Jon Bon Jovi once said that when he bought a copy of Toys In the Attic and was reading the lyrics to “Walk This Way,” he was like Beavis and Butt-head combined. There wasn’t really anything shocking or new about them. They were raunchy and crude, no doubt, but similar sentiments had been expressed in rock music since its inception. “Walk This Way” is basically about the sexual exploits of a young man at the mercy of both his appetites and the women he encounters, a young man who very well could be Tyler himself. There are tales of threesomes, deflowerings, high school locker rooms and cougars on the hunt.
Steven Tyler had obviously learned his lessons well from the Rolling Stones, because Stones influence is all over that track. But when you actually listen to the song, rather than just read the lyrics, he reveals that he’s a more careful and clever songwriter than Mick. The music is happy and celebratory, fast-paced and hard-charging. And the lyrics are delivered at a breakneck speed, words spilling out of Steven’s mouth like an avalanche. Lead singers the world over look at “Walk This Way” as a challenge because the words-per-minute is just so high. But Steven does it the best, probably because of his big, elastic lips.
The speed with which the lyrics tumble out is the real genius of the song. As filthy and lust-filled as the lyrics are, one word spills over onto the previous one so your brain can’t really keep up. Parents listening casually couldn’t figure out what the hell Steven was saying. It was only kids like Jon Bon Jovi that really got it. The airplay and publicity of “Walk This Way” didn’t cause nearly as much uproar as “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” or “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” even though it’s 3x as sexually overt as either of those songs. See, Mick? All you had to do was sing faster!
Quick words and quick wit are even more the domain of early hip-hop artists, before the art form became the domain of profanity and violence thanks to gangster rap. Run-DMC, pioneers of the hip-hop field, were voracious consumers of all forms of popular music through the ages. Their teaming with rock producer Rick Rubin led them to discover “Walk This Way,” and they liked it before they even knew who performed it.
The year was 1985, ten years after “Walk This Way” came out. Aerosmith had already soared high and crashed hard in the fame realm, victims of drugs and dementia. They were as good as dead despite a reunion record, the lackluster Done With Mirrors. Then Run-DMC came along and resurrected “Walk This Way” into a rap-rock hybrid. Rather than using the original track, they brought Aerosmith in to play while they rapped over it. They not only resuscitated Aerosmith’s dying-for-the-2nd-time career, but they created something brilliantly new: the fusion of rock and rap.
I don’t like rap music, but the marriage of Aerosmith’s dirty groove with Run-DMC’s streetwise smoothness is simply beautiful. It transcends rock music or rap music, making those definitions not really matter anymore. Aerosmith and Run-DMC were united because they both loved music, and that commonality was more important that their differences.
It’s the same thing that brought Steven Tyler and Joe Perry back together after so much crap had built up between them. Girlfriends and wives got in the way, posturing and pride widened the divide, and they came to the point of fist-fights and hate. Joe left the band in ’79, and for all intents and purposes took the heart of Aerosmith with him. But they couldn’t escape their musical brotherhood.
Next: speaking of wives and girlfriends…