Brad Whitford is Aerosmith’s rhythm guitarist, but in most other bands his classic, big-toned approach would make him the six-string star. As it is, he and lead picker Joe Perry are as important a part of the band’s chemistry as the much-celebrated bond between Perry and frontman Steve Tyler.
Whitford, who turned 60 on February 23, has played a vast array of solid body guitars over the years, but the core of his sound has long been the Gibson Les Pauls – Sunbursts and Gold Tops in particular – that drive his most crushing rhythm parts and some of his stellar turns at lead.
In honor of Whitford, and the Perry/Whitford chemistry that’s become the main appeal for many of Aerosmith’s longtime fans, here’s a list of Aerosmith’s top 10 riff-powered songs:
10. “Sweet Emotion” This 1975 Top 40 hit from Toys in the Attic was Aerosmith’s big breakthrough, with a biting blues riff locked onto bassist Tom Hamilton’s repeated, driving figure that’s the backbone of the tune. Perry’s entrance is a classic moment in talk box playing, but it’s really his and Whitford’s twined guitars chugging on that riff in E that puts the heart in “Sweet Emotion.”
Official Aerosmith Videos
9. “Last Child” The ominous slow-drag churn of Whitford and Perry’s axes gives this song its sense of sex and danger. Over the years the tune has evolved into a live showcase for Whitford, who kick-starts it in concert and keeps his Les Paul’s tone low and nasty. The number came straight from the pens of Whitford and Steven Tyler and raced up the charts to #21 after it became the first single from 1976’s Rocks.
8. “Walk This Way” This 1975 single followed “Sweet Emotion,” going all the way to #10. The title phrase was plucked from Marty Feldman in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, but the storyline is pure adolescent male fantasy. Musically, except for Perry’s wailing blues solo, the tune’s a giant rhythm machine, with Perry, Whitford and bassist Tom Hamilton working in lockstep over Joey Kramer’s aggressively hammering drumbeat. No wonder the song became a huge crossover rap hit for Run-D.M.C. 11 years later, with Tyler and Perry guesting on the track and the hit MTV video.
Official Aerosmith Videos
7. “Dream On” When this tune from Aerosmith’s 1973 eponymous debut album was initially released, it failed to reach the Top 40. But two years later the piano-driven ballad (foreshadowing things to come?) got a second life. Buoyed by the success of “Sweet Emotion,” the band chose to re-release “Dream On” and it became Aerosmith’s first top 10 smash, peaking at #6. As the song evolves, it also becomes a showcase for Perry, who spins a series of complimentary blues-based melody lines around the piano chords that Tyler says were inspired by hearing his classical musician father practice piano.
6. “Back in the Saddle” Although it’s a Tyler/Perry composition, Whitford keeps this song grounded with his crunching rhythm playing – until he steps to the foreground and takes the menacing lead. It’s all sex and danger compressed into four-minutes-and-forty-two-seconds.