Aerosmith’s breakthrough Toys in the Attic LP exploded all over radio stations and record stores in April 1975. Here’s to a genuinely monumental fortieth anniversary!
Of Toys in the Attic’s nine songs, five remain in heavy rotation on classic rock outlets (with two in particular serving as cornerstones that define the genre), two others qualify “album tracks” that still get regular airplay, and the one left over is a “deep cut” that is familiar to even casual fans of the band.
In essence, then, that makes Toys in the Attic a sort of instant “greatest hits” collection unto itself, although monster jams had also previously emerged from the group’s self-titled 1973 debut (e.g.—“Dream On,” “Mama Kin”) and 1974’s Get Your Wings (“Same Old Song and Dance,” “Lord of the Thighs,” “Train Kept A-Rollin’”). Of course, that’s to not even mention ’Smith’s myriad smashes since then.
Still, the eight-times-platinum Toys in the Attic remains Aerosmith’s single bestselling studio album and each of its nine remarkable tracks stands as a classic on its own. They can only be measured in degrees of greatness. In celebration of TITA’s fortieth anniversary, then, here’s our extremely subjective ranking of those songs. Your picks may vary (and that’s what our comments section is for).
9. “Big Ten Inch Record”
Aerosmith’s cover of Bullmoose Jackson’s bawdy double-entendre R&B booty-shaker “Big Ten Inch” puts Steven Tyler firmly ahead of the David Lee Roth curve by a full two years. Diamond Dave brought the same burlesque swagger to Van Halen’s 1978 debut via their take on the 1922 wink-wink-nudge-nudge blues number, “Ice Cream Man.”
As with “Ice Cream Man,” Aersomith’s version of “Big Ten Inch Record” is elementally faithful to the original, popping some old-school blues and boogie down in the midst of all the extremely present-tense rock-and-rave-ups that surround it. While it’s big fun to shake a leg (or whatever other body part) to, “Big Ten Inch” will always primarily be a novelty record. Still, that’s cool.
8. “You See Me Crying”
Steven Tyler’s mournful, Beatles-esque piano opening (and closing) plays sumptuously against the upward drive of the band on this sweeping proto-power-ballad. “You Hear Me Crying” then kicks into hyper-drive upon the sudden, swelling arrival of a full orchestra.
Rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford, pitch-hitting for Joe Perry, cascades luscious licks atop the song’s crescendo, turning its closing moments—as well as the album’s—into a breathless rush of, indeed, sweet emotion. The only points that can be taken off come from imagining what Perry might have done here.
7. “Round and Round”
“Round and Round” announces itself as Aerosmith’s all-in, full-blown Led Zeppelin move from its initial climbing drums that collapse into a cosmic stomp through which Steven Tyler’s vocals, tripped out by cool effects, stretch in and out as the band settles into a brontosaurus-sized groove.
In spirit, Muddy Waters floats through the mix, too, as Boston’s baddest make the case that electric white boy monster blues need not be the sole domain of British noisemakers.
6. “No More No More”
Aerosmith’s first great number about the highs and lows of being in Aerosmith compels immediately with Joe Perry casting some hypnotic guitar spells that launch Steven Tyler into a frontline report about how “Blood stains the ivories of my daddy’s baby grand/ain’t seen no daylight since we started this band.”
The sweat, commitment, and personal cost of making music comes across as “No More No More” picks up into melodic mid-tempo rocker, but at no point does it seem like whining. When the music is this good, all involved, band and listener alike, know there has to be more, more, and more. See “No Surprize” for the band’s 1979 update.
5. “Uncle Salty
Steven Tyler reportedly decided that his lyrics for Toys in the Attic would be united by a single topic: the very one that, in pre-1950s African American slang, was euphemistically referred to as “rock and roll.”
The downbeat saga laid bare by “Uncle Salty” is awash in that very subject—as is the song’s groove and swagger—as it recounts the path of an orphan girl from a rough-and-tumble upbringing that drives her insane to her present destination as a professional climax provider.
The lyrical picture “Uncle Salty” paints is not pretty—“Now she’s doin’ any for money and a penny/a sailor with a penny or two or three/hers is the cunning for men who come a-runnin’”—but the band bomps and sways most seductively. That words-vs.-music irony is hammered home by the song’s final, pointed line: “Ooh, it’s a sunny day outside my window.” Love hurts.
4. “Adam’s Apple”
Except for the iconic might of Toys in the Attic’s three best-known songs, “Adam’s Apple” would rank higher on this list. It’s certainly one of the most “Aerosmith” of all Aerosmith anthems: a peacocking take on the Biblical creation myth that recreates the fall of humanity as the inevitable byproduct of just how tempting a certain “sweet and bitter fruit” is by its nature, and how just one taste ignites a particular form enlightenment to the point of madness.
Coming off Joe Perry’s appropriately snaking guitar lead, “Adam’s Apple” pulsates sweaty sex with every chord, particularly in the witty four-note break that serves as a bridge between verses.
Steven Tyler conveys sassy wisdom throughout “Adam’s Apple,” summing up that first discovery of sex as a mutual effort when he sings: “Man he was believer/lady was deceiver/so the story goes but you see/that snake was he/she just climbed right up his tree.” What a couple of swingers!
3. “Sweet Emotion”
“Sweet Emotion” is the song that broke Aerosmith into the Top 40 and neither the group nor those pop charts have looked back ever since.
Sounding like nothing else at the time, “Sweet Emotion” seems to float up out of a desert heat-storm, powered by Tom Hamilton’s looping bass-line and a bewitching marimba played by guest musician Jay Messina. From there a freaky sound emerges that baffles upon first hearing, but doesn’t lose any of its power once it was revealed to be Joe Perry on guitar talk box. Steven Tyler joins the fray and, suddenly, “Sweet Emotion” is on.
“Talk about things and nobody cares,” Tyler sings, connecting the song immediately to outsider kids. “Wearing other things that nobody wears.” What follows is an entrancing snapshot of the tribulations of being teenage rocker: “I pulled into town in a police car/Your daddy said I took it just a little too far/You’re tellin’ other things, but your girlfriend lied/You can’t catch me ’cause the rabbit done died.”
Two years before punk broke, “Sweet Emotion” stood as a unifying anthem for underage trouble-makers who butted heads (among other organs) against authority: you know, the very type that cops, teachers, parents, and other buzzkills used to universally refer to as “punks.”
2. “Walk This Way”
Joey Kramer’s stuttering kick-off drumbeats on “Walk This Way” blow open a path for Joe Perry’s guitar riff, which is arguably his most famous and inarguably one of the most perfect in all of rock. Perry says was inspired by New Orleans funk masters the Meters, who had been a favorite of Jeff Beck and the Rolling Stones. Let us forever thank them.
Originally formulated between Perry and Steven Tyler during an onstage jam in Hawaii, the title “Walk This Way” came from the 1974 Mel Brooks comedy classic Young Frankenstein, which the band caught on a break while recording Toys in the Attic (as “Eye-Gor,” hunchbacked Marty Feldman tells Gene Wilder to “walk this way,” whereupon Wilder imitates Feldman’s scrunched-down shuffle).
Tyler’s lyrics turn a teenage tale of losing one’s virginity into epic raunch opera. He upholds the blues tradition of raunchy meanings stashed between the literal declarations, while his lip-flapping machine-gun delivery proves true to Perry’s assessment that the lead singer, who started out as a drummer, “uses words like a percussion instrument.”
The end result is that “Walk This Way” blazed itself immediately into the collective consciousness where it now resides forever. On its way there, the song figured profoundly into the catalogues of deejays in the Bronx during the second half of the 1970s, who’d spin its opening blast-beats back-and-forth under MCs who’d improvise new lyrics on the spot in an emerging art-form known first as “rap” and soon after as “hip hop.”
Come 1986, Run D.M.C., then hip-hop’s biggest stars, paid tribute to the song by collaborating with its creators on a revolutionary cover of “Walk This Way.” The song tore down the walls between rock and rap (as happens literally in the music video), brought hard rock audiences into the hip-hop fold, and launched Aerosmith back to the forefront of pop superstardom. All parties involved brilliantly made the most of their shared moment.
1. “Toys in the Attic”
“Sweet Emotion” and “Walk This Way” may have sold more and its more likely that even your mom can sing along with them, but the single track that most elevates Toys in the Attic to one-of-a-kind masterpiece status is its mystifying, devastating, impossible-to-shake off (or to even want to shake off) title number.
The album opening “Toys in the Attic” swoops up and out from nowhere and everywhere at once; in fact, the song somehow seems to materialize instantly from within the listener’s own consciousness, a locomotive aural rush that blasts one immediately to the music’s own plane of reality and exerts total dominance for the next three minutes and five seconds.
“In the attics, lights/voices scream/nothing’s seen/real’s the dream,” Steven Tyler sings over a tsunami of guitar and drums and bass that somehow go backward and forward at the same time. “Leaving the things that are real behind/Leaving the things that you love from mind/All of the things that you learned from fears/Nothin’ is left for the years.”
Except for the chanted title during the chorus, those are the sum total lyrics to “Toys in the Attic,” because, as Aerosmith would put it in song form a few years later, here is a moment where they truly let the music do the talking.
“Toys in the Attic” is frantic, frenetic, and paced faster than the speed of punk. Its bottom end dives as deep as heavy metal had ever drilled, while its soaring high end is an interstate pile-up of mad ideas, fever fits, and involuntary volcanic eruptions best embodied by Tyler’s staccato nonsense chatter of “da-da-da-da-da-da-da” that loops around the refrain (listen with headphones at your own risk).
In short, “Toys in the Attic,” the song, is the ideal rabbit hole through which to tumble into the Wonderland that is Toys in the Attic, the album. In fact, it’s the only portal even possibly capable of handling such a task. So eat and drink whatever you need to now and take the plunge immediately. The music on the other side is very fine indeed.
Mike “McBeardo” McPadden is the author of Heavy Metal Movies: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos, and Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big Scream Films Ever! (Bazillion Points).