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The Story Behind The Song: Aerosmith's iconic 'Sweet Emotion'

‘Sweet Emotion’ by Aerosmith is an iconic track. Whether it be the chorus, guitarist Joe Perry’s riffing, or even its use in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, there are many reasons to love the 1975 classic. This accounts for why the song has been so enduring within popular culture. It has a timeless style, and that’s why we love it. 

The song has long been taken as an ode to the hippie spirit, a celebration of being high, and hedonism in general. However, the song has a much deeper meaning than that, and ironically, it was written during a tense period for the band.

Frontman Steven Tyler wrote the track about how frustrated he felt with the situation in the band at the time. Famously, the band were doing a lot of drugs, and this led to boiling tensions, particularly between ‘The Toxic Twins’, Tyler and Perry. The finished product became a statement of independence, defiance, and an unwavering dedication to self-fulfilment in the face of adversity from others.  

On numerous occasions, Tyler has claimed that the first lines, “Talk about things that nobody cares / wearing out things that nobody wears,” were written about Perry’s first wife, Elyssa, as at the time, there was an incredible amount of tension between the two, exacerbated by drug use. One night, things came to a head between Tyler and Elyssa when the frontman went to Perry’s hotel room on a desperate hunt for drugs, but he was sent away by the couple, who refused to share their score. Understandably for an addict, he was incensed.

In his 1997 memoir Walk This Way, Tyler explained that the opening lines of the song were his “angry side talking”, and recalled that when he wrote the line, “Can’t say baby where I’ll be in a year”, he had Elyssa in mind, quipping “but it will be at least 1000 miles away from you!”

Musically, the song was based on the grooving bassline that Tom Hamilton stumbled across one day in the studio. Tyler knew instantly that this was the perfect setting for his lyrics, and they put the song together with ease in a jam session. 

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Hamilton credits the band’s producer, Jack Douglas, with him completing the bassline. Towards the end of the recording sessions for what would become Toys In The Attic, Douglas asked the band if anyone had any leftover riffs that hadn’t been used. Allegedly, that was when Hamilton stepped forward, and he won over everyone in the room instantly. 

In Walk This Way, Hamilton remembered: “I smoked a bowl or two and wrote the arrangements, the guitar parts. Steven took the intro, turned it around, changed key, and we used it as the tag, the resolution of the song. Brad, Joey, and I went home. Next time we heard ‘Sweet Emotion,’ it had the overdubs, the vocals, and I flipped out. I loved what they did with it.”

Interestingly, the song also has a hidden message buried within its heady tones. The band recorded themselves clapping and chanting, which was then played backwards in the final mix of the song, which creates the iconic sucking-type noise that is heard during the bridge, as Perry lets rip with one of his best licks. Due to conflicting accounts, what the band actually chanted is up for debate.

One thing is clear. The chant was based on Aerosmith‘s ex-manager, Frank Connelly, who had just been diagnosed with cancer and had sold the rights to manage the band to Steve Leber and David Krebs. Per Tyler’s account, the band were saying “Fuck you, Frank”. However, Douglas maintains that it was instead, “Thank you, Frank”. It’s up to you which you choose to believe. 

An iconic song, with a lengthy backstory to boot, it just adds to the brilliance of ‘Sweet Emotion’. There’s no surprise the song has found a place in the hearts of three different generations, as with many classic songs, it has a genuine density.

Listen to ‘Sweet Emotion’ below.

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