In this PC world we live in, it does make me wonder how some songs get away with some airplay and this week’s choice was one that made the suggestee wonder too. Mummy Bear, in an email said, “We were listening to Dude Looks like a Lady in the car and wondering whether it was PC for today’s audience. Looking at the lyrics it seems pretty tame and I was wondering what its origins were.” Well, let’s find out.
When Boston, Massachusetts-formed Aerosmith first hit the UK chart in 1987 they were well received by the British rock fans, but many didn’t realise they had been going for 17 years. Yes, they formed as early as 1970 and had their first American hit single with Dream On in 1973. In 1976, they recorded Walk This Way which made the US top 10 and more famously revived in 1986 as a rap hit by Run DMC. The band’s lead singer Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry feature with Run DMC, but are uncredited.
Most of their early material was written by just the aforementioned Tyler and Perry, but when other rock bands began using an outside writer, they were not keen to follow suite. For Dude (Looks like a Lady) they teamed up with Desmond Child who Kiss had brought in to co-write I Was Made for Loving You back in 1979, which, in-turn, inspired Bon Jovi who hire his hand for their 1986 hits You Give Love A Bad Name and Livin’ On A Prayer. Therefore, when John Kalodner, the A&R man at Aerosmith’s label, Geffen, suggested writing with Child but they were reluctant. Desmond Child said in an interview with Song Facts, “They had never written with an outside writer, and they were not happy to see me. They were going along with it to please John Kalodner, but they were not that happy about it.”
The result was Aerosmith’s debut UK hit, which, on its initial release only reached number 45. In the same interview, Child continued, “Steven Tyler was much more friendly, as he is, and was very generous, really, and showed me a song that they had started called Cruisin’ for the Ladies. I listened to that lyric, and I said, ‘You know what, that’s a very boring title.’ And they looked at me like, ‘How dare you?’ And then Steven volunteered, sheepishly, and said that when he first wrote the melody he was singing ‘Dude Looks like a Lady.’ It was kind of a tongue twister that sounded more like scatting. He got the idea because they had gone to a bar and had seen a girl at the end of the bar with ginormous blonde rock hair, and the girl turned around and it ended up being Vince Neil from Motley Crue. So then they started making fun of him and started saying, ‘That dude looks like a lady, dude looks like a lady, dude looks like a lady.’ So that’s how that was born. That’s the true story of how that was born. So I grabbed onto that and I said, ‘No, that’s the title of the song.'”
Child, in an interview with Ultimate Classic Rock also said, “They played me a backwards guitar loop that sounded like a boogie blues harmonica and Steven began singing ‘Cruisin’ for the ladies, da-dap da-dap… cruisin’ for the ladies’ and asked me what I thought. The first words out of my mouth were, ‘I think that really sucks. It sounds like a bad Van Halen cast-off they wouldn’t even put on the worst record of their enemy.'”
The band had a few reservations, mainly Perry, who said he didn’t want to upset the gay community. Perry is not gay but also had no reservations about singing about having sex with a ‘dude’, but also didn’t want the fans thinking they were poking fun at anyone non-heterosexual. When he aired his view to Child, the reply was, “Okay, I’m gay, and I’m not insulted. Let’s write this song. So I talked them into the whole scenario of a guy that walks into a strip joint and falls in love with the stripper on stage, goes backstage and finds out it’s a guy. But besides that, he’s gonna go with it. He says, ‘My funky lady, I like it, like it, like it like that.’ And so he doesn’t run out of there, he stays.”
The accompanying video was a sort of parody. It was directed by Marty Callner whose work with rock act video was held in high esteem and he earned a reputation for getting loads of airtime on MTV. It opens with a close-up of the base of a pneumatic drill pounding into concrete and then flicks to Tyler and Perry walking along the road. The camera then pans up to reveal a blonde female operating the drill and Tyler looking shocked. Later on there’s a rear shot of a bride and groom walking in an underground car park and as they turn round the figure in the suit and top hat is the lady with the drill and the person in the brides dress is a bearded John Kalodner – the man who suggested the writer collaboration in the first place.
The song was used to great effect in the 1993 film Mrs Doubtfire where Robin Williams, who transforms into an old lady numerous times just so he can see his kids by pretending to be a nanny. He goes out into the street and crosses a busy road to the sound of the song.
Child, who is obviously proud of the song’s content, said, in a more recent interview, “The idea of a transgendered character in a hit song being shown in a positive light was completely fresh and revolutionary. It was so catchy that even without knowing what the song was about, people everywhere started spontaneously singing it at the top of their lungs. Even Mrs Doubtfire was doing the broom dance to it and every little kid in America could sing all the words by heart.
Rather than find out by accident, Child told Vince Neil the story who took it in good spirit because he even acknowledges it in his autobiography Tattoos & Tequila: To Hell and Back with One of Rock’s Most Notorious Frontmen.