April 8th 1975
If you were alive on this day, you must have had a devastating existence up to this point. You would have lived without hearing Tom Hamilton’s hypnotizing bass line in “Sweet Emotion.” And you wouldn’t have even thought of humming Brad Whitford’s and Joe Perry’s bluesy guitar riff after hearing a friend tell you to “Walk this Way.” You would have lived without Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic.
Since this is Aerosmith’s third studio album, you (still working in the understanding that you’re hypothetically alive in the 1970s) would have at least had a chance to hear Aerosmith, even though their first album, the eponymous Aerosmith, achieved little commercial success. It is unimaginable today that an album with the Classic Rock staple, “Dream On” was once widely unknown. For their second album, Get Your Wings, Aerosmith brought in a new producer, Jack Douglas. He continued to produce their albums up until the 1979 album Night in the Ruts. Their second album was more successful than the first. Get Your Wings reached 74 on the Billboard charts in 1974, and when listening to this album in comparison to the first, one can tell that this album is closer to the signature Aerosmith sound known today. However, there was still room for Aerosmith to move up the charts and gain recognition.
Commercially, their third album was more successful than their previous two. Toys in the Attic peaked at number 11 on the Billboard charts in ’75. They also had success with their singles, “Sweet Emotion” and “Walk this Way.” In the Billboard Hot 100, “Sweet Emotion” reached 36 in 1975, and “Walk This Way” reached #10 in 1977, giving the world two classic guitar riffs to hum when inspiration strikes. The album has grown in its success and influence since its initial release. It even led to their comeback in 1986 when Joe Perry and Steven Tyler collaborated with Run D.M.C in their cover of “Walk this Way.” According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the album has since sold 8 million copies, making it an 8x Platinum record. Today, the album is available in many different mediums than were initially available. What are you waiting for? Go ahead and dust off your old record player, break out your classic CD player, or even look into more popular mediums like Spotify or an eight-track player.
This is the first part of a series. I am compiling a list of Classic Rock songs that make reference to Greek and Roman mythology. Each of these entries will have two parts: I will explain the original story and then look at the songwriter’s take on that story, examining the ways he or she stays to true to the myth and the ways he or she deviates from the original story.
“Tales of Brave Ulysses” by Cream
Original Story: Ulysses, known to the Greeks as Odysseus, was the last soldier to come home from the Trojan War. He spent 10 years trying to get home (after spending 10 years fighting!). Homer’s Epic Poem, The Odyssey, gives the story of his journey home. It is truly an epic tale; Odysseus faces many obstacles on his way back, ranging from a Cyclops to a sea monster! One of the most popular obstacles he faces is the Sirens. In the poem, the Sirens have a song so beautiful that anyone who hears it wishes to stay with the Sirens and never leave. Odysseus wants to hear the song, so he has his crewmen tie him to the mast of their ship. This makes it possible for him to hear the song but impossible for him to leave. Meanwhile, his crew is rowing the ship, but their ears are plugged with beeswax so they can’t get distracted by the Sirens’ song.
Cream’s Take: Unlike Homer, Eric Clapton and Martin Sharp use the Roman name: Ulysses. The song mainly alludes to the Sirens, mythological beings that are typically depicted as women who are either part bird or part mermaid. The song gets it right in the references to the Sirens: “With the tales of brave Ulysses / How his naked ears were tortured /By the sirens sweetly singing.” This line also sets up Clapton’s guitar solo, making one wonder if the Sirens’ song sounds nearly as beautiful as his guitar tone. However, the song also makes reference to Aphrodite, the goddess of love and sexual desire. In Homer’s poem, this goddess is only seen in a story that a bard tells; she has no direct interaction with Odysseus. Clapton and Sharp may have chosen to refer to her, since more people are familiar with Aphrodite than they are Circe or Calypso, the nymphs that Odysseus/Ulysses actually “interacted” with in the poem (*wink wink*). Interestingly enough, Aphrodite is the Greek name for the goddess, even though the title of the song refers to Odysseus’/Ulysses’ Roman name.