Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Unusual Collaborations: Run-D.M.C. & Aerosmith


Although I like to believe that I have pretty broad musical taste, I just don’t like rap music, with very few exceptions. And I don’t like Aerosmith, again with very few exceptions. And yet this pairing, which at the time was considered to be shocking, just works.

The original version of “Walk this Way,” by Aerosmith, is admittedly one of the few exceptions to my generalized dislike of the band. Not only is the title based on one of my favorite old rimshot jokes (the punchline being, “if I could walk that way, I wouldn’t need the talcum powder,” often referenced on Monty Python), it is a buoyant hard rock song with a great riff and clever, internally rhyming lyrics that made it a natural for a rap version. (And it actually sounded good in context the other night at my 35th high school reunion.)

Really, it is the video that really makes it work. The conceit is that Aerosmith (actually just Steven Tyler and Joe Perry—in a cost saving move, the rest of the band is impersonated by members of the band Smashed Gladys) is playing the song loudly in a room next to where the Run-D.M.C. crew is hanging out. The rappers are annoyed by the song, and yell for the band to turn it down. But when their pleas are ignored, Run-D.M.C. cranks up their turntables and drum machines, and the song begins in earnest.

Initially Aerosmith seems pissed off by the intrusion, and Steven Tyler breaks down the comically thin walls with his mike stand. Ultimately, everyone gets along, the two groups perform together in front of a rapturous (mostly white) audience and all is well with the world.

This version of the song charted higher than the original, and shot Run-D.M.C. to stardom. Not only that, it is credited with the dubious achievements of opening MTV up to playing rap, revitalizing the sinking career of Aerosmith and spawning the genre of rap rock. A great example of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

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