Picking set lists is no small feat for a chart-topping, decades-spanning, world-conquering band like Aerosmith. The Bad Boys From Boston have the privilege of choosing from a robust catalog of smash hits and beloved deep cuts dating back to 1973, when they released their eponymous debut album.
Their fiendish, drug-addled ’70s heyday (during which singer Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry earned the ignominious “Toxic Twins” nickname) yielded a slew of raunchy, diamond-hard rockers and haunting ballads such as “Walk This Way,” “Sweet Emotion,” “Back in the Saddle,” “Draw the Line,” “Seasons of Wither” and “Dream On” — all of which have rightfully been played at hundreds, if not thousands, of shows.
After succumbing to their vices in the late ’70s and subsequently cleaning up in the mid-’80s, Aerosmith were determined not to squander their second chance at stardom. Their music evolved accordingly, and the reformed hedonists became known for their MTV-ready power ballads (“Angel,” “What It Takes,” “Cryin'”) and slick, song-doctored pop-rockers (“Dude [Looks Like a Lady],” “Rag Doll,” “Love in an Elevator”) in the late ’80s and early ’90s. They kept up their winning streak at the turn of the century with their only No. 1 hit, the ballad “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” and the breezy Top 10 pop hit “Jaded.”
Toss in a few more megahits like “Janie’s Got a Gun” and “Livin’ on the Edge” and fan favorites like “Train Kept A Rollin'” and “Mama Kin,” and you’ve already got enough songs to fill a set list. Thankfully, Aerosmith usually sprinkle in a few deep cuts on tour to please hardcore enthusiasts while still playing enough classics to give casual fans their money’s worth.
Still, many Aerosmith songs have inevitably been left by the wayside, with some of them never even making it to the stage. Brush up on your deep cuts and update your concert wish list with our list of the Top 10 Songs Aerosmith Never Played Live.
10. “Critical Mass”
From: Draw the Line (1977)
This bloozy, mid-tempo rocker was hardly a highlight of the beleaguered Draw the Line sessions: In the band’s 1997 memoir Walk This Way, producer Jack Douglas said Tyler used his lyrics as written because he was too strung out to come up with anything himself. Still, Tyler’s droning vocals and the atmospheric guitars leave much room for improvisation, as bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer plow ahead with their urgent grooves. A less chemically impaired band could milk the track’s extended outro with guitar and harmonica solos and some tasteful scatting, similar to A Little South of Sanity‘s rendition of “Same Old Song and Dance.”
9. “Gypsy Boots”
From: Done With Mirrors (1985)
Perry and Brad Whitford rejoined Aerosmith’s ranks for Done With Mirrors, the band’s last gasp of unmitigated raunch-rock before turning into corporate MTV behemoths. Despite good reviews, the so-called “comeback” record underperformed commercially, and many of its songs got promptly written out of set lists or never appeared at all. The latter was the case with “Gypsy Boots,” a tragically overlooked rocker featuring slick drum beats, jet-propelled riffs, red-hot solos and motormouthed vocals. This Side Two Mirrors cut rocks in the same vein as “Rats in the Cellar” and “Toys in the Attic,” and it would make an awesome set list addition for hardcore fans.
8. “Out Go the Lights”
From: Music From Another Dimension! (2012)
This seven-minute blues jam dates back to the Pump sessions, and Aerosmith would often vamp on the slinky riff between songs in concert, with Tyler scatting off-the-cuff vocals. As a result, “Out Go the Lights” is one of the few moments on 2012’s overstuffed Music From Another Dimension! where the quintet sounds like an actual band rocking out together in the studio, rather than a group of guys punching in their parts separately. Adding it to their live sets would be a no-brainer, allowing Perry and Whitford to trade solos over Kramer’s rock-solid beat, with Tyler cranking out sultry “ooh, ah-oohs” along with the band’s backup singers.
From: Nine Lives (1997)
Aerosmith rock with the reckless abandon of yore on this trashy, thrash-y Nine Lives cut, which should have promptly shut up all the critics who lamented the album’s overabundance of ballads. With its furious fretwork, white-knuckle tempo, raucous gang vocals and zonked-out, surrealistic lyrics, “Crash” would make a jaw-dropping set list addition, and a formidable endurance test for both band and audience.
6. “Joanie’s Butterfly”
From: Rock in a Hard Place (1982)
Once they reunited with Perry and Whitford in 1984, Aerosmith were quick to abandon the disastrous, Jimmy Crespo-assisted Rock in a Hard Place, with only lead single “Lightning Strikes” staying in their set lists past the album’s supporting tour (and even that one not being played since 1990). In other words, don’t expect to hear the classic lineup’s take on “Joanie’s Butterfly,” the folky, psychedelic odyssey about a dancing, winged pony that may or may not be one long (sorry) phallic metaphor. Against all odds, “Joanie’s Butterfly” is one of Aerosmith’s most majestic, underrated songs, but there’s a roughly zero percent chance of Perry learning those jangly arpeggios, and Tyler probably forgot the lyrics before he left the vocal booth.
From: Night in the Ruts (1979)
Unlike the monstrous, hook-laden power ballads of Aerosmith’s late-’80s and early ’90s reign, Night in the Ruts closer “Mia” is a tastefully restrained number that relies almost entirely on Tyler’s piano and vocals. As with “Home Tonight,” the frontman occasionally incorporates “Mia” into the band’s performances of “Dream On.” It would be a treat to hear the gorgeous ballad in its entirety — not only because it features some of Tyler’s most haunting, falsetto vocals, but because it’s a heartfelt tribute to his daughter, Mia, whom he had with actress and model Cyrinda Foxe.
From: Get Your Wings (1974)
This tense, atmospheric rocker marks the only song off Aerosmith’s sophomore LP Get Your Wings never played live. Shame, too, because Tyler’s nervy shrieks and Perry and Whitford’s dueling guitars showcase the beginnings of the band’s more dynamic, emotive songwriting. It’s easy to imagine Aerosmith expanding the mid-song musical interlude to allow the axemen to fire off more searing, call-and-response leads, while Tyler sucks the marrow out of rhymes like “Never ever going baaaccckkk / I’m off the traaaccckkk.”
3. “Ain’t That a Bitch”
From: Nine Lives (1997)
Just when you think Tyler can’t possibly sing any higher, that his screams can’t possibly get any raspier on “Ain’t That a Bitch,” he keeps pushing his voice past the logical breaking point, unleashing anguished, blood vessel-popping howls that most singers half his age could only dream of doing. This devastating Nine Lives ballad is a master class in dynamics, alternating between smoky, downbeat verses and supersized choruses before transitioning into a brilliant, scat-sung outro. For Aerosmith to play this song at any point would have been a Herculean effort, and these days, it might qualify as an occupational hazard.
2. “St. John”
From: Permanent Vacation (1987)
We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw Aerosmith never played “St. John” live, but alas, setlist.fm shows no evidence of this molten Permanent Vacation number ever seeing the light of day. That’s genuinely shocking, because this Tyler solo composition would be a guaranteed showstopper with its sinister walk-down riff, explosive solos and evocative lyrics. Aerosmith dug up fellow Permanent Vacation deep cut “Hangman’s Jury” during their 2019 Deuces Are Wild Las Vegas residency, so maybe there’s still hope that “St. John” will someday make it to the stage.
1. “Home Tonight”
From: Rocks (1976)
One of the most breathtaking ballads of Aerosmith’s career, “Home Tonight” often appears in truncated form as an intro to “Dream On,” giving Tyler a solo piano and vocal showcase. The frontman stretches and contorts words with his trademark shriek, which would certainly make “Home Tonight” a challenge to play in full every night on the road. But Tyler’s blistering vocals and Whitford’s aching guitar leads would make it an absolute knockout, and a dramatic set-closer to segue neatly into a hit-filled encore.