It’s been a wild ride for Aerosmith. The rock legends emerged in 1970s with a string of hit songs that remain staples on classic rock radio stations across the globe. Now, the legendary band is ready to say goodbye with a 2023-2024 farewell tour (tickets available here).
Having formed in Boston in 1970, and led by “Toxic Twins” Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, Aerosmith have been going strong for more than 50 years. The band — also featuring Brad Whitford, Tom Hamilton, and Joey Kramer — truly took off with 1975’s Toys in the Attic featuring the infectious “Sweet Emotion” (their first Top 40 placement) and the riffy strutter “Walk This Way.”
Aerosmith’s brand of hard rock was just a bit looser and perhaps a little more risqué than what contemporaries like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, or Journey were putting out, so it’s no wonder that many of the hard rock and glam metal bands of the 1980s — the Mötley Crües and Poisons of the world — cited the Massachusetts act as a major influence.
Despite a down spell in the late ’70s/early ’80s when Perry briefly left the band, Aerosmith have maintained commercial relevance over the years by surfing the shifting trends of the decades — if not downright embracing them (i.e. the pioneering rap-rock collab with Run-DMC on their “Walk This Way” cover). Perry and Tyler always seemed to have a radio-ready tunes up their sleeve, and whenever it seemed like Aerosmith were on the verge of fading from the cultural consciousness, they’d drop an inescapable song like “Janie’s Got a Gun” or “Jaded.”
While things have slowed down somewhat over the past few years as the band members get up there in age and deal with various health setbacks, Aerosmith still remain the best-selling American hard rock band of all-time. And their influence carries on, as newer acts like Dirty Honey and Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown (whose guitarist Graham Whitford is the son of Aerosmith axeman Brad Whitford) offer a modern take on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band’s raw and rockin’ sound.
It’s been a hell of a run, and with Aerosmith’s aforementioned farewell tour set to kick off later this year, we take a look back at their 10 best songs. No easy task for a band defined by a long résumé of hit singles.
Senior Staff Writer
10. “Love in an Elevator”
The hard rock and glam metal musicians of the ’80s hair era often cited Aerosmith as an influence, so it was only appropriate that the band get in on the action with the 1989 single “Love in an Elevator.” Complete with the sexually suggestive lyrics indicative of the times, the track is arguably the closest Aerosmith ever got to the big glammed-up sound that had engulfed the rock music industry at the turn of the decade. Even if Tyler and Perry were apt to poke fun at the hair metal movement, “Love in an Elevator” proved they could still play ball in that industry climate. — Jon Hadusek
2001’s Just Push Play was somewhat of a career resurgence for the group, debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and garnering praise as their best work since the late 1980s. A big reason why was surely lead single “Jaded.” An infectious hybrid of 1970s hard rock and contemporary alternative rock/pop rock, its subtle orchestration, engaging percussion, and sincere singing beautifully embody Tyler’s regret for missing daughter Liv’s childhood. Admittedly, it evokes Led Zeppelin’s “Dancing Days” quite closely, but it also radiates Aerosmith’s characteristic charm. — Jordan Blum
08. “Toys in the Attic”
The raucous title cut from the band’s seminal 1975 album sounds like it’s about to fall off the rails for a good minute, shambling ahead with a lanky blues-rock riff. It’s Tyler’s sharp vocal delivery that reins the band back in, as he matches his cadence to Perry’s guitar line to form the central hook. Aerosmith harnessed a raw chaos early in their career, but they never let it overtake the sharp craftsmanship of their songs. Here, they teeter on the edge, getting a bit messy (but never sloppy) while careening toward the final refrain: “Toys, toys, toys in the attic…” — J.H.
This cut from 1993’s Get a Grip – which kickstarted co-writer Taylor Rhodes’ working relationship with the band – quickly became one of the quintet’s most beloved ballads, and for good reason. As Tyler told Rolling Stone in 2015, “It was country — we just Aerosmith’d it,” and that’s true regarding not only its ruggedly pining lyrics, but also its aridly biting guitarwork, somber harmonica accompaniments, and driving waltz tempo. Plus, the peppering of horns throughout adds a bit of sultry liveliness, making it simultaneously bombastic and brokenhearted. — J.B.
06. “Same Old Song and Dance”
Early career staple “Same Old Song and Dance” came about organically. While sitting on his amplifier with guitar in hand, Perry came up with the central riff, and the rest of the song fell into place. Tyler mimicked his vocal melody on the riff (a recurring trait in Aerosmith’s music), while Whitford also followed Perry’s lead to create the track’s potent dual-guitar attack. Producer Jack Douglas’ decision to bring in the Brecker Brothers for the horn section added the finishing touch on this memorable three-minute boogie. — J.H.
05. “Janie’s Got a Gun”
When it comes to dramatic storytelling, evocative atmospheres, and captivating melodies, it’s hard to top “Janie’s Got a Gun.” It’s a chillingly sophisticated tale of a woman getting revenge for childhood abuse, with its moody arrangement (including strings, piano, and backing chants) building tension and catharsis around Tyler’s cautionary verses and hooky choruses. Unsurprisingly, it earned Aerosmith the 1990 Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group, and it’s an absolute highlight not only from 1989’s Pump but from their entire catalog. — J.B.
04. “Walk This Way”
“Walk This Way” is arguably the greatest two-for-one hit single of all-time. Not only did the riff-centric tune become a Top 10 hit in 1977 (two years after it was included on 1975’s Toys in the Attic), but it would help revitalize Aerosmith’s career when they teamed with Run-DMC for an iconic collaborative cover of the song in 1986. The cover version is often cited as a pioneering moment for the rap-rock genre and simultaneously bridged the gap between rock and hip-hop culture in the mid ’80s. It felt appropriate to include both versions of “Walk This Way” below. — J.H.
03. “Back in the Saddle”
The opening track from 1976’s Rocks, it’s a killer homage to Gene Autry’s 1939 staple, “Back in the Saddle Again.” Tyler clearly relishes bringing his signature high-pitched feistiness to every lead vocal line; meanwhile, lead axeman Perry handles six-string bass as Whitford lays down the main guitar riffs. He does a phenomenal job throughout, with some especially awesome playing near the end. Supported by the always-reliable rhythmic duo of Hamilton and Kramer, “Back in the Saddle” is easily among the group’s greatest hard rock compositions. — J.B.
02. “Sweet Emotion”
Much of Aerosmith’s early commercial success can be traced back to “Sweet Emotion.” Released as a single in support of Toys in the Attic, the song became the band’s first Top 40 hit, leading them to re-release their self-titled debut album’s “Dream On” as a single (and the rest is history, etc.). But it was “Sweet Emotion” that first caught the public’s attention with its dynamic arrangement, chunky guitar licks, and psych-tinged production. The atmospheric intro, guided by Tom Hamilton’s iconic bassline, breaks into a gutsy hard-rock verse that flows into a descending, climactic guitar riff. Every little quirk of the song is calculated for maximum payoff — Perry’s use of the talkbox in the intro; Tyler somehow stretching the titular chorus delivery across four bars; the swooshing tape effect of the chorus riff — making “Sweet Emotion” the stuff of legend, especially from a production standpoint. — J.H.
01. “Dream On”
While it took a few years for “Dream On” to break into the mainstream spotlight, it inarguably ranks alongside gems such as “Stairway to Heaven” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” as one of classic rock’s truest masterpieces. From the purity of Tyler’s voice and poeticism of his songwriting, to the eloquently stirring guitarwork, tender piano chords, anthemic rhythms, and dynamic production, it’s a tour-de-force of craftsmanship and execution. Of course, Tyler’s closing screeches are the iconic icing on the cake, and although Aerosmith have continued to be great, they’ve never been better. — J.B.
Aerosmith’s farewell tour is set to kick off September 2nd, 2023, in Philadelphia. Pick up tickets here.