The Bad Boys from Boston: Aerosmith and the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster

Back in high school, I started a band. Because it was the 90s. And that’s what you did if you weren’t popular or particularly good at sports. Our group formed around a love of bands like Black Sabbath, AC/DC, and Aerosmith. We were convinced that we were the chosen heroes to carry the Great Torch of Rock and Roll for our generation. The only problem? We kinda sucked. 

Our biggest performance took place at a high school talent show. We played Aerosmith’s classic “Dream On” from their eponymous 1973 album. There’s a moment at the climax of the song when Steven Tyler’s vocals rocket into the stratosphere, hitting a G#5 that could shatter glass. It would have made sense for our singer to just take it down a bit, but we decided to go hell-bent for leather and he attempted to hit the note. The result was akin to what you’d hear if got a monkey jacked up on amphetamines and then fed it a ghost pepper. 

Of course, odds are you did not come to this page to learn about my failed ambition to become a titan of Rock. You’re here to learn about Disney music. Fear not, gentle reader, because this meandering introduction was all for the purpose of a greater cause: discussing the Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster Starring Aerosmith in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. 

The attraction opened in July 1999, with a grand opening ceremony attended by the members of Aerosmith and thousands of screaming fans. Speaking of the experience of working with Disney, lead singer Steven Tyler said, “When you’ve toured the world as much as we have, it’s a real thrill to find a new audience. Coming up with a soundtrack for this Disney ride really brought the kid out in all of us and has given us the opportunity to play audio gymnastics with our music.”

With all of that in mind, here’s a little info on Aerosmith and the music of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.

You can’t always get what you want…

Let’s just get this out of the way quickly. 

No. Aerosmith was not Disney’s first choice for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. They weren’t even the second choice.

The Rolling Stones were initially pursued, but the British rockers wanted $10 million to be a part of the ride. As a replacement, Disney approached KISS, but they wanted even more money than Jagger and the rest of the Stones. Curiously, Disney’s next choice was U2. With no disrespect to U2, it’s hard to imagine their music providing the high-intensity soundtrack for a roller coaster that propels Guests from zero to just under 60 mph in 2.8 seconds. 

Fortunately for Disney and theme park visitors around the world, the Bad Boys from Boston were more than happy to be a part of the project. And they didn’t request an arm and a leg to do so. 

The Boys in the Band

Aerosmith

Lovers of classic rock are no doubt familiar with Aerosmith’s illustrious line-up. A younger generation became better acquainted with the group’s frontman, Steven Tyler, during the two seasons he spent as a judge on American Idol. And the casual fan may even be able to rattle off the name Joe Perry, lead guitarist for Aerosmith. But it takes every member to create a well-oiled rock and roll machine, so let’s take a brief moment to meet the band.

 On vocals, we have the Demon of Screamin’ himself: Steven Tyler.

Melting faces with his flaming hot, lead guitar solos, ladies and gentleman: Joe Perry.

Providing the hard, pulsing backbone of the band, we’ve got rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford.

Bringing the funk and moving rumps all over the globe, give it up for bassist Tom Hamilton.

And last, but certainly not least, giving Aerosmith its heartbeat, the hard-hitting, ear-splitting Joey Kramer on drums.

How did the band form?

Aerosmith

In 1964, Steven Tyler formed a band called the Strangeuers. Since we can all agree that it isn’t the best name, you’ll be happy to know that it was changed to Chain Reaction. Joe Perry and Tom Hamilton had their own group, known as Joe Perry’s Jam Band. 

After Perry and Hamilton moved to Boston, they added Joey Kramer to their group. Hamilton was already familiar with Tyler, as both grew up in Yonkers, and had always wanted to perform with him. 

In October of 1970, the two bands performed at the same gig, and Tyler suggested they join forces, under one condition. He was the drummer for Chain Reaction. And he would only perform with them provided that they allowed him to be the lead singer of the group. 

Their new alliance formed, and the group moved into a house together and started writing music. Around this time, they also added Ray Tabano on rhythm guitar. If you’re asking, “Who the heck is Ray Tabano?” That is because he was replaced by Brad Whitford in 1971. Thus was America’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band formed. 

What the heck is an Aerosmith?

Steven Tyler and Joe Perry

According to drummer Joey Kramer, the inspiration for the album came while listening to a Harry Nilsson record called Aerial Ballet

“We started kicking around this work ‘aerial,’ and ‘aerial’ eventually came into ‘aero’ – I don’t know how that happened,” Kramer said. “And it was like Aeromind, Aerostar, Aero-this, Aero-that; and somebody said ’smith’ – Aerosmith? Wow! And from then on it was all over my high school psychology books and my math books. The question was always, ‘What’s Aerosmith?’ And I would tell people, ‘When I leave high school I’m going to go have a rock ’n’ roll band, and that’s what it’s going to be called. And we’re going to be big and famous, and that’s the scoop.’ And they were all like, ‘Oh, that’s very nice, Joey.”

The Songs

The music you hear on the roller coaster (blasted through over 900 speakers, with each Guest surrounded by five: four around the head and one subwoofer beneath the seat) features some of Aerosmith’s greatest hits. But the songs you hear depend on which car you board. There are a total of five cars, each with a unique license plate:

  • 1QKLIMO: “Nine Lives”
  • UGOBABE: “Love in an Elevator” and “Walk This Way”
  • BUHBYE: “Young Lust”, “F.I.N.E.*” and “Love in an Elevator”
  • H8TRFFC: “Back in the Saddle” and “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)”
  • 2FAST4U: “Sweet Emotion” (live, as featured in A Little South of Sanity)

Here’s a quick look at each song.

Nine Lives – the opening song and title track from the 1997 album Nine Lives

Love In an Elevator – from the 1989 album Pump, Aerosmith tweaked the lyrics in the song to “Love in a roller coaster…” According to Tyler, the inspiration for the song came from a real-life experience. As related on the Society of Rock page, “while on an elevator, he was making out with a woman when the doors opened. He added, ‘It felt like a lifetime waiting for those doors to close.’

Walk This Way – perhaps the definitive Aerosmith song, with one of the most recognizable riffs of all time, Walk This Way was the second single from their classic 1975 album Toys in the Attic. It would achieve a sort of second life in 1986 when pioneering hip hop group Run DMC covered it on the album Raising Hell.

Young Lust – the opening track on 1989’s Pump

F.I.N.E. * – second track on Pump, the title is a non-Disney friendly acronym. The song itself is the result of a jam session between Tyler and Perry. According to Tyler, “I sat down at the drums and hit this rhythm that came out of [Perry’s] guitar lick. One inspired the other.”

Back in the Saddle – the opening track on the 1976 album Rocks, an apt title because the song (and the album) absolutely rocks. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Both James Hetfield of Metallica and Slash of Guns n’ Roses have cited the song as a favorite.

Dude (Looks Like a Lady) – the lead single from 1987’s Permanent Vacation, the song was inspired by an incident in which Steven Tyler mistook Mötley Crüe’s Vince Neal for a woman. 

Sweet Emotion – Ok. You may recall that just a few sentences ago I referred to Walk This Way as the definitive Aerosmith song. That’s open for debate, because of the existence of Sweet Emotion. The third single from Toys in the Attic, the song has an incredible riff and has been rated no. 408 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

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