Aerosmith‘s four-year slog between Get a Grip and Nine Lives was rife with personal and professional turmoil. These struggles were rewarded, however, when the band earned their second consecutive No. 1 album and fourth Grammy win thanks to “Pink,” which was released as a single on Nov. 18, 1997.
Sessions for Aerosmith’s 12th album began in Miami with Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, producer Glen Ballard (hot off the success of Alanis Morissette‘s 1995 blockbuster Jagged Little Pill), and co-writers Mark Hudson, Desmond Child and Richie Supa. Unfortunately, the process was fraught from the start.
Joey Kramer bowed out of early rehearsals to seek treatment for depression, temporarily ceding to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers drummer Steve Ferrone. The band warred against overreaching and fear-mongering manager Tim Collins, whom they ultimately fired in 1996. Aerosmith then flew representatives from their new label Sony down to Miami to hear the first draft of the album, only to see the execs reject it outright and sack Ballard.
Tyler, in particular, was incensed when Sony demanded re-recordings. Thankfully, the songs were already in good shape, and Miami had proven fertile ground for inspiration. The fun-in-the-sun atmosphere and endless stream of gorgeous, scantily clad women influenced the jangly, harmonica-driven “Pink,” a not-so-subtle ode to the female anatomy.
“I wrote ‘Pink’ with Richie Supa at the Marlin Hotel down in South Beach, Fla.,” Tyler recalled in his 2011 memoir Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? “I’d be writing and go, ‘Fuck.’ I’d turn the lights on when the sun went down. I turned the lights off when the sun came blasting through that big bay window. I loved writing lyrics at night — it was more mysterious than in the day, and I could evoke my demons when no one was around to bother me.”
Watch Aerosmith’s NSFW Video for ‘Pink’
It would be a stretch to say “Pink” is riddled with sexual innuendo: There’s not much subtext to lines like “Pink on the lips of your lover” and “I want to be your lover / I want to wrap you in rubber.” The song started innocently enough, though, as Tyler was riffing on the word “kink.” “More often than not I would write and sing a scat where there weren’t lyrics yet … and fill up what the scat sounded like with lyrics,” he said. “I threw in that line ‘It’s kink’ because Richie Supa thought I should call the song ‘Kink.’ I said, ‘Richie, we can’t call the song “Kink.” My life is kink. I am kink!'”
Tyler’s scatting eventually materialized into the chorus for “Pink,” and he knew he’d struck gold. “Veni, vidi, vici. We came, we saw, we needed a Kleenex! Get the fuck out of Dodge!” he wrote. “Songs are stories; didn’t all troubadour stories turn into songs, and didn’t all the tales lead to the same thing? Saving the queen? Getting the girl? Wrapping her in rubber?”
Listeners were receptive to Tyler’s troubadour song, as “Pink” topped Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart and reached No. 27 on the Hot 100. Its CGI-heavy, NSFW video won Best Rock Video at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards, and the song earned a Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 1999, marking Aerosmith’s fourth win. It’s their most-played Nine Lives song in concert and only one of two to appear semi-regularly in set lists over the years, along with the lead single “Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees).”
Like many of Aerosmith’s poppy post-comeback singles, “Pink” likely doesn’t rank high for fans of the band’s sleazy, ’70s hard-rock era. In 2011, bassist Tom Hamilton posted a video response to a fan who was amazed a band of five men would even write a song about such a so-called un-masculine color. “There aren’t a lot of things that men would wear that are pink,” he said, “but there is one thing that all men — that most men — love to wear that’s pink. So that’s how that happened. That’s the reason there’s a whole song about it.
“As a matter of fact,” Hamilton concluded, “that’s what most rock ‘n’ roll is about.”
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