“It’s about the hunger to be somebody,” said Steven Tyler of Aerosmith‘s first hit. “Dream until your dreams come true.”
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Released in 1973, on the band’s eponymous debut, “Dream On” was also the first single the band ever released, and it centered on not giving up, and “the shit you put up with when you’re in a new band,” according to Tyler.
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Every time that I look in the mirror
All these lines on my face getting clearer
The past is gone
Oh, it went by like dusk to dawn
Isn’t that the way?
Everybody’s got their dues in life to pay, oh, oh, oh
I know nobody knows
Where it comes and where it goes
I know it’s everybody’s sin
You got to lose to know how to win
The Meaning of “Dream On”
Lyrically and musically, “Dream On” measures all the highs and lows and precarious nature of following one’s dreams, all crescendoing around an eruptive chorus.
Oh, sing with me, sing for the year
Sing for the laughter, and sing for the tear
Sing it with me, if it’s just for today
Maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will take you away
I dream on
Dream a little, I’ll dream on
I dream on
I dream on
The music for “Dream On,” according to Tyler, was originally written on a Steinway upright piano in the living room of the Trow-Rico Lodge in Sunapee, New Hampshire four years before Aerosmith even started.
Written by Tyler when he was still a teenager, “Dream On” became a bit radio hit for the band, though it only peaked at No. 59 on the Hot 100, while the album, Aerosmith, peaked at No. 21 on the Billboard 200.
“Most of the critics panned our first album, and said we were ripping off the [Rolling] Stones,” said Tyler. “That’s a good barometer of my anger at the press, which I still have. ‘Dream On’ came of me playing the piano when I was about 17 or 18, and I didn’t know anything about writing a song. It was just this little sonnet that I started playing one day. I never thought that it would end up being a real song.”
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In his book, Does The Noise In My Head Bother You? Tyler reveals that it was his father, who was also a musician that inspired part of the song. Tyler would often sit under the piano, listening to his father playing classical music, and said, “That’s where I got that ‘Dream On’ chord-age.”
The Re-release of “Dream On”
When the band’s “You See Me Crying,” the closing track off their third album Toys in the Attic, failed to chart, their manager, David Krebs, convinced the label to re-release “Dream On” again in 1975.
The second time was the charm, and it peaked at No. 6.
On the brink of being dropped from their label, the song ultimately saved the band early in their career, even though it performed poorly the first time around and remains part of the band’s live sets 50 years later.
Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy