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Michael's Number Ones: "Jaded" by Aerosmith


DATE

WEEKS

February 10, 2001

1

By 2001, Aerosmith really had nothing left to prove. They had been a cautionary tale about the excesses of rock and roll, until an unlikely comeback brought them to even greater success. They got their only #1 on the Hot 100 with an out-of-character ballad that's one of my least favorite songs of the 90s. When they released their 13th studio album Just Push Play in 2001, they were taking a victory lap around the music industry, as they played the Super Bowl halftime show and got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the same year. Still, their reputation was such that the lead single from the album immediately caught my attention and went straight to #1 on my top 40.


The story of Aerosmith is so long and winding prior to "Jaded" that this article can't possibly do it justice. So consider this the cliff-notes version of the band's history.



Steven Tyler and Joe Perry had each formed bands in the late 1960s when their paths crossed at a show in Boston in 1970. They each loved to play blues-style rock, and eventually agreed to combine their bands, which also included Tom Hamilton on bass and Joey Kramer on drums to form what would become Aerosmith. Brad Whitford would later round out the group on rhythm guitar. The group garnered a cult following in the Boston area and would release their self-titled debut in 1973 on Columbia Records. The album wasn't an immediate hit, with the lead single "Dream On" peaking at #59 on the Hot 100. The band followed it up with Get Your Wings in 1974 and relentlessly toured behind the two albums. However, it was their third album Toys in the Attic that would catapult them to stardom.



I listened to Toys in the Attic recently in preparation for this column, and it's such a fun record. It's foregrounded in blues much more than their British hard rock counterparts, like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. The charts eventually caught up with the group's popularity, as a re-released "Dream On" would climb to #6 in 1976, while the James Brown-esque song "Walk This Way" reached #10. They also released their fourth album Rocks that year, an album that went on to influence bands ranging from Metallica to Nirvana as the years passed.


I remember at some point growing up, my dad had switched his go-to station in the car radio to the classic rock station Q104.3, so bands like Aerosmith were in constant rotation whenever we drove anywhere. It was a vital education for me. Hearing songs like "Sweet Emotion" and "Dream On" in the car always made the drive seem that much more enjoyable. "Dream On" almost feels thematically like a prologue for Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", which was released a couple years afterward. There's a theatricality to the song that audiences in the 70s probably weren't ready for. Its legacy has continued for decades after the fact, with Eminem sampling it on his 2002 song "Sing for the Moment". (It peaked at #19 on my top 40. Eminem will eventually appear in this column.)


Aerosmith would continue touring and recording during the 70s, but drug abuse caught up with members of the band, and their music suffered as a result. Perry and Whitford would leave the group for a time, eventually reuniting for their 1985 album Done with Mirrors, but the band was nowhere near their commercial peak of the mid-70s. Then they were about to get an improbable lifeline.



While producing Run-DMC's 1986 album Raising Hell, Rick Rubin played a copy of Toys in the Attic and Joseph Simmons and Darryl McDaniels began rapping over the song "Walk This Way", despite having never heard of Aerosmith. Rubin convinced the group to cover the song, and even got Tyler and Perry to contribute to the recording. It was an incredible step toward legitimizing hip-hop in the public consciousness, getting airplay on urban, rock, and pop radio, and the cover peaked at #4 on the Hot 100.


Given a second chance out of nowhere, the band members went through drug rehab and made the most out of their opportunity for a comeback. Their next two albums, Permanent Vacation and Pump, returned the band to new heights of success both on tour and the charts. MTV certainly helped their cause, as the band released several iconic music videos during the 90s, in the process turning Alicia Silverstone and Tyler's daughter Liv into stars. By 1998, it all culminated in the biggest hit of the band's career.


Everything about the movie Armageddon is quite batshit in retrospect. Astronomers discover an asteroid "the size of Texas" on a path toward Earth only 18 days before impact. And when the government decides to send astronauts into space to destroy the asteroid, they send an oil rig worker and his co-workers to do the job. I liked the movie back in the day, but nothing about it makes any sense. Maybe that's why whoever was in charge of the soundtrack thought Aerosmith was a good choice to perform the film's theme. (Well, that and Liv Tyler starring in the film as Bruce Willis' character's daughter.)


The Diane Warren-penned "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" probably was the last song a band like Aerosmith ought to have recorded. Warren herself said she envisioned someone like Celine Dion singing the song. Given that Dion's mega-hit from Titanic "My Heart Will Go On" had just hit #1 a few months earlier, it's no surprise that radio was ready for another power ballad from a blockbuster movie. I remember 1998 as being a really fun year for music, but I found those two songs absolutely intolerable. It looked for a while that "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" would join the list of 90s radio hits that missed the Hot 100, but a commercial single was finally released in September, and the song debuted at #1 where it stayed for four weeks.



In hindsight, their 2001 album Just Push Play has all the trappings of a too-big-to-fail moment. Joe Perry would later remark that the band's 2001 album Just Push Play was his least favorite Aerosmith record, noting that all five members of the band were never together at any point during recording. "Jaded" seems to be a good example of this detachedness. It's a fine song, but I can't bring up the same enthusiasm for it that I had back when in 2001. Tyler claims the inspiration for the song was missing out on Liv's childhood while on tour. Reading the lyrics to the song, I have a hard time seeing that come through. "You got your mama's style/but you're yesterday's child to me" feels like the closest he comes to touching upon this. When I listen to the song now, it feels like a case where the sum of the parts is less than the whole.


The video casts Mila Kunis, then starring on "That 70's Show", as the "jaded" girl, living a life of luxury, but wanting more out of life. A spirit appeals to her in a mirror, and she eventually makes her way to a forest, where she realizes she's crying. The band, meanwhile, perform in an ornate theater with an audience that wouldn't look out of place in a Panic! At the Disco video (a band that will eventually appear in this column). I recall MTV doing a "Making the Video" for this when it premiered. There's a lot of excess to the video that a band like Aerosmith ought to be known for, but in this case, it almost feels like their creative team asked a lot of questions and never got a "no" answer.


Off the heels of their biggest hit, and with a Super Bowl performance and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction looming, the band would've had to release a real stinker for it not to find the top 10. And when you're 14, I guess it's hard to see hype hitting you in the face when it comes. The song debuted at #21 on January 13, still the fifth-highest debut in my chart's history, and it quickly rose to #1. Over on the Hot 100, the song topped out at #7, marking the band's final top 10 hit. The follow-up was "Fly Away From Here", an anodyne ballad that peaked at #14 on my chart, but didn't do a whole lot elsewhere. They haven't appeared on my chart since.


The band has only released two more albums since then, 2004's Honkin' on Bobo, a collection of blues covers, and Music from Another Dimension! in 2012. I can't recall hearing a single song from either album, and you'd probably be forgiven if you haven't either. The band had a Las Vegas residency that was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and recently announced a farewell tour that's due to begin in September. It's safe to say Aerosmith won't be appearing in this column again.


When I started this column, I thought about assigning grades for each song at the end of the column, similar to the 1-10 grades Tom Breihan gives on Stereogum's The Number Ones, the inspiration for this column. I decided against this because most of these songs are probably going to get positive reviews, which would make the grades kinda boring and redundant. Still, the passage of time is going to shape my reviews of these songs, and once in a while, I'll fall out of love with a song that in its time I couldn't imagine living without. We all go through that, and not just with music, but in all aspects of life. Just don't call me jaded for saying that.


HONORABLE MENTIONS

Madonna's trippy, postmodern cowboy bop "Don't Tell Me" peaked at #4 behind "Jaded".



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