Everybody agrees that Rock On is one of the Pie's better moments, if not the best one. On this album the band really proves why in the early Seventies it was considered one of Britain's greatest R'n'B outfits. They are becoming thoroughly Americanized by this time, much more so than their principal concurrents, the Faces: country, blues and bluegrass influences are all over this album, but Steve Marriott adds to everything his impeccable vocal stylizations, really bothering to sing and, okay, maybe 'articulate' instead of just barking and shouting his way through all the songs. And the band shows itself a tight and compact unit; not as tight as the Stones, but I don't blame them for that. I mean, none of the songs ever really fall apart or degenerate into noisy bummers; Shirley's drumming is tight enough to prevent them from doing that, but loose enough to give the band some opportunities for improvised jamming. Meanwhile, Marriott tosses out crunchy, awesome riffs, Frampton blasts the house to pieces with magnificent leads, and occasional guests, like Bobby Keyes on sax, provide great embellishments as well.
The heavy tracks should be played really loud in order to feel their power, especially the monstruous jam 'Stone Cold Fever' - a track after listening to which I hardly understand the need for Aerosmith's existence on the planet. Marriott howls out the 'paleolithic' lyrics like a prime caveman while beating the shit out of his guitar, Frampton gives out an impressive impersonation of Santana, and the track ends with a little guitar heaven as both play that generic, but unbeatable riff in unison. There's also a terrific cover of Howlin' Wolf's 'Rollin' Stone', heavily recommended for all heavy lovers of heavy blues; Steve's singing on that one is magnificent, a prime example of 'putting the soul and spirit into the blues', and Frampton really intrigues me with his playing on that one. The solo part is awesome once you listen to it in headphones; Wilson & Alroy were right in comparing Frampton with Page on that one - he plays the same barrages of echoey, flashing licks that distinguish Page's work on Led Zep's best album (the first one), and that's a fantastic listening experience.
However, the album is diverse enough, and it's not just the heaviest numbers that make the grade. Many subgenres of roots-rock are tackled in many interesting ways, some of which are quite unique. Okay, maybe 'A Song For Jenny' isn't too unique, but you can't get away from the fact that the main acoustic melody of it is just as memorable as it is gorgeous, which is only proved for the fact that McCartney later nicked that same acoustic riff for his pretty ballad 'Mama's Little Girl' - be it intentionally or subconsciously, it really doesn't matter.
But what about '79th And Sunset'? I love that song, and, shame on me, I even like the misogynistic lyrics. They rank among the most interesting misogynistic lyrics I've ever witnessed, by the way. How about this: 'Well this yellow haired snake sits snug as a bug/Got more angle than a toby jug/Star lock hair pins, honey has faults/Shows her legs when opportunity knocks/Underneath her red sweater/She's a big-deal go-getter/There'll be some dramas inside your pajamas tonight'. And I could go on, too, but I won't, because I'm not here to give away the lyrics. Instead, I'll just say that the saloon piano is tremendously tasty, Marriott's tongue-in cheek intonations are hilarious, and the doo-woppy backing vocals and Frampton's simplistic, but enthralling licks are absolutely endearing.
Frampton's main highlight on the record, a Bo Diddley stylization entitled 'The Light', is quite catchy as well; bassist Greg Ridley breaks in with an overtly stupid country rocker ('Big George'), highlighted by its own stupidity and Bobby Keyes' beautiful sax solo. And the magnum opus of the record is a really strange number appropriately called 'Strange Days' which begins its life as a piano-guitar fast jam before turning into an eerie chant about an FBI employee - three years before Mick Jagger took the theme and perfected it on 'Fingerprint File'. Again, Steve is the main hero, turning this into a real theatrical performance: his singing ranges from a shaky, trembly murmur to all-out screaming, and the song can get really scary at times.
I'm sure the record will keep on growing on me yet, like most prime R'n'B recordings do. There's probably nothing particularly great about it if one just disassembles it to individual pieces, but when all the elements of the band's 1971 style are taken together, this makes up for some truly great R'n'B and a style you certainly couldn't find anywhere else. Like I said, this is the vibe that Aerosmith were probably feeding on in the beginning of their career - they just made everything a wee bit heavier and faster and swapped the funny and interesting lyrics for idiotic ones. If you're a big Stones or Faces fan, try it, you'll like it.
by George Starostin
1. Shine On (Frampton) – 3:00
2. Sour Grain (Frampton, Marriott) – 2:40
3. 79th and Sunset (Marriott) – 3:01
4. Stone Cold Fever (Ridley, Marriott, Shirley, Frampton) – 4:09
5. Rollin' Stone (Muddy Waters) – 5:59
6. A Song for Jenny (Marriott) – 2:35
7. The Light (Frampton) – 3:15
8. Big George (Ridley) – 4:08
9. Strange Days (Humble Pie, words Marriott) – 6:36
10.Red Neck Jump (Marriott) – 3:06
*Steve Marriott - Guitar, Vocals, Keyboards, Harmonica
*Peter Frampton - Guitar, Vocals, Keyboards
*Greg Ridley - Bass, Guitar, Vocals
*Jerry Shirley - Drums, Keyboards
*Alexis Korner - Vocals
*Bobby Keyes - Saxophone
*B.J. Cole - Pedal Steel Guitar
*P.P. Arnold - Backing Vocals
*Claudia Lennear - backing vocals
*Doris Troy - backing vocals