The arduous path to Aerosmith‘s Nine Lives would have knocked a lesser band down for the count. So it’s fitting that the middle-aged rockers kicked off their 12th album with the cheekily titled lead single “Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees).”
The Bad Boys from Boston ruled the hard-rock roost in the first half of the ’90s, riding high on the chart-topping, multiplatinum success of 1993’s Get a Grip. But the four-year gap between Grip and Nine Lives was full of band infighting and personal turmoil.
Band manager Tim Collins — who rescued Aerosmith from the brink of drug-addled destruction in the mid-’80s and helped launch one of the most remarkable comebacks in rock — accused singer Steven Tyler of relapsing and pitted the band members against each other, which led to his ouster in 1996. Drummer Joey Kramer also bowed out of early recording sessions to grapple with severe depression, only to rerecord the tracks laid down by session pro and Heartbreakers drummer Steve Ferrone in his absence.
Through all the dustups and comedowns, the one constant on Nine Lives was the songs, which Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry wrote with a revolving door of outside collaborators. The “Toxic Twins” flew to Miami in 1996 to work with songwriter and producer Glen Ballard — who had produced Alanis Morissette’s blockbuster Jagged Little Pill the previous year — with the sessions yielding the whip-smart raunch-rocker “Falling in Love” and the raga rock-influenced “Taste of India.”
Aerosmith would ultimately sack Ballard as producer after hearing his sickly sweet album mixes and replace him with Kevin Shirley, whose raw production style earned him the nickname “the Caveman.” But at first, their partnership with Ballard proved fruitful. “Steven Tyler, talk about hearing somebody sing!” Ballard raved to SongFacts. “He could sing for 12 hours straight when we were writing and never get tired. I don’t think I’ve ever been around a singer who never gets vocally tired. I mean, cast-iron pipes.”
Fans who worried that Aerosmith’s sleazy, riff-rock tumult would be diluted by too many cooks in the kitchen had their fears assuaged, at least temporarily, when “Falling in Love” was released as a single on Feb. 11, 1997. With its winking double entendres, slash-and-burn riffs and blustery horn arrangements, the song bridged the gap between Aerosmith’s drug-fueled, hard-rocking ’70s heyday and their late-’80s renaissance as MTV darlings. And with lines like “My old libido has been blowin’ a transistor / I feel like I have been hit by a fuck,” the 48-year-old Tyler proved he had no interest in “aging gracefully.”
Watch Aerosmith’s ‘Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees)’ Video
“We were just trying to be funny,” Ballard reflected. “We were just having fun that day, and it’s Aerosmith, so of course, I’m not going to do a Wilson Phillips song with Aerosmith.” And if Collins needed proof of Tyler’s sobriety, he apparently could have just checked with the producer: “That was some of the most fun I’ve ever spent, and the guys were all sober then, so I was getting them high on coffee all day long. I had an espresso machine in my room, and Steven was totally into it. We would drink like 10 cups of coffee and write. It’s a coffee high for the whole album.”
When it came time to record the “Falling in Love” video, Aerosmith opted for a darker tone than the Technicolor soundstage romps of “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” and “Love in an Elevator.” With director Michael Bay (who made Bad Boys, The Rock and, later, Armageddon, which featured Aerosmith’s chart-topping ballad “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing“), the band crafted a dark, depraved video that featured a cavalcade of models dressed as nurses, brides and dominatrices who tied up men at their behest. At one point, a straitjacketed Tyler gets wheeled down a hallway on a stretcher as he wails, “I’m jonesing on love / Yeah, I got the DTs.”
The “Falling in Love” video was meant to parody the dour, often bizarre grunge and alt-rock videos du jour. “The concept is kind of 12 Monkeys meets Brazil,” Bay told Spin in 1997. “This is maybe making fun of all these grunge videos. You know? Real angry, heavy, evil, with people beating things? … It’s different from basic apple-pie Aerosmith.”
“Falling in Love” granted Aerosmith another No. 1 hit on rock radio and reached a respectable No. 35 on the Billboard Hot 100. The Nine Lives drama was far from over, as the band would cancel or postpone dozens of ensuing tour dates due to injuries sustained by Tyler and Kramer. But for the moment, Aerosmith were back in the saddle for the umpteenth time, scoring a much-needed win that should have pleased all parties.
“I want to hear my shit on the radio,” Perry told Spin. “Not so much because it’s going to make Sony happy, because it makes me happy. We don’t want to make a record that three-quarters of the world is going to snub their nose at just so I can jerk off and play guitar solos. The biggest thrill is driving around and hearing your song on the radio between Led Zeppelin and the Stones. That’s what we fucking got in this for.”