Thirty years ago this month, Aerosmith’s “Janie’s Got a Gun” peaked on the Hot 100, reaching Number Four — just below Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract,” Seduction’s “Two to Make It Right” and Rod Stewart’s “Downtown Train.” It was an uncharacteristically dark single for the band, with themes of incest, child abuse, and revenge murder.
This was a period where the band worked a lot with outside songwriters like Desmond Child and Jim Vallance, but Steven Tyler and bassist Tom Hamilton wrote the song on their own. Steven Tyler said the lyrics were inspired by a Time magazine cover story about gun violence in the United States and a Newsweek article about children being abused in affluent suburbs. They caused him to write a story about a young girl, Janie, that murders her father after he sexually abuses her.
The original version of the song had the line “he raped a little bitty baby/the man has to got to be insane,” but he changed it to “he jacked a little bitty baby/the man has got to be insane” so it could get played on the radio and MTV. There’s also an edited version that replaces the line, “She had to take him down easy and put a bullet in his brain,” with, “She had to take him down easy and left him in the pouring rain.”
Even with those edits, the song is a chilling look at child abuse. And to make a video that got the message across, they hired director David Fincher a few years before he broke big with movies like Alien 3, Seven and The Game. It cuts between the band playing, a police officer trying to investigate the homicide, and flashbacks to Janie’s life prior to the murder.
Their previous single, “Love in an Elevator,” is basically about Steven Tyler receiving oral sex in an elevator. That shows how far they went out of their comfort zone for “Janie’s Got a Gun,” which went into heavy rotation on MTV and Top 40 radio. They wouldn’t have a bigger single until “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” nine years later.
There hasn’t been a genuine hit for Aerosmith since “Jaded” back in 2001, but that has done little to hurt them as a draw on the concert circuit. They recently brought drummer Joey Kramer back after an extremely messy separation that involved the U.S. court system and guards outside of Aerosmith’s rehearsal that refused to let him in. All of that seems to be behind them for now and they are gigging through September in Las Vegas and Europe. Just don’t expect to hear “Janie’s Got a Gun.” For whatever reason, they’ve only busted it out a single time during their entire Las Vegas run.
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