The Lasting Power (and Emotion) of Aerosmith’s ‘Sweet Emotion’
"Sweet Emotion" helped Aerosmith break through to the Top 40, while kicking off a string of hit songs and albums that continued for decades.
With a percussive vocal melody that opens up into a soaring chorus, booty-shaking guitar work from Joe Perry and Brad Whitford and a distinctive bass line from Tom Hamilton, this quickly became one of the band's signature songs after being released on May 19, 1975. It's also one of those cuts that sounds better the louder it gets.
Given how comfortably 'Sweet Emotion' rests on the groove, it's fitting that Hamilton's bass riff started the whole song. Producer Jack Douglas recognized the need for more material toward the end of recording sessions for Toys in the Attic, and "Sweet Emotion" began coming together when he asked Aerosmith if they had any extra songs.
"I smoked a bowl or two and wrote the arrangements, the guitar parts," Hamilton said in the Aerosmith memoir Walk This Way. "Steven [Tyler] took the intro, turned it around, changed the key and we used it as the tag, the resolution of the song. Brad, Joey [Kramer], 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."
Hamilton's enthusiasm is easy to understand. Its basic ingredients are lifted from classic blues and traditional rock, but "Sweet Emotion" also boasts a few inventive touches that made it stand out at the time – and still sound fresh today. Among them is a bass marimba and some nifty talkbox work from Perry.
Watch Aerosmith's 'Sweet Emotion' Video
Radio responded immediately, sending the song to No. 36 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart and prompting the reissue of Aerosmith's 1973 single "Dream On," which gave the band its first Top 10 hit.
Ironically, the emotions behind the song's lyrics weren't so sweet. Tensions within the band were growing at the time – particularly between Tyler, Perry and their wives and girlfriends. A number of the lines in "Sweet Emotion" ultimately came from Tyler's need to indulge in "angry side talking," he said in Walk This Way. The line "Can't say, baby, where I'll be in a year", for instance, served as a not-so-veiled intention to leave the group and end up "at least 1,000 miles away" from his musical partner.
As any Aerosmith fan knows, this would be far from the last time Tyler and Perry would squabble. For a period in the '80s, it looked like their partnership had dissolved permanently. All's well that ends well, however, and after rediscovering sobriety, the band roared back to commercial prominence with 1987's Permanent Vacation, starting a successful new phase in Aerosmith history.
They remained a solid live draw, even if some felt Aerosmith's modern-era records leaned too heavily on radio-friendly pop tracks – and material from outside writers. Whether you're crazy about their latter-day output or not, however, it's hard to argue with the power of "Sweet Emotion."
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