By 1976, Aerosmith has finally vaulted out of the dingy club scene of Boston, Massachusetts and into the mainstream thanks to the success of 1975’s Toys in the Attic. Featuring all-time band classics like ‘Walk This Way’ and ‘Sweet Emotion’, the album peaked at number 11 on the Billboard 200 album chart and continued to sell steadily for the next two decades, eventually topping out at over nine million albums sold.
This all came despite Aerosmith being viewed with contempt and disdain by a strong population of rock critics, who viewed the band as being musically and visually derivative of The Rolling Stones. “The ‘cheap imitation of the Rolling Stones’ criticism was constant. And it hurt for the first couple of years,” Tyler confessed to Rolling Stone, “It was constantly Mick Jagger this and Mick Jagger that – that I copied him, and Janis Joplin too. Mick was the cheapest, easiest shot. ‘Well, he looks like him, so let’s write about that.’”
The idea that Aerosmith were simply a grungier and less refined version of the Stones didn’t hold back the band. In fact, they decided to lean into it with their fourth album, 1976’s Rocks. Featuring a suspiciously Stones-like swagger, Aerosmith instead pivots into lankier and more lascivious territory than even the Stones would touch, doubling down on the hard rock debauchery in songs like ‘Combination’ and ‘Get the Lead Out’. At times, the sound of the band is so raw and loose that they sound like they’re practically being beamed straight from a garage, which wound up being intentional.
“[The point of Rocks] was to reidentify us as America’s ultimate garage band, with blistering guitars, blistering vocals, balls-to-the-wall smash-your-eardrums production,” Joe Perry explained in his autobiography named after the album. “The cover showed five diamonds, one for each of us. We saw that record as a jewel, the culmination of all our angst and anger and excitement and joy as go-for-broke rock and rollers.”
The results were some of the most immediate hard rock that had ever been created, and the distinction of Rocks can be felt in the artists that have been influenced by the album. That includes James Hetfield of Metallica, Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue, and even Kurt Cobain. Even a Stones fanatic like Slash takes Rocks over any Stones album.
“I was mesmerised by it. It was like the be-all-and-end-all, best-attitude, fuckin’ hard rock record,” Slash told Q Magazine in 1995. “I’d grown up with music, but this was like my record. I must have listened to it about half a dozen times… It’s probably one of the records that sum up my taste in hard rock bands to this day.”
Rocks wound up being the definitive statement that Aerosmith were their own unique entity in the world of hard rock. Despite the momentum that came from the one-two punch of Toys in the Attic and Rocks, Aerosmith began to falter under the weight of drugs and infighting towards the end of the 1970s. Guitarists Perry and Brad Whitford left the group before 1982 and the band appeared to be heading for a gradual fade from the spotlight. That was until 1987’s Permanent Vacation repositioned them as the kings of sleazy hard rock. Even though their commercial success rebounded, the band never again recorded an album as beloved as Rocks.