The Number Ones

September 5, 1998

The Number Ones: Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”

Stayed at #1:

4 Weeks

In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.

Hollywood is a funny place. Every once in a while, for reasons that remain baffling to outsiders, two different movie studios will attempt to launch two big-budget projects that come out around the same time and share the same basic premise. Sometimes, that’s not a coincidence. Sometimes, it happens for corporate-espionage reasons, as when Jeffrey Katzenberg launched Dreamworks’ animation studio and immediately set about ripping off all the Disney cartoons that had been in development under his supervision, which is why we got Antz and A Bug’s Life so close together. Sometimes, though, it just happens. In those cases, the world picks a winner.

In the summer of 1998, two major studios built tentpole summer spectacles around the question of what might happen if a gigantic asteroid threatened to crash into the planet and end all earthly life. Maybe this reflected multiple people’s attempts to express or cash in on pre-Y2K tensions. Maybe this was simply the only way that people could think to make a global spectacle even bigger than the one in Independence Day, the biggest hit of 1996.

The first of those giant-asteroid dramas was Mimi Leder’s Deep Impact, a shaggy and uneven film that at least attempted to bring some gravitas to the looming eradication of humanity. The second was Michael Bay’s Armageddon, which made an extinction-level event look like a hyperactive beer commercial. Armageddon had American flags outlined against blue skies, indie-film all-stars playing broad-stereotype characters, Bruce Willis wisecracks, and a final-sacrifice scene that did virtually nothing to earn the tragic weight that the movie attempted to give it. Armageddon also had Aerosmith. Guess which movie won.

Deep Impact came out a couple of months before Armageddon and did solid business. Armageddon then came along and smashed through Deep Impact like a flaming space-rock through Grand Central Terminal. Michael Bay’s movie took in more than a half-billion dollars worldwide; on a global scale, it was the year’s highest-grossing film. (At the domestic box office, Armageddon had to settle for #2 on the year-end list. By some miracle, Saving Private Ryan, another movie in which a boomer icon sacrifices himself to save one of the Good Will Hunting guys, just barely eked out the win.) Before Armageddon, Ben Affleck had been considered an indie-film darling. After Armageddon, he was something else. Armageddon earned Michael Bay enough latitude to make Pearl Harbor, one of the worst-conceived blockbuster attempts in living memory. And Armageddon finally took Aerosmith, one of the oldest institutions in American arena-rock, to the top of the Hot 100 for the first and only time.

By the time they reached #1, Aerosmith had been a band for nearly 30 years, and their comeback had lasted a whole lot longer than their initial run of success. Aerosmith started in 1970, when two regional bands basically united into one. Steven Tyler, a New York native who’d mostly grown up in Yonkers, was the drummer and backup singer for a band known first as the Strangeurs and then as Chain Reaction. Joe Perry, meanwhile, came from Massachusetts and led a group called the Jam Band. After the two groups played a show together in New Hampshire, Tyler suggested that members of the two bands should join forces. Everyone agreed, and the newly formed Aerosmith moved to Boston and started playing club gigs.

Once Aerosmith had a steady lineup and a management situation, they paid someone to get booked at the New York club Max’s Kansas City. Clive Davis caught their show and signed the band to Columbia. Their first two albums did negligible business. Their first single, the 1973 power ballad “Dream On,” only made it to #59, and their next three singles missed the Hot 100 entirely. In 1975, though, Aerosmith released Toys In The Attic, the album that finally made the case that they could be a dumber, more American version of the Rolling Stones. Toys In The Attic eventually went platinum nine times over. In the wake of its success, Columbia reissued the “Dream On” single, and it became Aerosmith’s first top-10 hit, peaking at #6. (It’s a 10.)

Toys In The Attic turned Aerosmith into arena-level headliners. The Toys single “Walk This Way” didn’t chart at first, but Columbia repeated the trick of reissuing the single in 1976, and it made it to #10. (It’s an 8.) The band’s next two albums, Rocks and Draw The Line, didn’t quite do Toys In The Attic numbers, but they were still huge. During that era, though, Aerosmith were legendarily zonked-out party monsters, and drug-driven internal tensions almost ended the band for good.

Joe Perry left Aerosmith after a backstage fight with Steven Tyler in 1979, and fellow guitarist Brad Whitford also left the band soon after. Perry launched a new band, the Joe Perry Project, and Aerosmith kept going. Both bands languished. Aerosmith’s two albums without Perry struggled to go gold, and the Joe Perry Project never got past the club level. In 1984, Perry and Whitford both rejoined Aerosmith, but the band members still had serious drug issues, and their original-lineup reunion album Done With Mirrors didn’t do much better than the stuff they released without Joe Perry. Instead, it took a fluke one-off collaboration to return Aerosmith to the limelight.

By 1986, Run-DMC had become the biggest rap group in America, partly by pitching themselves to suburban rock fans with singles like “Rock Box” and “King Of Rock.” The group’s producer Rick Rubin, a suburban rock fan himself, heard Run and DMC freestyling over the opening drum break from “Walk This Way” and hit on the idea of teaming them up with Aerosmith, who were desperate enough to say yes to just about anything. To me, the Run-DMC/Aerosmith version of “Walk This Way” is awkward and gimmicky, but it was apparently the right kind of awkward and gimmicky. The video played constantly on MTV, and the sight of Steven Tyler smashing through a rehearsal-space wall with his mic stand became a visual symbol for the collision of genres. The new “Walk This Way” peaked at #4, becoming the first rap single ever to reach the top 10 on the Hot 100. (It’s a 5.)

The success of Run-DMC’s “Walk This Way” is a crucial moment in the story of rap music taking over the charts, but it did a whole lot more for Aerosmith than it did for Run-DMC. Run-DMC never returned to the top 10 after “Walk This Way.” Aerosmith, by contrast, got a new manager, went through rehab, and came out with the quintuple-platinum 1987 comeback album Permanent Vacation. That success had something to do with “Walk This Way” granting Aerosmith a new visibility, and it also had something to do with the exploding popularity of glam-metal, a genre that Aerosmith arguably helped to invent. Three singles from Permanent Vacation reached the top 20, and one of them, the monster ballad “Angel,” became Aerosmith’s biggest hit yet, climbing all the way up to #3. (It’s a 7.)

Aerosmith’s next two albums, 1989’s Pump and 1993’s Get A Grip, did even better than Permanent Vacation. Both of them went platinum seven times over. Three singles from Pump reached the top 10; the biggest was “Janie’s Got A Gun,” which peaked at #4. (It’s a 5.) The Get A Grip singles didn’t do as well on the charts, but I can tell you that those things didn’t leave MTV rotation for a long time. The videos for that album’s power-ballad troika — “Cryin’,” “Amazing,” and “Crazy,” all of which sounded more or less identical to one another — turned the teenage actress Alicia Silverstone into a star. The last of those was the “Crazy” video, which also featured Steven Tyler’s daughter Liv, then a 16-year-old model.

For years, Liv Tyler didn’t know she was Steven Tyler’s daughter. Her mother had a brief affair with Tyler in the ’70s, but she was in long-term relationship with Todd Rundgren, a guy who’s been in this column a few times as a producer and a backup singer. Liv was raised as Liv Rundgren, since Steven was such a strung-out scallywag that Liv’s mother didn’t think he’d make a suitable father. The official story on the “Crazy” video is that Steven didn’t have anything to do with casting Liv; she got the gig after appearing in a Pantene commercial. That seems like a pretty big coincidence to me — a coincidence as big, maybe, as Deep Impact and Armageddon coming out in the same summer. Given both her age and her parentage, it’s a little weird how the “Crazy” video seems shot with the express purpose of making people horny for Liv Tyler. (The song peaked at #17 — higher than “Amazing” but lower than “Cryin’.”)

Aerosmith had moved from Columbia to Geffen before releasing Done With Mirrors. After Get A Grip, they moved back to Columbia, and they followed that album with 1997’s Nine Lives, a relative brick that still went double platinum. “Pink,” the biggest single from “Nine Lives,” peaked at #27, and the whole Aerosmith comeback started to look like it was winding down. Liv Tyler, meanwhile, had launched an acting career that was pretty immediately successful. In movies like Empire Records and That Thing You Do!, Liv had a winning presence that went beyond the rock-star nepotism that had brought her attention in the first place.

After That Thing You Do!, superstar producer Jerry Bruckheimer, coming off a string of noisy blockbusters, cast Liv Tyler as Ben Affleck’s love interest in Armageddon. He also brought in Diane Warren, a songwriter who’s already been in this column a bunch of times, to write the movie’s big, sweeping love song. The previous year, Warren had written “How Do I Live” for the awesomely ridiculous Bruckheimer-produced spectacle Con Air. That song had a messy history. Warren had offered it to teenage country phenom LeAnn Rimes, but Bruckheimer and his team thought Rimes was too young to properly sell the song. Trisha Yearwood recorded the version of “How Do I Live” that actually appeared in Con Air, but Rimes recorded her own version of the song, too, and the versions from both Rimes and Yearwood came out on the same day. The Yearwood take peaked at #23, while Rimes’ recording went all the way to #2. (It’s a 4.)

After the whole “How Do I Live” kerfuffle, Diane Warren worried that Jerry Bruckheimer might not want to work with her again. But Bruckheimer and his music supervisor Kathy Nelson still believed that Armageddon needed that Diane Warren touch, and they were probably right. Armageddon is a cluttered, incoherent, smug movie, and it needed emotional resonance wherever it could get it. Warren wrote “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” after reading something that the actor James Brolin had said about his wife Barbra Streisand, someone who’s been in this column a handful of times. Apparently, Brolin had said that he didn’t like going to sleep because missed Babs when he was unconscious. Presumably, Brolin did not embellish on that nice little statement by yowl-scatting, but that’s poetic license for you.

Aerosmith didn’t typically record songs that the members of the band hadn’t at least helped to write, and Diane Warren didn’t have Aerosmith in mind when she wrote “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing.” In Fred Bronson’s Billboard Book Of Number 1 Hits, Warren says, “When I demoed the song, it was very soft and more keyboard-based. I thought, ‘This is a good song for Céline Dion.'” (I bet Diane Warren was mad when she didn’t get that Titanic assignment.) Aerosmith’s A&R guy played the demo for producer Matt Serletic, who’d gotten his start producing for quasi-alt-rock bands like Collective Soul and Matchbox 20. (Serletic’s work will appear in this column again.) When Serletic said that he liked the song, the A&R guy told him that he had to record it with Aerosmith right away.

Honestly, “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” would probably work better if it had been a Céline Dion song. There’s something terribly forced and overbearing about Aerosmith’s take on the song. Much like Armageddon itself, “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” pulls out every obvious trick to elicit any kind of emotional response. The first thing that we hear on the song isn’t Aerosmith; it’s the orchestra behind them — the dramatic woodwind drones and the martial snares. When Steven Tyler starts moaning about staying awake just to hear you breathing, he sounds like he’s filling the role of power-ballad singer but like he’s never even given a half-second’s thought to what the song’s lyrics might mean. He doesn’t sound like he’s singing about anyone else. He sounds like he’s singing about himself. Maybe he misses himself when he’s asleep.

Steven Tyler has a fascinating, inimitable squawk-honk of a voice, and it can be extremely effective in the right situation. There’s a reason, for instance, that his scream at the end of “Dream On” still raises goosebumps. But “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” isn’t the right situation. The song’s arrangement allows for none of the playful riffing that Aerosmith usually brought even to their power ballads. Tyler has to project enough personality to carry the song, and he can do that, but he can’t do it while hitting big notes. The end of “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing,” when Tyler scraggle-screeches about “dreaming of yeeaaahowww,” is just downright unpleasant. “I Don’t Miss A Thing” does have a big, memorable chorus working for it, but that chorus isn’t enough to stop me from getting both surly and bored whenever I hear the song.

The most memorable “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” cue in Armageddon is one of the film’s quieter moments. Ben Affleck, laying in the grass with Liv Tyler, prepares for death-defying space travel and comet destruction by using animal crackers and a Crocodile Hunter impression as tools for seduction. (Once again, we hear Steven Tyler’s voice while his daughter is doing something sexy onscreen. What the fuck, dude? What is that?) I actually know the guy who wrote that animal-crackers scene. He didn’t get a screenwriter credit on the movie. Instead, he was just one of the many writers brought in to take a pass at the Armageddon script. Lots of people made fun of that scene; I was probably one of them. But that scene’s understated weirdness is a whole lot more specific and compelling than anything in the song itself.

The “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” video went for a whole other sensibility. In between Armageddon clips, it shows Aerosmith playing in front of a space shuttle as it gets ready to launch. In one dramatic moment, a curtain-drop reveals the orchestra behind them. In another, the group gets lost in a dust storm as the shuttle takes off, which probably explains why bands don’t typically get booked to play at space-shuttle launches. Bad video. Dumb. Boring. The only interesting things about it are the band’s abysmal facial-hair choices — Joe Perry’s weird little rat whiskers, Joey Kramer’s proud-of-itself soul patch.

“I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” came out between Aerosmith albums, and it probably helped drive the success of the Armageddon soundtrack, which was loaded down with more forgettable Aerosmith songs and which spent two weeks at #1, in between the City Of Angels soundtrack and the Beastie Boys’ Hello Nasty. That soundtrack eventually went quadruple platinum even though its second single, Aerosmith’s crappy Nine Lives leftover “What Kind Of Love Are You On,” missed the Hot 100 entirely. “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” got an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song, but like a dozen other nominated Diane Warren songs, it didn’t win.

In the years after “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing,” Aerosmith remained hugely successful. Only one of Aerosmith’s post-Armageddon songs has reached the top 10. Their sleepily orchestra-drenched 2001 song “Jaded” made it as high as #7. (It’s a 3.) None of the band’s later albums have sold especially well, but you can measure Aerosmith’s success in other ways. In 1999, for instance, Aerosmith became the only rock band ever to get their own roller coaster at Disney World. In 2001, they played the Super Bowl Halftime Show with *NYSYNC, Britney Spears, Nelly, and Mary J. Blige, all of whom will eventually appear in this column. That same year, Aerosmith joined the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

In recent years, Aerosmith’s whole history has gotten messy again. Starting in 2011, Steven Tyler did an incredibly weird two-year stint as a judge on American Idol, and when he cut off communication with the rest of the band, they publicly considered firing and replacing him. Later on, Tyler made a country album, and Joe Perry teamed up with Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp to form a band called the Hollywood Vampires. Nobody wanted to hear any of that shit.

Aerosmith eventually did a fake farewell tour and then a Las Vegas residency. In 2020, as the band got ready to be honored at the pre-Grammys MusiCares benefit, drummer Joey Kramer sued the rest of the group, claiming that they wouldn’t let him play with them. Footage of security guards blocking Kramer from an Aerosmith rehearsal went viral. (Part of the division was probably political; Kramer is a Trump guy, and he was mad about Tyler and Perry hanging out with Obama on Air Force One.) Eventually, Aerosmith let Joey Kramer back into the band. Last month, Aerosmith cancelled a bunch of shows because Steven Tyler was checking back into rehab.

Aerosmith have a long legacy as an American hard-rock institution, and they’ve got more than a few great songs in their catalog. “Sweet Emotion”? More importantly, the moment at the beginning of Dazed And Confused where “Sweet Emotion” plays over the studio logos and then the movie starts right when the drums kick in? Fucking awesome. So good. (“Sweet Emotion” was Aerosmith’s first top-40 hit back in 1975, and it peaked at #36.) But Aerosmith have also made more than their share of bullshit, and “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” definitely belongs in the “bullshit” category. At this point, Aerosmith are not a functional band, and barring some sort of unforeseen Stranger Things “Running Up That Hill” situation, we will not see them in this column again. I can sleep just fine because I won’t miss them.

GRADE: 2/10

BONUS BEATS: In 1998, when Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” was still on the charts, Mark Chesnutt released a country cover of the song, and his version topped the Billboard country chart and crossed over to the Hot 100. Here’s his take on it:

(“I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” is Mark Chesnutt’s biggest Hot 100 hit; it peaked at #17.)

BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the adenoidal pop-punk cover of “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” that New Found Glory released in 2000:

(New Found Glory’s only Hot 100 single, 2002’s “My Friends Over You,” peaked at #85.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: There’s a scene in the 2002 grossout comedy The Sweetest Thing where Selma Blair gives a blowjob and somehow gets the guy’s dick ring stuck in her throat. To help her get out of that situation, Cameron Diaz and Christina Applegate sing “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing.” In a Stereogum interview last year, Diane Warren said that The Sweetest Thing director Roger Kumble was “scared” to show her that scene for approval, but she loved it: “Shit, of course I think it’s OK! I wish I was in the group singing along to it.” Diane Warren, endearingly, seems to be a bit weirder than her songs might lead you to expect. Here’s that scene:

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Juelz Santana rapping about fatherhood over the Heatmakerz’ sped-up “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” sample on his 2005 song “Daddy”:

(Juelz Santana’s highest-charting single as lead artist, 2005’s “There It Go (The Whistle Song),” peaked at #6. It’s a 6. As a guest, Juelz will eventually appear in this column.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the scene from the 2007 film Blades Of Glory where Will Ferrell and Jon Heder figure skate to “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”:

(Will Ferrell and Jon Heder don’t have any Hot 100 singles, but the two of them appear, in dialogue sampled from Blades Of Glory, on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s 2011 hit “N***as In Paris,” which peaked at #5. It’s a 10.)

The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The History Of Pop Music is out 11/15 via Hachette Books. You can pre-order it here.

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