The sudden, staccato, hard funk percussion that kicks off “Walk This Way” is one of the most distinctive, immediately recognizable, and instantly intoxicating intros in all of rock. Ignited first by Joey Kramer’s pop-and-sizzle two measure drum beat, Aerosmith axe master Joe Perry then spearheads rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford, bassist Tom Hamilton with a riff like that, right off, announces “Walk This Way” as one-of-a-kind.
From there, lip-flapping front-dervish Steven Tyler bursts through with a motor-mouthed onslaught of too many lyrics to fit in any one song that, with mesmerizing machine gun relentlessness, he manages to make it all seem inevitable—and electrifyingly so.
“Walk This Way” elevated Aerosmith from being a popular hard rock act to arena-packing mega-stars. Across the four decades since it first landed as a 45rpm record, the song has transformed not just rock, but the entire landscape of music and, in fact, popular culture.
Let’s celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Walk This Way” with 40 facts about this remarkably rocking achievement.
1. “Walk This Way” was Aerosmith’s second single from their 1975 breakthrough LP, Toys in the Attic. They released the song after “Sweet Emotion” first broke the band in the Top 40 by landing at #36.
2. Unlike “Sweet Emotion,” however, “Walk This Way” failed to chart—at first.
3. Rocks, Aerosmith’s 1976 follow-up to Toys in the Attic, hit big on immediate impact. Thus, with two hot back-to-back LPs drawing fans to record stores, the band reissued “Walk This Way” as a single. This time it clicked.
4. The second coming (in a series) of “Walk This Way” topped out at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart.
5. The first version of the “Walk This Way” single featured “Round and Round” on its B-side.
6. The “Walk This Way” re-release single boasts “Uncle Salty” as its B-side.
7. In explaining the funkified origins of “Walk This Way,” guitarist Joe Perry said: “When Aerosmith played its first gig in November 1970, we were heavily into funk and soul. Joey Kramer, our drummer, had been putting himself through Boston’s Berklee College of Music playing in an R-and-B band at seedy clubs in the city’s ‘Combat Zone.’ He knew all the Motown stuff, while the rest of us were into James Brown and Sly Stone.”
9. In 2004, Steven Tyler wrote in Rolling Stone: “The Yardbirds’ music is a gold mine waiting to be stumbled upon. Aerosmith did, because we grew up in that era. The riff in ‘Walk This Way’ is just us trying to explore the blues in the Yardbirds model.”
10. As he was noodling around on stage in Hawaii before a 1974 gig opening for the Guess Who, Perry said he was “thinking about the Meters” when he asked Kramer to “lay down something flat with a groove” on the drums. After that, Perry said, “The riff to what was to become ‘Walk This Way’ just came off my hands.”
11. Upon hearing Perry’s riff, former drummer Steven Tyler sat in on Kramer’s kit and played along, spewing out an array of verbal nonsense words to figure out how the lyrics might flow. The band then filed their nascent creation for later use.
12. In January 1975, Aerosmith set up camp at the Record Plant in New York to commence recording Toys in the Attic. A need for new material quickly became imminent. Perry busted out the riff they’d developed in Hawaii, but it was still more of an idea than any kind of actual song. That’s when the group decided to take a break and refresh themselves by catching a movie.
13. Young Frankenstein, Mel Brooks’ classic 1974 spoof of old monster movies, was the hit of the season. Tyler, Kramer, bassist Brad Hamilton and producer Jack Douglas took in a Times Square screening, loved it, and returned to the studio cracking one another up by quoting lines from the film. Among their favorites was when Marty Feldman, as hunchbacked henchmen Eye-Gor, instructs mad scientist Gene Wilder to “Walk this way,” after which Wilder imitates Feldman’s bent-over strut.
14. Struck by inspiration, Jack Douglas said, “Hey, ‘Walk This Way’ might be a great title for a song.”
15. Tyler wrote the first version of the “Walk This Way” lyrics at his hotel that night. The next day, en route, to the studio, left them in a taxi. “I must have been stoned,” he figures.
16. Listening to the “Walk This Way” riff on the backstairs of the Record Plant, Tyler scrawled new words on a wall in pencil. He then ran down to the studio and bolted back up with a legal pad to write down what would be the song’s final words.
17. To get his guitar to sound “like an electric razor” on “Walk This Way,” Perry plays “a late-’50s Stratocaster Tobacco Sunburst with a stand-alone Ampeg V4 amp on top with a Marshall 4-by-12 speaker cabinet on the bottom.” Tyler said he added a “screech” to his voice, particularly on the chorus, to match Perry’s guitar sound.
19. The lyrics to “Walk This Way” detail, in highly fanciful fashion, a high school dude spectacularly losing his virginity at the hands and glands of a wildly experienced cheerleader during some “backseat lovin’ with her sister and her cousin.”
20. “If you listen to the words,” Tyler once said, “they’re all really filthy. If you listen close, you’ll hear that I disguised it quite cleverly.”
21. In the 1999 book Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith, Tyler further explained the song’s lyrical nuances. “’Backstroke lover’ is our hero masturbating,” Tyler said. “His father catches him, and explains that he will someday experience the real thing. One day, he encounters the cheerleader along with “her sister and her cousin,” and has a glorious sexual experience.”
22. Tyler lays bare the double entendre title thusly: “The ‘walk this way’ line is the experienced girl showing the young man where to put his finger – showing him how to ‘walk.’ Inspiration came from make-out parties where this kind of thing could happen.”
23. After “Walk This Way” hit the airwaves, David Johansson, frontman of one of Aerosmith’s contemporary idol groups, the New York Dolls, told Perry it was “the dirtiest song he had ever heard on the radio.” The gushing guitarist added, “Coming from David, that was high praise.”
24. An animated Aerosmith performs “Walk This Way” on the “Flaming Moe” episode of The Simpsons, which first aired November 21, 1991. They were the first superstar rock band to guest on the series.
25. In its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, Rolling Stone listed “Walk This Way” at #346.
26. The VH1 TV special 100 Greatest Rock Songs ranked “Walked This Way” at #35.
27. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame includes “Walk This Way” on its vaunted roster of The 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.
28. “Walk This Way” famously hit the top 10 again in 1986, by way of a history-making cover by Run-DMC featuring Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.
29. Jam Master Jay, Run-DMC’s DJ, had been using “Walk This Way” to create beats without knowing the artist or the title. This happened as a result of the original hip-hop DJs tearing the labels off the records they used so that rivals wouldn’t know where their sounds were coming from. Producer Rick Rubin heard Jay spinning it, and told him it was “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith.
30. Rubin suggested Run-DMC re-record the song with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. The rappers agreed, but wanted to alter some of the words because, as Darryl McDaniels (DMC) recalls: “We said, ‘Yo! This is hillbilly gibberish!’” Tyler was peeved at first, but then he conceded it was Run-DMC’s interpretation, so he was cool with the changes.
31. In fact, according to Joe Perry, Run-DMC themselves weren’t entirely at ease with Rubin’s idea from the get-go. “They weren’t all that excited about it, frankly,” he said. “They weren’t sure they wanted it on the record—they weren’t sure they wanted electric guitars on there. They were at the forefront of this new kind of music and they didn’t want to spoil it. I think they saw it as either a step sideways or a step backwards.”
32. Run-DMC’s “Walk This Way” hit #4 on the Billboard singles chart and launched their Raising Hell album toward triple-platinum status. The song clearly proved to be a giant leap forward not just for the rappers, but for Aerosmith as well. After their initial attempt at a comeback, 1985’s Done With Mirrors, stiffed commercially, “Walk This Way” set the band up to break huge again in ’87 with Permanent Vacation.
33. Steven Tyler and Joe Perry had never appeared together in a made-for-MTV music video before co-starring in the Run-DMC clip for “Walk This Way.”
34. MTV had even rejected the video for “Lightning Strikes” by a Joe-Perry-free Aerosmith in 1982—and that was back when MTV was desperate for content!
35. Director Jon Small shot the “Walk This Way” video at the Park Theater in Union City, New Jersey. It became an immediate MTV sensation.
36. In the video, the women seated in the practice space behind Tyler and Perry are Joe’s wife, Billie Paulette Montgomery, who was pregnant, and Steven’s then girlfriend Teresa Barrick, who he married in 1988.
37. While shooting the “Walk This Way” video, Joe Perry wanted to add some bass to the track, but he’d only brought a guitar. A trio of “kids,” as Perry put it, had been sitting with Rick Rubin watching the shoot. One of them ran home, grabbed a bass, and returned, helping Perry out. Those “kids” turned out to be Rubin’s best buddies, the Beastie Boys.
38. In 1987, both Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C. picked up a Soul Train Music Award for Best Rap Single.
39. When “Walk This Way” by Run-D.M.C. initially hit big, both Steven Tyler and Joe Perry were in drug and alcohol rehab.
40. Other notable “Walk This Way” covers include versions by UK girl groups Sugababes and Girls Aloud, The String Cheese Incident, Macy Gray, and Hayseed Dixie, as well as quite the rendition at the 2001 Super Bowl with ’Smith themselves backing Britney Spears.