When Aerosmith and Run-DMC first met in New York in 1986 to record a remix of Aerosmith’s popular song “Walk This Way,” neither group knew what to expect. In an interview nearly a decade later, Darryl McDaniels, better known as DMC, said the group had never heard of Aerosmith, while Joe Perry, the guitarist for Aerosmith, said producer Rick Rubin told him the song might not even be released. It was a gamble, but one that forever transformed the music industry. It’s also the premise of The Washington Post National Arts Editor Geoff Edgers’ new book “Walk This Way: Run-DMC, Aerosmith, and the Song that Changed American Music Forever.”
Edgers, who’s previously written about The Beatles, Elvis and the Kinks, says that while the collaboration might not seem groundbreaking now, in 1986 it dynamically changed popular music and culture.
“When that song came out on July 4, 1986, it completely changed popular culture, ” Edgers said in an interview on Boston Public Radio on Thursday. “You had rap and hip-hop played on college radio stations and in clubs, but it was not part of our regular society, and today it’s everywhere. ... It might be hard to believe, but [this] was the first rap song that was played on mainstream radio and played on MTV in wide circulation.”
According to Edgers, Aerosmith and Run-DMC made strange bedfellows. Musical styles aside, he said that in 1986 the two were at radically different points in their career, and while the song helped bring rap music to the American mainstream, it also helped revive interest in Aerosmith.
“Yes, that song was the biggest hit Run-DMC would ever have, but I would argue that Run-DMC saved Aerosmith in many ways,” Edgers said. “It taught Aerosmith to listen to other people, and not be so insular, and take advice and use other songwriters. A lot of people actually don’t like the Aerosmith that came out of that ... but they were more popular than they were before. It really re-launched them.”
The song was a hit, and went on to not just change the lives of the musicians, but also create a lasting influence on hip-hop, rock n’ roll, and even the broader American culture. Edgers said that the song helped open the door for television shows featuring predominantly black casts and hosts, such as "In Living Color" and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."
“[Hip-hop] was completely outside of culture [before the song came out]. Within a year, everything was hip-hop,” Edgers said.