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Music

How Joe Perry of Aerosmith wrote the riff for 'Love in an Elevator

Born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1950, Joseph Anthony Pereira, more commonly known as Joe Perry, would go on to become one of the world’s most celebrated guitarists. The lead axeman in rock titans Aerosmith, he and frontman Steven Tyler would come to embody a trans-Atlantic version of the swaggering, hedonistic Rolling Stones duo Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. However, their music had much more bite than The Stones could ever have imagined.

An incredibly versatile six-string maestro, Perry’s style sits somewhere between that of Jimi Hendrix and Slash, every bit as impressive as both. In fact, one would argue that Perry, although very well-respected, often gets overlooked in discussions of the ultimate guitar playing greats, which is a travesty, as he’s every bit as adept as the likes of Eric Clapton and has a style that is as instantly recognisable.

Whilst he’s given us many incredible moments over his long career, one of the most iconic is undoubtedly ‘Love in an Elevator’, the lead single from Aerosmith’s 1989 return to form, Pump. This was Perry at his swaggering best, and it was no coincidence that the song was such a crossover hit; both pop and rock fans were captivated by him and the band’s masterful performance. 

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Blending flecks of 1960s psychedelia with the contemporary shredding that the likes of Mötley Crüe and Van Halen popularised, Perry combined the old and new on the track, creating a dynamic delight that has a timeless essence. Well, luckily for us, in an interview with Total Guitar guitar back in 2010, Perry revealed how he composed the song’s famous riff. 

Casting his mind back, he said: “That particular riff kind of floated my way during one of mine and Steven (Tyler’s) writing sessions. I was probably listening to Jimi Hendrix on the ride up. I was talking to Rick Rubin once about writer’s block and he said, ‘Make a CD of all the songs that you fell in love with and made you love rock ‘n’ roll.'”

He continued: “‘Listen to that over and over again, and it’ll start the wheels going’. So I was listening to a lot of Hendrix. It was one of those riffs that just played itself. I picked up the guitar, and it just started coming out.”

The interviewer then asked Perry if he instantly knew that he’d created a fantastic riff, to which the guitarist surprised us all by revealing that he only realised a while after. “I don’t know if you ever do. Sometimes when a record’s done, I’m satisfied and I won’t listen back to it for a while ‘cos I’m usually pretty tired of the songs,” Perry explained. “Then I’ve got to learn them again to play them live and sometimes it takes a while to realise it’s a really good record. Even now I’ll listen to a record and go, ‘I kind of forgot about that riff. It’s actually pretty good!'”

It’s rather shocking that Joe Perry didn’t immediately realise that the riff he had created was iconic, however, it was in its most premature form and he had no idea of the gigantic sound that Pump‘s producer, Bruce Fairbairn, would give the song and album. Regardless, the song became an instant classic and confirmed to everyone that Aerosmith were back from the brink and they were here to stay.

Listen to ‘Love in an Elevator’ below.

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