Why Aerosmith’s ‘Dude (Looks Like a Lady)’ Was Ahead of Its Time

Hit songwriter Desmond Child says that “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” carries a message that’s more valid today than when the track was released by Aerosmith in 1987.

It was the first piece Child worked on with the band after being sent to help them assemble Permanent Vacation. In a new episode of The Kenny Aronoff Sessions (video below), he told drummer Aronoff that Steven Tyler and Joe Perry didn’t even introduce themselves before asking his opinion on the track – which was originally inspired by Vince Neil.

“I go to Boston, car picks me up, takes me to this big warehouse, like an airplane hangar with doors that were 40 feet high and roll open, kind of like movie set kind of thing,” Child said. “The door opens and I’m walking in this beam of light into the room. And Steven kind of comes towards me, all lit by this light and a big smile on his face, very welcoming.

“And he said, ‘Come with me.’ I still hadn’t said ‘hello,’ nothing. They were working on the side of the stage with the sound man. And Joe had been taping this backward guitar… then Steven started singing ‘Cruising for the ladies.’ They stopped and they said, ‘What do you think about that?’ It wasn’t like, ‘Hello Desmond, this is Joe.’ And I took a shot. I said, ‘I think that’s really bad!’”

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He decided to push a little further in the hope of a reaction, saying: “I don’t think Van Halen would put that on the B-side of their worst record! No, I mean, like, what is that? Top-down cruising for the ladies?” He added: “I mean, these guys were like mature guys. What are you?”

Child recalled the musicians’ responses: “Joe crossed his arms and [set his] head back, looking at me sideways. Then Steven, who’s more of a people pleaser, said, ‘Well, originally I was singing, “Dude looks like a lady.”’ And I said …’That’s a hit title!’

“Joe said, ‘We don’t know what that means,’ and I said, ‘Well, I know what that means.’ He said, ‘Well, we don’t want to offend the gay community.’ And I said, ‘I’m gay, taking no offense here.’”

Desmond Child Explains What a Song Title Should Do

Child said his point, as with every song he writes, was that a title should set up an intriguing story and that “Cruising for the ladies” didn’t do that, while “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” did. “The whole premise was that he goes into this bar and falls in love with the stripper, but then she pulls out a gun and tries to blow him away.”

Watch Aerosmith’s ‘Dude (Looks Like a Lady)’ Video

He explained: “Then the second verse goes, ‘Never judge a book by its cover or who you going to love by your lover.’ Which to me is the epic statement of all time. Because look at us, 37 years, later and we’re talking about this – who’s binary, non-binary, trans, identify with this, identify, don’t want to be pegged as anything.

“The whole [message] of the song is if you like what it looks like, go for it… later he sings, ‘My funky lady, I like it, like it, like it like that.’ So, he doesn’t run away. He stays.. It’s all good. He likes what he likes. … Now looking back on it, do you see how forward it was? And that song still stands today.”

Watch Desmond Child’s Interview

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Gallery Credit: Ultimate Classic Rock Staff

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