Aerosmith burst onto the scene in 1973 with their hit single “Dream On” from their self-titled debut. It’s one of their definitive songs, but the album is never cited as anything special, and I have never bothered to listen to it. Their second album though, 1974’s Get Your Wings, found them settling comfortably into their now-familiar bluesy hard rock sound, featuring classics like “Same Old Song and Dance” and “Train Kept A-Rollin’.” (It’s an honorable mention.) It also marked the presence of producer Jack Douglas, who went on to produce the band’s next three albums — 1975’s Toys in the Attic, 1976’s Rocks and 1977’s Draw the Line — as well. Aerosmith fell off the pop culture map for about a ten-year period in the late ’70s and early to mid-’80s (mostly due to heavy drug use), re-emerging in the late ’80s on a different label (Geffen) with a different sound for the MTV era.
But they managed to create a hell of a sound for hard rock in the mid-’70s, and Rocks was their peak. Toys in the Attic featured two of their most recognizable hits, “Walk This Way” and “Sweet Emotion,” but I think Rocks is considered the consensus best Aerosmith album, and it’s certainly my favorite. And it’s not lacking in recognizable hits either, since “Back in the Saddle” and “Last Child” are two of their most lasting songs. Led Zeppelin’s final two albums, 1976’s Presence and 1979’s In Through the Out Door, are considered their worst (though I have always kind of liked Presence), and the world’s biggest and best hard rock act would be done by 1980. Someone had to fill the void, and Aerosmith were more than happy to step in for them.
The only problem was they flamed out by the the end of the ’70s, too. But for a few years in the mid-’70s, Aerosmith was the definitive American hard rock band — they have branded themselves as America’s greatest rock & roll band, which is a bit strong — and they embodied that sex, drugs and rock & roll mantra. I don’t watch American Idol, but I have seen bits and pieces of Steven Tyler as one of the post-Simon Cowell judges and it appears the years spent drinking and drugging have not been kind to him. It’s kind of a shame that Aerosmith are more known for their time spent selling out with their godawful work in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Well, to be fair, it’s not that bad, it’s just nowhere close to as good as their ’70s material. They became an absolute commercial behemoth, riding the wave of MTV well into the alternative era.
I was at Disney World a few years ago and I had a chance to ride on the Aerosmith Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at the Hollywood Studios park. It’s a really cool ride, since they play Aerosmith songs during the ride and you go past street signs in order to make you feel like you’re on tour. At the same time, I couldn’t help but shake my head and think, “What a bunch of sellouts.” Of course, if Disney waved a bunch of money in my face I’m not sure I’d say no to it either — it’s easy to be cynical. As for Rocks, it’s one of those albums I expect to somehow disappoint but never does. No matter how many times I have listened to it, no matter how long it has been since I last listened to it, I always seem to approach it with the mindset of, “Yeah, this probably isn’t as good as I remember.” But I’m blown away every time. It’s a standard-setting rock & roll album, defining the sound of hard rock for the rest of the ’70s.