Aerosmith

Anyone who heard Aerosmith’s first two albums knew the band was on the cusp of something special, but few could have predicted the leap into greatness that came with Toys in the Attic. Released on April 8, 1975, the album mixed Stones-style raunchiness with a riff-centric musicality that was freewheeling and smart at the same time. Packed with killer tunes--“Walk This Way,” “Sweet Emotion,” and the title track, to name just three—Toys also marked a huge step forward in songwriting sophistication.

“Our first two albums were basically comprised of songs we’d been playing for years live in the clubs,” writers Joe Perry, in his book, “Rocks: My Life in and Out of Aerosmith.” With Toys, we started from scratch. It was our first album that was written from the ground up. Making this record, we learned to be recording artists and write songs on a deadline. In the process, we began to see just what Aerosmith could accomplish.”

The group began recording the album at the beginning of 1975, working at the Record Plant in New York City with producer Jack Douglas, who had also manned the boards for 1974’s Get Your Wings. Much of the previous year had been spent doing live shows—as a result, both Perry and fellow guitarist Brad Whitford had evolved into riff maestros.

Aerosmith

“Aerosmith was a different band when we started [Toys],” observes Douglas. “They had become better players—different. It showed in the riffs that Joe and Brad brought back from the road. Toys in the Attic was a much more sophisticated record than the other stuff they had done.”

The proof of that assessment lies in the way many high points on Toys came to fruition. The interaction between Whitford, a Berklee-trained player with impeccable technique, and Perry, a more instinctive player, began to coalesce into a magical chemistry. [Note: In Rocks, Perry writes that it was during this period that he bought his first ’59 Les Paul. Around this same time, Whitford, already a Les Paul devotee, acquired a ’57 Goldtop with a Bigsby tailpiece.] Similarly, the creative dynamic between Perry and Steven Tyler reached monumental proportions. At the end of one session, Douglas voiced the need for a strong, uptempo rocker, and began tapping out a beat on his thigh.

Perry picks up the story: “I picked up my ’55 Les Paul Junior that I’d just gotten from Johnny Thunders and, without thinking, picked up on Jack’s groove and played the riffs of a song that would eventually be called ‘Toys in the Attic,’” he writes. “’Don’t know where this is coming from,’ I said to Steven, ‘but is this something you can sing to?’ ‘I think so,’ he said. ‘I can use the melody from the riff. Just try and throw in a few more chords.’” Jack helped arranged it and, within minutes, the song was written.”

Into the Attic

Aerosmith

Got a favorite song from Toys? Is there a track that evokes a particularly vivid memory? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

Likewise, the manner in which “Walk This Way” evolved testifies to the band’s newfound confidence and creativity. During the “Get Your Wings” tour, Perry had been listening to the Meters, the legendary New Orleans funk band. During a soundcheck in Honolulu, he asked drummer Joey Kramer to lay down a groove-based R&B pattern. Suddenly, says Perry, the central riff for “Walk This Way” just “flew out,” and the rest of the music pretty much “wrote itself.” Months later, thanks in part to a famous line from Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, Tyler himself “let it fly” with the lyrics and vocal melody.

“That was just verbal diarrhea,” Tyler told Gibson.com, in 2007. “That was me dancing with my muse, getting right up off the dance floor, not caring about how good or bad the band was, and just throwing my hands in the air and screaming, ‘Hallelujah!’”

Other high points include “Big Ten Inch Record,” a cover of an old R&B song built around a Tyler-like double entendre, and “Sweet Emotion,” a churning rocker composed primarily by bassist Tom Hamilton. Released on May 19, 1975, “Sweet Emotion” became the album’s first hit single, reaching #36 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. “I wrote [the main lick] on bass,” Hamilton told Guitar World, in 1997. “And I realized I should think of some guitar parts for it if I was ever going to get a chance to present it to the band. I didn’t think I ever would…. Steven had the idea of taking that intro riff, which became the chorus bass line under the ‘sweet emotion’ part, and transposing it into the key of E, and making it a really heavy led Zeppelin-esque thing.”

To say Toys in the Attic was a smash success, both commercially and critically, is an understatement. Eventually the album reached #11 on the Billboard 200 chart, firmly establishing Aerosmith’s position as one of America’s premier rock and roll bands. In the ensuing years, the album’s stature has grown even further, and today it’s regarded as an essential touchstone in the history of rock and roll. “We were having fun in the studio, coming up with different songs that got us off,” said Perry, speaking to Spin in 2015.

“We wanted to do something that we felt would hold up,” adds Hamilton. “It’s the album where the band first felt like stars and learned how to make a record, how to use the studio. Toys in the Attic was the first record where we felt like, ‘This album is truly amazing.’”