Technically, “Walk This Way” is a 70s song. But something happened to it in the 80s and it was never the same.
Written by Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, “Walk This Way” was the second single off Aerosmith’s 1975 album, Toys in the Attic. While the song was well received at the time, it would later become one of the most iconic 80s songs over a decade later when it was resurrected, revamped, and covered by an unknown rap group.
In 1986, rap group Run-D.MC. included their version of “Walk This Way” on their 1986 album Raising Hell, which itself became one of the defining albums in 80s music. The new version of “Walk This Way” quickly became an international hit and won both groups, Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C. a Soul Train Music Award for best rap single.
Run-D.M.C., Meet Aerosmith
While working on Raising Hell, Rick Rubin introduced Run-D.M.C. to Aerosmith’s music. Neither Run nor DMC were familiar with the 70s rock band. Jam Master Jay suggested they remake the song. Initially, Run and D.M.C. were not interested. But eventually, they covered the song and it became one of the most important 80s songs, laying the groundwork for Run-D.M.C. to become pioneers in hip hop and 80s music stars.
The revamped “Walk This Way” helped revitalize Aerosmith’s career. More importantly, it popularized rap music and particularly a new hybrid genre, rock-rap, which combined rock music with rap lyrics. The single included Steve Perry on guitar, Steven Tyler’s vocals, and rapping and scratching by Run-D.M.C. According to VH1′s Pop Up Video, Run D.M.C. couldn’t afford to use everyone in Aerosmith, so only Steven and Joe were on the track.
To this day, “Walk This Way” is considered a pioneering success within 80s music. In fact, it was the first rap song to make the top five in the Billboard Hot 100. It paved the way for various genres to fuse with rap and hip-hop music through artist collaborations. VH1 named it number four in its list of the “100 Greatest Songs of Hip Hop.”
The Run-D.M.C. version of “Walk this Way” charted higher than the original. It’s totally one of the best 80s songs ever.
“Walk This Way” kicks off with a two-measure drum beat that morphs into a now-famous guitar riff, which was written by Joe Perry. The intro is followed by the first verse backed by a steady drum beat and bassline. Meanwhile, there are two lead guitars dueling it out. In short, it’s a noisy song, which is notable since most 80s songs tended toward the melodic.
The lyrics are about a high school kid losing his virginity and were inspired by a line from Marty Feldman’s Young Frankenstein. The rhyme scheme is metered and stressed, which may be one of the reasons why the song lent itself so well to rap.
The Run-DMC cover lyrics are almost identical to the original version of the song.
Rock, Rap, 80s
In a decade jam-packed with new and innovative 80s music, “Walk This Way” was one of the few covers that was not only successful, but a true reinterpretation of the original rather than a cookie-cutter remake. As far as 80s songs go, it’s unique because it single-handedly popularized hip-hop music, bringing an entirely new genre to mainstream listeners.