Aerosmith’s ‘Toys in the Attic': A Track-by-Track Guide
Aerosmith were still looking for a hit album in 1975. Their first two LPs didn't quite make into the Top 100, but dogged determination, relentless touring and a fresh set of songs led to their first true classic, Toys in the Attic.
Tracked during a New York City winter at the Record Plant, the album was released on April 8, 1975, and peaked at No. 11 that September on the strength of the singles “Sweet Emotion” and “Walk This Way.”
“Aerosmith was a different band when we started the third album,” recalled producer Jack Douglas in the 1997 book Walk This Way: The Aerosmith Autobiography. “They’d been playing Get Your Wings on the road for a year and had become better players – different. It showed in the riffs that [guitarists] Joe [Perry] and Brad [Whitford] brought back from the road for the next album. Toys in the Attic was much more sophisticated than the other stuff they’d done.”
It also helped that the band was getting more quality drugs as their popularity and income rose, particularly with “high-velocity un-stepped-on Peruvian cocaine,” according to Perry, which built their confidence and, in the case of bassist Tom Hamilton, was used “as an energizer and mind-clearer.”
Lyrically, singer Steven Tyler found another gear, indulging in his soon-to-be notorious sexual energy and fascinations, coupling them with the more elemental aspects like the name of the LP.
“I came up with the title because of its obvious meanings and since people thought we were fucking crazy anyway, what did it matter?” he said in 2004's Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Memoir. “I wasn’t hip to the 1960 Tony Award-nominated Broadway play of the same name or its 1963 Oscar-nominated film adaptation. Didn’t matter if I had been. This was Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic … singular, sexy and psychosensational.”
To this day it’s a tossup among old-school Aerosmith fans as to which album is their best: Toys in the Attic or its hard-rocking follow-up, 1976’s Rocks. Below we break down their watershed record, track-by-track.
“Toys in the Attic”
During the gestation period of the album, Aerosmith convened at a barn converted into Black Angus Studios in Ashland, Mass., to flesh out some ideas before heading across I-95 to the Record Plant. Douglas was looking for “a kick-ass uptempo rocker,” according to Perry in his 2014 memoir Rocks: My Life in and Out of Aerosmith. He immediately started riffing on a 1955 Les Paul Junior he had recently gotten from his pal Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls. The song came together “within minutes.”
“Joe was jamming a riff and I started yelling, ‘Toys, toys, toys’,” Tyler said. “Organic, immediate, infectious …fucking amazing. Once again, the Toxic Twins ride off into the sunset …this time, the sunset of the attic. … I just started singing and it fit like chocolate and peanut butter. Joe plays his ass off on that song.”
Tom Hamilton laid down the foundation for “Uncle Salty” on guitar, giving the bass player one of his two writing credits on the album. “[He comes up] with these slippery, slimy, melodically delicious out-of-the blue bass lines from practice,” Tyler said. “He’d play stuff so down and dirty just from warming up, and it would turn into a song.”
The singer has said he took a two-pronged approach to the subject matter of the song, making it about both an orphanage and a bordello, where he puts himself in the role of a madame and the titular character, who sexually assaults a little girl.
“That ‘When she cried at night, no one came / And when she cried at night, went insane’ - here I was thinking about an orphanage when I wrote those lyrics,” Tyler said. “I’d try and make the melody weep from the sadness felt when a child is abandoned. I pretended to know the headmaster to get inside his head, and what I heard was Uncle Salty told me stories of a lonely baby with a lonely kind of life to lead. Her ‘Mammy was lusted / Daddy he was busted / They left her to be trusted / Till the orphan bleeds.’ Inside was hell or barely tolerable, but she sang, ‘It’s a sunny day outside my window” because I’m a sucker for a happy ending.”
Perry wanted to call the record Rocks instead of Toys in the Attic. He’d get his wish for the follow-up, but Tyler wouldn’t be so lucky. His idea for the album’s title was Love at First Bite, which came from the chorus of “Adam’s Apple.”
It was perhaps fitting that a band that would soon become poster boys for decadence and indulging in every forbidden fruit imaginable would write a song about the oldest cautionary tale around. Drawing inspiration from the Bible’s Genesis 3, “Adam's Apple” references the fall of man, when the serpent encouraged Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Of course, there’s also a sexual component to it, which aligns perfectly with the subject matter spread throughout Toys.
“Adam's Apple” and album closer “You See Me Crying” are the two songs on the LP where Tyler was given an arrangement credit.
“Walk This Way”
Though it’s best known for being the song that helped raise Aerosmith from the dead when they collaborated with Run-DMC for a remake in 1986, the origin of “Walk This Way” is uncertain. The riff itself, of which there’s little dispute, came from Perry at a soundcheck in Honolulu when the band was opening for the Guess Who in December 1974.
“I was into funky stuff, had played James Brown songs over the years, and at times was listening to lots of the Meters from New Orleans, one of the best bands in the country, and I was asking, ‘Why don't we write our own songs that have that feel to them? Let's try to write something funky so we don't have to cover James Brown,’” the guitarist said in Walk This Way.
Over the years, Tyler claimed he came up with the famous drumbeat at the same soundcheck, jumping behind the kit before drummer Joey Kramer came onstage. “Steven is full of shit,” Kramer said in the 2019 book Walk This Way: Run-DMC, Aerosmith and the Song that Changed American Music Forever.
That same book, written by Geoff Edgers, takes a nuanced dive into the song, as well as into the drumbeat itself. At various points over the years, Perry has leaned both ways between the Tyler vs. Kramer argument. “The jury’s still out,” Whitford said, before aiming a zinger at the singer. “You have to take into consideration that Steven would probably take credit for everything that’s on every Aerosmith record.”
Douglas, who said Tyler came up with the initial beat and that Kramer added his own flair to it, eventually took a step back in the name of diplomacy – and sanity. “It has cost Joey much pain and a couple of mental breakdowns,” he said. “Perhaps it’s best to make it one of the great mysteries of life and let the reader weigh the evidence.”
Everyone agreed on the title, which was plucked from Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein - a movie some of the band members went to see in Times Square during a break from the studio. “We came to the part where Marty Feldman as Igor limps down the steps of the train platform and says to Gene Wilder, 'Walk this way,' which Gene does with the same hideous limp,” recalled bassist Tom Hamilton in Walk This Way. “We fell all over ourselves laughing because it was so funny in a recognizably Three Stooges mode.”
The group told Tyler it had come up with the name of the song; that night he went home and penned the lyrics in his notebook. But when he came to the Record Plant the next day, he left the book in a cab. Devastated, and faced with disbelieving bandmates, Tyler retreated to the fourth-floor stairwell of the studio with a pencil in hand, headphones on, and wrote the lyrics on the wall. It was a tale as old as time about a teenage boy discovering girls, with one new twist: ending up with two of them.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is ‘Walk This Way,’ and it’s very ego and all, but even after you read the press about Run-DMC and Rick Rubin, I still think the song was a hit in and of itself,” the singer said in his memoir, throwing one more dig in at Kramer. “And the proof of the pudding … ‘Backdoor lover always hiding ’neath the covers.’ You can’t sing that unless you’re a drummer or have some major sense of rhythm.”
Released as a single in late August 1975, the song eventually made it to No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 on Jan. 29, 1977.
“Big Ten Inch Record”
Aerosmith had gotten in the habit of recording cover songs for their albums, interpreting Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog” for their self-titled debut and “Train Kept A-Rollin’,” the classic Tiny Bradshaw number the Yardbirds later made famous, for Get Your Wings. A friend of Perry’s had heard the early-'50s Bull Moose Jackson jump blues song “Big Ten Inch Record” on Dr. Demento's radio show and sent it to him. The exquisitely intoned lyrics about getting a girl excited by whipping out a big 10-inch record perfectly fit in with Tyler’s penchant for schoolboy humor, as well as his oversized ego.
“Far as endowments go on the other members of the band, two are hung like a Sopwith Camel, one’s got a licorice nib and one has a big 10-inch,” the singer said. “I won’t say who that is … but his first name is Steven.”
Wanting to lay down a boogie-woogie groove to keep the swing of the original song intact, Douglas enlisted Scott Cushine, a blind pianist known as “Professor Piano" who was in an early version of a Robbie Robertson group that eventually became the Band. He’d also end up playing on another Toys in the Attic track, “No More No More,” and join Aerosmith on the tour in support of the LP. A horn section featuring brothers Michael and Randy Brecker on saxophone and trumpet, respectively, as well as Stan Bronstein on bass sax, rounded out a big-band sound. But a misreading of the lyric caused controversy, which Tyler insisted was unwarranted.
“When it comes to rumors, while we’re on the subject of phallic nobility, here’s one more,” he wrote in his memoir. “I’ve come to find out, as the years roll by, that everybody seems to think that in the middle of ‘Big Ten Inch Record,’ I say, ‘Suck on my big ten inch.’ I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard this from – engineers, producers, disc jockeys and, of course, fans … from all over the world. Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but the song is about a big 10-inch record, and in the middle I say, '’Cept [like except] for my big ten-inch.' How do you get 'suck on' from '’cept for'? Again … wishful thinking.”
One of the most enduring bass lines in rock 'n' roll history had been sitting in Tom Hamilton’s stockpile since high school. He showed a version of it to Tyler during the making of Get Your Wings, but nothing came of it. When it got near the end of recording Toys in the Attic, Douglas asked if anyone had any spare riffs, and Hamilton brought it out. And the part that sounds like maracas? It’s actually Tyler shaking a sugar packet he found on the studio console.
The at-times cutting lyrics stemmed from Tyler’s disdain for Perry’s then-girlfriend, later first wife Elyssa, who he thought was pulling the guitarist away from the band when they moved in together. “I took my anger and jealousy, and eventually put it into ‘Sweet Emotion,’ which I pointed at Elyssa directly,” the singer said in his memoir. “‘You talk about things that nobody cares / You’re wearing out things that nobody wears / Calling my name but I gotta make clear / I can’t tell ya, honey, where I’ll be in a year.’ I used my jealousy and anger for lyrical inspiration.
“Looking back, I’m actually grateful that Joe moved out with Elyssa,” Tyler continued. “It gave me something to sing about, a bittersweet emotion. My relationship with Joe is fraught, to say the least. Even in the best of times we sometimes don’t speak for months. On tour we’re brothers, soulmates, but there's always an underlying tension broken up by moments of ecstasy and periods of pure rage.”
Released as the first single from the album in May 1975, “Sweet Emotion” would peak at No. 36 on the Hot 100 on July 19.
“No More No More”
Tyler went to the familiar musician's reservoir of life on the road when it came to put down lyrics for the poppy “No More No More.” Hotels, reviews and women - all the familiar aspects of being a touring rocker that a bunch of young guys find thrilling at first, but soon turn routine.
"No More No More" stands out because of its arrangement. Perry plays the song in open-E tuning but, according to the guitarist in his memoir, the structure of it needed a solo in traditional tuning: “To solve that, we arranged the song with a breakdown near the end, allowing me to play the bulk of the song with the E-tuned guitar before switching, in the blink of an eye, to a totally different guitar to take the song out.”
“Round and Round”
“Round and Round” is one of the heaviest and darkest compositions in the Aerosmith catalog, even though it's often overshadowed by more accessible and popular songs. It was co-written by Tyler and Whitford, with the latter playing lead guitar. It's the first song for which the guitarist received a songwriting credit, but not the first time Whitford played lead. He’d done the same on a quartet of Get Your Wings tracks, including “Lord of the Thighs” and “Seasons of Wither.”
“You See Me Crying”
The longest and possibly most ambitious song on Toys in the Attic, “You See Me Crying" was arranged by and co-written with Don Solomon, the singer from his first band, the Strangeurs, who later became Chain Reaction. It also featured Scott Cushine on piano alongside a full string orchestra conducted by Mike Mainieri.
Years later, Tyler would fail to recall even writing the song when, in 1984 he and Perry were at the apartment of a Boston DJ who was spinning Aerosmith deep tracks.
“It was a hell of a moment when he put on ‘You See Me Crying,’” remembered Perry. “’That's outta sight,’ said Tyler. “We should cover that tune. Whose original is this?’ ‘What the fuck are you talking about, Steven?’ I said. 'That's us.' 'Is it?'’ he asked. ‘Hell yes it is.’ ‘Where was I?’ ‘In the booth, singing.’"
During their 2009 tour, Aerosmith managed to play Toys in the Attic in full just once, at the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, N.Y. Even though the band planned a tour where they'd play some of their albums in their entirety, it was canceled after only 15 shows when Tyler fell off a stage. “You See Me Crying” was apparently the main sticking point during their one performance of the LP. Rumor has it the song is Tyler’s daughter Liv’s favorite song by the band, but it's also the hardest for the singer to perform. Still, when the actress requested it, Dad acquiesced.
“Liv … doin’ this for you baby,” Tyler said before singing the track that night, the only time it's been performed in concert.