30 Years Ago: Aerosmith Remake ‘Walk This Way’ With Run-D.M.C.
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When Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C. joined forces in March 1986 to collaborate on an updated version of the rock band’s 1975 hit “Walk This Way,” they couldn’t have been at further points in their respective careers.
Before breathing a second life into the classic song, the ’80s weren’t exactly kind to Aerosmith. Their 1982 album Rock in a Hard Place not only presented a fractured band lineup, but the record also failed to make a significant dent in the charts. On Done With Mirrors, released three years later, the original lineup was back together, but it did little to impress fans or critics. (Editor’s note: That album rules. Everybody, including the band, seems to have forgotten this fact.)
Run-D.M.C., on the other hand, were on the rise during this same period. Their second album, 1985’s King of Rock, helped establish them as one of the biggest forces in the burgeoning rap movement.
But this curious collaboration may not have ever come to fruition had it not been for Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry‘s son and producer Rick Rubin, who was working with Run-D.M.C. on their third album, Raising Hell. “I heard a Run-D.M.C. song coming from my son Aaron’s room,” Perry told The Wall Street Journal in 2014. “They were new to me, and I liked it — the sound was like a freight train. A month later, I got a call from Run-D.M.C.’s producer, Rick Rubin, who said he wanted [Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell] to rap over our song.”
“I went through my whole album collection looking for a song that Run-D.M.C. could do that would point out the relationship between hip-hop and other kinds of music,” Rubin told VH1. “‘Walk This Way’ had a familiar rock sensibility to it, but at the same time, with very little change, would function as a hip-hop song.”
At first, Run-D.M.C. were less than enthused with Rubin’s idea. They were familiar with “Walk This Way”‘s irrepressible beat, but they initially didn’t know how they could fashion the cut into their style. “We heard … hillbilly gibberish,” McDaniels later recalled, making reference to singer Steven Tyler‘s rapid-fire vocal on the original song. “Me and Run thought [label head] Russell [Simmons] and Rick were trying to ruin us.”
In order to appease Simmons and Rubin, Run-D.M.C. cut what they admitted was a weak version of the track. “We didn’t want to do the record,” McDaniels said. “Eight hours later, we get a call to come back to the studio. We walk in, and Joe Perry is playing his riff, Steven Tyler is in the booth doing the lyrics. Me and Run knew we had to step our game up. Jay was like, ‘Yo, don’t think of the record as ‘Steven Tyler and Joe Perry’s record,’ think of those lyrics as Run-D.M.C. lyrics.’ So we went in the booth and that went so good that Steven said, ‘Yo, let me get in with y’all’.”
Rubin’s intuition in putting Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C. into a room together proved to be one of music’s most successful collaborations. “Walk This Way” shot to No. 4 on the pop chart, placing higher than the No. 8 peak on the R&B chart and Aerosmith’s original No. 10 showing a decade earlier. More importantly, the song’s video broke down the walls between rock and hip-hop. “Every hip-hopper, no matter how grungy, wants a little mainstream validation,” admitted journalist Danyel Smith. “And even if we hated the fact that Run-D.M.C. was up there with Aerosmith, we were so happy to see Run-DMC up there with Aerosmith.”
Both groups saw immediate benefit from the success of the single. Raising Hell became a million-selling LP, reaching the Top 10 on the pop chart and No. 1 on the R&B album chart, the first rap album to ever hit the spot. And Aerosmith’s faltering career got a huge boost, inspiring sobriety among the members and leading to their 1987 comeback record, Permanent Vacation, and chart dominance into the ’90s.
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