Toys In The Attic – R.E.M.

Is there a more exhilarating introduction to a record than the opening salvo of Aerosmith doing Toys In The Attic?

That backwards cymbal into the urgent riff and roll. The production layers over “In the attic, Lights! Voices scream! Nothings seen! Real as a dream!” It’s a trip. This was Aerosmith at their best. Fast, agitated, intoxicating, smothering with details but ruthless as a rock and roll band.

There is so much ‘stuff’ going on on this album. On this song. And yet that’s NOT the way R.E.M. play it. Stipe, Mills, Buck and Berry clearly grew up listening to The Greatest Rock And Roll Band In America™ and learned the song on the way up. They also took a lot from the ‘Smiffs on the production front. It’s an odd comparison but they did leave it out there as an easy to turn over rock when they recorded this B-Side. Listen to how R.E.M. grew in sound, textures and ambition as they moved from Eponymous and Murmur into the IRS years then into their Warner Bros years. A band split by two record deals. Big in a decade specific way one decade, then MTV heroes the next. R.E.M. and Aerosmith are two sides of the same story.

This early (for the R.E.M. band) cover pays tribute beautifully. A tag on for most from the Life’s Rich Pageant era reissues or on the compilation album Dead Letter Office. Toys was originally released as the B-side to Fall On Me. For my money if you turn up and buy a single and it has that song on the A and this one on the flip… You’d best buy a lottery ticket next because this is your lucky day. The R.E.M. version is more demo like. They just rattled through it. You can tell they’re having a ball though. IRS era R.E.M. and 80’s Aero were for a passing moment aligned. Then one went one way. One went the opposite and this guy in the middle is saying’ ‘what do you want from me?’

Of course on the the OG Aerosmith record it slips from that pre-punk pummeling of Toys into the louche Uncle Salty. It takes in the big band cover and smutty gag Big Ten Inch Record, the historic Walk This Way. There’s the accouterments of Adam’s Apple and (I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again) The Greatest Rock Song Of The 1970’s with Sweet Emotion. Round And Round pushes dials into the red while staking their claim to real 70’s heavy metal leadership and No More No More would be a Greatest Hit for almost any other band. It all ends with the magnificent You See Me Crying and makes for a five star album. Toys In The Attic for many is only bested by Rocks in the bands history.

R.E.M. were always more rock and roll than they got credit for. Many musos grow up on heavy rock and metal before forming more tasteful and stylish bands. But give them a bit of downtime and a beer and they all open the hatch to the crawl space under the roof just to see what has been stashed up there…

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