Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Playing With the Toys in the Attic

When Aerosmith came along, it gave young listeners something they had never heard before even though it was a blend of familiar styles. Aerosmith essentially fused Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones to create a new sound that, at the time, sounded very cutting edge.

As I say, it was a new sound at the time. Other groups have taken it as their own since, but Aerosmith defined the style.

I have always felt that Aerosmith's "Toys in the Attic" album, which was released on this day in 1975, was an eclectic mix of music — some appealing new compositions and some mostly unknown old ones, a few hits and some other tunes that came along mostly for the ride.

And my favorite was (still is, actually) one of those mostly unknown old ones, Bull Moose Jackson's "Big Ten–Inch Record," from the early '50s. It's the only song on the album that Steven Tyler didn't write or co–write, and I don't recall ever hearing it on the radio. The lyrics weren't exactly explicit, but there were lots of double entendres, and there was a, shall we say, pregnant pause between the words inch and record, which may have been the reasons for its absence from the airwaves.

There were plenty of hits, though. Probably the most recognizable are "Walk This Way" and "Sweet Emotion." I liked them both, but, if asked to choose my favorite from the two, it would have to be "Walk This Way."

Now, whenever I mention that to someone, particularly someone who is younger than I — bear in mind, I have taught many college–level journalism students, and, while some of them have been called non–traditional students, most of them have been younger — I am always asked what I think of the 1980s version of that song that essentially fused Aerosmith with Run–DMC.

There is a two–part answer to that.

Initially, I didn't think much of it. I guess I just have never been much for cover versions of old songs even though there really isn't any reason for that. I always liked Willie Nelson's covers of pop standards on "Stardust," and there are other exceptions as well, but generally speaking I just haven't been much for covers.

Having said that, though, I would have to add that I did like Aerosmith's cover of the Beatles' "Come Together" — and that is quite a concession on my part. I can be hard to please when it comes to Beatles covers.

Anyway, that's about the only reason I can come up with — other than, perhaps, I don't like how I feel when the cover is of a song from my generation. Makes me feel older than I want to feel. Know what I mean?

Run–DMC's version kind of grew on me, though. I sort of like it now and will tolerate it for a couple of playings.

But after that, I just want to hear Aerosmith's version, the original and (as far as I am concerned) the best.

That brings me to "Sweet Emotion." I thought it was kind of spooky the first time I heard it — some folks might be tempted to use the word eerie or creepy, but I would be more inclined to say that it sounded mysterious. Its intro was probably a little long, and my guess would be that it caused promoters considerable heartburn until they saw how successful it was.

"Sweet Emotion" was the first single released from the album and made it to #36 on Billboard's Hot 100. "Walk This Way" was released that summer and made it to #10 on Billboard's Hot 100.

And those were the singles from "Toys in the Attic," even though it would be a grievous error to dismiss the album as being only about those two singles.

I mentioned double entendres earlier, and "Toys in the Attic" was loaded with 'em. You couldn't just find them on "Big Ten–Inch Record," either, although you could find a lot on side 1.

"Uncle Salty" and "Adam's Apple" followed the title cut; unless listeners lifted the needle and advanced it to the fourth song on the first side ("Walk This Way") or fast forwarded the cassette, they got a double dose of double entrendre before they ever got to "Big Ten–Inch Record," which was the last song on that side.

Having "Toys in the Attic" in what was then a meager record collection kind of made me feel like a socially legitimate member of my generation. I was, anyway, I suppose, but at that stage in one's life, fitting in with the kids one perceives as cool is what matters most, and everyone, it seemed, was listening to "Toys in the Attic."

It seems to me that I usually got burned on the records I bought because everyone else was listening to them or the books I bought because everyone was reading them. But not "Toys in the Attic." Once I heard it, I would have bought it all over again — even if no one else was listening to it.

Rolling Stone ranked it #229 on its list of the top 500 albums of all time.