The Story Behind Aerosmith’s Signature Tune “Sweet Emotion” and the Bass Riff that Was Years in the Making

Bassist Tom Hamilton developed a bass riff after listening to “Rice Pudding” by Jeff Beck while he was in high school. As Aerosmith were recording Toys in the Attic, producer Jack Douglas asked if any band members had any ideas. Hamilton shared the riff he had been sitting on for years. After they jammed on it for a while, Steven Tyler came up with the vocals, and it turned into the first song by the band to reach the Top 40. Let’s take a look at the story behind “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith.

Videos by American Songwriter

The Recording

Since they didn’t have maracas, Tyler shook a packet of sugar during the intro of the song. He also plays a vibroslap, which broke during the recording. Guitarist Joe Perry utilizes a talk box as Hamilton’s bass is doubled by bass marimba played by engineer Jay Messina. Douglas talked about it at the 2018 NAMM Show, “The electric bass is doubled by a bass marimba, which is a marimba with tone bars that are so long on the low end that you have to get up on a ladder to play. Jay Messina, our engineer, also played vibes, and so I said to him, ‘Why don’t you double the bass line with the marimba,’ which is that old, wooden vibe. Boom-boom-boom da-boom-boom—it had this percussion and a tremendously low note. It actually went an octave below the electric bass, then you’d mix those two together, and that’s the bass sound on that song.”

The Lyrics

Lead guitarist Joe Perry’s wife partially inspired the lyrical content. Jealousy sprung up as Tyler felt she was taking his buddy away. He wrote in Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith, “I was withdrawing from smack in a London hotel, real sick, shaking, throwing up, and I’m sobbing and carrying on while frantically pounding on Joe Perry’s door. ‘Joe! I know you got some heroin! I saw your eyes pinned. I know you’re holding. Please, I’m begging you, man, open up. Will you just f–kin’ give me …’ Door opens, just a crack. ‘Uh, sorry, Steven, I don’t have any.’ SLAM. And I can hear him and his wife Elyssa in their suite, f–kin’ whooping it up. I spent the rest of the night during and after the show vomiting and cursing them—hot heaping helpings of hate. I hated him and his f–kin’ wife for that. I’d write song lyrics about her, like ‘Sweet Emotion.”

You talk about things that nobody cares
Wearing out things that nobody wears
You’re calling my name, but I gotta make clear
I can’t say, baby, where I’ll be in a year

Producer Jack Douglas remembers, “Tom drove me to work one day and said, ‘I’ve got something. You’ve gotta hear it.’ It was the bass line of ‘Sweet Emotion,’ the basis of the song.”

Some sweat hog mama with a face like a gent
Said my get up and go, must’ve got up and went
Well, I got good news, she’s a real good liar
‘Cause the backstage boogie sets your pants on fire
Sweet emotion
Sweet emotion

A Group Effort

Tom Hamilton started it, but the other band members shaped the song. Brad Whitford, Joey Kramer, Joe Perry, and Steven Tyler added their parts. Hamilton summed it up, “I had this original bass riff in high school. It got revived when we were doing Get Your Wings and living near Cleveland Circle [in Boston]. I showed it to Steven, but I had the riff a little different, and Steven said, ‘That’s backward, man.’ He didn’t like it. Then it got to the end of doing tracks for the Toys album, and we had the extra day that Jack called Jam Day, where he asks, ‘Does anyone have any spare riffs lying around?’

“Yeah, I have this riff.”

‘C’mon, let’s hear it. … Man! That sounds pretty cool.’ I had turned it around, a little like Jeff Beck and Clive Chapman, the bass player on Rough and Ready. I smoked a bowl or two and wrote the arrangements, the guitar parts. Steven took the intro, turned it around, changed the key, and we used it as the tag, the resolution of the song. Brad, Joey, 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.”

I pulled into town in a police car
Your daddy said I took it just a little too far
You’re telling her things, but your girlfriend lied
You can’t catch me ’cause the rabbit done died
Yes it did

A Hidden Message

At the time Aerosmith were recording Toys in the Attic, the band’s manager was battling cancer. Said Joe Perry, “While we were making this record, Frank Connelly was getting sicker. I think he knew he had cancer when he signed us, and we’d go out on the road and not see him. Gradually, we noticed that David Krebs was getting more and more involved. I thought Frank was losing interest because he was also managing Daddy Warbux and trying to bring them along. Then we heard he was really sick, and David and Steve Leber ended up buying Frank out.”

Steven Tyler picks it up from there, “Frank Connelly sold us to Leber-Krebs for what—I don’t know. He said, ‘Boys, I’ve got the chance, and I want to give you to these guys in the city that can do a better job than me.’ That’s what I like to think he said. On ‘Sweet Emotion,’ we used these backward handclaps, and four of us in the studio chanting, ‘F–k you, Frank.’ If you play it backward, you can hear this.”

Stand in the front just a shakin’ your ass
I’ll take you backstage. You can drink from my glass
I’ll talk about something you can sure understand
‘Cause a month on the road and I’ll be eating from your hand

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns

Leave a Reply

Photo by Alive Coverage via Pretty Lights' official X account

Pretty Lights Announces Summer and Fall Tour in 2024