Celebration of sleaze: Aerosmith's 'Toys in the Attic' hits 40

True tales behind one of rock's greatest albums
By Peter Lindblad

A photo of Aerosmith, credited to
Ross Halfin
Music writer Gordon Fletcher didn't exactly fawn over Aerosmith's Toys in the Attic in his original review for Rolling Stone magazine in 1975.

Damning the record with faint praise, Fletcher argued, "Aerosmith can be very good ... and material like 'Walk This Way,' 'Sweet Emotion' and the title cut adequately proves this."

Toys in the Attic wasn't just "very good." It's the archetypal sleaze-rock record, a timeless classic that had only one thing on its mind: Sex. It should have come with a used condom in the sleeve, as the dirty blues-rock of the Rolling Stones copulated with heavy, tumescent Led Zeppelin power all over it. Aerosmith had perfected its formula, and in so doing, stuffed a ball gag in the mouths of critics who figured they were merely counterfeits, aping everything they'd worshipped. The songs cited by Fletcher, however, gave Aerosmith its own identity, with one foot stuck in the mud of rock 'n' roll's gloriously rebellious past and the other stepping bravely into the future.

Aerosmith - Toys in the Attic
A couple of days ago, Toys in the Attic, released on April 8, 1975, turned 40, which makes it a horny cougar of an album. Aerosmith's third release, it has outsold every other studio record by the band in the U.S., going platinum eight times over in the States.

And while those kind of sales figures boggle the mind, there are a myriad of other facts and tales related to Toys in the Attic that are far more interesting. We've collected a few here:

Watch it Teddy, he's got a knife!: An open, overflowing chest full of toys and stuffed animals makes for a harmless, innocuous cover that the executives at Columbia Records must have found adorable. The original album art for Toys in the Attic was somewhat more disturbing, however. It featured a teddy bear with its wrist slashed, bleeding stuffing out all over the floor, while the other toys just stood there and looked at him, according to Steven Tyler.

Naming rights: As hard as it to believe, Toys in the Attic was almost christened as either Love at First Bite (groan) or Rocks.

Cocaine is a powerful drug: In a 2013 interview with NME, Tyler recounted how in 1975 he and the band was anxious to get their hands on a rather sizable delivery of cocaine. Joe Perry was onstage, and Tyler ran up to join him, starting a jam session between the two that resulted in "Walk This Way." You can all guess what happened to the coke.

"It's pronounced 'Fronkensteen': It was early 1975, and Aerosmith was at the Record Plant in New York City suffering from a collective case of "writer's block." They'd written three to four songs prior to heading into the studio, where they figured they'd write the rest of Toys in the Attic.

Ideas were in short supply, but they had a song that Perry had worked up in Hawaii. Trouble was, it was missing lyrics and a title. Needing a break, the boys and producer Jack Douglas went to see Mel Brooks' hit comedy "Young Frankenstein." Anybody who's seen it will readily recall the famous Marty Feldman line "walk this way," with Feldman playing a hunched over servant to Gene Wilder's Dr. Frankenstein character. Douglas reportedly thought it'd make a great title, and Tyler, upon returning to the hotel, went to work feverishly writing the lyrics, which he supposedly left in a cab the next day and lost. His bandmates were understandably suspicious, thinking Tyler hadn't actually written anything.

So, Tyler went out into a stairwell with a tape player and headphones, and pencils, but no paper. So he wrote the lyrics for "Walk This Way" on the wall at the Record Plant's top floor and down the stairway, later going back with a legal pad to copy them down.

The fast and the furious: Few guitar riffs in rock 'n' roll history are as iconic as those written by Joe Perry for "Walk This Way." It's been said that Perry knocked out the intro riff and the verse riff in five short minutes.

Under the covers: Down through the years, various songs off Toys in the Attic have been covered by other artists. One of the most surprising was R.E.M.'s 1986 rendition of the title track, used as the B-side for "Fall on Me" and then later thrown in amongst the ephemera of the alternative band's Dead Letter Office and tacked on to the 1993 reissue of Life's Rich Pageant. Metal Church also did a version for its album Masterpeace.

Others included the String Cheese Incident's version of "Walk This Way" on the jam band's eponymous 1997 live album and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones doing "Sweet Emotion" for their Where'd You Go? EP. "Sweet Emotion" has also been covered by Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon, Warrant, Ratt and The Answer, while Velvet Revolver remade "No More No More" and Sum 41 joined forces with rappers Ja Rule and Nelly to do "Walk This Way."

By the numbers: Deemed a stone-cold classic by all right-thinking people, Toys in the Attic did not rise to No. 1 on the Billboard album charts; instead, it stalled at No. 11.

"Sweet Emotion" became the band's first Top 40 single, which led to the re-release of "Dream On," from Aerosmith's self-titled debut LP. Flying up to No. 6, "Dream On" became Aerosmith's top charting song of the '70s, setting the stage for a reissue of "Walk This Way" in 1976 that sent the song into the Top 10 in early 1977.

By the mid-1980s, Aerosmith was in decline, drugs being responsible for much of the damage. Then, along came Run-D.M.C., who initially weren't keen on any sort of collaboration. Their producer, Rick Rubin, wanted it, however, and his matchmaking led to perhaps the greatest rap-rock recording in history, as their re-imagining of "Walk This Way" became a Top 4 single, earning them both a Soul Train Music Award.

Easily one of Aerosmith's most beloved songs, "Walk This Way" has been listed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll," Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" twice – the original version checking in at No. 346 and the Run-D.M.C./Aerosmith take at No. 293 – and VH1's "100 Greatest Rock Songs," where it landed at No. 35. Rolling Stone also ranked the original "Walk This Way" at No. 34 on its list of the "100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time."

And there's more, but you get the gist.

The housewives of Aerosmith: "Walk This Way," the Aerosmith autobiography, spilled the dirt on tension between the wives of different band members, as did a "Behind the Music" piece on Aerosmith. Tyler has said the some of the lyrics for "Sweet Emotion" were inspired by Perry's wife.

Aerosmith is gearing up to hit the road for the "Blue Army Tour 2015," which begins June 13. All original members are onboard for the 15-city jaunt, which ends in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Aug. 4. After the tour, Aerosmith will perform Aug. 7 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio, for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's first-ever "Concert for Legends."

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