Aerosmith Ballads: Their 20 Best Tearjerkers
If there's one thing Aerosmith knows how to do, it's drugs. If there's another thing Aerosmith knows how to do, it's writing a killer power ballad.
Weepy, lovesick mega-ballads became the band's stock-in-trade when they launched their miraculous comeback in the late '80s, spearheaded by the No. 3 hit "Angel" from 1987's Permanent Vacation. A slew of supersized love songs followed over the next decade, including the epic "What It Takes," "Cryin'" and their sole chart-topper, "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing."
But Aerosmith's balladeering skills far predate their commercial second wind. They've been incorporating them into their repertoire ever since they included the epochal "Dream On" on their 1973 debut album, and nearly all of their '70s records featured at least one similarly tearjerking tune.
As with most things Aerosmith, their '70s ballads differ drastically from their glossy, MTV-ready '80s and '90s ballads, but each phase of their career contains several gems. Read on to see UCR's ranking of the Top 20 Aerosmith Ballads.
20. "Avant Garden"
From: Just Push Play (2001)
"Avant Garden" probably won't (and shouldn't) be topping any best-of Aerosmith lists anytime soon, but it deserves a nod simply for being eons better than other schmaltzy, cheeseball Just Push Play cuts like "Fly Away From Here" and "Luv Lies." Its sunny, psychedelic pop-rock stylings sound refreshingly organic compared to the rest of the album's desperate attempts at modernity, and Steven Tyler sounds convincingly yearning, particularly in the anguished, minor-key bridge. If the band had shaved two and a half minutes off this song, it might rank even higher.
From: Music From Another Dimension! (2012)
Music From Another Dimension! contains so many ballads, they can be separated into two factions: blockbuster spectacles like the Carrie Underwood-assisted "Can't Stop Loving You" and more subdued, melancholy fare like "Closer." Tyler sounds forlorn and world-weary as he sings about the push and pull of a thorny love affair over lilting guitar arpeggios and weeping solos. Deliberately paced and pleasantly unadorned, "Closer" blends the ragged jam band energy of Aerosmith's youth with the large-scale pop ambitions of their later years.
18. "Lay It Down"
From: O, Yeah! Ultimate Aerosmith Hits (2002)
Aerosmith linked up with producer, singer and Jodeci member DeVante Swing for "Lay It Down," one of two new songs issued on the double-disc O, Yeah! Ultimate Aerosmith Hits compilation. Centered mostly on a delicate piano melody and a dynamic vocal performance from Tyler, it's not radically different than anything on the previous year's Just Push Play, but the production is considerably less overwrought and it features a stellar bridge, which is enough to earn it a slot on this list.
17. "Tell Me"
From: Music From Another Dimension!
Bassist Tom Hamilton makes his first foray into lyric-writing and gets Aerosmith back to their '60s rock roots on the wistful "Tell Me," which evokes the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" with its jangly acoustic guitars, plinking mandolin and lush vocal harmonies. Tyler's voice has a slightly oaken quality, but he still summons his stadium-rock grandeur in the soaring choruses and delivers his trademark falsetto shriek with gusto. "I don't know how [Hamilton] can put being not in love in such eloquent terms – we can argue about that later," Tyler enthused to Rolling Stone when the song came out. "It's just genius."
16. "Deuces Are Wild"
From: The Beavis and Butt-Head Experience (1993)
Aerosmith perfected their latter-day blend of poppy, gritty power balladry on Get a Grip, and they were still firing on all cylinders when "Deuces Are Wild" surfaced on The Beavis and Butt-Head Experience compilation in late 1993. (The band issued it as a promo single early the following year.) The choruses soar to the cheap seats, while a bluesy harmonica solo and Joe Perry's swampy slide guitar keep it firmly rooted in the hard-rock realm. As Butt-Head correctly proclaims at the end of the song: "These guys are the kings of rock. There is none higher."
15. "Another Last Goodbye"
From: Music From Another Dimension!
Of the many, many ballads on Music From Another Dimension!, album closer "Another Last Goodbye" is the most inventive and convicted. The plaintive piano and string arrangement evokes the mid-'70s classic "You See Me Crying," while the gorgeous vocal harmonies take cues from the Beach Boys. The cracks in Tyler's robust voice lend the song an emotional heft, and lines like "You thaw your frozen heart out in somebody else's flames" have longtime co-writer Desmond Child's fingerprints all over them. If "Another Last Goodbye" is indeed Aerosmith's final send-off, it's a perfect way to go out.
From: Get a Grip (1993)
Tyler is in full recovery mode on Get a Grip's fourth single, spitting self-help platitudes like "Life's a journey, not a destination" and demanding to know how high you can fly with broken wings. It would sound trite in the hands of lesser musicians, but Tyler sinks his teeth into every syllable as the band rocks studiously behind him. Perry slashes through the somber piano chords, and his scorching, two-minute outro solo jolts "Amazing" into elite power ballad territory.
From: Permanent Vacation (1988)
"Tyler says that I ruined his career by making him write 'Angel' with Desmond [Child]," Geffen Records A&R guru John Kalodner lamented in the 1997 Aerosmith autobiography Walk This Way. If that's the case, it was a beautiful act of sabotage. Behind the boomy late-'80s production and wounded-puppy lyrics, "Angel" packs a treasure trove of deliciously heartsick melodies and a zesty solo from Perry. Its splashy (albeit totally cliche) music video guaranteed MTV supremacy, and "Angel" unsurprisingly vaulted to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, Aerosmith's second-biggest hit behind "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing."
12. "Full Circle"
From: Nine Lives (1997)
The four-year gap between Get a Grip and Nine Lives was full of personal and professional turmoil for Aerosmith, so it's fitting that the grizzled music industry veterans returned with an old-fashioned drinking anthem about the value of living in the moment. "Full Circle" is a welcome change from the band's typical heartsick mega-ballads, full of blistering guitar work and catchy one-liners like "Don't piss heaven off, we've got hell to pay." We'll drink to that.
11. "Hole in My Soul"
From: Nine Lives
The tentpole ballad off 1997's Nine Lives was another collaboration among Tyler, Perry and Child, and it's got the same supersized choruses and vivid storytelling of their former smashes. The lead guitar work is more than a little reminiscent of "Dream On," but Tyler compensates with some clever vocalizing and slick turns of phrase: "I know there's been all kinds of shoes underneath your bed / Now I sleep with my boots on, but you're still in my head."
From: Night in the Ruts (1979)
Unlike the monstrous, hook-laden power ballads of Aerosmith's late-'80s and early-'90s reign, Night in the Ruts' closer "Mia" is a tastefully restrained number that relies almost entirely on Tyler's piano and vocals. The singer wrote the song for his daughter Mia amid the band's drug-fueled implosion, and it remains a haunting, remarkably lucid parting shot that presages their demise. "It was a lullaby I wrote on the piano for my daughter, but the tolling bell notes at the end of the song and the end of the album sounded more like the death knell of Aerosmith for people who knew what was going on," Tyler said in Walk This Way.
9. "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing"
From: Armageddon: The Album (1998)
For many old-school Aerosmith fans, "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" was the last straw — the moment the band plunged headfirst into pop after dipping its toes in the water for more than a decade. It's hard to blame them. Scoring a No. 1 hit off a Diane Warren composition that appeared on the Armageddon soundtrack was a textbook sellout move. Is there even a guitar on this thing? It doesn't matter, because if you divorce the song from its context, "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" is a pop masterstroke. Tyler didn't write the lyrics, but he interprets them as if they were etched onto his soul. It was the ultimate Faustian bargain, forcing Aerosmith — specifically Tyler — to fruitlessly chase that ephemeral high for the rest of their career. It just might have been worth it.
From: Get a Grip
"Cryin'" is the quintessential comeback-era Aerosmith power ballad — a bluesy, blustery, runaway freight train of supersized hooks that is scientifically impossible not to sing along to. Forget about a slow burn: The band tears into the song at a "10" and refuses to let up for five minutes. There's a red-hot guitar solo, followed by a harmonica solo, followed by another guitar solo, all while Tyler wails so hard his head sounds like it'll pop off his neck. It's peak pop-rock melodrama and the consummation of everything Aerosmith had been working toward since they got their second lease on life.
From: Get a Grip
For most rock bands, a "Cryin'"-level smash would have satisfied their power ballad quota for one album. But Aerosmith has never been a band to practice moderation, so they doused "Cryin'" in a new coat of paint, doubled the harmonicas, renamed it "Crazy" and placed it two songs later on the same album. "Crazy" is the slightly grittier companion to "Cryin'," full of bluesy guitar licks and tasty phrasing from Tyler. It's a testament to the quality of both songs and to Aerosmith's imperial early-'90s reign that "Crazy" promptly followed its successor into the Top 20.
6. "Ain't That a Bitch"
From: Nine Lives
The beleaguered Nine Lives failed to match the sales of its predecessors, but its performances are dynamite, most of all the volcanic power ballad "Ain't That a Bitch." Its brassy, forlorn verses juxtapose with towering choruses, and Tyler's ear-piercing screams would make singers half his age blush. His spectacular scat-singing in the outro jam is unlike anything Aerosmith ever recorded, and "Ain't That a Bitch" puts many of their more commercial ballads to shame.
5. "You See Me Crying"
From: Toys in the Attic (1975)
When Tyler sits down at the piano, magic happens. "You See Me Crying" ends the star-making Toys in the Attic in grandiose fashion — an old-timey, unabashed weeper replete with a full orchestral arrangement and a smoldering Brad Whitford solo. The song is so good — and Tyler was so strung out — that when a DJ played it for the newly reunited band in 1984, Tyler suggested they cover it, to which Perry replied, "It's us, fuckhead."
4. "What It Takes"
From: Pump (1989)
Most fans rightfully associate Aerosmith's comeback era revival with their seemingly endless string of hit ballads, but their second (and best) post-rehab album, Pump, contains only one — and it's one of the most spellbinding of their career. "What It Takes" shirks the manicured melodrama of the previous album's "Angel" in favor of poignant, country-flecked instrumentation and disarmingly tender vocals. "It's a ballad, but it's not a schmaltzy ballad," Hamilton told Rolling Stone in 2019. "The emotion in it is very real and it has a beautiful set of chord changes."
3. "Seasons of Wither"
From: Get Your Wings (1974)
On the whole, Aerosmith's sophomore album marked a quantum leap in songwriting over their self-titled debut. The shift is best illustrated in the haunting quasi-ballad "Seasons of Wither," a master class in musical dynamics and eerie storytelling. "I used to lie in my bed at dawn, listening to the wind in the bare trees, how lonely and melancholy it sounded," Tyler said in Walk This Way. "One night I went down to the basement ... and took a few Tuinals and a few Seconals and I scooped up this guitar Joey [Kramer] gave me, this Dumpster guitar, and I lit some incense and wrote 'Seasons of Wither.'" Even the ballad-averse Perry called it his favorite of Aerosmith's repertoire.
2. "Home Tonight"
From: Rocks (1976)
Just as "You See Me Crying" brought Toys in the Attic to a stunning close, "Home Tonight" ends the follow-up album Rocks in spectacular, heartrending fashion. Whereas the former went for orchestral maximalism, "Home Tonight" is a minimalist masterpiece, anchored around Tyler's brilliant piano work and searing, weeping guitars. The frontman sings with desperate longing, and the scant, simplistic lyrics evoke a yearning and nostalgia for experiences listeners might not have even felt themselves.
1. "Dream On"
From: Aerosmith (1973)
The song that launched a career and a million lighters in the air, "Dream On" remains Aerosmith's magnum opus and one of the greatest songs in the classic rock canon. Tyler had nothing to lose and the world to gain when he wrote it as a teenager, and his burning desire for stardom is almost quaint in its purity. Every element of the band's performance is note-perfect, right down to Tyler's cathartic, soon-to-be-signature scream, and "Dream On" rightfully endures as an anthem for anyone who's ever dared to want something out of their life.