Former Aerosmith co-writer Desmond Child says both Steven Tyler and Joe Perry have for years misremembered what really inspired their band's 1987 hit "Dude Looks Like a Lady," which Child helped craft.
Child had helped pen hits for KISS and Bon Jovi when Geffen Records made him one of the first outside writers to join in on an Aerosmith session. He recalled in a recent interview with Brian Hiatt on the "Rolling Stone: Music Now" podcast what the band told him inspired the song's chorus riff.
"So the story was that they had gone to a bar wherever they lived, south of Boston on the shore," Child told the show. "And at the end of the bar was this gorgeous, platinum mullet with the curvy waist and white skin and black nails. They just saw the back of her. And so they were there with their crew and they were drawing straws like, 'Who's gonna go up and say something?'"
Child continued: "So all of the sudden she turns around and it's Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe! And they were like, 'Oh my God! Oh s**t! Oh my god!' Then Steven immediately starts saying, 'That dude looks like a lady! Dude looks like a lady? Dude looks like a lady!' And boom, the riff was born."
Accounts of the story have varied significantly over the years. Neil and Mötley Crüe have been connected to it in several versions. Child swears the story he got is the real one, insisting he's a more credible source than Tyler, Perry or Neil, all of whom were known for their hard partying ways in their pasts.
"Who are you gonna believe?" Child asked. "Me or a couple of rockers from the '70s with a lot of mileage (laughs)."
Child recalled that in Tyler's autobiography, the singer claims the song was mostly written when Child helped with the lyrics. While Perry, in his book, credits Child with writing the song's hook.
"It's like, 'No! Both of you got it wrong!' So in my autobiography, which is called Livin' on a Prayer: Big Songs, Big Life with David Ritz, I'm going to set the record straight," Child insisted.
The songwriter described Aerosmith's writing and rehearsal space as an airplane hangar with a full-sized stage and 100 or more guitars set up for the band. Child says Tyler welcomed him to his first session while Perry was more standoffish at first.
"They were working on a track that had this reverse guitar thing that sounded like a boogie-woogie thing, like (sings) da-da da-da and they were singing, 'Cruisin' for the ladiesss' / da-da da-da 'Cruisin' for the ladiesss," he recalled of how the song was first presented.
The scratch lyrics are recalled similarly by Tyler and Perry's accounts. But Child says he hated them.
"The first thing out of my mouth—I hadn't worked with them [yet]—I said, 'Um, I think that's really bad,'" Child told Rolling Stone. "And Joe, his arms got even more crossed and he's looking at me. And I said, 'That kind of sounds like maybe a bad Van Halen song they didn't even put on their record.'"
That's when Tyler recalled the genesis of the riff, which came with the words "Dude looks like a lady." Perry said the band changed it because they didn't know what it meant.
"Oh, I know what that means!" Child replied.
Tyler's autobiography was published in 2004. But Child says he's recalled his version of the story to the frontman more recently.
"I told Steven the actual story 'cause we worked on a song called 'Red, White & You' for his country record," Child said. "And he looked at me and he said, 'Oh, I like your story better!'"
Child added that he's proud of how the song has aged over the years. Whereas modern-day SJWs might look for some transphobic or homophobic language, Child says the lyrics present a clear message of acceptance.
"It wasn't meant to be a putdown because later on in the song he goes, 'My funky lady / I like it like it like it like that.'"
"So he doesn't run away," Child continued. "He accepts because he likes what it looks like! If that doesn't say, 'Hey, be whoever you want to be and I'm open to it,' you know, it's totally welcoming of the LGBT community and what we stand for and all of that. So I don't know why people make a fuss."
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