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Music

The reason why Aerosmith only had one number one song

@TylerGolsen

For better or for worse, Aerosmith are one of America’s most successful and influential rock bands. Originally a blues-based outfit who were constantly dodging accusations of being Rolling Stones ripoffs, the inhuman shrieks of Stephen Tyler and the raunchy single-entendres that filled out their catalogue began to catch on with mainstream audiences. Peaking in the mid to late 1970s, Aerosmith were a self-contained unit who wrote their own songs and kept their hard rock integrity.

But the boys in Aerosmith learned an important lesson in 1986. That’s when Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry agreed to collaborate with New York rap gods Run-DMC on a new version of the song ‘Walk This Way’. Tyler and Perry were less than enthused to work on the project, but they were desperate for relevance to restart Aerosmith’s mainstream career, which had stalled out at the beginning of the ’80s. While the song proved to be an important landmark in the crossover of rock and rap, the main thing that Aerosmith noticed was that they were back in the top ten in America.

That’s why, for their next LP Permanent Vacation, the band agreed to let professional songwriters infiltrate their songwriting process for the first time. While Tyler and Perry, the band’s main songwriters, still got credit for their compositions, Aerosmith began to rely on the assistant of outside writers. And why shouldn’t they: with the assistance of figures like Desmond Child and Jim Vallance, songs like ‘Rag Doll’ and ‘Dude Looks Like a Lady’ represented their first top 20 hits since ‘Walk This Way’ hit the top ten in 1976. A decade later, Aerosmith found a new route to chart topping success.

And so the band kept going back to the well. 1989 saw Aerosmith land two top ten singles without the assistance from outside songwriters, with ‘Love in an Elevator’ and ‘Janie’s Got a Gun’ completed solely within the group. But every one of the band’s subsequent top 20 singles were written with the help of someone outside the band, including power ballads ‘Crazy’ and ‘Cryin’, which pushed Aerosmith in a softer, more grandiose direction.

During the band’s tour in support of their 1997’s LP Nine Lives, Aerosmith were approached by the producers of Armageddon, the film that Tyler’s daughter Liv was shooting. They wanted Aerosmith to record the central love ballad, which had already been written by professional songwriter Diane Warren. Warren had envisioned a more seasoned ballad singer, like Celine Dion, to take on the song. Aerosmith themselves were faced with their most drastic stylistic departure to date.

For anyone who had been clinging to the last remnants of Aerosmith’s hard-earned rock and roll image of the ’70s, ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’ represented a complete nadir. But Aerosmith were always looking for the fountain of youth when it came to cultural relevancy, and they were smart enough to see the sappy ballad for what it was: a real shot at unmatched commercial success. They were right, and ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’ became Aerosmith’s one and only number one hit on either side of the Atlantic, staying at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks in 1998.

Even though it was the band’s commercial peak, ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’ came to be seen as the end of Aerosmith’s career as contemporary hit makers. The band’s final top ten hit, ‘Jaded’, came just three years later, and none of the group’s subsequent singles ever landed in the top 40 again. Aerosmith hasn’t even released a new single since 2013’s Carrie Underwood duet ‘Can’t Stop Lovin’ You’, but the band had already proved plenty when they landed their only number one song 25 years after their debut single first hit the market.