Meaning of Dream On by Aerosmith
Dream On: The Power of Perseverance
Have you ever listened to a song that inspired you to keep chasing your dreams, no matter what obstacles you faced? If so, you might have heard “Dream On” by Aerosmith, one of the most iconic power ballads of all time. In this post, I will explore the meaning behind this song, the artist’s perspective, the listeners’ interpretations, and the historical and societal context that influenced it. I will also include some quotes from the composer and other notable figures regarding the song.
The Meaning Behind the Song
“Dream On” is a song about staying determined, accepting life’s challenges, and pursuing one’s dreams. Aerosmith’s lead singer Steven Tyler wrote the song when he was still a teenager, and it was based on his own experiences and feelings of uncertainty and vulnerability. He said:
It’s about the hunger to be somebody: Dream until your dreams come true. This song sums up the shit you put up with when you’re in a new band. Most of the critics panned our first album and said we were ripping off the Stones.1
The song also speaks to the universal human experience of longing and yearning for something more, and recognizing that time is passing by quickly. The lyrics are full of contrasts, such as:
All these lines on my face getting clearer / The past is gone / It went by like dusk to dawn
You know it’s true / All the feelings come back to you
You got to lose to know how to win
These lines show that life is full of ups and downs, joys and sorrows, losses and gains, and that we have to learn from them and move on. The chorus is a powerful invitation to sing along and celebrate the moment, while acknowledging that tomorrow is uncertain.
The song ends with a series of “dream on”s, followed by a high-pitched scream that expresses both frustration and hope. Tyler said that he was inspired by his father, who was a classical musician, to use his voice as an instrument:
That’s where I got that ‘Dream On’ chordage. My dad taught me that. He would play piano downstairs in the basement of our house in New Hampshire. He’d play ‘Moonlight Sonata’ until his fingers bled.3
The Artist’s Perspective
Aerosmith was formed in 1970 in Boston, Massachusetts, by Steven Tyler (vocals), Joe Perry (guitar), Brad Whitford (guitar), Tom Hamilton (bass), and Joey Kramer (drums). They were influenced by blues rock bands like The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and The Yardbirds, as well as hard rock bands like The Who and The Kinks. They developed a distinctive sound that combined heavy riffs, bluesy grooves, catchy hooks, and Tyler’s raspy vocals.
“Dream On” was their first single, released in 1973 from their debut album Aerosmith. It was not a major hit at first, peaking at number 59 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, it was very popular in their hometown of Boston, where it was the number one single of the year on WBZ-FM. It also received heavy airplay on other radio stations in New England.
The song was re-released in 1976, after the success of their third album Toys in the Attic. This time, it reached number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming their first top 10 hit. It also charted in Canada (number 10) and Australia (number 79). It has since become one of their most famous songs, and a staple of classic rock radio.
The song was also a turning point for the band, as it saved them from being dropped by their record label Columbia Records. Their manager David Krebs convinced the label to re-release the song after their previous single “You See Me Crying” failed to chart6. He said:
They were going to drop Aerosmith because they thought they were passé. They didn’t think they had any hits on their first three albums. They didn’t understand what Aerosmith was about or who they were.
The song also helped them gain more recognition and respect from critics and peers. For example, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page praised Tyler’s vocal performance on the song:
I don’t think there has ever been a better use of high-pitched screaming in rock music than Steven Tyler’s performance on ‘Dream On’. He really nailed it.7
The Listeners’ Interpretations
“Dream On” has resonated with millions of listeners around the world, who have found inspiration and comfort in its message. Many people have related the song to their own personal struggles and aspirations, and have used it as a motivational anthem. Some examples of how listeners have interpreted the song are:
- A young musician who dreams of becoming a rock star, and faces rejection and criticism from others.
- A middle-aged person who reflects on their life choices and regrets, and tries to make the best of their remaining time.
- A cancer patient who fights for their survival, and cherishes every moment with their loved ones.
- A soldier who risks their life for their country, and hopes to return home safely.
- A student who studies hard for their exams, and hopes to achieve their academic goals.
The song has also been used in various media and cultural contexts, such as:
- Movies: The song has been featured in several films, such as Miracle (2004), Argo (2012), and Last Vegas (2013).
- TV shows: The song has been used in several TV shows, such as The Simpsons, Family Guy, Glee, and American Idol.
- Sports: The song has been played at many sporting events, such as the Super Bowl, the World Series, and the Olympics.
- Politics: The song has been used by several politicians for their campaigns, such as George W. Bush, John McCain, and Donald Trump. However, Aerosmith has objected to the unauthorized use of their song by some politicians, and has sent cease and desist letters to them.
The Historical and Societal Context
“Dream On” was written and released in the early 1970s, a turbulent time in American history and society. Some of the major events and issues that influenced the song are:
- The Vietnam War: The war was a controversial and costly conflict that lasted from 1955 to 1975. It caused many deaths, injuries, protests, and divisions among Americans. Many young people were drafted or volunteered to fight in the war, while others opposed it or tried to avoid it. The war also affected the music scene, as many musicians expressed their views on the war through their songs.
- The Watergate Scandal: The scandal was a political crisis that occurred from 1972 to 1974. It involved a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington D.C., and a cover-up by President Richard Nixon and his administration. The scandal led to Nixon’s resignation in 1974, and a loss of trust in the government by many Americans.
- The Counterculture Movement: The movement was a social and cultural phenomenon that emerged in the 1960s and continued into the 1970s. It involved a rejection of mainstream values and norms by many young people, who experimented with alternative lifestyles, such as hippies, communes, drugs, rock music, feminism, civil rights, environmentalism, and spirituality.
Many Americans, especially the younger generation, felt unsettled, disillusioned, frustrated, and rebellious as a result of these events and circumstances. Many others were also motivated by them to look for fresh approaches to thinking, living, and expressing themselves. The song “Dream On” encapsulated these emotions and goals via both lyrics and melody.
The song “Dream On” has stood the test of time and generations. The song expresses the human spirit’s drive to overcome obstacles and realize aspirations. The song is a reflection of both the band Aerosmith’s collective experience and the personal journey of its creator, Steven Tyler. This song has inspired and impacted many listeners all over the world. It’s a song that should be honored and treasured.