They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!
Steven Tyler has had one of the most remarkable careers in rock ‘n’ roll history. With his band Aerosmith, he was big in the ’70s and huge in the ’90s, and his hard-earned sobriety allowed him to enjoy the second peak even more. His willingness to change with the times, moving from hard rock to rapping with Run-D.M.C. to pop-tinged rock to power ballads, kept the band relevant for multiple generations. He and the band haven’t forgotten the small towns, either – they’ve appeared on Aurora, IL cable access TV with Wayne & Garth, and they’ve enjoyed a Flaming Moe in Springfield.
He’s shown some skill apart from Aerosmith as well. Tyler has performed guest vocals with Alice Cooper and Carlos Santana. He famously judged on American Idol for two years, putting his flamboyant and playfully filthy personality on display. Now he has a solo country album in the works, proving that even a now-68-year-old dog can learn new tricks.
Steven Tyler was big when your parents were stoned teens listening to “Sweet Emotion” in the ’70s. He was big when your older sister was dancing to “Angel” at her senior prom in ’89. He was big when you listened to “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” ten years after that while you made out with your girlfriend in your backseat, and he’s still big right now. Happy birthday, Steven. You’ve brought us the music for 45 years now. Let some of your fans sing your music right back to you, and enjoy.
Sebastian Bach (feat. Axl Rose) – Back in the Saddle (Aerosmith cover)
Aerosmith is often seen as one of the forerunners of metal. It’s fitting, then, that Sebastian Bach and Axl Rose take one of Aerosmith’s early hits, “Back in the Saddle,” and toughen it up even more. The heavier approach fits well with this one, with the thudding drums driving the track forward just like hoofbeats. Bach and Rose bring their best, with Axl in particular sounding quite a bit like he did back in his ’80s heyday. Steven’s vocals are impossible for anyone else to replicate, but Bach can sing with the best of them, and Axl’s snarl fits the “watch out, I’m coming” tone of this song perfectly.
The Breeders – Lord of the Thighs (Aerosmith cover)
Tyler has always had a penchant for sexually suggestive lyrics. From time to time, though, he throws away all pretense of subtlety and comes right out and admits what’s on his mind. In “Lord of the Thighs,” he goes for the single entendre and claims what he wants in the raunchy, bluesy way that Aerosmith was famous for. In their cover, the Breeders abandon all of that filthy playfulness, and
Kim Deal bassist Josephine Wiggs delivers an almost monotone vocal performance. Instead of a seduction by a charismatic, we get a statement of fact from a woman who knows good and well that the subject of her song belongs to her. Hearing such an assurance from a female voice is a welcome change from the original, proving that the sexual power of Tyler’s lyrics have nothing to do with gender and everything to do with attitude.
Macy Gray – Walk This Way (Aerosmith cover)
“Walk This Way” is one of Aerosmith’s most legendary songs. Already popular in its original form, the Run-D.M.C. version with Steven and Joe Perry rekindled Aerosmith’s career in the ’80s. Without that performance, Tyler and his bandmates could have very well been less than the legends they are now. Macy Gray claims the song, keeping the bouncy feel of the instrumentation but slowing the vocals way down, staying a touch behind the beat. Between the relaxed delivery and the crowd shouting “walk this way” along with her on the chorus, her cover is almost a chill-out version of the song. If Steven’s original was the ranting of a hyper puppy exploring all the fun the world has to offer, Macy’s take is a look back to her early days by a self-assured woman who regrets none of the excitement she’s ever had.
Kelly Clarkson – Cryin’ (Aerosmith cover)
Starting with “Angel,” Aerosmith found a penchant for rock ballads that make high school kids’ hearts melt. One of their best was 1993’s “Cryin’.” It didn’t break new ground lyrically, but sometimes all you need is a heartfelt tune about the ups and downs of a relationship that’s left someone full of regret. With that type of song, success comes from delivery, and Steven sang the hell out of it. Kelly Clarkson has a huge voice too, and she’s pulled “Cryin'” out on stage to great effect. Instead of trying to hit Tyler’s high notes, Clarkson growls her way through the song. It’s a nice touch by a pop star who grew up with Aerosmith on the radio, proving that the band has had a great influence on all musical genres.
Atreyu – Livin’ on the Edge (Aerosmith cover)
“Livin’ on the Edge” is a look at the state of the world in the early ’90s, and the world is found wanting. Tyler and the rest of Aerosmith had already lived hard and been through a lot by the time they recorded this song, but they’d come through it with a better outlook and were ready to see things more responsibly, urging their listeners to focus, to keep ourselves from slipping any further than we have. This message was just as important almost 20 years later, when Atreyu recorded it for their Covers of the Damned EP. Alex Varkatzas’s screaming delivery conveys the desperation of a man hanging on the edge by his fingernails, with the churning, chugging guitars and heavy drums providing an appropriate soundtrack for a fight for his very life. That fight is what the song has always been about, and it’s just as appropriate now as it was when Tyler co-wrote it decades ago.