Photo by Gems/Redferns
Sing For The Years: A Look Back At Aerosmith's Decades-Long Rock Legacy
2020 MusiCares Person Of The Year Aerosmith are the best-selling American rock band in history, with reported sales of 150 million records worldwide. But you don't garner 12 multi-platinum albums (not to mention 18 platinum and 25 gold) on stellar songs and performances alone: Formed in Boston in 1970, Aerosmith also lay claim to an enviable, coveted cool. With equal doses of bravado, talent, sensitivity (those power ballads!), danger (The Toxic Twins!), charisma and chemistry (the good kind!), Aerosmith earned their musical bonafides the hard way.
An amazing half-century later, irrepressible frontman Steven Tyler and guitar king of cool Joe Perry, along with multi-talented axeman Brad Whitford and the rock-solid rhythm section of bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer remain a band for the ages. Thanks to songs from all stages of their career, from the rock 'n' roll poetry of "Dream On" to the lustful "Love In An Elevator" to the GRAMMY-winning cry for social justice "Janie's Got a Gun," Aerosmith songs provide the soundtrack to the lives of millions of fans.
As with any successful band, Aerosmith endured low points, ones that the members don’t shy away from in their autobiographies or in the press. They’ve lived and definitely learned. But on the occasion of their MusiCares Person Of The Year recognition and Sunday night's 2020 GRAMMY performance, it's Aerosmith's ever-increasing and numerous highlights that are in the spotlight. Here are 10 of many:
"Clive Davis said he’s surely gonna make us a star…"
On August 5, 1972, five Boston lads known as Aerosmith land a $125,000 deal with Columbia, thanks to a show at New York's Max's Kansas City with Clive Davis in attendance. The band chronicled that legendary beginning in 1979's "No Surprize" with the lyrics "Nineteen seventy-one, we all heard the starter’s gun / New York was such a pity but at Max’s Kansas City we won / We all shot the shit at the bar / With Johnny O’Toole and his scar /And then old Clive Davis said he’s surely gonna make us a star…" In 1973, Aerosmith’s self-titled debut featured "Dream On"—which became a mega-hit in when re-released in 1975—as well as the often-played "Mama Kin," covered by Guns N' Roses, who cite Aerosmith as a major influence.
"Walk This Way"
It's not every day that a song marks a sea change, affecting popular culture. But in 1986, when the bluesy hard rockers teamed up with an influential NYC hip-hop trio, that’s just what happened. 11 years after "Walk This Way's" original inception, Aerosmith's collab with Run-DMC literally invented rap-rock, a seemingly unlikely crossover produced by Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin. The hugely popular video pitted Run-DMC and Aerosmith in a rap v. rock battle that ends in a joint performance of the song, with Steven Tyler literally breaking through the wall that separates the groups. "Walk This Way" was the first hip-hop hybrid video ever played in heavy rotation on MTV, and this version of the tune won both lineups a Soul Train Music Award for Best Rap - Single in 1987.
After Tyler's 1986 stint in rehab (with the rest of the band seeking sobriety at various points subsequent), "Walk This Way" helped kickstart a string of multi-platinum albums and Top 40 hits, starting with Permanent Vacation and single "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)" in 1987. Permanent Vacation was the band's bestselling album in over a decade (selling five million copies in the U.S.) with "Dude," "Angel" and "Rag Doll" reaching the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100. Tyler reveals in his autobiography that the album was "...the first one we ever did sober,” while drummer Kramer told the press, "There is a belief among musicians that if they don’t have their drugs and alcohol then they will lose their fire. We completely disproved that assumption."
In 1990, Aerosmith won their first GRAMMY award, for Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal, and eventually earned a total of four GRAMMYs for "Janie's Got a Gun," "Livin' on the Edge," "Crazy” and "Pink.” The video for "Crazy" was likewise historical. The hugely popular 1993 clip, akin to a short film, featured actress Alicia Silverstone and Tyler’s then-teenaged daughter Liv Tyler. To date, Aerosmith earned 14 nominations, and made their GRAMMY performance debut at the 33rd Awards in 1991 performing their version of the Beatles’ "Come Together."
"I Don't Want To Miss A Thing"
A highlight of 1998 was Aerosmith’s first number one Billboard single to date, the resonant "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing." The song, recorded specifically for the blockbuster film Armageddon, remained at #1 for four weeks. It was also a family affair, as Liv Tyler co-starred in the film, which used several Aerosmith songs. "I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing" was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original song, while the video was named MTV’s second most popular video of the year, nabbing the network’s “Best Video From A Movie” award.
"Never Forget That The 2001 Super Bowl Halftime Show Was The Most Iconic Moment of All Time"
Rock ruled at Super Bowl XXXV’s halftime show in 2001 thanks to Aerosmith, who were joined onstage for a rousing version of "Walk This Way" by pop royalty. *NSYNC, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige and Nelly teamed with the Boston boys for the crowd-rallying hit. Also performed were "Jaded" and "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," Many cited the halftime show as better than the game itself, Jenna Mullins of E! News opining: "Never Forget That The 2001 Super Bowl Halftime Show Was The Most Iconic Moment of All Time."
"Hey, aren't you Mick Jagger?"
In 2001, the scrappy hitmakers were honored by their peers and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the 2001’s 16th annual event in New York. Kid Rock, who performed with the Boston boys on "Sweet Emotion," inducted Aerosmith. In his thank-yous, Tyler namechecked influences and peers including the Kinks, the Stones and Nat King Cole, only partially joking when he quipped, "I wonder if this'll put an end to 'Hey, aren't you Mick Jagger?'"
Joe Perry may be a guitar hero, but the capital G "Guitar Hero" marked another feather in the band’s collective cap: Released in June 2008, it was the first game dedicated to one band. In addition to 25 Aerosmith songs, four cuts from Perry’s 2005 self-titled solo album were featured, plus contributions from collaborators and influences including Run-D.M.C. and the Kinks. A review in IGN called the challenging solos in "Train Kept A Rolling," "Mama Kin," and "Love In An Elevator" “a blast …From the first gig the band played at Nipmuc High to the Super Bowl halftime show and on to the Hall of Fame, the game traces the history of the band."
Viva Las Vegas
Aerosmith’s success in their Sin City residency was no gamble. The year 2019 saw the debut of Deuces Are Wild at the Park MGM, a residency that carried into 2020. "Deuces" not only features Aerosmith in concert but offers up immersive, state-of-the-art audio and video along with never-seen-before visuals and audio from recording sessions. One review (The Wrap) raved about the band’s energy half a century into their career: "..the band sets extremely unrealistic expectations for anyone else in AARP," and praised "Dream On" or "Walk This Way" as "ecstatically good."
MusiCares Person Of The Year
With their 2020 MusiCares Person Of The Year recognition, Aerosmith adds an accolade to an already much-lauded career. Person Of The Year, an honor bestowed by The Recording Academy's charity arm, commends musicians for their artistic achievement in the music industry and dedication to philanthropy. Tyler performed at a MusiCares MAP Fund benefit concert in 2008, and in 2009 auctioned clothing and memorabilia to benefit the fund. Tyler’s own Janie's Fund charity, founded in 2015, brings awareness to the issue of abuse and neglect of children and generates financial support for effective services to help them overcome the trauma and pain of abuse. In its inaugural gala, Janie's Fund raised $2.4 million to aid victims.