Lookback: The True Peak of Aerosmith – 1975 – 1976, ‘Toys In The Attic’ and ‘Rocks’ – Spectacular Rock N Roll


I was at a party a while back and I got into a discussion with this guy about rock n roll, per usual. I was talking with this guy a little younger than me – although not much younger than me – and he wanted to talk about Aerosmith. I’m always down to talk rock n roll and especially Aerosmith – Steve Tyler/vocals, Joe Perry/lead guitar, Brad Whitford/guitar, Tom Hamilton/bass and Joey Kramer/drums – who I consider to be one of the greatest rock bands America ever produced. This guy I was talking to was trying to convince me that Aerosmith’s 1989 album Pump was the greatest rock album ever. The guy was about 10 years younger than me so it makes sense, Pump was big when he was coming of age. I had managed to get on their bandwagon in the late 70s quite a bit before Pump. I had to tell the guy Pump wasn’t even one of Aerosmith’s greatest albums let alone one of the greatest rock albums of all time… “The conversation,” as Bob Dylan once sang, “was short and sweet.”This is why I don’t go to many parties any more.

It makes sense that Aerosmith has different sets of fans or perhaps better said fans of different eras of the band. They had a meteoric, incredible run through the 70s and then fell apart as drugs, ego, exhaustion from touring and infighting all took their toll. By the time I was in high school in ’80 we were already asking, “What happened to Aerosmith?” Both guitarist Joe Perry and Brad Whitford split, Perry for his Joe Perry Project and Whitford formed Whitford St. Holmes with Nugent’s old rhythm guitarist/vocalist Derek St. Holmes (check out the tune “Sharpshooter,” great stuff). Aerosmith finally put out another album Rock In A Hard Place in 1982, a three year gap since 1979’s A Night In The Ruts which was an unheard of amount of time between albums in those days. At that point they had Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay on guitar. Most bands were on the album-tour-album-tour treadmill and put out an album every year. My roommate bought Rock In A Hard Place and other than the song “Lightning Strikes” it was a disappointment. Tyler looked perilously thin in the video for “Lightning Strikes.”

Then something utterly improbable happened. Perry and Whitford returned. The band toured at that point and I saw the mighty reconstituted Aerosmith at Starlight Theater over on the East side of town. They were amazing that night but when we went to rush the stage, one of my buddies passed out. I had to baby sit him from back in the cheap seats while my other two friends stood in front of the stage basking in the power of Aerosmith. The place was only half full that night. They finally got off drugs – Tyler and Perry delighted in using cocaine and heroin such that their nickname was the Toxic Twins – and then they made what may be the greatest comeback in rock history. Personally I really dug Done With Mirrors, it was more of an old school Aerosmith album, but the comeback didn’t really take hold until Permanent Vacation which came out when I was just out of college. That led to a pretty big run from the late 80s to the late 90s. That second era of success for the band tends to dwarf that run in the 70s where Aerosmith established their reputation.

As we sit here now when Aerosmith hasn’t put out an album in 10 years – and really haven’t put out an interesting album in over 20 years – it’s easy to forget about those great Aerosmith days in the 70s. Today the guys in Aerosmith with their highlighted, poufy hair and flowing clothes look more like the Scary Housewives of Rock N Roll than the menacing rock band of the 70s. I don’t think these guys get along very well anymore. I think drummer Joey Kramer even sued the band. Why can’t hard rock bands get along the way Rush did? With all these horrible ballads like “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing,” a song so garish I once hurt myself lunging at the radio to change the station when it came on, it’s easy to overlook their killer hard rock origins. Like this guy I was talking to at the party many people think that late 80s to late 90s run was the entirety of the Aerosmith story. Well, I for one, have not forgotten those glory days. I have not forgotten the true peak of Aerosmith – 1975 to 1976.

I didn’t get into music, as I’ve shared, until I was in junior high so about 1978 or 1979. While we didn’t know it, by ’79 Aerosmith was musically a spent force… at least in terms of their initial run. A Night In The Ruts was widely considered a disappointment to their hardcore fans. The cover song “Remember (Walking In The Sand)” was the only track that got radio play. They had made the mistake of joining the cast of the 1978 musical movie Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with Peter Frampton and gads, disco kings The Bee Gees. At least they did a great cover of “Come Together.” Even though they were fading at the time, when I was in junior high Aerosmith still cast a long shadow. They were huge to us. They were menacing and seemed dirty and druggy. Everything a junior high kid in the late 70s could ask for. Tyler’s lyrics often sounded nonsensical but we read all sorts of innuendo into them. The first record of theirs I ever bought was their 1978 live album Live Bootleg. I listened to that a few weeks ago and it’s still mighty. But then I love live albums.

While Aerosmith’s eponymous debut LP was widely overlooked upon it’s release it’s one of my favorites. Their second album Get Your Wings was even better. The constant touring and playing finally began to jell in terms of their songwriting. It was in the mid 70s that Aerosmith finally burst through the clouds and into the stratosphere. If they’d never recorded again after the two albums they recorded in 1975 and 1976 respectively they would still be considered one of the greatest rock bands in American history. So dude at the party – these are the two greatest albums Aerosmith ever put to tape and thus, are two of the greatest rock albums ever.

Toys In The Attic (1975)

For Aerosmith, it turns out the third time was the charm… Everything came together here. This album contains not one but two of their greatest rock anthems, “Walk This Way” (the original, not the one ruined by Run D.M.C.) and “Sweet Emotion.” When people think of 70s rock and think of Aerosmith, this is the music they think of. Let’s look at the tracks.

  • “Toys In The Attic” – The album’s rollicking opening track. A statement about their mental health at the time. This thing is a “meet me at the finish line” kind of racing rocker. It’s such a nasty riff. There’s no Pump type polish here.
  • “Uncle Salty” – This may be one of my favorite deep tracks from these guys. It’s midtempo but gritty. The sad tale of a fallen woman. “And when she cried at night, no one came…”
  • “Adam’s Apple” – A song where Steven Tyler teaches us about the Garden of Eden. Another great riff rocker. Eve gets a bad rap but when it comes to the apple… “she ate it and Lord it was love at first bite…”
  • “Walk This Way” – Joey Kramer’s drums start us rocking but then the guitar comes in like a Howitzer. Aerosmith were always considered a poor man’s Rolling Stones but I sure hear a lot of James Brown in their music… “I was high school loser never made it with the ladies” was a lyric that resonated more than it should have when I was in high school.
  • “Big Ten Inch Record” – Resurrecting a tune from 1952, this is one of the rare moments of comedy from Aerosmith. I still love the tune. Great harmonica solo. “Liquor just make her flinch…”
  • “Sweet Emotion” – I rank this up there with Joe Walsh’s “Turn To Stone” as one of the greatest guitar riffs of all time. “Talking ’bout things and nobody cares” could describe most of my conversations these days…
  • “No More No More” – Another great deep track with heavy riffage and boogie woogie piano.
  • “Round And Round” – One of the hardest tracks they’ve ever done. This points the way toward where they would go on Rocks.
  • “You See Me Crying” – A lovely piano ballad and I’m told Liv Tyler’s favorite Aerosmith tune. I don’t know why I like this ballad more than most of their late period balladry. With the piano and strings this almost sounds like Queen.

Rocks (1975)

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better than Toys In The Attic Aerosmith returned with the amps turned up to 11. This is their hardest rocking statement ever. It makes their 80s stuff look like the Bay City Rollers.

  • “Back In The Saddle” – The Rock Chick’s favorite Aerosmith song, to her credit. “A lusty cowboy song.” Joey Kramer is drumming like he’s barely keeping the guitars connected to the earth. Perry and Whitford’s guitars careen off each other. Amazing tune… “Barkeep give me a drink, that’s when she caught my eye…” is almost the story of when I met the Rock Chick.
  • “Last Child” – The funkiest hard rock you’ll ever hear. Maybe it’s just me but I feel the influence of James Brown here. A song about getting out in the country. “Hands on the plow and my feets in the ghetto.”
  • “Rats In The Cellar” – This track seems like an inherent sequel to “Toys In The Attic.” If I ever have a heart attack, throw me on a speaker and turn this racing rocker on the turntable and crank it up.
  • “Combination” – Another heavy rock riff tune. Tyler sounds like he’s being tortured on the vocal.
  • “Sick As A Dog” – One of their best, most overlooked tunes. “Sick as a dog, cat got your tongue?” I love the live version on Live Bootleg as well. This song should have been a monster hit.
  • “Nobody’s Fault” – Side 2 kicks off with this ominous rocker. I don’t know what happened but it sounds like somebody is in trouble and is very sorry. Another tortured vocal from Tyler over Perry and Whitford’s equally tortured guitar.
  • “Get The Lead Out” – I’ve always wondered if this funky rocker was a sly nod to Zeppelin. They were friends with Page and had covered the Yardbirds’ “Train Kept A’Rollin’.” I love the first line, “Got good boogie…” Yes they did. You can move to Aerosmith, I defy you to try and sit still during this record.
  • “Lick And A Promise” – They rock this one so hard and fast the band sounds like they’re on the verge of collapse.
  • “Home Tonight” – Like Toys In The Attic we end with a ballad. Perhaps my favorite mellow tune from Aerosmith.  A tune so longing in getting home it was on our Songs of Home playlist… gorgeous track.

If you’re ever at a party and someone starts talking about the hard rock artistry of Get A Grip or Nine Lives, sneak over to the stereo and crank one of these albums and simply behold the majesty and the power of the true peak of Aerosmith. And know, that in that moment I am somewhere out there on the dark road flashing the Devil Horns for you… “and I’ll be home tonight…”



Third Time’s The Charm: The Artists Whose Third Album Was The Breakthrough


*Only 5 LPs photographed because most of your intrepid blogger’s property is still in storage…

I don’t know if this is true or not, but it sure seems like bands have a lot more avenues to get their music out these days especially when compared to how they used to do it in the 70s or 80s… I’ve been sitting in the cheap seats watching my friend Drummer Blake work to establish his latest band the Sunset Sinners and those guys are a marketing machine. I don’t think they’re any different than any new band out there today. There are so many tools at a band’s disposal. Bands now have YouTube where they can release videos of live performances or just old school videos like Dirty Honey‘s latest. There’s so much more a band can do with social media today. Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram or Twitter new bands have a way of communicating directly with fans so when a record company comes calling, the band already has a built in fan base that can literally span the globe. And now with Tik Tok that social media reach may have even gotten broader… at least that’s what my friend James tells me, he loves Tik Tok. I’m only on a few social media platforms and Tik Tok ain’t one of them. Not yet anyway. I only got on Instagram to follow the bands I love…well that and to watch videos of cats and dogs doing adorable things. I’m like everyone else in that regard. 

In the old days a band’s social media consisted of the guys in the band wandering around downtown stapling cheap copies made at Kinkos to telephone poles to announce a gig. I think there was a scene in Motley Crue’s ‘The Dirt’ where they’re doing just that which had to be hot and exhausting in all that spandex. Typically to start a band a few like minded musicians who liked the same music might huddle together in a garage and start playing cover tunes. After a while and usually a few line up changes – often that involved someone answering an ad in the newspaper like Ace Frehley – the band might start doing gigs in front of actual people, not just distressed family members. A school dance here, a keg party there, it all helped the band to start to create a following. The band’s repertoire would expand and eventually they’d start to create their own, original music. Eventually some enterprising bar owner would let the band play on their stage… or perhaps give them a residency. Maybe Gene Simmons would show up and pay for a demo tape like he did for Van Halen…probably not but somehow  demo tapes would get made. If fortune and luck shone on the band, a record company would extend a contract… Oh, and a manager probably showed up somewhere in this process to take 10%.

When the record company would offer the band a contract you’d think all their dreams were answered. It’s the Cinderella story. Record companies today seem to only want bands who can deliver that mega-million dollar selling debut LP. Maybe record companies have always been that way? But for some bands that debut album fails to connect. Not every debut can be Boston or Appetite For Destruction (Pleased To Meet You… The Epic List of Our 40 Favorite Debut Albums). Some really classic debut LPs from the world’s biggest bands have been commercial failures. In meetings, the record company guys all act supportive, but the pressure is really on now. To make matters worse, there’s the sophomore slump that hangs over a lot of bands. Bono, in his Rock Hall of Fame speech was talking about being in a band and described the 2nd album (and he was speaking generally) as “the difficult second album.” The old saying, “You have your whole life to write your first album, and only a few months to write your second,” holds some truth. Even for bands whose debut LP had a hit single or two and sold well, a weak second album only brings more pressure. And there are a lot of weak second albums out there… U2’s October is a prime example. 

For a band whose first two albums hadn’t sold in big numbers, I can only imagine that the third album was a “make or break” situation. Today, I don’t think any current label would keep an act longer than two LPs if neither sold well. We live in an instant gratification world, and if a band’s first or second album doesn’t explode, it’s time to move on. Back in the 70s and even the 80s, record labels seemed to be slightly more patient. They would let a band develop, mostly by playing a shit ton of concerts on the road, but also in the studio and as songwriters. Sometimes all that was needed was a new producer. Maybe the band tweaks the line up. It just felt, without all the social media to help build in that fanbase, that record companies back in the day gave artists’ more time or a little more leash, if you will. 

Some of the world’s most renown artists took an entire three albums to break into that world wide fame and commercial success. If these bands were coming out today I’m not sure any record company would have stuck with them until that third album and that would be a damn shame. Here is my list of phenomenal third records that made the bands who recorded them famous. I consider each of these records essential rock and roll listening. 

Aerosmith, Toys In The Attic

While Aerosmith had the hit “Dream On” on their debut, the album didn’t make a dent. They moved in together so they could rehearse constantly and brought in renown producer Jack Douglas for their second LP Get Your Wings, which sold better. At that point Aerosmith became road warriors. They toured incessantly behind the 2nd LP which helped build their fan base but also improved their songwriting and chops. With the big singles “Walk This Way” (later redone with Run D.M.C. during their “comeback”) and my favorite “Sweet Emotion” Aerosmith became superstars. This, to me, is Aerosmith’s peak album. Even the deep tracks like “Uncle Salty” and “Adam’s Apple” kick ass. I love the first two Aerosmith LPs, but I can understand how this is the one that broke them wide and far. It’s telling that they re-released “Dream On” during this time period to try and boost sales of that debut. 

Lenny Kravitz, Are You Gonna Go My Way

While Lenny’s debut is now considered a classic, you never heard much of it on the radio. Every woman I met in the 90s, even casually, put his debut on for me to hear. Despite his unending support among 20-something aged women, his second LP, Mama Said was pretty much invisible. Then suddenly, the title track of this album exploded on to radio and MTV with an iconic video of Lenny rocking in a circular room and flinging his dreds everywhere. There are so many classic tunes on this album – “Believe,” “Heaven Help,” “Black Girl,” and “Just Be A Woman” to name a few. Yes, Lenny tends to wear his influences on his sleeve, but he distills all of them into a fantastic album here. I’m not sure he ever did anything as good as this essential third LP. 

No Doubt, Tragic Kingdom

I had no doubt back in the day that I didn’t like this band. Then the Rock Chick took me to see them live on their reunion tour and I was blown away by them. Guitarist Tom Dumont, bassist Tony Kanal, and drummer Adrian Young were lean and muscular. I wasn’t prepared for how hard they rocked. Front woman Gwen Stefani who went on to totally disappoint me on her solo career was charismatic and energetic on stage… I was mesmerized by her performance…but I’m getting off topic. After that show, I went out and bought all their albums. Their eponymous debut LP got zero support from their record label and they asked to be dropped from their contract which the label refused to do. Their 2nd album, Beacon Street Collection can be thought of as songs about hating their record company. Finally on the third LP, they pierced the grunge consciousness of the era with Tragic Kingdom. Listening to this LP all these years later, it’s a staggering leap forward from the first two records. “Just A Girl” is a woman’s empowerment anthem for the ages and it actually rocks. From that to the ballad “Sunday Morning” this album is just about perfect. 

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Damn The Torpedos 

Petty’s first two albums had classic songs and hits – “Breakdown,” “American Girl,” “I Need To Know” and “Listen To Her Heart.” Listening to those albums today you could tell this was a band who was on the verge of breaking big. Damn The Torpedoes was that quantum leap forward and coincidentally the first Petty LP I ever purchased. My brother had it before I even did. “Here Comes My Girl,” “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Refugee” were all monster hits but I like some of the deep tracks. “Even the Losers” (a personal anthem) and “You Tell Me” are stellar. I even dig “Louisiana Rain.” One of the greatest albums of all time. 

The Police, Zenyatta Mondatta 

Maybe some day someone will explain the title to me… I was in junior high when the Police’s debut album Outlandos D’Amor came out. We all loved “Roxanne.” I remember singing it like Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours, loudly, high-pitched and out of tune in study hall much to the chagrin of the teacher in charge. Outlandos was a classic despite the French title, but I didn’t know anybody who owned it. The second album, Regatta De Blanc boasted the hits “Walking On the Moon,” and “Message In A Bottle” but it didn’t seem to resonate with as many people. Frankly I thought both those tracks were on the debut. After a world wide tour, much like Aerosmith, that honed their playing and songwriting skills they returned with Zenyatta Mondatta and suddenly everyone was on the Police bandwagon. “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” about the nonsensical nature of speeches by politicians, teachers and lawyers was the first single and despite probably not understanding that, we all loved that song. I think my friend Doug saw the Police on this tour. Every song on this album could have been a hit. Between the Police and Aerosmith I think it could be argued every new band should be sent on the road for at least a year to play as many shows as they can. 

Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run

Springsteen’s first album Greetings From Asbury Park is now seen as a classic. Groups from Manfred Mann to Bowie to Greg Kihn have covered tracks from this album. Commercially though, it was largely ignored. His second disc, The Wild, The Innocent And the E Street Shuffle, which gave his backing band its name, is my favorite Springsteen album. Oddly, the great epics on that album like “Incident On 57th St,” “Rosalita,” or “New York City Serenade” were largely ignored. With his back to the wall, Springsteen wrote his greatest batch of songs. He wanted lyrics like Dylan with Phil Spector’s “wall of sound.” I’d say he checked both those boxes! Like Damn The Torpedoes this is one of the greatest albums of all time. I’m just glad Columbia Records let Bruce have a third shot at an album. They would have dropped him if this record failed… 

Rod Stewart, Every Picture Tells A Story 

After his brief stint as “vocalist extraordinaire” for the Jeff Beck Group, Stewart recorded his debut, The Rod Stewart Album, or as it was known in the UK, An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down. It was part folk, part rock n roll which would set the template for the rest of Rod’s best work. It didn’t take off so he joined the Faces as their lead singer and after that, he’d release an album with the Faces and a solo album every year. It wasn’t until his third LP, Every Picture Tells A Story that he broke it big when a DJ in Cleveland flipped over the first single “Reason To Believe” to play the B-side, a little ditty named “Maggie May.” Rod became a superstar which was great for him, not so great for his mates in the Faces. I still hope Rod, Ronnie Wood and Kenny Jones can get a semi-Faces reunion together and do something. Rod was always better when he was working with a strong guitar player like Wood. 

U2, War

Boy, U2’s debut boasted the fabulous song “I Will Follow” that they still play in concert but it only made a little dent on the charts. The “difficult second album,” October didn’t do them any favors. Like Springsteen, with their backs against the wall, they retreated to Hawaii and recorded their breakthrough album. Sure, they had bigger and perhaps better albums, but War is the LP that broke them wide open… it’s also the first LP from them I purchased. The anthems “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Year’s Day” moved them in a political direction that I always loved. It’s amazing how many of these third LPs ended up being some of the greatest music ever recorded… Maybe it’s the pressure? 

The White Stripes, White Blood Cells 

Like a majority of people, this was the LP where I first discovered the White Stripes. I ended up going back and buying their previous 2 LPs almost immediately upon buying White Blood Cells. The eponymous debut was all garage-rock, meaning it sounded like it was recorded in a garage. It was raw and ferocious, naturally I loved it. Even I will admit however, I can see why that wasn’t an international sensation. Their second LP, De Stijl was, like Springsteen’s E Street Shuffle, my favorite Stripes album. It’s bluesy and punk… its blues punk. However, it also failed to resonate far and wide. White Blood Cells had the big hits that made them famous “Dead Leaves On The Dirty Ground” and “Fell In Love With A Girl” that likely drove a lot of people like me to their first two records. They may have had bigger albums but this one is almost perfect. “We’re Going To Be Friends” is the best acoustic track they ever did. “I’m Finding It Harder To Be A Gentleman” has always been a personal fav. The Stripes just released a wonderful Greatest Hits album if you’re not obsessive about owning every LP but White Blood Cells is the perfect place to start with the Stripes. 


Most, if not all of these bands went on to storied, long careers. They all had “bigger,” better selling albums but these are such critical pieces of that later success. These are some of the greatest albums ever. I urge everyone who hasn’t heard these “third” records to do so immediately. Because as we’ve just learned, sometimes the third time is the charm. 

Cheers! Be safe out there, we’re getting closer every day to being able to some of this great rock n roll played live!