Album title: Toys in the Attic
Track Listing: 1. Toys in the Attic; 2. Uncle Salty; 3. Adam’s Apple; 4. Walk This Way; 5. Big Ten Inch Record; 6. Sweet Emotion; 7. No More No More; 8. Round and Round; 9. You See Me Crying
Running Time: 37m 11s
Units sold/certifications: 8 million (US)
Chart performance: #11 (US)
Track by Track
Although not a big deal in Europe in the mid seventies, “Toys in the Attic” was the album that put Aerosmith firmly on the map in the US. There was no YouTube or file sharing back then and the positive press was hard to come by across the Atlantic. But it didn’t worry American music fans who embraced the band’s best and most consistent collection of songs yet. The title track remains a mainstay on American radio to this day. Suspected to be a reflection of the band’s drug fuelled existence (“voices scream, nothing’s seen, real’s a dream”), the toys in the attic were said to refer to the paranoia and mischief playing out in their junk-filled minds. If they were a band in disarray no one would guess it – quite phenomenal. Notably recorded by REM on their cult covers album, “Dead Letter Office“.
“Uncle Salty” touches (as the band did again 14 years later on “Janie’s Got A Gun”) on the subject of child abuse. A young girl is left unloved by her parents (“her mammy was lusted, daddy he was busted”) and Uncle Salty saw this girl’s decline in mental health (“when she cried at night no one came/”And when she cried at night, went insane”). Eventually when she was old enough (“They left her to be trusted ’til the orphan bleeds”) it was thought that she would fend for herself but “soon she found her mother’s love for all the others/The pushers and the shovers, was the life to lead”. The closing refrain of “it’s a sunny day outside my window” contrasts strongly with the darkness that the girl lives in. And it’s unclear who Uncle Salty is, what role he played in the girl’s life and if perhaps his name is a euphemism for something more sinister. Brilliant mid-tempo rocker.
How many bands were comfortable turning biblical tales in to sleazy rock? “Adam’s Apple” re-tells the Bible’s account of the beginning of mankind (“Back when Cain was able/Way before the stable”) and the day Adam found himself face to face with Eve (“Conscience was related/Man he was created/Lady luck took him by surprise/A sweet and bitter fruit it surely opened his eyes”). Things turn sexy (“Well she ate it/Lordy, it was love at first bite”), temptation appears (“So the story goes but you see/The snake was he/And she just climbed right up his tree”) and nobody knew any better (“She ate it/Never knowin’ wrong from right”). Outrageously melodic, lyrically sharp-as-knives and brilliantly arranged.
It’s hard to put “Walk this Way” in to its mid-70s perspective since it latterly became the song that saved their careers alongside Run DMC in 1986. Back in 1975, fresh from ripping on a biblical yarn, Tyler turned his hand to sexual coming of age. The teenage “backstroke lover, always hidin’ ‘neath the covers” would soon learn about real sexuality (“you ain’t seen nothin’ ’til you’re down on a muffin/Then you’re sure to be a changin’ your ways”). The song (whose lyrics, Tyler claims, were written on the wall of the recording studio just before they went in to lay the track down) goes on to suggest all manner of innuendo (“See-saw swingin’ with the boys in the school/your feet flyin’ up in the air/Singin’ hey diddle diddle/With your kitty in the middle of the swing like you didn’t care”). The 1986 re-recorded cross-over version brought it to a brand new audience, adopted slightly different notes in the chorus (Aerosmith were already performing these notes in concerts) and it sounded hard-hitting and fresh. “The simple ideas are the best,” Joe Perry said of the riff he had penned.
It’s hard to believe that Bull Moose Jackson’s original (from 1952) actually existed. But it’s true. And Aerosmith, being fond of the blues and sexual innuendo, couldn’t not cover it – double negative but it was necessary. The singer has this girl he wants to impress (“Believe me, this chick’s no sinch”) and he knows how to impress her (“I really get her going/When I whip out my big ten-inch”). Only for the fact you already know the title of the song you may have a second where time stands still. But the chorus kicks in with “…Record, of a band that plays the blues”. Each verse leaves you with the ten-inch cliffhanger and the song – at the risk of sounding like I come from the 50s myself – is an absolute hoot.
“Sweet Emotion” ticks so many boxes: great intro, outro and arrangement, fantastic musicianship from bass line to solo and snappy lyrics. A radio favourite, featured in many TV shows and movies and a seminal rock tune that became the band’s mainstream breakthrough. its enduring legacy is the perceived influence the track had on many peers and the fact that it was remixed and re-released as a single in the 90s. Rolling Stone listed it at #408 in its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (behind “Dream On” and “Walk This Way”). The lyrics were inspired by tensions between the band members and the various wives who were becoming more and more influential in matters: “You talk about things that nobody cares/Wearin’ out things that nobody wares/You’re callin’ my name but I gotta make clear/I can’t say baby where I’ll be in a year”.
A lot of fans cite “No More No More” as one of Steven Tyler’s more outstanding lyrics of the time. Although he could not be accused of having a cerebral moment, certainly compared to the raunch that came before, “No More No More” was a wilfully sober look at what his life was becoming (already touched on with “Toys in the Attic”). “Blood stains the ivories on my daddy’s baby grand/Ain’t seen the daylight since we started this band”, laments Tyler, who goes on to describe the “Store bought clothes fallin’ ‘part at the seams”, the “Tealeaf readin’ gypsies fortune tellin'” his dreams and the stark admission that “If I don’t stop a changin’ I’ll be writin’ my will”.
In the context of “Toys in the Attic”, “Round and Round” is a curiosity, but a quality one at that. Brad Whitford notches his first song writing credit as he drags Aerosmith in to psychedelic-touched heavy metal. With the band struggling to come to terms with their rise in to superstardom Tyler specifically laments the surreal changes (“Now everythin’ changes/Ain’t nothin’ the same”) that are occurring: “If you believe in me/Like I believe in you/You wouldn’t be tellin’ me things/That weren’t exactly true”. There’s some head-down, duelling and pumping guitar work from Whitford and Perry as they add their own angst to the confusion. The closing minutes swirl chaotically with the repeated lyric of “I’m going round and round”. Rightly looked back on as a classic song.
After the intensity of “Round and Round” it seems fitting that the album closes with the beautiful piano-ballad “You See Me Crying”. Matching Steven Tyler’s pained lyric (“Honey, what ya done to your head?/Honey was it the words I said?”) over the ivories, orchestration, typical quality guitar work from Perry and Whitford and, arguably, the best guitar solo on the record, produces what might actually be the best song. The mood of the track – about a guy dealing with a broken relationship – is summed up perfectly with the single line “You see me cryin’, I’m back to the lost and found”. It was noted for the length of time it took to record and produce with many complex guitar and drum parts and at one point the then-President of Columbia Records came in during the recording process and said “You guys got an incredible thing going here. I just came from a Herbie Hancock session and this is much more fun!”
The first of back-to-back five-star Aerosmith albums it is probably not as revered as it should be, certainly not in Europe anyway. Even the weakest moments are still more than worthy and the leap the band made musically from their second to third record was even greater than the previous jump from “Aerosmith” to “Get Your Wings”.