This song is about a promiscuous cheerleader who leads a schoolboy through his first sexual experience. It's an extremely sexual song that played perfectly to Aerosmith's young male fanbase while being ambiguous enough to get airplay. Lead singer Steven Tyler, who wrote the lyrics, said, "'Walk This Way' came out all at once. If you listen to the words, they're all really filthy. If you listen closely you'll hear that I disguised it quite cleverly." (Here's that full interview with Steven Tyler
"Walk This Way" is the title of Aerosmith's 1999 autobiography. In the book, Steven Tyler deconstructs the lyrics to this song. Here's the breakdown:
"Backstroke Lover" is our hero masturbating. His father catches him, and explains that he will someday experience the real thing. One day, he encounters the cheerleader along with "her sister and her cousin," and has a glorious sexual experience (Tyler cops to fantasies about two women at once, which is where this came from).
The "walk this way" line is the experienced girl showing the young man where to put his finger - showing him how to walk. Inspiration came from make-out parties where this kind of thing could happen.
Tyler points out that while the lyrics are sexually charged, it is the girl who is in control.
Aerosmith wasn't well known when this came out, and the song didn't chart when it was first released in September 1975. A year later, after their album Rocks
took off, the single was reissued and became a hit. They re-released "Dream On
" the next year.
Joe Perry came up with the guitar riff for this song and the band developed the track, but four days later (an eternity in their recording schedule at the time) Steven Tyler still didn't have any words for the song. With no lyrics forthcoming, they considered dumping the track, but inspiration struck when the band (minus Tyler and Perry) took a break and went for a walk around New York City, where they were recording.
The movie Young Frankenstein was playing in Times Square, so they went to see it. The film is a comedy starring Gene Wilder, and there is a famous scene in the movie where Igor (Marty Feldman) tells Dr. Frankenstein to "Walk This Way," meaning to follow him. Dr. Frankenstein imitates Igor's walk, which the band thought was hilarious. When they saw Tyler the next day, they informed him that the title of the song would be "Walk This Way."
Tyler, however, tells a different story regarding the inspiration for the title. He told our writer Bruce Pollock: "The song title evolved from watching The Three Stooges on TV. They walked this way and that."
When Steven Tyler finally came up with lyrics for this song, he entered the studio to record it and realized he left the lyrics in the cab. His incredulous bandmates thought he was just stalling, and they got in another of their many fights. Tyler walked to the stairwell, let out a primal scream, and wrote new lyrics on the wall, since he forgot to bring paper with him. The original lyrics he left in the cab were never recovered.
In our interview with Joe Perry
, he explained that he came up with the famous guitar riff at a soundcheck in Hawaii. It was inspired by the New Orleans funk band The Meters, and it all came together when drummer Joey Kramer, joined in. Said Perry: "I just kind of let go and this riff started coming out of the left hand and the right hand, and then it needed a bridge, and I just kind of danced around on the fretboard a little bit, and before I knew it, I had the guts of the song. It had that kind of funk thing to it."
Joe Perry used a talkbox during the chorus. This was the first time the device was used on a hit song. The talkbox allows a guitarist to make strange vocal sounds by "talking" into a vinyl tube attached to the unit, which is hooked up to the output of the guitar amp. Perry also used a talkbox on "Sweet Emotion."
This became one of the first mainstream rap hits when it was covered by Run-D.M.C. in 1986. Steven Tyler and Joe Perry performed this with the rap trio, and it became Run-D.M.C.'s first hit, going to US #4. This collaboration led to many more among prominent rappers and rock musicians, including "Bring The Noise
" by Public Enemy and Anthrax, and "Encore" by Jay-Z and Linkin Park.
DJs often ripped the labels off their records so no one would know what beats they were using when they performed. Jam Master Jay got one of these records from another DJ, which turned out to be an Aerosmith album. He was working on sampling the opening break when producer Rick Rubin heard it and explained it was a famous rock song. This gave Rubin the idea to have Run-D.M.C. cover the song. The band didn't like the idea of rapping Aerosmith's lyrics, with DMC explaining in Rolling Stone (October 15, 2009), "We said, this is hillbilly gibberish, this is bulls--t." With some help from Run's brother Russell Simmons, Rubin convinced them to do it. He grew up in the suburbs listening to groups like Aerosmith, and knew it would be a great way for the group to crossover to a white audience.
The Run-D.M.C. video is the first that Tyler and Perry appeared in. It was the first time many young Aerosmith fans saw what they looked like. Aerosmith would use MTV to expand their audience for the rest of their career, making videos for most of their singles, starting with "Dude (Looks Like A Lady)
" in 1988, which won two MTV Video Music Awards.
The first video Aerosmith made was for their 1982 song "Lightning Strikes," but MTV passed on that one (here it is on YouTube
). Joe Perry had left the band at that point.
The Run-D.M.C. cover launched Aerosmith's comeback. They were in drug rehab when it came out, but sobered up and released Permanent Vacation
in 1987, which gave them a string of hits, their first since "Come Together
" in 1978. The collaboration also boosted the band's profile in Europe, where Run-D.M.C. was huge.
This was used in an early episode of The Simpsons where the band performed the song at Moe's Tavern and let Moe sing along. Aerosmith was one of the first musical guest stars on the show; the episode aired November 21, 1991 and was called "Flaming Moe."
The city of Boston used this in a 1999 publicity campaign to cut back on jaywalking. They used it in commercials encouraging people to use crosswalks.
*NSYNC, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, and Nelly all sang on this with Aerosmith at the 2001 Super Bowl halftime show. The lines "I met a cheerleader, was a real young bleeder" and "You ain't seen nothin' til you're down on a muffin" seemed a little more interesting with Britney Spears performing.
On the "Rock and Roller Coaster" at Disney's MGM Studios, a virtual Aerosmith gives an introduction before you get on, Aerosmith songs play throughout the ride. When the ride opened, this was the only song that played, which may have instilled a deep hatred of the song among the Disney employees working the roller coaster. This ride is highly recommended by the Songfacts staff.
The then two leading British female pop bands Girls Aloud and Sugababes produced a cover version of this for the official single for the 2007 Comic Relief fundraiser. Their rendition reached #1 in the UK but the following year was voted runner-up in a poll by Total Guitar
magazine to find out the worst cover of all time. Celine Dion's version of AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long
" came top of the list.
Steven Tyler told Rolling Stone
magazine, April 15, 2004: "The Yardbirds' music is a gold mine waiting to be stumbled upon. Aerosmith did, because we grew up in that era. The riff in 'Walk This Way' is just us trying to explore the blues in the Yardbirds model."