Tracking Aerosmith's career trajectory from the beginning to the end of the '80s reveals one of the most remarkable comebacks in rock history.

The band was washed-up and left for dead at the turn of the decade, with Joe Perry having quit in 1979 and Brad Whitford following suit in 1981. Drugs and dysfunction had hobbled the one-mighty rockers, and they watched their album sales plummet as a new crop of bands rose up to usurp them.

After reaching their nadir on 1982's Rock in a Hard Place, Aerosmith reunited with Perry and Whitford and began the long, difficult process of mounting a comeback. They missed the mark on 1985's Done With Mirrors, but by 1987's Permanent Vacation they had rediscovered their groove and reached all-new heights thanks to their newfound sobriety and some help from outside writers. Their hot streak continued with 1989's Pump and lasted well into the next decade.

The Aerosmith of the late '80s was a different beast than the drugged-out '70s behemoth; they embraced power ballads and injected their songs with sky-high hooks. Dig into their '80s catalog, though, and you'll find their patented sleazy blues-rock is still very much intact — it's just supplemented by love songs, pop hits and even some surprising social commentary.

Read on to see the Top 15 '80s Aerosmith Songs.

15. "The Hop"

From: Done With Mirrors (1985)

The Bad Boys From Boston proved they still had it on the bluesy boogie-rocker “The Hop.” The aptly titled track evokes Toys in the Attic’s “Big Ten Inch Record,” replete with a zesty harmonica solo and sizzling guitar leads. Notably, it’s the only Done With MIrrors song to credit all five band members as co-writers, proof that for Aerosmith, the whole was greater than the sum of the parts.

 

14. "Joanie's Butterfly"

From: Rock in a Hard Place (1982)

Even at the height of their dysfunction, Aerosmith still churned out a few gems, including the single weirdest song in their discography: the psychedelic folk odyssey "Joanie's Butterfly." Steven Tyler delivers a head-spinning poem about a dancing, winged pony that may or may not be a euphemism for his penis, while the guitars alternate between jangly arpeggios and stampeding power chords. It's a moment of bizarre, epic grandeur that Aerosmith has never replicated — probably for the best.

 

13. "Heart's Done Time"

From: Permanent Vacation (1987)

The opening track off the blockbuster Permanent Vacation proved Aerosmith was back with a vengeance and hell-bent on cementing their comeback. The drums enter like a wrecking ball, and the guitar riffs crunch and snap with decadent glory. But the biggest indicator of Aerosmith’s newfound sobriety and determination is Tyler, whose screams sounds rawer and more robust than ever.

 

12. "Lightning Strikes"

From: Rock in a Hard Place

Of all the songs on Rock in a Hard Place, “Lightning Strikes” most closely resembles Aerosmith’s hell-raising ‘70s heyday. Maybe that’s because it’s the only song on the album that Brad Whitford played on before quitting. Whatever the reason, “Lightning Strikes” bottles some of the old magic with a tight groove and muscular riffs, while Tyler marshals his haggard voice to impressive effect. The textural keyboards during the intro sound like a minor mainstream concession, but by 1982, it was too little, too late.

 

11. "Rag Doll"

From: Permanent Vacation

“Rag Doll” was originally titled “Rag Time” due to its old-school New Orleans feel and Tyler's ample scarf collection. At the behest of A&R man John Kalodner, and with help from ace songwriter Holly Knight, the band eventually changed the title and reaped the benefits, claiming their third consecutive Top 20 hit. With a walloping groove from drummer Joey Kramer, greasy slide guitar work from Perry and spirited scatting from Tyler, "Rag Doll" deftly blended Aerosmith's old-school blues and R&B affinities with the high-gloss pop-metal dominating airwaves at the time.

 

10. "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)"

From: Permanent Vacation

The doctor is in — the song doctor, that is. With help from Desmond Child, Tyler and Perry turned a lighthearted jab at Vince Neil into a frothy pop-metal smash about a man who gets more than he bargained for when he goes backstage with a stripper. "The second verse says, 'Never judge a book by its cover or who you're going to love by your lover,' and I think that's a beautiful thought," Child told People. But the song's lofty message is secondary to the massive hooks and crackling performances.

 

9. "The Other Side"

From: Pump (1989)

One of the poppiest songs on Pump, “The Other Side” features massive, blustery horns and some of Perry’s most memorable backing vocals. But its catchiness doesn’t diminish its urgency. Kramer stays lodged in the pocket as he smashes his drums, and Perry delivers an absolute scorcher of a solo. The album version of the song kicks off with the instrumental “Dulcimer Stomp,” tethering Aerosmith to their swampy blues-rock roots before blasting them into the pop stratosphere.

 

8. "Walk This Way" (feat. Run-DMC)

From: Raising Hell (1986)

It seems like a no-brainer in hindsight, but Aerosmith and Run-DMC’s unlikely collaboration was nothing short of a sonic revolution upon its release in 1986. Although some members of the hip-hop trio initially wrote the song off as “hillbilly gibberish,” their irreverent take on the classic gives it the necessary facelift for a new generation of listeners. Tyler and Perry gamely recorded fresh parts for the collaboration, and coupled with an iconic music video, “Walk This Way” allowed both groups to literally and figuratively break down walls between rock and rap, pioneering a new genre and revitalizing Aerosmith’s floundering career.

 

7. "Hangman Jury"

From: Permanent Vacation

Aerosmith was nervous they had lost their songwriting mojo after getting sober for��Permanent Vacation. Thankfully, the bluesy “Hangman Jury” assuaged their fears and helped bridge the gap between their past and present. With its bluesy harmonica, swampy guitar licks and ominous storytelling, "Hangman Jury" consciously evoked the old blues greats Tyler and Perry had been raised on (and resulted in a lawsuit from Lead Belly’s estate). “When the riff to 'Hangman Jury' came flying off an old funky Silvertone guitar I had found, I was relieved,” Perry wrote in his 2014 memoir Rocks. “The music was there. The music was always there.”

 

6. "Let the Music Do the Talking"

From: Done With Mirrors

All eyes were on Aerosmith following their reunion with Joe Perry and Brad Whitford. Although 1985's Done With Mirrors failed to put the rockers back on top, the opening track "Let the Music Do the Talking" proved they were headed in the right direction. A remake of a Joe Perry Project song featuring updated lyrics from Tyler, "Let the Music Do the Talking" rocks with clarity and a healthy dose of braggadocio, setting the stage for their proper comeback on Permanent Vacation.

 

5. "What It Takes"

From: Pump

Most fans associate Aerosmith's comeback era 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 best of their career. "What It Takes" shirks the manicured melodrama of Permanent Vacation’s "Angel" in favor of poignant, country-flecked instrumentation and anguished vocals. "It's a ballad, but it's not a schmaltzy ballad," bassist Tom Hamilton told Rolling Stone in 2019. "The emotion in it is very real and it has a beautiful set of chord changes."

 

4. "Young Lust"

From: Pump

The opening track on Pump felt specially designed for critics of Aerosmith’s pop-rock turn on Permanent Vacation. “Young Lust” gets off to a blistering start with rapid-fire drums, titanic riffs and Tyler’s cat-in-heat squeals and keeps listeners in its thrall for its duration. The larger-than-life production gives the song a modern sheen, and the ribald lyrics prove that even as Aerosmith grew older, they had no interest in growing up.

 

3. "F.I.N.E."

From: Pump

Aerosmith keeps the thrills coming on Pump as “Young Lust” segues into “F.I.N.E.” (an acronym for “Fucked Up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional”), serving up a double dose of grimy riffs and pop hooks. It’s one of their hardest-hitting tracks since Rocks with an even greater sense of melody, boasting stellar vocal harmonies and a bridge that elevates the song. The final verse — look it up yourself — might just contain the filthiest lyrics Tyler ever wrote.

 

2. "Janie's Got a Gun"

From: Pump

Aerosmith made a career out of zigging when they should have zagged, but “Janie’s Got a Gun” might be their most shocking musical detour. An evocative, piano-based track about a young victim of sexual assault taking revenge on her father, it features some of the band’s most inventive instrumentation and captivating storytelling. “Janie” proved that Aerosmith could switch from debauched revelry to hot-button social commentary — and it’s Tyler’s second masterpiece behind “Dream On.”

 

1. "Love in an Elevator"

From: Pump

Of all the hits Aerosmith scored in their comeback era, "Love in an Elevator" gets closest to the debauched hard rock of their '70s heyday. The riffs are monolithic, the rhythm section stomps like a tyrannosaurus rex and Tyler's motor-mouthed lyrics are the perfect blend of sleazy and tongue-in-cheek. The glossy production and outro trumpet solo put the song squarely in pop-metal territory, but they can't dull Perry and Whitford's razor-sharp guitar solos.

Aerosmith Albums Ranked

Any worst-to-best ranking of Aerosmith must deal with two distinct eras: their sleazy '70s work and the slicker, more successful '80s comeback. But which one was better?

Gallery Credit: Ultimate Classic Rock Staff

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