The Meaning Behind “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith

Quick, off the top of your head: What is Aerosmith’s only No.1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100? Gotta be “Dream On,” right? Nope. “Dude Looks Like a Lady?” Negatory. Oh, that’s right, it’s “Janie’s Got a Gun,” then? Keep guessing.

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The only time the bad boys from Boston ever topped the pop charts was when they turned to a bankable songwriter-for-hire and recorded for a movie that was a bit of a family affair. That’s right, it’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” the indomitable power-ballad theme to the blockbuster disaster flick Armageddon that ran roughshod over its chart competition in 1998.

If you weren’t around to witness this phenomenon a quarter-century ago, you might have some questions. Like, how did this unlikely matchup of artist and material come to be? What did songwriter Diane Warren have in mind when she penned the song? And how did “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” give Aerosmith yet another high point in their chaotic rollercoaster of a career? All those questions are answered as we look back at the meaning behind this memorable ballad.

Thanks, Bono!

The first choice to sing the theme to Armageddon, a star-studded sci-fi action film about a runaway asteroid, was U2. But Bono and the boys turned it down. When the producers of the film cast Liv Tyler, the daughter of Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler, the choice was obvious. 

Aerosmith wouldn’t be writing the song, however. That honor went to the queen of the dramatic movie ballad, none other than songwriter supreme Diane Warren. In the previous few years before Armageddon, she had penned massive hits for the films Up Close & Personal (“Because You Loved Me”) and Con Air (“How Do I Live”). Her initial inspiration for “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” was an interview she witnessed where actor James Brolin talked about how he missed wife Barbra Streisand 24/7 when she was away from him.

Warren’s previous film successes generally were performed by solo female singers (Celine Dion, LeAnn Rimes). Thus, the sentiments she was expressing in the song weren’t quite tailored to a hard rock band. Luckily, she had a willing audience in Aerosmith, who were in search of a well-timed big hit.

[RELATED: The Heavier Meaning Behind Aerosmith’s 1989 Hit “Janie’s Got a Gun”

Sing This Way

Not for nothing did Aerosmith name their 1997 album Nine Lives. By that time, the band had withstood countless calamities, incessant infighting, and periods where the music world had largely left them behind. They were able to sustain their remarkable comeback in the late ‘80s for the better part of a decade, riding a string of combustible, risqué hard rock singles and soulful ballads to reaffirm their status as one of the biggest bands in the world.

But Nine Lives, although it topped the album charts, lacked the killer hit singles of previous hit records. It’s hard to say what would have happened if “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” hadn’t come along, or if the band had turned up their noses at an unabashedly sentimental ballad they didn’t even write. Classic hard rock bands have to think of their street cred, after all.

Instead, Warren found them extremely willing collaborators, especially Steven Tyler. “I remember being at the Sunset Marquis Hotel, and sitting at the piano with him and teaching him the song and just having chills all over my body as I heard the song come to life with his voice and knowing what it was going to be,” Warren remembered in an interview with Performing Songwriter. “It was an amazing experience.”

What Is “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” About?

“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” is built on the notion that someone in love will want to spend every moment with their significant other. If that means forgoing sleep, then so be it: I could stay awake just to hear you breathin’ is the very first line of the song.

The chorus makes this point even clearer: I don’t wanna fall asleep / ’Cause I’d miss you, babe / And I don’t wanna miss a thing. Fitting for a movie song, the drama keeps building, eventually leading to an emotional realization in the bridge, when the narrator decides he wants to just stay here in this moment / For all the rest of time.

“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” was largely a showcase for Steven Tyler (good luck finding Joe Perry’s guitar in the string-laden mix). And he played it to the hilt, especially in the closing moments, where he starts hitting notes somewhere way up there in the ether. But it’s hard to argue with the end result. While Armageddon was a big hit film, it was rivaled by the success of its theme song, Aerosmith’s first ever pop chart-topper and an ode to how love should always win out over slumber.

Photo by Vinnie Zuffante/Getty Images

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