing) at my friend Bob’s house. First Aerosmith album I ever bought (I asked for Toys In The Attic for my birthday the next year, didn’t always get albums in order back then!). This one defined me (and the band) and set me down the right musical path. Every line, riff, lick and drumbeat is permanently etched in my brain.
Raunchy. Ratty. Defining. Devastating. Dark. The heaviest Aerosmith album. Ever. Being a guitar player and buying the corresponding music book later, I found out that all the songs are tuned down a half step. Now that made even more sense as to why this sounded so “heavy.”
Rocks kicks off with the Joey Kramer’s rhythmic tribal drumming and the minor sounding guitar riffs of Perry and Whitford. And all that crescendos to Steven Tyler’s welcoming call, “I’m baaaaaaaack!” as Back In The Saddle instantly cements itself as an Aerosmith classic. And that low, throbbing guitar riff? Well, made even heavier because it’s actually Joe Perry using a six-string bass.
Before you have a chance to catch your breath, Last Child kicks in with Brad Whitford’s funky groove after the slightly haunting intro. Two songs into Rocks and you have two Aerosmith all time classics.
And the album just ramps up from there. Rats In The Cellar take it to another level. Then Combination rounds out side one with more deadly riffs. The psychotic, feedback-laced whammy bar filled breakdown at the end leaves you spinning.
Now strap in for side two, because you’re gonna need your seatbelt. The Tyler/Hamilton entry Sick As A Dog, with yet another guitar breakdown. The apocalyptic lyrics of Nobody’s Fault. And then even more riff-filled pyrotechnics with Get The Lead Out and Lick And A Promise. Again, as a teenager listening in my bedroom, those guitar sounds were just burned into my head.
The piano ballad Home Tonight finishes out the album and finally gives you a little reprieve and you can catch your breath. Whew!
And there you have it, the defining album by Aerosmith. And this one gets the vote in my personal, annual “Which is better; Rocks or Toys?” polling (by a nose). And we later learn of the “Toxic Twins” activities which gave them that moniker, and how those "activities" made Draw The Line and Night In The Ruts difficult to make. And there we saw the downward spiral of the band at the end of the 70s. But everyone likes a comeback story, and Aerosmith was able to climb back into the saddle (sorry!) again in the 80s.
A lot of 10s for me on this album. 10 out of 10 rating. Is on my own personal Top 10 list of favourite albums. And will be seeing them for the 10th time on their final upcoming Peace Out tour.
Troy Geitman: I know many fans feel this was their best, but I disagree. The production was muddy and some of these songs weren’t their best or ready. That doesn’t mean there weren’t good tracks on here I just prefer Toys over this by a mile
Jack Morse: The first four Aerosmith albums are fantastic. The debut, Get Your Wings, Toys In The Attic, Rocks. What a way to start a career.
The sound of 70s production is music to my ears. Not only Aerosmith, but most music from that era: ZZ Top, Kiss, Grand Funk, Rush, Yes, Queen, Zeppelin, UFO, Uriah Heep, the list is long.
As for this record, the band really sound great. Every song is a classic. After this they ended up experimenting a bit too much with certain things (not music related), but up to this point they were fantastic as a band. The groove, Tyler's voice evolving, Perrys guitar sound, it all came together on this record.
Andrew Cumming: Brilliant brilliant album chock full of classics. Rats In The Cellar, Lick And A Promise, Sick As A Dog etc. And probably their greatest deep cut, Combination. It's fair to say I like this one!
Nigel Taylor: The Verve famously sang The Drugs Don't Work and Rocks is proof that they are completely wrong. By far and and away Aerosmith's greatest album, full of great songs with a real dark heavy swagger about it.
Now if someone can get them in the studio again and load them up with hard drugs, we could get one more album – something like this – instead of the awful pop rock they churn out now. Rocks is utterly essential, and the best track on it, well that would be Nobody's Fault.
Jeff Buckridge: Rocks is certainly their best fulltilt rock album. Besides the obvious hits like Back In The Saddle and Last Child, rockers like Rats In The Cellar, Lick And A Promise and Sick As A Dog are all top notch. The stoner tunes like Get The Lead Out and Combination are great midtempo rockers, and Nobody’s Fault is the closest they ever come to heavy metal and it’s pretty damn good. Even the token ballad works great as a closer. Love this album so much.
Roy Bish: An all time classic in the true sense, from the start of Back In The Saddle to the end of Home Tonight it's a high octane ride of sheer classic rock-defining moments. In my opinion one of the greatest albums ever released.
Bill Griffin: I simply don't have enough good things to say about this album. It was my first Aerosmith record and, although the first four all have their charms (Toys is probably the most varied and their artistic zenith), it is my favourite. From Back In The Saddle through Lick And A Promise it never lets up and none of them sound the same. Even Home Tonight rocks. No wimpy ballad there.
Oddly, I saw them live three times in the next few years and was very disappointed each time (to the point that I haven't seen them since), but I've recently gotten live recordings from that era and they sound great on all of them.
Gary Claydon: If Toys In The Attic was the album that broke Aerosmith into the big league, then Rocks was the one that cemented their place there. I reckon it's a coin toss between the two for the honour of being the band's best but, for me, it's Rocks, thanks to it's slightly more 'raw' feel.
Standout tracks are opener Back In The Saddle and Nobody's Fault, the latter demonstrating Brad Whitford's value as a songwriter.
Rocks has all the elements that made Aerosmith so good when they were on top of their game. It has sass, it has groove and it has a chunk of funk. More than anything, though, it does exactly what it says on the cover.
Adam McCann: Stone-cold classic, Aerosmith at their sleazy, blues driven best.
Bryan Aguilar: 10/10 album. Every song, all 9 out of 9, are brilliant.
Troy David Nickerson: Probably the greatest American hard rock album of the 70's.
Eric Nicholas Andrews: To some, their last great album, as the tour-record-repeat treadmill was starting to take its toll by then. Draw The Line (1977)'s reputation has improved over the years, but it was the first sign of cracks in their foundation.
Darren Burris: An amazing album. Aerosmith at their finest (along with Toys). Every song on this album is great. Possibly a 10/10!
Andrew Bramah: The only Aerosmith album you need. At their sleazy, ragged best. Long before they became cheesy ballad merchants.
Joshua Nelson: Their best album and one of the greatest hard rock albums of all time. It really needs to be listened to as a whole to fully be appreciated as the masterpiece it is.
Stan Bowers: The greatest album ever recorded.
Shawn Stewart: Their best. Peak Aerosmith.
James McCurrach: Good, but Get Your Wings is better.
Chris Layton: The greatest Aerosmith album ever, and that's saying something, because the first five albums were killer.
Todd Schuster: I recently tried to put together a playlist of Aerosmith "deep cuts": one track from every album that are great songs and definitive of their sound. While I did have to make a couple difficult choices on a few albums, picking one from Rocks proved impossible as all seven of them are worthy (Back In The Saddle and Last Child aren't deep cuts from my perspective.)
I got my first stereo for my 10th birthday in spring of '76 - and my neighbourhood friends all shared our records and 8-tracks. One of them lent me his Toys In The Attic record and I loved it so much I wanted to trade him for it, but he wanted it back after a week. I bugged my parents for a Toys In The Attic 8-track for Christmas, but was initially disappointed when I opened the gift wrap and saw it was their new release Rocks... until I played it a couple times! Ironically, Toys ended up being the last '70s album of theirs that I bought.
Final score: 8.33 (275 votes cast, total score 2290)
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